Rosie - 3

Glory Sasikala

Serialized novel, by Glory Sasikala


her many engaging ways, her smile makes me swoon
she is Sun, Stars and Galaxy; she is the Moon

It was well past 10, however, when Prateik finally made his way downstairs, had breakfast, and got into the car. Jahangir, the chauffeur, had been in their service for nearly 15 years now and was a trusted driver. So all Prateik had to do was sit back and relax and enjoy the drive.
It was half-past two when the car finally made its way down the side streets of Madhyamgram, then turned to the main highway, and down the drive of Hotel Akash. Tushar had told him to stay here. He had told Prateik that it was a good and comfortable hotel. Service was good he had said.
Prateik got out of the car. A porter hurried over and took out the luggage. Jahangir was directed to the parking lot. Prateik entered the lobby and went over to the reception area. When he had paid at the counter and received the keys to both his room and Jahangir’s, he made his way to the first floor where his room was. Jahangir would pick up his key when he came in.
It was a beautiful room facing the garden and Prateik found it to his satisfaction. He was a bit tired from the travel. He ordered a cup of coffee and sat relaxing on the bed, watching some song sequences being shown on the TV set facing his bed.
After resting for a while, he had a refreshing bath and got dressed and went downstairs.
“Do you know the way, Jahangir?” he asked.
“Yes, Sir,” I’ve been there before,” Jahangir replied.
“Oh! That’s good!” said Prateik.
Jahangir set the car in motion. The car made its way down several side streets and finally down a highway with rolling countryside on both sides. Blue hills, green paddy fields, and open pastures dotted with cattle and carefree shepherds, seated under shady trees, rain-made lakes with patient cranes here and there, waiting for that elusive fish. It was all so serene and beautiful. This then gave way to beautiful country houses. Most of these houses were hidden behind beautiful gardens with only the big trees, gates, and high walls proclaiming their presence. Jahangir turned down one of the gates and made his way down the drive. The house came in view, an old, white, rambling bungalow. He stopped the car and Prateik got out.
“Be back in half an hour’s time,” Prateik said to Jahangir, and made his way up the short flight of stairs that led to the house and rang the bell. The door was opened by an old man, possibly the butler. “Namaste,” said Prateik, “I have come to meet Mrs. Saxena.”
The old man looked at Prateik, “Who should I say is calling?”
“I’m Prateik Acharya.”
“Please wait,” said the old man, and went in.
Prateik could hear him talking to someone. Then a female voice said, “And you made him wait outside? Go and ask him to come in!”
Then the old man reappeared and smiled at him, “Please come in.”
He led the way to the sitting room. “Please make yourself comfortable. Maaji will be here soon.” He waited till Prateik was seated comfortably in a sofa. He then poured out a glass of water from the decanter on a side table and brought it over and gave it to him. Prateik smiled and took the glass from him, thinking how like Chacha he was. Faithful servants were hard to come by and were worth their weight in gold.

The man went in. Prateik looked around appreciatively. Antiques everywhere, carefully chosen and strategically placed. He then feasted his eyes on the painting above the fireside. It was abstract with splashes of colours forming strange designs and shapes. Prateik, a connoisseur of art, knew at once that it was the work of a famous artist. He got up to have a closer look.
“Bring some coffee and snacks,” said a female voice, querulous and yet authoritative.
“Yes Maaji,” came the man’s reply.
Then she came into the room. A woman in her late sixties. She was wearing a white sari with small purple flowers on them. She had wrapped the pullo around her. She was short and squat and chubby, and had a very pleasant round face with kind eyes.
“Prateik! I’m so glad to see you!”
Prateik moved towards her and bent to touch her feet. He then returned her hug.
He then guided her to a sofa and sat opposite her. “How are you?” he asked.
“I’m okay,” she said, looking at him. “Managing…”
Prateik listened in sympathetic silence.
“Everything has changed so much!” Her lips trembled.
Prateik leaned over and took her hand.
“Who is staying with you?” he asked.
“Arvind and Manisha are here. They stay here. You remember him?”

Prateik nodded, “We were college mates,” he said.
“Arre, yes! I had forgotten that. He’s the one taking care of everything now. Life has to go on…Estate has to be taken care of.
Prateik nodded understand. “Yes. Tushar and Udhayan wanted to come too, but it’s harvest time now.”
She nodded, “Yes, it’s important that they stay there.”
“I hope…I hope it was a peaceful death,” said Prateik.
“Yes….yes, it was peaceful. He was in a coma for two day prior. Then suddenly he came to. He started talking a lot. Asking about the children. It was lucky that all of them were there. Arvind had written to them earlier asking them to come down immediately. We kind of knew… Even then…”
She lapsed into silence. “He spoke for some five minutes, that’s all. Then he was gone. I’ve heard it happens that way sometimes.”
Prateik nodded, “They become lucid before dying.”
She nodded too. They sat in silence for a while, Prateik still holding her hand.
“And after that, there was so much to do, there was no time to think or grieve. The children were here. My grandchildren too. Everyone had to be taken care of, and funeral arrangements made. I had no time to grieve. It’s taken two months for everything to settle down and some semblance of normalcy. The children have left. And now…now I can sit and cry….” Tears fell from her eyes. Prateik put his hand into the inside of his coat pocket and took out a white tissue paper and gave it to her. He let go of her hand.
She took the tissue paper from him and wiped her nose, which was very red from the crying.
“I knew. His health was not good. He had diabetes, high blood pressure… And he never tried to restrict himself. He loved rich food. I used to tell him to be careful. He never listened.”
“Arvind is able to manage?” Prateik asked, making an effort to distract her.
“Oh yes! He was the one managing the estate even when his father was there. We are old people. Children have to take over.”
Prateik nodded. “He is fine. And his wife Manisha—she is well educated. She helps him out with the finances.”
“That’s good,” said Prateik.
“Yes, yes…”
A beautiful young woman came into the room bearing a tray with snacks and tea. She wore a simple light blue cotton sari. Sindoor in the parting of her hair indicated that she was married. She smiled and placed the tray on the table. She gave a cup of tea to Mrs. Saxena.
“This is Manisha, Arvind’s wife.”
“Namaste,” said Prateik, “I remember you from the wedding.”
She smiled, “I’ve heard of you. You are Acharya Uncle’s son.”
“Yes,” grinned Prateik, “The third one.”
“Shall I add milk and sugar to your tea?” she asked.
“Yes please. Two spoons.”
Soon, it was time for Prateik to leave. He got up and Mrs. Saxena got up too. She held his hands in her own and looked up at his face.

“Thank you very much for coming Prateik. I’m very happy you came. You must keep coming.”
“Yes,” said Prateik, and he bent down and touched her feet. “Don’t hesitate to call us if you need help. Just send word through someone or call us.”
“I’ll definitely do so. Thank you so much!” she replied and hugged him.
“And you must all come home sometime,” said Prateik, looking at Manisha, “It will be a good change for you. Maybe during the summer holidays?”
“Yes,” she said, smiling, “That will be something to look forward to.”
They saw him to the door and waited for him to get into the car. He waved out to them.
Soon they were out of the driveway and on the highway. “Jahangir,” said Prateik, leaning over to the front seat, “I want you to find this address.”
He handed over a piece of paper with Sudhir’s address, “I think it’s on the other side of the town.”
Jahangir took the piece of paper from him. “Yes Sir. I don’t know this place, but we’ll enquire,” he said. After enquiring twice or thrice along the way, the car finally turned down a busy highway and down a marketplace. Prateik looked at the address at the bottom of the board of a shop. The street was right and the pin code. He asked Jahangir to park the car in a parking lot. He got out of the car, “You stay here,” he said to Jahangir, “Have tea and something to eat.” He gave him some money. “It might take a while.”
“Yes Sir. Thank you,” said Jahangir, taking the money.
Prateik then walked over to a nearby shop and asked the shopkeeper, “Could you please tell me where this address is?” The shopkeeper took the piece of paper and read it.
“Just go down the road, Sir, and turn down the second street.”
Prateik thanked him and walked down the way he was told. Hardly had the street begun than it ended abruptly, turning into a big courtyard. Prateik was so fascinated by the sight he saw that he stopped and stared. The courtyard was obviously the front lawn of the building behind it. Playing on this courtyard were so many children! There must have been at least 30 to 40 of them. They were so engrossed in their game that they did not see the stranger in their midst. They were bright-eyed, carefree, happy children. On the other side of the courtyard, across the road, was a water pump, and standing there and giggling and chatting and catching water were a bevy of young girls.
It took a while for the kids to notice Prateik, but slowly one by one, they stopped their game and stood staring at him. Any break from the usual routine was welcome, and when the diversion came in the shape of a well-dressed, handsome young man, it was too good to be missed. The bevy of girls were still giggling and chatting, obviously laughing with a girl who held centre of court narrating some incident. It was in the midst of this hand-flinging, gesticulating activity that she happened to turn and see Prateik. She broke off her speech, leaving both her words and hands in mid-air, and into her eyes came the same look of frank curiosity as that in the kids. The listeners, also thus left in mid-air, now gave her a puzzled look and turned in the direction in which she was looking, and having caught sight of Prateik, gave him the benefit of the frank curiosity that they all seemed to reserve for him. Prateik was not at all put out by this attention. He had been through it before and he took it in his stride. Walking briskly up to the bevy of girls, he gave them one of his most charming smiles and addressed the taleteller, “Hello, I’m looking for someone. His name is Sudhir. He lives here. He’s a schoolmaster. Can you help me?” Thus addressed, the girl suddenly became talkative, “Sudhir Master? Oh, of course we all know him! He lived in that house.” She pointed to one of the doors in the building behind the courtyard. “He doesn’t live there anymore.”
“Oh!” said Prateik, disappointed, “Where has he gone? Do you know?” The girl gazed at his reaction curiously and asked, “Why, is he a friend of yours?”
“Yes,” said Prateik, “Well,” said the taleteller, “I don’t know where he has gone. But Rosie will know. You see, Rosie was working with him. She is a teacher too.”
Prateik understood that Rosie was another girl who lived there. “Er…where can I find Rosie?” he asked.
“Rosie lives up there!” and the girl pointed to the last door of the first floor of the building. “She hasn’t come from school yet.” She turned to the group of children and shouted, “Hi Rashmi! Take Sir up to your house, will you?”
At this, a shy young girl of about 12 detached herself from the group of gaping children. “You go with her, Sir. Grandma is there at home,” said the taleteller. Rashmi smiled shyly at Prateik. She was a pretty child, with soft brown hair, smiling eyes, and a dimple. Her hair was cut really short, and somehow, she had managed to tie up some of it with a ribbon. Prateik followed her as she led the way. The words from Sudhir’s letter kept playing again and again in Prateik’s mind, “And every time she lets drop a word, it’s like discovering a flower in early spring…” Pity he couldn’t get to meet her.
“I wish I could have met them,” he thought, wistfully. Having reached the first floor, the child turned right and walked down a long corridor. Prateik followed, his mind momentarily distracted by the fact that all the doors along the corridor were locked. He wondered where all the people had gone, when suddenly he came upon a door that was kept wide open. And in that house, glued to a tiny television set kept at an altitude so it could be visible to everybody, were all the people. So silently did they watch that the room could have been an empty one except for the dialogues in the movie. Prateik peeped in, amused. The movie would soon be over, the set switched off, the room light switched on, and the people would stare stupidly at the set for a while, then try to focus on the objects around the room, and then, at their neighbour’s faces, and then they would get up and stretch out and make their ways home, back to their mundane and very real existence.
But the child led on till she reached the end of the corridor, where she waited for Prateik to catch up. Then she went in. Prateik stood at the doorway and looked in, surprised. Here was this room at the end of this shabby, ramshackle building, furnished, if on one hand, within the owner’s means,, then on the other hand, with beautiful taste and choice of colour. There were two sofas with cushions on them covered with light pink cushion covers. A small table was placed near them. White crocheted laces were placed over the backrest of the sofas and over the table cover, which was light pink too. A vase filled with fresh roses was kept in the middle of the small table. There was a bigger table in the opposite side of the room, also covered with a light pink table cloth. There was one window to the room, facing the side street outside, behind the sofa sets; a door on the side led to the next room. White curtains with tiny pinks flowers adorned both door and window. There was a small shelf on the wall facing the entrance, and on it were placed a few ornaments and photos and trophies. Some paintings and photos adorned the walls in strategic places. On a divan, placed facing the entrance, sat an old woman, clad in a cotton sari that could have been any colour long back; it was now too faded to matter. She had spectacles on, and was reading a book, presumably a holy text, and she was reading aloud from it.
The child flung herself on the old woman, saying, “Dadima! Dadima!” Forcing her to look up. The lady pushed her off, “Arre! What are you doing?” Then she saw that a stranger was standing at the doorstep. She gave him a measuring glance and asked, “Yes, what do you want?” Prateik gave her one of his disarming smiles and said, “I came here looking for my friend Sudhir. I’m told that he left town. I thought maybe your…Rosie… will have the forwarding address?”
The old lady had by then taken in Prateik. She seemed to like what she saw. She now said, “Please sit down son. Rosie will be here soon.” Thus addressed, Prateik removed his shoes, walked in and made himself comfortable on the sofa.
The old lady continued, “So you are Sudhir Master’s friend, are you?” “Yes,” replied Prateik, “We were childhood friends. We grew up together. We went to the same school. He had written a letter to me, two years back. I couldn’t meet him then.” The old lady listened in thoughtful silence.
“Rosie and Sudhir were teachers in the same school. Corporate school runs by the Government. You know how it is. They send you to some far off village. Leave alone education, most times these people won’t even be able to get two square meals per day. They’ve transferred him there. Yes, Rosie will know. She is my granddaughter.”
Prateik smiled. He touched the lace on the table, “This is so beautiful!”
“Yes,” said the old woman, nodding, “Rosie made these. She is very talented. Works well with the needles, cooks well, takes tuition…Don’t know how we would manage without her.”
“Are you from here?” she asked.
“No, Maa Ji, I am from up North. Just outside Kolkata. I had some work here.”
“Oh, I see… We are also not from here. We are Punjabis. Farmers. My son…he was not a good boy. Used to gamble and drink. We lost everything. Then we came here in search of jobs. Now, he is also gone, my daughter-in-law also died. Only my four grandchildren are left, fending for themselves. My grandson is the eldest. He is married.”
Prateik nodded, listening.
“They live next door. They have a small daughter, a baby.”
“Rosie is two years younger. And then, there’s Rashmi, who brought you up. And then, Suman, who is still very young. She is 10 years old. My grandson has a carpentry shop. And as for us, between my savings and Rosie’s earnings, we manage.”
She lapsed into silence. Then, “We manage quite well,” she smiled. Prateik smiled back.
“Everything is so costly nowadays. And then too, there’s my medicines.”
“Aha? You are not well?”
“What to do, son? I am growing old by the day.”
She seemed to enjoy talking to him.
Prateik was such a good listener. It was one of his many charms, and it was genuine. And with his varied interests and charming personality, he made a very good companion.
All of a sudden, there was a commotion downstairs. The children’s voices were raised to a crescendo. Above it came the excited, shrill voices of the girls. Someone had arrived and was being greeted joyously. The old lady’s face creased into a pleasant smile. “That will be Rosie. They always greet her like this. Everybody loves Rosie.”
Silence had descended on the crowd barring a girl’s voice. It was a gay, high-flung voice, shrill, and yet, very pleasant, punctuated with girlish laughter like the peals of a church bell. Whatever she was saying was very funny and the whole company went off into gales of laughter. He heard the voice make its way upstairs. He heard it greet the people in the room and the banter and the replying…
Then Rosie appeared. And Prateik was in for another shock. To say that he was stunned would not be an exaggeration, for what stood before him was a vision. The young woman he was gazing at was in her early twenties. She was tall and slim. It would be hard to describe what she was wearing. It seemed to a flowing robe of some scarlet material. She had a scarlet shawl around her shoulders. Both shawl and dress were faded and old but the colour seemed to set off her flawless, rose and cream complexion. But it was the face that arrested Prateik. It was a small dainty face with large questioning beautiful brown eyes with dark pupils, with very long dark eyelashes under winged eyebrows. She had a nice, tiny, perfect nose, slightly upturned; her lips were like a pink rosebud in half bloom. Her face was round and her cheeks as soft and as full as a baby’s. She had auburn hair, which was tied up into a high ponytail. She had no make-up on and she wore no accessories. She was so simple and so beautiful that Prateik could not take his eyes off her. He wasn’t even aware that he was staring. She looked at him and smiled, dimples denting her cheeks. But when she caught him staring so, her eyes became cold. Prateik caught himself in time and got up and smiled back at her.
“I…I’m sorry...”
She now smiled again. “Please sit down.”
He sat down obediently.
She did not seem surprised to see him. For a moment, Prateik wondered why. Then he realized they must have told her about him downstairs. Rosie came in and sat down next to her grandmother. “You have come looking for Sudhir Master, have you not?”
“Yes, yes,” Prateik replied, “I am told he left town. I was just wondering if you could give me his forwarding address.”
Rosie nodded. “I don’t have a proper address, but I do know he’s been transferred to the __ Village school, “You can catch him there.”
“Oh yes! That will work perfectly,” said Prateik, wondering why he was talking in superlatives. He had never been so flustered in his life.
“Master was your classmate?”
“Yes,” replied Prateik.
“So you must be Prateik?”
“Yes,” said Prateik, smiling, “I seem to be famous?”
She laughed, “Yes, you are! Master talked a lot about you, all the mischief that you both got into. Robbing mangoes, teasing teachers, going swimming in the river... He said you caught fish, made a bonfire with twigs, and fried them and ate.
Prateik laughed. “Yes we did indeed! It was so tasty. Smoked fish. Did he tell you all that?”
“Yes,” she laughed, “And other things. The boys in my school are like that too. Very naughty. I have to always be on the lookout. Sudhir Master was a good teacher. He got on with the children very well, maybe because he himself had had such a carefree childhood. Now, a new master has come in his place. He is also nice, but it will take some time for him to settle down.”
He could have let her go on talking just to watch the flitting expressions on her face. She was so unselfconscious. Maybe she knew she was this beautiful, but she definitely didn’t bother much about it. There was a childlike quality about her, a love for fun and simple things, and at the same time, she was very much a dignified lady and a teacher.
She had lapsed into silence. Prateik also felt that it was time for him to take leave. He got up.
“Pranam Dadima, I will take your leave,” he said, folding his hands together.
“You are leaving son? Be happy. My blessings are with you,” said the old lady.
Looking at Rosie, Prateik smiled his thank you. For a moment, their eyes met and held and something passed between them…some understanding. They seemed to know each other well…

Prateik nodded abruptly and walked out the door.

[To be continued ...]

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