Another daylight faded over the thatched roof, though darkness prevailed in the close vicinity of the house even on the brightest day. The only sound that echoed between the walls were of the hungry stomachs unperturbed by the woes and tears that rolled down till their mouth and salinity would fill their lives. Sometimes a loud outburst of agony would shake the entire slum and everyone knew father was home drunk again. Days and night passed with the unaccounted passage of time gathering the shards of broken dreams and famished soul.
His childhood was a far cry from the others growing up in a mansion. The first word after a starving night he heard was an accolade, “Bastard”. The scorching sun would slowly drain his childhood in the signals he begged. His mother with fresh bruises would try to feed him some stale chapatis left for the dogs on the street. Anil still remembers that he could have them without anything as the salt deposits in his mouth wouldn’t let him feel any difference. His subdued face only spread open masticating the crumps of the chapattis buttered with his mother’s sweaty hands feeding him only love. Many born in the palaces were unfortunate of such love that he received. Hunger was a subtle pain that he felt when he looked at his mother’s withered and wrinkled skin making room for all the pain to settle on the parched skin which spoke of tales untold of grief and sorrow.
Before Dr. Paul happened in his life, the last remains of his childhood was his mother lying on the floor with two chapatis wrapped nicely on the corner of her clumsily draped saree. He recalls those voices who called her a prostitute and thief. That was the first and last time he heard something else echoing between those same walls instead of the sound of hunger. He saw his mother unmoved and pondered on the thought that why didn’t she have those when she had a chance? And whom was she secretly keeping it for? Dr. Paul signed on the death certificate and took Anil to foster care where he grew up with the others with dilapidated childhood stories and body odor of different traffic signals but the same mothers trying to build them a castle out of poverty and love.
Anil realized that it wasn’t easy to stumble on the same street he grew up, sometimes the heart doesn’t accept it and sometimes the mind detests the time which lasted more than his life. Every winter when his friends returned home during their vacations, he was reminded of the screams, the gloom, and the sadness on his mother’s face. The stink of dejection still swam around him, he had nowhere to return but to himself in his solitude where a mother lived. He moved to London for his Ph.D. where he fell in love with Ritika, got married, and then Pratap came into their life. It all looked well as a happy family when Ritika’s prefatory promises of love started to fall like shards of harshness and disinterest. She was blinded by ambition, desires to live by herself, and gather fame. Her perverse behavior pushed away Pratap and Anil. Women and their love can be strange and Anil tried comprehending this all his life. The two women who had changed his life, his mother, and his wife.
Sitting with his 5 years old son Pratap at Starbucks, he was reminded of every glimpse of his childhood on a simple question that Pratap asked. “Dad was there Starbucks in your childhood?” With eyes filled with tears, he replied “I had a star in my life without any bucks”. Childhoods of the father and son, a reflection of the past, and coincidentally at a coffee shop right around the signal where his mother stared right at him through the glass pane and her eyes filled with solace and contentment. Pratap stared at his father bewildered and Anil felt the taste of the long lost salinity of his childhood. The poignant aura soon embraced Anil and Pratap, both contemplating on their childhoods. A mother who left the world trying to feed her son the last chapati she could manage and another mother who left her son trying to valorize herself in the illusion of fame and materialistic desires.
I was sitting 3 tables away from this father-son duo, trying my old and usual trick to read through their story. I suddenly became the epicenter of a sound wave that was created as the cup slipped off my hand and kissed the neat and shining mosaic. When the silence was broken, the duo wiped off the tears that were rolling down. I couldn’t resist asking Anil so walked up and introduced myself.
“If I tell you that you are the reason for the wreckage of a beautiful bone china cup and the delicious coffee that now lies on the floor, would you still share your story?” and we both burst out in laughter. Anil and I have been working on a project with each other although never got a chance to meet outside work. The young lad staring at us made us conscious, we quickly returned to our conversation with the young man still trying to figure out relationships, finding love, seeking truth, and understanding a world that he has yet not seen. I agreed to drop the father and son home. Pratap fell asleep on the backseat of the car and I could still see the moisture on Anil’s face narrating the entire tale on our way back. I could only think of a priceless childhood sipping an overpriced coffee turning us into a man we end up being. All our lives we have lived ahead looking into our past and carefully shaping our future. Childhood lasts forever, the sweet smell of innocence and the infidel lust of growing up, some shine like diamonds some still stare outside the glass wall they are caged in.