“Don’t touch the sweets.” Pandit Ji made a stern face.
“I didn’t touch them.” Little Nikhil immediately joined his hands and tried his best not to grin.
“I can see that smirk on your face quite well.” He pulled his right ear and glowered at him.
“Sorry papa,” he tried to wriggle his ear free of his father’s firm grip. But, his two little hands proved to be no match for his father’s two sturdy fingers; moved by his sweetness he let go of his ear.
“Son, you can eat all the sweets after the puja, but not now, I hope you’re big enough to understand.”
“But papa, won’t god mind even then?”
Pandit Ji widened his smile and said: “God exists within this three-foot body of yours; you’re his creation after all if you relish, then he feels delighted as much as you do.”
“So why can’t I eat now if he exists within me and not in that colorful idol to which you pray so much.”
He caressed his son’s head and adored his sweetness more than ever, “Well, this idol has been created by man within whose flesh and bones god exists. But in order to seek God who is not easy to seek within, man has created this beautiful figure with his imagination like you imagine fairies and dragons. This idol is a reflection of God within, so when he prays and offers to this idol he is seeking the god inherent in him, thus in all like him”.
Nikhil stared at his father with dumbfounded eyes, though in his mind the image of Krishna playing his flute. Those tongue-dripping sweets were all he was able to think up to. He was a little boy of six for whom the world was yet to reveal its colors, and while awake or asleep, he lived in a constant dream, for the world was a dream itself for his little mind and heart.
The sky behind the temple was lit golden by the setting sun, which appeared to fight against the clouds and use whatever little crack it could find to spread its light to the world from which the clouds strove to conceal its rays. The rest of the sky was overcast but, the clouds were painted pure white like the markless, chubby face of a child, so it was clear that it won’t rain as the clouds appeared calm and serene.
The gold, concentrated at a particular spot in the sky, slowly and steadily began to lose its brightness as the clouds loomed closer and closer, determined to engulf the sun and deprive this world of its light. A thrush sang his heart as a farewell to the sun as it did while welcoming the sun. Proud trees that stood on either side of the temple. The leaves often fluttered and flew towards the floors of the temple that was surrounded by an open verandah welcoming to the breeze, birds, squirrels, leaves, and the ever-changing sky. Evenings were mostly sunny and scorching, but today it seems the mountains have shifted to the plains: “Don’t you think?”
“I don’t know, son, maybe they have.” He gently held his son by the hand and led him towards the flight of steps through which devotees ascended and descended from the temple. “Now, off you go to your mother; she is waiting for you, and I have work to do.”
He briskly walked down the steps, driven by the aroma of ghee drenched chappatis and Palak Paneer that his mother had said she would cook for dinner. He emerged from the gates of the temple that regulated the entry and exit of the believed holy place. While on his way towards his tiny flat that was situated at the end of the bustling bazaar, whose lights and cheers made one aware of the jubilant daily life in contrast to the tranquility and silence of the temple which also turned almost like the bazaar during the time of festivities and special occasions. He saw a woman staring at him from behind a street lamp, who it seems was visible only to him.
Her face was veiled with dark apparel, and her clothes beneath the veil was a bright green salwar kameez. Her eyes, which were the only visible part of her face, held a motherly and kind gleam as if two stars plucked from the night sky were made to mix with the color of her eyes. The bustle of people who walked to and fro past he didn’t care who she was, neither did she and with elegant steps as if a hidden queen she proceeded towards the child, and stood still in front of him. They both stared at each other, with the child trying to figure out the being, and the woman whose motherly instinct grew stronger and intense the more she gazed at his innocent, searching eyes.
“Come, I’ll take you home.”
His mouth dropped open in astonishment as he did not know the lady, but the way she spoke felt as if his very own. Her voice and eyes, especially her eyes, had flooded him with a sense of familiarity and belonging. Though at the core of his heart, he knew very well that she was a stranger.
“Are you Musalmani?”
“Yes, I am”
“What do you want from me?” He took a tiny step backward, ready to burst so that the crowd notices them.
“Here, I have something for you.” She took out a Cadbury from her intricately embroidered satchel seeing which his lips widened a little to smile. He stretched his hand for the oblation.
“Only if you let me take you home,” she withdrew her hand.
“Okay, if that’s the only deal.” She gave him the chocolate, and both as two distinct figures against the boisterous crowd around them started walking merrily unseen, unheard and unknown through the chaos.
They eventually reached a lonely and desolated stretch leaving far behind the hustle and bustle of any place around the world. Where too many people gather together, each to fulfill his or her individual purpose, the atmosphere tends to lose its natural serene.
“There are so few people here.”
“Because it’s a shortcut, and soon you’ll see no one.”
“I liked the longcut more; it seems a bit spooky here with only the streetlights and stars above present to comfort you.”
She burst out in a burst of laughter, loud and lively, that rent the stillness to pieces. “You’re just like your father, a poet already.”
She cleared her throat and spoke “Your father, and I studied in the same class during our senior secondary years. He had a crush on me, a big uncontrollable crush”.
“What is a crush?”
“The first stage before falling in love with someone.”
Flabbergasted, his eyebrows shot up, “My father loved you?” She put her finger on his lips in a gentle touch, and said: “Let me finish dear.”
She then looked up at the stars whose spellbound twinkle made her memory shine. And become as clear as the very child who stood beside her, unable to think of anything else other than gape at her. “He wrote a poem titled- ‘A Secret Angel,’ which for him was the first romantic poem that he had written for anyone. The poem was beautiful, just like your sweet, little smile, and purest like your blooming innocence.
I fell in love with those words without a thought of suspicion or hesitation, ruining my bliss. I could tell the heart of your father immediately was not like those around”. She sighed and turned towards the child. Her eyes shed all maturity now sparkled like that of a youth who is fresh in the advent of love. “At the back of the paper, I wrote in the capital- ‘I loved it.’ And sent the sheet through a friend of mine. The very next day, I found another sheet under my desk. But, on the third day during lunch, I waited patiently to find another poem. After that, I return to class from the canteen. But to my disappointment, the desk above and under was empty that day. I thought he might have dropped it in my bag but, there too lay nothing”.
Her eyes suddenly lost its glow but within a second revived again. “I sat staring at the ground through the window. Plunged in gloom and doubt, I felt agitated as his poem transcended all the reasons behind going to school. But, to my awe as soon as I turned my head the other way, I finally saw my secret admirer”.
She pirouetted in a revolution around the little being. And after completing a circle, she bent down to meet his eyes at his level; her eyes vivacious than ever were smiling profusely as if her entire face expressed itself through those eyes.
“He was a shy young man, trying his best not to blush with a smile sweeter than any melody I have heard in my life. Boys and girls in the entire class stared at us, but he remained indifferent and undeterred. None existed other than me at the moment”.
“Can we walk and talk? I’m hungry”. They started walking, Nikhil was not showing any interest in the lady. By now, he knew very well that she had no bad intentions, or else why would she give him a Cadbury? But the story sounded fascinating though the terms love and romance went over his head. She was dancing more than walking like a little child who got her favorite doll. Suddenly, she froze and, with her head down, trudged silently as if drained of all joy. Bewildered, Nikhil commented: “How fast you change miss”.
“You called me miss; the letter ‘m’ that’s so close to mother.”
“I have a mother, miss.”
“Yes, you do. Here we’ve reached, and before you go, remember, don’t you dare talk about this with your father”.
“Okay, miss, I won’t. Umm…. Where do you live, miss?”
“Oh, I have a family of my own and three little kids just as sweet as you; maybe one day you’ll play with them.”
“Okay, miss, may the stars shine upon you and protect you.”
She giggled and walked away with her bright salwar kameez remaining the only color that couldn’t be washed away by the pale, yellow streetlights. Later, that night Pandit Ji came back with a bright smile on his face after feasting his eyes on the rich constellation that proliferated the night sky.
“Ah Devika, today is the day to rejoice indeed.”
“What so fortunate happened at the temple?”
“Temple! Why I’m talking about the sky, which is a dream itself. The sky was blank for months because of pollution but, today it is shining again with stars; the sky it seems has finally found the sparkle it had lost to time”.
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