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Short Stories >> From the deserted palace of memory

Short Stories

From the deserted palace of memory

Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani

What was that song! I can’t remember the words. The meaning was like this…The heart is repeatedly searching for those lazy days and nights…When in the winters we would be sitting in the verandah in the soft sunshine. Sometimes during the warmth of the summer, when there was a cool breeze blowing, we were sleeping under white cool bed sheets and we would be counting stars till late in the night…

As I remembered the lazy times of childhood, my childhood friend Hari came to my mind. We would go to school together and return together.
Hari was sick for a month and therefore she did not attend school. One day, when I returned from school my mother asked me to go upstairs and look, Hari had died that day.
‘You don’t go inside the house. Hari had some bad illness, don’t go near her…’ Mom told me all this in one breath but what I could not understand was why Hari died.

Keeping my books aside I went upstairs and stood at the door. Hari was lying on the cot. Standing at this very place I would call out to her everyday and she would come running out with her books. But today she did not even get up from the cot. Why was she so upset with me? Her aunt was standing near her, her brother too stood near her. Her sister was perhaps in the kitchen. But nobody was crying. There was an eerie silence…why was it so? But why did Hari die? Why did my friend die?

Sobbing and wiping my eyes with my frock I came down. My grandmother was perhaps telling my mother, “Leela’s mother had other daughters also but the way Hari had served her mother till her death, no other daughter had done so.”
I was standing in a corner, wiping my eyes with my frock. My mother was changing the pillow covers. She told Amma, “The poor girl was exhausted serving her mother. The doctor had repeatedly warned them that their mother had a contagious disease and they should not touch even her clothes…”

Amma said, “Hari used to take her mother’s clothes and wash them every day under the tap. What can one say about God’s ways! The poor girl paid for this service with her life and she went to rest with her mother…”
I stuffed my frock into my mouth to control my sobbing but hearing about all this from Amma, the cloth fell out of my mouth and I gave out a frightening belching sound…
My mother came and hugged me, “Dear child, one doesn’t cry but pray that such a beautiful girl finds a place in Heaven.”

Hari was really nice. We would sit in the winter evenings with packets of grams and embroider Kashmiri flowers on bed sheets. Hari’s embroidery was as good as printing. During hot summer nights we would go and sleep on the terrace. A huge terrace with stars above in the sky…
The stories of stars were never ending. We named the stars after those relatives and people who had departed. We would say, “X would be this star, Y would be that star…” Suddenly when we would see a falling star we would shrink and say that this is a bad omen. Somebody is going to die. What fear of death is this? Together we would pray, “God don’t let anyone die today.”

One day, getting drenched in the rain, we were returning from school when Hari said, “My mother has fallen ill since yesterday.” her voice became heavy while saying this.
I stopped her on the way and caressing her cheek I said, “Don’t cry Hari. Pray to Guru Baba, He will cure her fast. I pray to the Moon every day, ‘Oh Moon, cure my mother so that she starts dancing again’ and my mother became well again.”
“Then why should I pray to Guru? I will also pray to the Moon. But I myself have made my mother sick. I have been feeding her oily raw mangoes and spicy snacks on the sly.”

“Are you mad? Why did you do this?”
Tears started flowing from Hari’s eyes. Why did Hari do this? I understood that only after hearing Amma’s talks. A few days back Badi Amma had said, “There is not even a morsel of food in poor Hari’s destiny. The poor girl had come back from school and was eating bread with raw mango. I asked why she could not make two rotis for herself. Then she showed me the empty flour container.”

Hearing Amma’s story, I forcibly brought Hari home. But the way Ammi looked at me, I felt like a criminal. Hari also noticed that gaze. She told me in my ears, “I am scared. I am going home.”
I was eating on the cot…Now Ammi looked at me fondly and said, “Never bring Hari with you.”
I did not have the courage to ask why, but the food morsel in my hand and my gaze at Ammi became a question mark.”

A sob was suppressed in a child’s heart. Badi Amma was eating a little distance away. She said, “Why don’t you tell her straight that Hari’s mother has a contagious illness and anybody from that house would carry and spread that illness?”
After two days, “Badi Amma, Badi Amma, our mother has died.”
This was Hari’s brother. It looked as though it was somebody else’s mother that had died. He was not crying at all and had a brave heart.

When Badi Amma returned from the cremation, she called out from the staircase to my mother and said, “Boil the water quickly so that I can soak my clothes. I will take a cold bath in the meanwhile…”
The Moon that night was very hazy. A cloud repeatedly was coming over it but the Moon kept moving it away like one moves hair from a child’s eyes. ‘Hari’s mother has died.’ This sentence repeatedly created a thunder in a child’s heart which was reminiscent of the wild commotion of people and animals on the streets.

Exactly a month and a half later, Hari joined her mother. Once again, I went to the terrace and asked the moon, “Why didn’t you cure my friend? Oh Moon! you don’t know the pain of others at all. I was so afraid of coming up alone on the terrace. If you had cured my friend Hari, would I care for anybody?”
The Mullah from the nearby Masjid gave the last call for prayer. I ran downstairs. I went and sat near my mother. I pulled her Mulmul dupatta and kept it on my face.”Arey! are you crying you mad girl? The poor girl is now resting in peace. Without her mother she would have become an orphan. Who would have gotten her engaged and married? There was not a penny in their house. Atleast Gopi is fair but if her married sister Ruki had not gotten her married to her brother-in-law what would have happened to her…?”

Today once again, after what seems like ages, I have started searching for those lazy days and nights of the song. This song has brought together separated friends in the deserted palace of memories…who knows what star in the sky my Hari has now become?

 

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