The traffic in Pune seemed to be breeding like mice. Mrs. Dutta looked baffled with the incessant flow of vehicles that denied her any opportunity to cross the road. Her salt and pepper hair swayed in the warm breeze. But her usually healthy and buxom self was about to collapse under the sun with the weight of the grocery bags. Just as she was about to give up, another hand caught hers in a tight grip. That kind soul’s bald head shone in the bright sunlight. His warm face and assured grip brought a sense of relief over Mrs. Dutta.
Still nervous but grateful, Mrs. Dutta tiredly said, “Thank you for your kindness. You were truly God-sent Mr. …?”
“Mr. Chopra” he replied, taking a bag from her.
She was in no condition to deny his further help and they proceeded towards her apartment. A few steps later he realized that they lived in neighboring apartments and mentioned the fact to her. She surprisingly remarked, “But I have never seen you before. Maybe the children know each other.”
At that he informed her, “I live here alone with my wife. My son lives in Delhi with his family”.
As they approached her apartment, Mrs. Dutta graciously invited him for tea and suggested that Mrs. Chopra also join them, to which Mr.Chopra agreed. On calling up his wife, he however found that she had just left for a Bhajan evening at the nearby temple. Nevertheless, Mrs. Dutta called out to Lata to make tea.
On hearing her voice, Harsh who was studying in the inside came rushing and shouting, “Dadi, Dadi”.
“Yes”, replied Mrs. Dutta.
“Where were you for so long?” asked, Harsh anxiously.
But on seeing the unexpected guest in the living room, he was rather surprised and embarrassed at his loud voice. As he calmed down, she introduced him to Mr. Chopra and narrated the incident.
Harsh warmly looked towards Mr. Chopra and innocently added, “Namaste uncle. Thank you for helping Dadi”. And then immediately turned towards his dadi and reprimanded with grown-up concern, “Dadi, why don’t you listen to me and take Lata to carry the bags?”
Mrs. Dutta said nothing but gave a look of acquiescence and assurance.
Harsh, dressed in his Disney t-shirt and khaki shorts, was a lanky boy of 14 years. Bright at school and delightful at home. Naughty but caring. His vivacity and warmth was infectious and Mr. Chopra was no exception. He asked the little boy all about his school, sports and friends. They found that they shared common interests in carrom and cricket.
The next evening, Mrs. Dutta and Harsh went to the park and found the Chopras there. Granny and the grandson walked towards the couple and Mr. Chopra introduced the ladies to each other.
He then looked below and added, “And he is Harsh”, stroking his hair.
Mrs. Dutta sat with the Chopras making small talk while Harsh scurried to play.
Suddenly Mr. Chopra turned to Mrs. Dutta and asked, “Mrs. Dutta, I am sorry but I didn’t ask you about or see your other family members?”
Mrs. Dutta nostalgically but smilingly replied, “My son and his family are settled in USA. They come here once in two years”.
Mr. Chopra was astonished and compelled to ask, “And Harsh? He didn’t go to USA with them?”
Mrs. Dutta then told them, “Harsh is not my son’s son though he is my grandson.”
“Sorry but I didn’t get you” interrupted Mr. Chopra.
“I adopted Harsh five years ago after my husband’s death.”, she told them looking away in the horizon.
Fidgeting with a dry straw in her hand and gathering her emotions she added, “When Mr. Dutta passed away, my son insisted that I go to USA with them but I couldn’t leave India and my home at that age and settle in a new country and atmosphere. However, I also needed a reason to live happily here.”
She paused and sighed, “So I adopted Harsh. He got a Dadi, a better school and home. And I got a grandchild. Basically I got my reason to be happy here.”
Mrs Dutta now looked up at the couple and smiled.
Mr. and Mrs. Chopra were stunned and touched by what they had just heard.
While they were still talking, Harsh arrived hot-foot and chuckling, ready to go home. But before leaving, he made Mr. Chopra promise to play carrom with him the next day. There was a growing fondness between the two families. And as the days went by they met more often.
One evening Mrs. Chopra invited them for dinner and made Harsh’s favourite dish Rajma Chawal. Before leaving, Harsh thanked Mrs. Chopra and naively added, “Aunty please call me again the next time you make it.”
“Sure beta. Come anytime”, remarked a beaming Mrs. Chopra. And a moment later added, “Harsh why don’t you call me Dadi too?” There was a lump in her throat when she said it. She missed her grandchildren in Delhi.
In the following weeks, the Chopras and Duttas grew closer. There were frequent carrom matches and dinner outings at Harsh’s insistence. The Chopras felt a new sense of elation. In this refreshing wave, they planned a picnic to Lonavala one weekend. Harsh was chirpy as a cricket. He carried his cricket kit and a pack of cards. The food was packed – sandwiches, chips, cold drinks, etc. In fact they all seemed to share the same childlike exuberance. The weather was perfect and their spirits were high. They ate heartily, played merrily and enjoyed every moment of the day. Before they realized, it was dusk and time to leave. Mr. and Mrs. Chopra voiced their thanks to Harsh for bringing a new lease of happiness in their lives. At the same time Mrs. Dutta quietly thanked God for Harsh.
The Express Highway from Mumbai to Pune is a great drive but it tempts you to speeding. Mr. Chopra’s taxi had covered not more than 10 kms when a speeding truck rammed into the car from the opposite direction. People who saw the accident shudder describing it. There was a deafening thud, then shrieks of pain and then silence. The car was a scrap. Ambulances rushed to the site. But they found two souls had already departed. And one of it was that of a young, loving and lively boy of 14 years. Harsh’s face was unrecognizable. His body was squeezed between the front and the rear seat. The taxi driver also couldn’t survive the hit. Mr. and Mrs. Chopra and Mrs. Dutta were being rushed to the nearest hospital. However, Mr. Chopra couldn’t struggle long and gave up on the way to the hospital.
Mrs. Dutta and Mrs. Chopra were in the ICU for 4 to 5 days unaware of what had happened to the others. Finally when the truth was known, Mrs. Dutta went into a shock and depression. She couldn’t comprehend that Harsh was no longer with her. She neither wept nor spoke. Mrs. Chopra however, reluctantly accepted the misfortune in her life. She persuaded Mrs. Dutta to talk but Mrs. Dutta spoke only silence. She had become a zombie. A moment ago their happiness had known no bounds and then suddenly it ended like a dream. Mrs. Chopra made numerous attempts to bring Mrs. Dutta back to normalcy but nothing helped. She stopped responding.
Finally Mrs. Chopra was leaving for Delhi to be with her family. She went to meet Mrs. Dutta for one last time with unstoppable tears and a prayer in her heart for her well being. A month had passed since that star-crossed evening. Mrs. Dutta was still in her depression but was settling back to her usual chores.
One sunny day, she was again standing across the road with bags of grocery and the sun hitting her eyes and head. The traffic was relentless. And suddenly there was a blackening out in front of her eyes. She would have fainted that very moment if a strong and young hand wouldn’t have held her. He shook her and benignly asked, “Dadi dadi, are you alright?” She didn’t respond.
He stroked her hand again, “Dadi, get up.”
Mrs. Dutta didn’t understand what was happening to her but her pent up tears flowed uncontrollably for the first time.
The young man was tall, well built and about 21 years old. He didn’t know what made the old lady weep for he didn’t know he had unknowingly touched that chord in her heart. The word “Dadi” had the strongest allusion to her. Mrs. Dutta couldn’t talk between her sobs and Rahul couldn’t leave her there on the road. He took her to his apartment and waited for her to calm down. Rahul shared the apartment with two other friends who studied in the same college. For the first time in a month Mrs. Dutta spoke to somebody and spoke from her heart. She told him about Harsh and all that had happened.
Rahul looked at his friends then looked at her and simply said, “I lost my grandmother when I was five. And I still miss her. Dadi, can I please adopt you?”
(Published in Woman’s Era Magazine, Copyright, Woman’s Era)