Rosie - 2

Glory Sasikala

Serialized novel, by Glory Sasikala

Across the sky, past the horizon
I must go, declared the Moon,
and bring back the Sun
When Prateik woke up, the room was dimly lit by an oil lamp turned low. Someone had placed him properly on the bed, removed his shoes, and covered him with a sheet. Soon everything became a blur as he became aware of a splitting headache.
“Ohhhhh…!!!” he groaned, covering his forehead with his hands. He then covered his eyes and lay still for a while. Then, his body tensed as it sensed another presence in the room, and he removed his hands from his eyes and looked towards the door. He could see the silhouette of a man standing there.
“Chacha! Is that you?” asked Prateik.
“Yes Prateik, it is I. Get up! Get up Baba! They are expecting you downstairs.” So saying, Chacha came into the room. The bedroom light fell on an old, lean figure, still very upright, with grey hair and a flowing moustache. Lines everywhere, on his face, near his eyes, horizontal on his forehead, told their own beautiful story of a life filled with laughter, love, concern, sadness, worry, and delight. Right now, he looked highly concerned and yet severe.
Prateik gave another groan and covered his eyes again. After some time, he pulled himself up and sat leaning on the pillows. “Why do they want me downstairs? What is the matter?” he asked.
“I don’t know. But not to worry, it’s nothing serious. I heard them laughing. Must be some business matter. Baba, why are you doing this? You are destroying yourself.”
“Oh Chacha, enough! I am in no mood for sermons right now,” said Prateik. “My head is splitting.”
“I’m not lecturing. You know that. But…” Here the old man’s voice broke, “To see you like this!” And he started crying.
Prateik took the old wrinkled hand in his, hands that had fed him, clothed him, spanked him, washed him, and wiped his woebegone face from time to time.
“Chacha, please don’t cry! Please! I promise you I’ll try to stop this habit. I really will. Please Chacha!” Prateik was pleading.
Prateik could not bear to see the old man crying. The old man’s face had become as red and wrinkled as a baby’s. He took his hands away from Prateik’s and looked beseechingly at Prateik, and with tears still pouring down his face, got up and went through the door and down the corridor, head bent in pain.
Prateik was shaken to the core and filled with remorse. He sat there thinking about it. “I must do something about it,” he thought. “I really, really must do something about it, if not for myself, then for Chacha.”
He got out of bed and walked to the bathroom. He turned on the cold shower to the full and allowed it splash across his face.
When Prateik finally made his way downstairs and into the dining room, it was well past 8 in the evening, but the faces that looked up to see him enter were filled more with comic dismay than anger, for they were all fairly young people and totally at ease with each other.
There was Prateik’s elder brother, Tushar, at the head of the table. In getting to know Tushar really well, people went through phases. The first phase was based on the first impression: that of an idiotic, silly, pompous person. His clothes were flamboyant, his style was flamboyant, and he had this silly, idiotic grin pasted on his face, and used a very strong perfume. As one began to get to know him better, one said to oneself, “Hmmm…you know, he sounds quite reasonable.” Till one realized after a while that all he ever spoke about was business. Oh yes! He spoke at length about his wife and children, his house, his brothers, and his estate, but only inasmuch they affected monetary affairs in terms of profits and losses. This was the third and conclusive phase that one went through, and most times, it left most people disillusioned.
Radhika, his wife, sat to his right. Remarkable the love and total dedication with which some women are capable of serving their husbands. Here was a woman who strived so hard all the time to blend her character with that of her husband’s, very much in the manner of a chameleon. She had trained her taste buds to like only the food that he liked, her eyes to see only the colours that he saw, cover what he sought to cover, reveal what he sought to reveal, and to associate only with those whom he saw good enough to be associated with. She was a simple-hearted soul and did not grieve this total loss of individuality that her marriage—or so she presumed it to—demanded of her. Presumably, unlike a chameleon, she did all this out of a misguided notion of romantic love for her husband, and not as recourse to survival.
Not so with the other pair. They were Prateik’s second brother, Udhayan, and his wife, Monisha. Monisha was a very beautiful lady and the only daughter of a rich estate owner. Neither of them had ever been short of money and they did not worry too much about the conditions of Prateik’s father’s Will. Yet, material wealth played a very important role in their relationship. It was the third person that decided who should rule the roost. The very fact that she was wealthier of the two automatically placed the dice in Monisha’s favour. She was the one who made all the major decisions—and all the minor ones too. And yet, Udhayan, like Radhika, was a simple-hearted soul, and it may be concluded that he simply allowed himself to be led.
Both couples had a son and a daughter each.
Prateik sat down next to his elder sister-in-law on the right side. She served him his dinner.
“How’s the hangover?” asked his brother Udhayan, grinning slyly. Everyone was smiling at Prateik.
Prateik was used to being teased, and he grinned too, “Much better, but still there. I must quit drinks soon. Chacha is so worried.”
“Why should you do that?” said Tushar, smoothly, “You’re not hurting anyone except yourself. It’s just an affordable luxury for you, that’s all.”
Prateik smiled but kept quiet. The talk around the dinner table continued along light and merry lines. It was only after the meal was over and the table was cleared and the dessert plates brought out that they got down to business.
“So, what’s all this about?” asked Prateik.
“Nothing much actually,” said Tushar. He paused. Then he looked up, “Do you remember Mr. Das, Dad’s close associate and business partner?”
Prateik nodded, “Yes, of course I do. What about him?”
“Well, he died last week.”
Prateik raised his brows enquiringly, “What happened?”
“Nothing out of the way. He was ailing for a long time—had sugar problems and a weak heart. He had a paralysis stroke two months back and was bedridden. He was eighty plus.”
“Dad would have been eighty this year,” Udhayan remarked.
“Yeah…” said Tushar.
“Anyways,” he continued, “You will have to go and pay our condolences.”
“Oh!” said Prateik, stirring his kheer with a spoon, “And why should it be me?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be the diplomat of the family?” asked Tushar, winking at Udhayan, who grinned back.
“Now, that’s laying it too thick, Tushar,” said Prateik, smiling and raising a warning finger at his brother.
“Well,” said Tushar, “Actually, I can’t go. It’s harvest time and I have to be here, and I want Udhayan to be here with me to help me deal with the men. So it has to be you.”
“Where is this place?” asked Prateik.
“In Madhyamgram, 24 Parganas, I think.”
“Why, I thought it was a local visit. This will be going out of town!”
“Yes. You have your car and Jahangir is there to drive. You’ll be fine.”
Prateik wasn’t listening. Now, where did I hear about this place recently?”
“That an old man died there and you have to go and pay condolences on behalf of the family,” said Udhayan, promptly.
They all burst out laughing. Prateik laughed too, but remained thoughtful.
“That’s it!” he exclaimed, with his last spoonful of kheer, “I found a letter written by Sudhir two years back, and the address read Madhyamgram. Oh good! Now I can look him up too.”
They were all smiling and looking at him. Tushar got up to wash his hands, “Well you do just that and give him our regards too.”
Prateik nodded thoughtfully and got up, “Okay folks, I’ll be turning in. I have to start early tomorrow if I have to get there in time for lunch.”
His family seemed fascinated by his statement. “What’s up?” asked Prateik, puzzled.
“Early in the morning at 10 o’ clock, Prateik?” asked Udhayan.

Prateik grinned. “It shouldn’t get later than that you know.” He made his way upstairs. There he picked up the letter from behind the mirror and read the address again. A feeling of happy anticipation filled him and he made his way to bed in high spirits.

[To be continued ...]

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