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Priyanka Sarode

Drama


5.0  

Priyanka Sarode

Drama


A Box Of Chocolates

A Box Of Chocolates

14 mins 10.6K 14 mins 10.6K

“Study! Study!! Study!!! All the time! Give me a break. I have been studying since I was three”, said the notorious me to my grandma. I used to call her ‘Ma’. Yes, my childhood was spent with my grandmother. My parents were at work in New York. My mother insisted for elementary education in India, believing in Rabindranath Tagore’s philosophy- ‘It’s only when your roots are firm in the soil, that you can spread your branches to reach the sky.”

My grandfather was a forest range officer. Thus, our house was in the woods- quaint and serene. In the lap of nature and pampering from grandparents, I seldom missed my parents. They called, sometimes fortnightly.

The story starts when I was in grade III. Concentration was a very tough task; exams were a nightmare! I was the most hated among all teachers. Well, at school, we have an award for the best student, had it been an award for the most distracted, inattentive and impossible child, it would be none other than me.

But there was one thing that ruled me. It was ‘chocolates!’ My three teeth, of course milk ones had already broken and most of them had cavity. This is the best evidence I could give to prove myself a ‘chocolate maniac’. During one of the unit tests, my teacher questioned (she probably cursed her wit later): If I give you four chocolates and you ate one, how many would remain?” I said, “None.” It was impossible to eat one when you had four! Mathematics was never my cup of tea. I couldn’t understand ‘2+2=4’, but when Ma actually handed me with 2 chocolates and then 2 more, I would figure it right! It was an ordeal for her to convert all my numerical problems into ‘chocolate theory’. That probably was the reason for my bad dental health! Thankfully, she somehow managed to get me through the exams.

I grew up, blissfully unaware of the strokes that she made to shape me up, like an able goldsmith. Along with being my friend and companion, she was also a disciplinarian.

Whether I liked it or not, I had to read the newspaper daily, say out the tables and recite evening prayers regularly. Nights were adorned with the charming fairy tales she read out to me. How I loved them and believed them too! On weekends, we had park trails, tended to the plants, played trump cards and I savoured the favourite dishes, she so lovingly cooked only for me. The bond strengthened with time. She gave me these doses of enlightenment, lessons of life through short stories, anecdotes often and I cherished them.

It was one of the many weekends. We were trailing through the jungle. I knew all the trees around; we named them, just like humans. I think they were my best friends- silent, but they understood me when I needed them. Out of all, the cherry tree planted at a short distance from the house veranda, was the closest to my heart, also because I and grandma first planted it together. Breaking the evening silence, Ma looked at me carefully, as if the time was right. I smiled back at her. Returning a subtle smile she said, “I want to tell you a secret”. “What Ma?” I asked with curiosity.

She gave a glance at the cherry tree and said, “There is a box of chocolates in the woods, and if you find it, you would know the secret to success. But nothing should be taken for granted. You will have to satisfy three conditions for that.” “Anything for chocolates,” I quipped.

“What is the first condition?” I asked impatiently.

“Okay, here it goes- Whatever you do in life Pranay, do it with your heart and focus.” I interpreted this statement with as much understanding my age could. For the first time, I took my studies seriously; I tried to be obedient and did every small task at hand with concentration. To my wonders, it worked! I was ‘all clear’, meaning I passed all subjects. The term used by college students, came to me early!

Years passed. The curiosity to know the next conditions only intensified. I kept nudging her to tell me that, but all she would say was ‘When the time is right.’ By now, thanks to Ma, I did quite well in academics and sports too. It was in grade X, when I was chosen to represent my school at state level championship in cricket. I was selected as the captain of the tournament by the coach. Peter, the bully (as we called him) who was the former captain took this as an insult, hurting his ego. The term-end examinations were slated soon after the tournaments and unfortunately, Dad’s money order was delayed that month. In his latest call, he said it would take a few more days. He suggested borrowing some money from grandma from grandpa’s pension.

It was monsoon time. When I returned, I heard grandma speaking to Raju (our house help) about the broken tin shelter of the cows. Ma was contemplating taking out some money from grandpa’s account. I smiled at my bad luck. A thought of telling her my problem crossed, but when I turned to the shelter, I saw the leaking roof and Maya (cow) and Shera (her cub) getting wet, roaming about. There was no second thought. It was Ma’s teaching that didn’t differentiate to animals. The shelter was fixed the next morning. Expenses couldn’t be spared for the fees. I was tensed as I wouldn’t be allowed to appear for exams if I failed to pay in time.

Post our net practice, I sat zeroing on the thoughts in my dressing room. Peter stealthily came in and said, “So champ, no money to pay your fees?” I was flabbergasted. “How do you know?” With a wicked smile, he replied, “I have to keep the latest updates of my ‘special’ friends you know. Let’s come to the point. Here’s an offer- give up the game, and I will pay your fees. Here’s Rs. 500 in advance. Think and let me know your decision by tomorrow.” I wanted to hit him, but kept myself in check, as he stormed out of the room. I couldn’t sleep that night. Peter’s words were reverberating in my ears. I sneaked out of my bed, saw the note. “These exams are very important but in no way, could I be a traitor.”

Seeing me at the breakfast, my cup of milk and slice lay unattended. Ma questioned as to what was the matter. I narrated the episode, crying by the end of it. “It’s time to know your second condition dear!” I looked at Ma with hope. “Your character and ability to discern, reflects in these testing conditions. Temptations are always temporary, what lies permanent is your resolve to see yourself in the eye.”

I was charged with all the positive energy. “I had been waiting for you,” I called out at Peter as he came walking to the field. “I didn’t know you were that eager.” I smiled and placed the Rs. 500 note in his hand. “Are you an idiot? You will lose your grades. Do you know what that means?”

“There is no bigger loss than losing yourself in your eye,” I said with much confidence.

It was the day of the tournament. That was the best game of my life. I had scored a century and my play had helped the team in some crucial moments. The trophy was ours! As I lifted it, it dawned upon me that I wouldn’t be able to appear for the examination. Announcements ringed in and I was declared the ‘man of the match.’ To my surprise, the management awarded me Rs. 2000/- I was elated. It couldn’t get better! Ma was always right!

“Ma, Ma..”, I screamed from the door as I couldn’t await to break the news. I found her writing her old diary. “So you have won”, she said planting a kiss on my cheek. “Yeah! You were right, and I got this cash prize of Rs. 2000. I can now also pay my fees.” “Good, you are standing on your feet now, becoming independent,” she said this with a pinch of sadness. But I was in no mood to investigate. “And what do you keep writing in these brown blocks”, I teased looking at her diary. I called them blocks, as I couldn’t read English well.

Don’t know why, she wrote it in English, she was fond of it! She had always been insisting me to learn the language, but I never felt the need, being in a vernacular medium. “Why don’t you take interest in learning English?”

“When the time is right!” I mocked reiterating her favourite dialogue, as she joined me in the spurt of laughter.

I felt most successful. Now the thirst to know the third condition was excruciating. It was more than just receiving the box of chocolates. But Ma was too firm to reveal it before time.

“The third condition on your next birthday, I promise,” she said.

Ma now skipped the evening trails, owing to her knee ache and weakness.

Finally, the day arrived. It was my 15th birthday. I was going to receive the most longing gift! Mom, Dad visited every year on my birthday. They came in early. At 12.01, they came in my room to wish me. Without paying any heed, I stormed into grandma’s bedroom. She was sleeping. I was surprised! I shook her shoulder and said, “Ma, get up. It’s time to give me my gift. Today you have no excuse.”

I turned her shoulder, and her hand let out. I was supposed to be receiving a surprise, but what I received was a shock! The shock of my life! Mom silently broke the news to me- She was no more. My world had shattered! After about a week’s time, arrangements were made for us to fly to New York. I had no option. The sweet house, the jungle trails, the cherry tree, Maya and Shera...all felt distant. “What about Maya and Shera?” I asked my father with tears in my eyes. Raju (our house help) would take care of him, he said.

Life at New York seemed artificial. I felt no soul in living. I was lost in another world, disliked everything. Mom, Dad made all efforts possible to make me feel at ease. But nothing matched the warmth of Ma’s love. Nothing! The initial mornings, I would wake up and say, “Ma, can you get me a cup of tea?” and soon, like a stroke, I would realize that we are no more together!

Time is certainly the best healer. I would somehow console myself to overcome the loss, but the unrevealed third condition, would pierce like a spear in my heart. What would that have been?

Steadily, I adapted to the new school, new surroundings, new friends and even English! On birthdays especially, I urged to go back to India and celebrate my birthday there, wrapped in those dear memories. But Dad’s business deals would never find time. I had finally lost hope to return to India forever, and with this, the hope to know the third condition too.

I graduated from school with English honours. At the time of the convocation, I remembered my grandma, who would have been so happy to see me today. I looked up, wanting to show her my certificate.

Dad threw in a party to celebrate my success. He also gave me a surprise gift, which was never expected of him. He promised to visit India on my 18th birthday. I hugged him tight, probably for the first time. The happiness was more than receiving my graduation certificate.

Finally, it was my 18th birthday, and I was home that was ‘mine’. I went to Ma’s room, cleaned it, trying to do the way she did. Her bed, her cupboard, her affection, teachings, love all gushed into me; it throttled my neck, and I couldn’t resist my tears. I heard a knock. It was Dad. “Yes,” I said.

He came in with three blocks. They were her diaries! “She asked me to gift it to you on your 18th birthday,” he said. This was the best gift ever! I opened the first one- 2003- I could read it! They took me into a flashback- the watering of plants, playing of cards, she swinging to me from the branch of a tree. The moments we spent together- how beautifully had she caged them in her diary?

I reached for the last one, the 2004 diary- the year when she passed away. I read through and reached the last page. She had written- “My grandson has understood the two conditions. It’s helping him do better and I’ll continue to pass on the wisdom in interesting ways. Now, I will present him the third condition on his birthday, which is tomorrow. But he won’t have it easy. Let’s have some mystery! She always taught through self realization and loved to puzzle people.

Below was drawn a club ( ) from the cards. A clue was given- ‘Past is the building block to the future.’

When he will solve this, I will tell him the third condition and he will get the box of chocolates.

I thought on it with all my wit, but couldn’t find the answer. In the afternoon, I happened to roam in the woods. I saw the cherry tree. I touched its bark- some things hadn’t changed I thought. I sat under it to rest. I closed my eyes. It hadn’t been this calm for long. I could picture the little me playing around with grandma around the cherry tree. Squeals of laughter echoed. I opened my eyes and held a bunch of three cherries lying close by. Yes, there it was! I had got the answer. The club was nothing but a bunch of three cherries. While playing trump cards with Ma, I never understood the club. I called them ‘3 cherries’. Soon, I started digging all around the cherry tree, expecting a box of chocolates that she said was in the woods, it had to be here. After considerable digging, I found a tin box. Was it the box of chocolates? I opened it in anticipation. To my surprise, there was another diary here. 2008 was overwritten on 2004. The current year? I was flabbergasted! I couldn’t understand heads or tails of it. How she could write 2008, when she passed away in 2005, I wondered. I opened it. On the first page was written ‘A Box of Chocolates’.

I couldn’t wait to turn over. There was a letter addressed to me.

Dear grandson,

Wondering about the diary and this addressing to you? First, let me congratulate you. You’re finally able to read English! You must be wondering, how I know, right? She was reading my mind.

I will tell you everything. If you are reading this, things did go as I had planned. I had kept a secret from you. Forgive me for that, but it was for your good dear. I had a terminal illness and had understood that my days weren’t many. The doctor had also given me an estimate. I wanted to give you not only the three conditions, but in fact three keys to success. But a man should learn the right thing at the right time. Remember, while playing trump cards, I used to tell you, “right card at the right time?” It is the art of living. If I would tell you the third condition on your 15th birthday, it would have been too early. I knew I wouldn’t be alive to tell you the third condition when you turn into an adult.

Your father had a proposal to sell this house and make a new project here. He had said the proposal will take at least three years to pass. He would never listen to me. But it is my last wish to retain this place as a hub of love and learning that you, I and your grandfather had nurtured so lovingly. I had taken a promise from him to bring you here before selling the house and also to handover my diaries. From how much I know your father, he is a ‘man of word’ and will never break his promise. God had to listen to me in this regard.

So, Pranay today probably is the best time for you to know the third condition and it is- “Live life such that your existence persists even after your death.”

Sorry, I couldn’t give you the box of chocolates, it wouldn’t last till now. I smiled. But I am sure you have got a box of treasures that will last forever.

Keep smiling. Wish you the best for the last condition.

With blessings,

Ma!

I couldn’t contain my emotions, tears had welled up. How could she be so far-sighted? She was a gem and I was blessed to have her. I understood what she wanted to convey through her third condition. I could not let our dream house break into pieces at any cost. I opposed my father. I had all the strength to do that.

Today, the house is converted into ‘an old age home for women’-for others. But for us, it is ‘Ma’s abode’.

On my each birthday, I distribute a box of chocolates to all my grandmothers here. In their eyes, I try to find Ma and believe me, I find her always. This satisfaction is more than winning the world! It reinforces the thought in my heart- “Live life such that your existence is felt even after your death.”


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