Atonement6 mins 249 6 mins 249
Karthik was the new tenant in flat no 601. They had zeroed down on this apartment as it faced a playground and children’s park. Priya wanted to buy a house of their own but the exorbitant real estate prices in the city made it an unattainable luxury. Maybe a few years later, but for now a rented 1BHK was all they could afford.
Every evening as Priya prepared dinner, Karthik took his children out to play so that she could cook in peace and also get some kid-free time for herself.
That's when he first saw him. He must have been be at least eighty years old, but he still took the staircase.
When nine-year-old Aryan whined when asked to climb instead of taking the elevator, Karthik admonished him ‘Look at that grandpa there, aren't you ashamed of yourself young fellow?’
Overhearing him, the elderly gentleman had smiled, ‘It's not just him, all children these days want it easy’ and as an afterthought ‘I am Damodar Prabhu from 602’, he had said, extending his wrinkled hand.
They met everyday after that during their evening stroll. Karthik got to know that he lived alone. He had lost his wife to cancer a decade ago and his two sons were settled abroad and were busy with their own lives.
When Karthik asked if he missed them, he had said without any trace of sadness ‘Of course, I do but I don't hold any ill feeling that they aren't with me. They have their careers .They have worked so hard to reach where they are today. Do you think I’m selfish enough to ask them to throw it all away for me? And it's not as if they don't ask me to come with them. I go visiting once a year, but my roots drag me back, can't live there for long.’
They soon became good friends. Mr. Prabhu was a fantastic chess player, an expert cook, and an avid reader. His home was done up tastefully. A maid came once a day for cleaning, but he managed everything else on his own. Karthik wasn't much of a reader but his wife Priya was a bookworm and she bonded with him over books and recipes.
Aryan and little Isha loved listening to his mythological stories. He even taught them Yoga. Aryan now enjoyed climbing up to the 6th floor with ‘Damodar Ajja’ .Everytime he took the staircase instead of the elevator, he was rewarded with a brand new story.
Karthik grew to love and respect this gentleman and was thoroughly impressed with him.
Never once did he complain of being left alone by his children or of his health issues. He tried to spread cheer and smile among everyone he met. He took utmost care of his health and fitness and was surprisingly self reliant for his age.
Hobbies, social interactions, religious activities kept him engaged and left no room for loneliness. Where other people in his place would have complained and cried foul for being left alone by ungrateful children, Mr. Prabhu was a picture of warmth, acceptance and self respect. Karthik vowed that if at all he lived up to eighty, this is how he would live, god willing.
One evening, when he didn't turn up for his regular evening walk, Karthik was worried. He never missed his walk, even when he wasn't well. He rang his doorbell many times, but there was no response. When calls to his mobile too went unanswered, Karthik broke open the front door with the watchman’s help.
He was sprawled on the floor, motionless.
They rushed him to the nearby hospital, but he was declared brought dead. ‘A massive heart attack’, said the doctor.
His sons came down with their families for the last rites and the rituals that followed in the next twelve days.
Karthik, Priya and the kids mourned his demise like that of a dear family member.
He had left a huge vacuum in their lives that couldn't be filled easily.
They were in for a shock when Mr. Prabhu’s son handed over the keys of his apartment to Karthik. ‘Dad has left his apartment in your name, he has mentioned this in his will,’ he said. Karthik gulped, unable to digest what he just heard.
‘You might want to have a look at this,’ he said, giving him a brown leather diary and not sounding too pleased. He left without saying another word.
Not able to withhold his curiosity, Karthik opened it as soon as he shut the front door .
June 1st, 2018
I saw him today after years, he is looking for a rental apartment. I should call the real estate agent and ask him to inform him about the vacant flat next to mine. After years of wondering where he is, fate has brought him to my city. I can't miss this god provided opportunity to get to know him better.
I have not been fair to his mother, but how could I accept her? How could I tell Sheela and the boys that I’ve been unfaithful? I couldn't face their anger and hurt, I shamefully admit that I was a coward. Thank God for the noble soul who brought him up like his own son.
July 1st 2019
I met them today. I can't thank God enough for giving me this chance. His children, my grandchildren are so lovely! I yearn to tell him that I am their grandpa, but she had made me swear that I would never reveal to Karthik that her husband wasn't his biological father.
Jan 15th 2019
I felt that lightening like ache in my chest again. Intuition tells me my days are numbered. I need to visit the lawyer tomorrow, and change my will. Arun and Akash have everything they want. This shouldn't make a big difference for them. I owe at least this much to Karthik, not only for abandoning his mother, but because he, along with Priya and the little monkeys have made the last few months, the best of my life. If I were to go tomorrow, I will gladly do so without regrets.
Karthik’s eyes welled up as the read the last entry dated a fortnight ago. He sunk on the sofa trying to get a grip on the overwhelming rush of emotions engulfing him.