Vrushti - Lost Childhood - Chapter 3
Vrushti - Lost Childhood - Chapter 37 mins 497 7 mins 497
She hopped over the huge wooden doors that lay like dead behemoths and entered the confines of the stronghold, being careful not to stamp on any of the brass spikes that jutted out from the thick crackled teak planks. This place once happened to be the citadel built by a chief of Jadeja Deshalji, she passed the second gateway leading to the central arena, a large viper seemingly oblivious to this human interruption continued to slither away while sensing it surroundings with its forked tongue.
The centre of the arena housed what seemed to be the main Haveli, though it conspicuously missed what must have been a roof above, the east-side wall seemed to be scattered away in a pile of rocks and rubble, the main jharokha where the King or the Chief could overlook the arena from the second storey looked pretty intact except for the external withered plaster exposing the innards of the strong wall and a squiggly peepal shoot peeked out of a huge crack which probably had been obtained from one of the quakes that kept rattling Kutch every few years, there were two other jharokhas symmetrically placed on both sides of this main balcony but almost shattered to look like simple windows, she momentarily paused looking up at the jharokha and was carried away to a land of fantasy in which she was a princess of this castle and perched up there.
Snapping out of her wool-gathering, she trod eastwards and climbed what once must have been stairs to go up the wall, the stairs were huge cuboid rock protrusions from the truculent wall. Being wary about the steps she knew were shaky from her earlier visits, she climbed up and proclaimed her seat on one of the largest circular bastions of the fort. She started wondering as to how many people traversed here in the over 400 years of this fort. She could vaguely remember the first time she had been here she probably was around 5-years old. Her father who was forlorn had brought her here, she was quite young to understand then that their family was bereaved. They had just completed the rituals required for the peace of her mother's soul. Innocently, she had asked her father questions like where she had gone and when will Mommy return back, she could see the corner of his eyes glisten. Today realising the despondency of that day, she so much wished she too could share all the snippets of her life, gossips like young girls her age would do, with her mother.
Looking out at the triad of craters which once people claimed was called Tretara, (in Kutchi; Tre-Three, Tara-Pond) this was once the life support of this quaint town. This still happened to be her favourite spot whenever she came home during her breaks and now that she was through with her schooling years, she wondered if she would be able to ever come sit here again, would she be able to connect with her Dad again. The basins she saw were nothing more than a thick gooey puddle in the centre surrounded by a collection of rocks which at this time of the day cast long shadows making them look like the jagged teeth of a very old man. A dust road snaked around these craters, seldom passing through thorny shrubbery. A gentle warm breeze dishevelled her bob-cropped hair, almost changing her bangs from the left to the right. She was distantly lost in her thoughts to care about the unkempt hair. She just wanted to soak in this homely feeling. This town was her family, its elders were her parents; they always tried their best that she would never miss her parents.
Her mind wandered off to what college would be like, she was excited and yet anxious. Excited as she was selected by Dr. Satyen Baxi for her masters in hydrobiology with specialization in geohydrology and hydraulics and her anxiety was that of a teenager moving to a new place, moving for higher education, would she finally meet someone her age, would she finally have a friend her age? All her childhood she had wished to have a friend to play with, even a fictitious friend would do, but her mind was too strong to conjure up a figment of the imagination and her intelligence felt demurred against artificial intelligence, which of course was very much part of daily life. She felt lonely even in a crowd. Almost wanting to cry out, she wasn't too sure if she really was weeping, tears never really rolled down.
She was too engrossed in her thoughts to realise Naleen sitting beside her. It was uncanny to see Naleen exactly sitting where her father once did. Had she drifted out for a long time? The vanishing arc of the sun was shooting out its concluding lazy rays over the barren horizon indicating she indeed had. He too seemed distantly lost, streaks of grey could be seen ruffled with the breeze above the parallel wrinkle folds on his forehead.
"Missing Asok and Anahita?" he asked.
"No Baba" she replied with a pseudo-chirp in her voice, swinging her head sideways.
Naleen was not too sure if she was crying, her face too grim, although he had always tried his best to be what Asok would've been for her, he somehow felt he lacked parenting skills, he always felt Vrushti never opened up to him and always hoped someday she would, she probably would've if he was a woman. Vrushti was the daughter he never had.
After Anahita was long gone due to the simiocanine flu, the pandemic had then claimed 9.2 million lives worldwide before a vaccine was found, it still was a major threat. Though Anahita had gone within two weeks of contracting the flu. Asok had brought Vrushti here for the first time the day Anahita left them, he just sat there sombre while Vrushti keep asking where her mama was. Vrushti's destiny had more in store for her, Asok soon suffered chronic renal issues due to the hypernatremia he developed from brine ingestion, Naleen had borne the total expenses for the dialysis and rehydration, which even today was the most expensive treatment, but eventually Asok had succumbed to cerebral oedema resulting from the treatments. Naleen had never been able to forgive himself since Asok had suffered an occupational injury, an injury which was destined to happen to Naleen had Asok not volunteered to go check the faulty solenoid valve in the equalization tank. Asok was like a younger brother to him. He still remembered the day that brought this little child in his life. Her face was a perfect combination of her beautiful parents, it kept their memories fresh always in his mind.
She managed a tiny smile, to assure Naleen everything was alright. This wonderful smile was worth everything Naleen possessed, he would do anything to have Vrushti carry this smile forever.
"It's getting dark!" Naleen exclaimed, "You have a big day tomorrow."
She held his hand and obediently got up, he too rose up as soon as his aching knees and ankles allowed; he was just 42-years of age but felt crossing 60. In the back of his mind he always knew and regretted that Vrushti almost never had a childhood. She'd never seen children of her age, yes, probably five to ten years older than her in school but nobody was ever born at least in the district of Kutch if not the state of Gujarat during her time. Naleen had once brought her an android doll but she did not seem to like her and eventually ended up lying in her boarding closet. Schools were not what they once used to be, these were actual training factories where children, if any, were made aware of the harsh world they would be stepping out in to, and of course the school in Bhuj happened to be one of the best franchise in the country. Vrushti probably was the last child to step out of this school. For a moment, Naleen wondered what would happen to the school now that there were no children to educate. And since she was the only child in the last couple of years in the school, she had completed it at least five years earlier. She was just 11 years old and headed to college. He wasn't sure if he had to be proud for her achievement or sad for her solitary childhood.
He didn't want to send her away again, he knew she too felt as anxious as he did, but her anxiety seemed to be totally different. He just couldn't think of anything to make her stay. Maybe this too was good for her.
(Continue to Chapter 4 - Guttating away)