“Tr…ing, Tr…ing”. Nandini got up irritated. She was awakened from her afternoon siesta. Who could it be at this goddamn hour? she muttered under her breath. The shrill ringing of the phone continued, sounding desperate. She picked up the phone and said “Hello!” There was silence on the other side except for the sound of someone breathing heavily, gasping. Was it a prank call, someone trying to scare her? She was about to cut the line when she heard the faint voice, “ Please come back Nandini. I am sorry. I am dying, I need you here with me. Sorry, sorry, sorry.” The phone fell from her hands. She started trembling and sat on the chair for support. No, It can’t be him. How did he get this number? It was a call from Navin, her husband, after almost fifteen years. She started panicking, hyperventilating. Beads of perspiration gathered on her forehead.” It’s over, It’s all over, gone, finished” she kept repeating. She broke down and tears gushed out like a broken dam. She cried her heart out. Her past flashed in front of her eyes like a motion picture, sad and tragic. It transported her almost forty years back.
“ Nandini, Nandini, where are you? screamed her mother. “ Come here at once you devil. I will rip you apart, you wretch, you demon!” Nandini crouched under the bed, holding her ragged doll tightly to her chest, a thick black blanket covering her. She knew the bad back and arthritic joints of her mother would not allow her to bend and look underneath the cot. She waited till the sounds became fainter and heard the door shut. The coast was clear. She came out of her hiding place smiling. Yes! Her mother couldn’t thrash her today also. Laughing merrily she pranced around the huge room and made her way to the kitchen. She was alone, she loved the solitude. She took out the bread and milk from the fridge and had her cold breakfast. She was happy with this frugal meal. At least she was not going hungry. The usual rice, dal and one vegetable was there on the kitchen top. She was only seven years old then.
Her mother, Naina was never like this. She was happy, kind and gentle. She was always laughing, dancing or singing. These were her favourite things.She worked as a primary teacher at a nearby school. Nandini was left with her grandmother, a gentle soul. After school her mother would pick her up, stop at the local market for some groceries and snacks and then leisurely make their way home meandering the scooter on the winding bylanes. Nandini latched on to her mother, clutching tightly around her waist. Once home, they enjoyed their afternoon nap holding on to each other tightly. Life was blissful, peaceful, only the two of them.
Her father, Navneet was seldom around. He worked as a supervisor on construction sites. Work took him away to all corners of the country. He visited his family only once or twice a month. Till Nandini was two years old, they were a happy couple. Her mother looked forward to his visits. They basked in each other’s love. Picnics, movies, social visits, romantic getaways were the standard norms. Nandini was a peaceful and happy child. As Nandini turned four her father’s visits gradually declined.. There were fewer phone calls. Her mother started to get agitated and restless. Her smile disappeared, her singing stopped and she became morose and gloomy. Nandini began to spend more time with her grandmother. She used to miss her mother a lot. For days she never saw her mother. She would ask her granny, “ When will my mummy come? What has happened to her ? Why doesn’t my father visit me?” How could her grandmother explain the complexities and vagaries of adulthood to a child! So she just kept mum and Nandini never got her answers.
After a gap of eight months her father showed up. That night she heard some angry outbursts from her parent’s room. “ Who is she? Is it because of her that you are not coming home? What about Nandini? Dammit she is your daughter. Don’t you have some responsibility towards her? She’s just a child. Please, Please I beg of you, don’t leave us,” she heard her mother crying and begging her father to stay. There was silence for a few moments. Then she heard her father reply, “ I am sorry, I am truly sorry, I am helpless. I can’t live with this lie, a double life. Please sign the documents.” There was an eternity of silence after that. Nandini crouched under her bed that night. The next morning she came out to an empty house.
The first tragedy struck a year later. Her grandmother, her life support, her confidant passed away in her sleep. Her mother was devastated. She enrolled Nandini at her school. For Nandini that was the happiest moment. She could spend more time with her mother, she would get new friends. School would compensate for the loss of her grandmother. She was happy to accompany her mother. Some of the happiness did rub on to her mother. There was a flicker of a smile on her mother’s face. At sharp nine Nandini would be all ready in her new uniform, books, and school bag waiting for her mother. Nandini didn’t require any help to get ready. She was a precocious child, with an early passion for learning. Sitting behind her mother on the scooter, holding her even more tightly, Nandini dreamt of the good times once again in her life.
Nandini completed her pre primary school with flourish. She was the darling of her teacher. She was an all rounder. She brought joy to the class with her incessant chatter. She made friends easily. She sang, she danced, she capered around gaily, she got good grades. She made her mother proud. She could witness some change in her mother. Her mother now hummed some of her favourite tunes while cooking, she took efforts to dress well and she also practiced her dancing secretly. But Nandini learnt very early that good things don’t last for long. As usual, Nandini waited in her class to be picked up by her mother after school. She waited and waited. There was no sign of her mother. She made her way to the parking stand. The scooter was not there in its usual place. One of the teachers found Nandini standing outside the school and offered to drop her home.
The sight that awaited them was nothing less than dreadful. The front door was ajar. Her mother was sitting on the floor clutching her stomach, writhing in pain, moaning. Her hair was dishevelled and scattered around her face. Immediately the teacher took charge. With Nandini’s and neighbour’s help, an ambulance was called and her mother was admitted to the local hospital. It was acute appendicitis and surgery was imminent. A call was taken by the teacher and the doctor as there was no sign of any relatives. Nandini’s father had completely disappeared from their lives. The surgery was successful and her mother came back home, again a different person. That was also the end to Nandini’s education. Her mother recovered from the physical ailment but slipped into depression. Once in a while she would go to school and the days she did , she forgot all about Nandini. She would rave and rant at her, curse her, call her the choicest expletives and abuse her. Nandini’s safe haven was under her cot.
One day when Nandini came out from underneath the cot, she found her mother still on her bed. Nandini shook her but there was no response. She went crying to call her neighbours who came running to help her. But it was all over, just the way her grandmother had left her, sudden and bereft. Two days later Nandini was shifted to an orphanage, at the tender age of seven. Wisdom sat on Nandini overnight. Transformation was necessary for her survival. She had to make the best of the opportunities. She saw beyond the four walls of the orphanage. As she wandered the corridors, she saw tiny tots much younger to her. She became an older sister to them .The ones older became the sisters she never had. She was happy to be surrounded by people who shared similar circumstances. Her basic needs were being fulfilled. The watery dals, the uncooked rice, the soggy vegetables; she embraced them all. And her favourite part, being enrolled in a school again.
Nandini wormed her way into everyone’s hearts. She was obedient, helpful, always cheerful, content with what life had thrown at her. She excelled in school. She breezed through her studies. She appointed herself as a tutor for the weak ones. She received scholarships to complete her formal education. She went on to do her graduation. She felt compelled to think that the world is full of kind people ready to help you only if you stretch your hand forward. Nandini believed that the orphanage had given her much more than what she deserved. She was grateful and obliged towards the orphanage. She decided to do her Masters in Social Work and worked towards it. No point in guessing that she received her gold medal in this field. Maturity and wisdom beyond her age were her hallmarks. From an innocent young child of seven she transfigured into a confident, independent young woman.
Another transformation also happened around the same time. Nandini had completed her eighteenth birthday. Officially she was no longer an orphan but an independent adult. There were ‘ After Care Organisations’ which she could avail but Nandini chose not to. She was an intrinsic part of the orphanage but she also missed her home. She had to make a painful decision. The next day after her eighteenth birthday, Nandini made her way to her old home. The orphanage had completed all the formalities and she had the old familiar house key in her hands. She reached the building. It seemed to have aged along with her. A few familiar faces recognised her and welcomed her with tears of happiness. She went up to her house and nervously opened it. Her heart was pounding, her hands shaking, she took a step inside. There was a rush of emotions. The house was exactly how she had left it, but now covered under sheets of dust and cobwebs. She stood there , unsure of her decision for a second. But Nandini being the girl she had changed into dusted off her doubts and swung into action.
Within six months Nandini converted her home into a bright, colourful abode full of life. Gone were the drab, dull, grey walls and curtains. She gave a festive look to her house with pops of colour running the length and breadth of the house. She wanted the memories to linger, the memories which were tied to the past but would also propel her future. The cog wheels of her life were running perfectly, smoothly for her. With her brilliant academic records, she got employed with the Child Welfare Department and was traversing the country looking into the administrative side of orphanages. It was during one of her journeys that she met Navin, her soulmate. Nandini had heard stories about matches being made in heaven but never in her wildest imagination dreamt that she would experience it in her life. It was the commonality of their lives that drew them together. Navin too was an orphan, grew up in an orphanage, excelled in academics, completed his masters in a similar field and he had the same drive and ambition to make something of his life. For Nandini he was the kindest soul she had ever encountered – soft spoken, gentle with the most endearing smile forming dimples on his cheeks.
Exactly six months later, Nandini was engaged to Navin. It didn’t take long for Navin to pop the big question. So within a year of meeting each other, Nandini entered her own home as a young newly wedded bride. That was an unspoken agreement between them. She was not going anywhere else. Apart from friends made in the orphanage, they had only each other. Both of them took their marriage vows very seriously. Their life was in total synchronization, blending perfectly like the jigsaw puzzle. Nandini couldn’t believe that such a life could exist for her. It was too good to be true, unbelievable. However Nandini was not the one to live only by her dreams, she was a very practical and grounded young woman. She was honest, practical and straightforward in all her dealings, whether it was work or relationships. She slowly began to realise and be aware that something was missing, everything was not hunky dory about Navin.
It all began when Nandini started touring more due to her work commitments and Navin wanted to spend more time with her. Navin began to enjoy his time at home rather than going for his work. He began to call his friends over for drinks and drunken brawls became common. Nandini tried to put some sense into him but it only resulted in him getting angrier with her. Nandini attempted to counsel him gently, spoke to him lovingly but Navin remained unreasonable. The last straw was when Navin tried to trade Nandini with his friends over some debt he owed to them. Nandini felt betrayed and it shattered her very soul. Life never had been easy for her but she took it in her stride with her optimism and pragmatic approach. But this time he had crossed all limits of civilised behaviour. Another emotion which she couldn’t shake off was her deep pang for motherhood. She wanted a child of her own desperately but Navin never relented to it. He kept making excuses and postponing the idea. For him the thought of bringing up a child equated with responsibility and financial burden.
Nandini tirelessly worked on her marriage. She loved Navin with all her heart and was keen to turn things over. Nevertheless things worsened between them and Navin just walked out one fine day. Nandini was frantic. She used her contacts to search him, any clues she could get about his whereabouts but he seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Once again Nandini was all alone and the emptiness just tore into her heart. She never felt so cheated in her life. Try as much as she could, she fell into depression, a deep chasm of despair. It was only her friends in the orphanage who became her true strength. They never left her alone, cooked and cleaned, took care of her house and talked and talked to her. They became a constant source of solace for her. In due course of time Nandini recovered but the emotional scars were difficult to erase. She became a ghost of her former self and it was only her indomitable spirit that lifted her up. It was again time to clear the cobwebs from her life.
Nandini got back into her groove. Within six months she was promoted to Regional Director and was in charge of all the orphanages in the Northern sector. The excitement and the challenges re-entered her life with infused energy. She put her past behind, Navin was a closed chapter. Her focus was only on herself and the betterment of the orphanages under her. Her first big task in hand was to clean up the image of orphanages in India. Many children were being adopted from the orphanages by foreigners and taken abroad. There were stories floating about them being sold or used for organ donation. There was a big nexus with politicians, top corporate businessmen and other officials. Nandini very diplomatically and with her contacts with the right people managed to get a law passed regarding adoption from orphanages and streamlining the whole procedure for the benefit of the children. That year she also got nominated for Padma Shree Award for her exemplary achievement in rehabilitation of children.
Nandini made gigantic strides in her chosen field. She reclaimed her life once again. It was during one of her visits to Nainital that she fell in love with a new born girl child who was abandoned on the footsteps of the orphanage. She had to make a crucial decision that would affect her whole life. An opportunity for motherhood, the pangs which had only grown stronger, was knocking at her doors. Nandini was confident about giving a new life to the little child and she was certain that she would be the best mother in the whole universe. She decided to take the momentous decision of starting life anew. She also fell in love with the cool, relaxed peaceful environs of Nainital. Nandini decided to keep her ancestral place, she could always visit it anytime. The memories were too strong and the attachment to it was binding on her. She decided to temporarily shift base to Nainital and bring up Naina, she named the little girl after her mother, far away from the hustle bustle of the maddening city life.
The flashback of her life served as a catharsis on her soul. Nandini felt relieved and refreshed after reminiscing all the painful emotions and memories of the past. She allowed it to wash over her and start afresh. As for the phone call from Navin, she decided to let sleeping dogs lie, let bygones be bygones. Navin has been uprooted from her system. He was a closed chapter in her life. She would not let herself be betrayed again. Now her future was with Naina who was growing into a sensitive, happy, carefree and loving child. Nandini had got a second chance to start life anew, a golden opportunity to tide life in her favour. The steering wheel of hers and Naina’s future was in her hands now.
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