There are many ways to begin a story, and equally more to proceed it. I, however, have been overcome by a desire to satisfy myself, and do justice to this story and to its characters, because one may argue that this is no ordinary story. And one would be very right in doing so because Mayank Sinha and his Destiny were anything but ordinary. But you don’t know that, because I haven’t told you yet. Wait. I just did. Oh, pardon me for spoiling this for you. I have absolutely no patience when it comes to telling stories. But you know what? Since I have sat down today to tell you a tale, a tale you will have. Let me start from the very beginning- or maybe not. We’ll see.
The story begins a disturbingly short time ago, in a land uncomfortably close by, a town, a bus stand, a queue, a figure-wrapped in a long overcoat with heavy bags under his eyes, and a heavier bag still, clutched tightly in gloved hands. He had business to attend to. He observed the people around him- an ancient habit, and also quite necessary in his trade. He knew everyone standing around him- they didn’t know him back.
Fact: He judged people and interfered in their lives.
The bus arrived. Everyone climbed on. He got a seat all to himself. He scrutinized every single person in the bus. Disappointment. He was looking for a nice and quiet retirement. A replacement for him was all he needed now. His job was a burden- a curse. The bus was about to start moving when a young lady clambered aboard. It was apparent that she was carrying. He lifted the bag from beside him and placed it upon his lap. She came and sat down. He tugged at the fingers of his gloves and pulled them off. He noticed the young lady eyeing the small tattoo on his wrist. Nervously, he pulled his sleeve over it.
‘Good morning,’ the lady said.
‘Good morning,’ he replied.
She seemed like a nice enough person. He was sorry for what he was about to do. He apologized silently but it was something that needed to be done. One of them had to compromise.
At the next stop, he got off the bus, guilt-ridden, apologetic, and utterly free. He set down his bag on the ground and pulled up his left sleeve, examining his bare wrist, which was, for the first time in his life, tattoo-free.
‘Papa! Papa! Papa! Papa! Papa!’ The warning sirens wailed, announcing the scrawny little eight year old missile which zoomed out of the house, pelted across the garden, and launched itself at the man crouched low on his knees over a wild river turtle, turtle feed in his palms. The impact was astounding. The man landed on his backside, his son over him. The turtle feed spilled to the ground. The turtle was startled into its shell. A woman appeared at the living room window. Looking out, a curious spectacle greeted her.
Her husband was sprawled across the grass, her son on top of his chest. The river turtle the man used to feed was re-emerging cautiously from its shell to edge towards the scattered feed that didn’t really belong on the grass. Shaking her head, clucking her tongue, she disappeared back inside, grumbling something incomprehensible. Both, father and son, burst out laughing, causing the turtle to retract into the shell again. Mrs Sinha had mastered the art of head-shaking and grumbling over years of practice. It was her misfortune that Mr Sinha and her son, Mayank, had had the same years of practice to allow them to master the art of not letting her disapproval affect them, equally well.
‘What is it, squirt?’ Papa asked, trying to sit up. ‘Get off me now!’
‘Read me a story!’ Mayank giggled, getting on his feet.
‘Umph,’ Papa sat up, ‘In the evening, beta. We don’t tell stories during the day.’
‘Please, Papa! Why not?’
‘According to your Grandma,’ Papa explained, ‘Telling stories in daylight makes uncles lose their way. You don’t want Uncle Raghav to lose his way, do you? Manish Bhaiya would never forgive you.’
‘Please, Papa! Please! That’s just superstition! You can’t expect me to believe that!’
Papa smiled, ‘You’re right. I don’t. I have some work right now that needs sorting. Why don’t you go and meet our new neighbor in the meantime?’
Mayank swelled up like he was going to protest but he caught the twinkle in Papa’s eyes. Tonight would be story-night. There was no doubt about it.
‘Okay,’ He submitted.
‘That’s my boy!’ Papa ruffled his hair and walked inside.
Mayank was alone outside except for the turtle. It had finished its treat and was now looking expectantly at Mayank.
The turtle made no reply.
‘Boo!’ Mayank yelled.
The turtle started. Greatly amused, Mayank walked away, chuckling to himself. The chuckles turned to whistles, and the turtle was already forgotten by the time Mayank had turned the corner to the house next door.
‘For God’s sake, child! What did I do to deserve you? Please keep quiet,’ Mumma sighed.
‘But, Ma, listen!’ The boy jumped up and down, ‘He is studying to become a doctor! And he has this insanely awesome bike with gears! He said he’d let me ride it once I am tall enough! How cool is that? And he even plays the whyolen! Really, he showed me! Are you listening, Ma?’
Mumma set down the plates she was wiping and glanced in exasperation at the boy who was clearly overwhelmed by how awesome the teenaged neighbor was. His eyes were huge and his face was flushed.
‘I am,’ she said, ‘Playing the violin is pretty impressive, but you have been gushing about it since the past whole hour! Go wash your hands. Dinner is almost ready. Papa should be back any moment.’
‘Ma, you aren’t paying attention! You do not understand how cool he is!’ Mayank said.
‘How cool who is?’ Papa entered the kitchen. ‘I am home,’ he announced.
‘Papaaa!’ Mayank ran to his father.
‘Squirrrrt!’ Papa picked him up and swung him around before setting him down again.
Giggling, Mayank began, ‘I went to our new neighbors’ today. The son is called Vedansh. He’ll turn eighteen next week, 2 days after my birthday! We played football together! And you know….’
‘Oh bother. Here we go again,’ Mumma did what she did best- sighed and shook her head reprovingly.
The legend of Vedansh Kashyap was repeated in the Sinhas’ kitchen sixteen times that day. Mumma sat through seven of them. Papa didn’t read that evening- it was his turn to listen. When Mayank finally fell asleep at the table, the clock was nefariously threatening to strike twelve. Mumma had retired to her room an hour before. Papa would leave for work early the next day. Mumma would have to be up earlier.
As Papa gently carried Mayank to his room and tucked him in bed, how blissfully unaware of the impending reality both of them were.
Mayank Sinha slept soundly, snuggled among his numerous-pillow collection that night. Things won’t remain this way for long, dear reader, I assure you. Things would go wrong. Terribly wrong. The boy would be misfortunate and miserable for the next few decades or so- to put it mildly. Enjoy the read!
Fact: There will only be two more story sessions for Mayank and Papa. A pity. Papa’s reading was magical.
‘They won. They freaking won. And I didn’t even participate!’
Mayank balled his fists, sitting on the grass in Vedansh’s garden.
‘But it’s your team. Shouldn’t you be happy,’ Vedansh offered.
‘I would be, if I still had gotten a place on the school football team. I was the best striker that would have tried out for the position!’
Vedansh said nothing, giving the fuming boy a thoroughly sympathetic look.
‘If it weren’t for this,’ Mayank thrust his right foot forward for Vedansh to see. It had swollen to the size of a small muskmelon, ‘I would be in the team today.’
When Vedansh spoke, it wasn’t a comment about football: ‘I’ll get you another ice-pack. The sprain still looks pretty ugly. Then I’ll drop you home to get some rest.’
‘I am okay!’ Mayank insisted, ‘I will be fine! Papa will read to me today. He has to! He can’t refuse when I am hurt!’
‘Okay, reading is fine, but you do need to rest that thing, understand?’
‘Mm-hmm,’ Mayank nodded.
‘Good. I’ll be back,’ Vedansh called over his shoulder as he disappeared inside to fetch more ice.
Ice-pack applied, swelling reduced, limp examined, Mayank the almost-football star was given a piggy back ride home an hour later. Vedansh promised to play the violin for him in his garden, come evening.
That night, as Vedansh was snapping the violin case shut, Papa was doing the same with a book, two walls and a hedge apart. Two promises were kept that day. Two promises. Two people. Two sighs. Two smiles. One thought.
The boy is easily fascinated.
Now, now, before we move on with the story, I would like to stop you for a minute to steal a glimpse of Papa’s reading from behind the curtains. The magic always gets to me.
The stars were gossiping that night, and the Moon, smiling serenely at the fireflies that tried to light up the world with their fairy lights. Crickets chirped merrily, calling out to each other to come play. But Mayank Sinha was oblivious to it all as he sat comfy in his bed, propped up by pillows, his leg resting on a cushion, eyes alight with excitement. Mumma sat on the stool beside him. Papa took his place at the edge of the bed. He had a book in his hand- Peter Pan.
‘All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, "Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!" This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.’
Papa began reading. The bedroom disappeared. A cool breeze picked up from nowhere- the windows were shut and the curtains drawn. Nothing existed in the world but Papa’s voice- sweet, savoury, and enchanting, skilfully navigating through the words, pulling at the syllables, drawing out characters, shaping them, and leaving them to stand gingerly on their feet, a bit shaky at first, then getting surer and stronger as they gained footing, learning to walk. Papa gently measured, tugged, and carefully snipped the exact length of words and brought them to life- silky and smooth like Mumma’s favorite saree.
The tailored words escaped his lips to fill the air, dancing and combining to work magic. A low rhythmic hum seemed to resonate from nowhere and everywhere, not at all and all at once. Papa’s voice was melodious. Listening to him was something like drinking honey straight from the comb. It was sweet and filling to taste and made your insides smile but it burned a little while going down your throat. Yes, Papa’s reading was like that, Mayank decided, warm and heavy.
The boy’s heart fluttered like the wings of a pixie. His head felt light as if he had just finished his flight to Neverland. He was charged as if he could take on Captain Hook himself. And he was entranced as if he would follow the voice reading aloud anywhere, as the Lost Boys would Peter Pan.
‘It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can't) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight-’
The reading stopped abruptly. The spell was broken. The boy shivered as if he had just been splashed with a bucket of cold water. He wanted more. So did I.
‘What’s that on your wrist,’ Papa asked.
‘It’s a violin bow. I drew it on with your pen this afternoon,’ Mayank said, ‘Isn’t it pretty? It perfectly covers my old scar from all those years ago! You can’t even tell it’s there!’
‘It is pretty,’ Papa agreed. He glanced at the wall clock. ‘Dear Lord! It’s getting late! You should sleep now.’
‘But the chapter isn’t finished yet!’
Mumma stepped in, ‘And so aren’t your tests. Go to sleep, beta. Papa will read to you tomorrow after school.’
Mumma was wrong. Papa wouldn’t. He would be home late the next day, getting something that would make Mayank happier than listening to him reading. For a while, at least. But of course, you don’t know that yet.
Papa killed the lights and Mumma adjusted Mayank’s blanket so he was tucked in neat and cozy. She kissed his forehead lightly and both of them were about to leave the room when Mayank spoke up.
‘Can I get a tattoo, when I’m older?’
‘Not in this lifetime, no,’ Mumma shot.
Papa walked around his bed to him and ruffled his hair.
‘We’ll see, squirt. Now get to sleep. Good night.’
Mayank giggled. Mumma and Papa left the room and Mayank could hear Mumma telling Papa off as he pulled the door close behind him.
‘Good night,’ He whispered to his room, and fell asleep with a small smile on his face.
Let us now fast forward to two days from the reading session. Mayank walked on his ninth birthday. Papa’s words had healed the sprain. Alright, I admit it. Saying Mayank walked would be unrealistic. He ran full out, collided with Mumma, making her drop the birthday cake, and himself fell on his bum. That’s the reason why there was no cake served on Mayank’s ninth birthday. There was, however, a brilliant home-made ice-cream for dessert. I know because I was there, watching from behind a tree. That was also the time Mayank received two brilliant gifts as the highlights of the day. Vedansh gifted him a storybook- The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which Mayank later came to love. And Papa and Mumma- oh- Papa and Mumma, they got him a violin. A brilliant, wonderful violin.
So now we know what Papa was up to when he couldn’t finish the chapter. Mayank started his violin classes the very next day.
Three months from his birthday, Mayank Sinha the almost-actor had altogether given up on his acting dreams after setting fire to the stage, one evening. No, no, I don’t mean he was a hit in the theatre. I mean there was a fire. A literal one. The hall had to be evacuated. There had been a short-circuiting in the lights as the performance began, causing the curtains and the stage to catch on fire. No physical injuries had occurred. Nor much heavy substantial damage- the curtains and the floorboards were replaced soon after the incident. No casualties were reported save one- the hope of Mayank Sinha ever taking to stage acting again – it was consumed by the flames that roared high above his head, threatening to engulf everything, before they were all ushered away through the fire exit and the situation brought under control.
Fun fact: The fire saved Julius Caesar from getting stabbed. Nice man, that Caesar was.
Anyway, Papa read through the entire night after that incident, more so, to soothe and calm Mumma down than to Mayank. Mumma held her son in her arms the whole night. Her breaths were shaky, and her sobs subsided only when Papa started working magic with his words again. But not once did she let go of her child. Peter Pan was done with that night. And good thing, too, considering how there were hardly any more times he and Papa would read together anymore. That night, like always, Mayank was fascinated by Papa’s reading.
Isn’t it funny how quickly children move on from things that adults can hardly let go of? Children are a strange specie. They will forget about almost anything, no matter how big, within minutes, as soon as they find something interesting enough that knows how to light that spark in their eyes. It’s a pity they have to grow up. Mayank was already planning on trying to take up reading himself. He wished to be like Papa. He wanted to work magic, too.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in his hands, Mayank stood in front of the mirror in the dressing room. He drew a deep breath and began reading:
‘Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.’
He looked up. His reflection stared back at him. There had been no change. He tried again, trying to mimic Papa’s honeyed voice. The rises and falls. His savory tone. He felt every word, willing it to come to life. Tasting every sound, lips tracing each letter, he concentrated on every syllable, willing it to be magical, to heal the papercut he had got that morning.
Mayank started with whispers. The whispers rose to chants. The chants grew louder and louder till-
‘Keep it low, will you?’ Mumma’s voice sailed in from the next room.
‘Sorry,’ Mayank called back.
Oopsies. Mayank turned back to the book. He inhaled and was about to start again when the doorbell rang.
‘Mayankkk!’ Mumma’s voice sailed back. ‘It’s Vedansh! Come on here.’
‘Coming!’ He set the book down and trotted out to welcome his typical next-door idol. He was greeted by Vedansh sitting on his porch.
‘Hey, Mayank. How do you feel about a concert?’ Vedansh asked.
Mayank was taken aback. ‘A concert?’
‘Yep. A music concert in the town hall. I thought you might want to enter, with your violin. I already signed you up. It’s in November. Practice up. You have three months. You better not say no. Think it over.’
The river turtle was back. It was struggling to climb onto the porch. Mayank and Vedansh watched its struggle for a few seconds while Mayank contemplated the offer.
‘I would love to try it! Thanks! But…I’ll need to ask Papa first,’ Mayank confessed.
‘Don’t worry! You’ll be great. Uncle would agree. I just can’t wait to see you set the stage on fire again,’ Vedansh grinned, and then he got up, and was off, hopping over the turtle as he went.
Mayank sat and observed the turtle’s endeavors for some time till he could no longer take it. It was the same turtle Papa used to feed. It had a slight limp- if that’s what it is called when turtles do the turtle equivalent of limping. Mayank crouched in front of it and looked it in the eye. For a good ten seconds, boy and turtle gazed into each other’s eyes.
‘BOO!’ Mayank shouted suddenly.
The turtle jumped so violently it landed on its shell and took a few attempts to get back the right way up while the boy roared with laughter. Papa didn’t need to know what Mayank used to do with the poor thing in his absence. And he wouldn’t. He would learn only of the violin concert, and it is unlikely you could have found a prouder Dad than him, when he did.
The concert arrived sooner than Mayank would have liked. He was practiced but a few more days of practice wouldn’t have hurt. For the first time in his life, Mayank knew butterflies to be in his tummy. His palms were sweaty and the collar of his hand-tailored suit felt stifling. Staying still just wasn’t happening that day.
Papa finally said, ‘What’s the matter, beta? You don’t look too well.’
‘It’s just……what if I mess up? What will happen to me then?’ Mayank twiddled his thumbs.
‘It won’t happen. I’ll be right there. You’ll be great- I believe in you,’ Papa assured him.
He patted Mayank’s shoulder. ‘However,’ he continued, ‘In case you do mess up, Mumma and I will take away your violin, shave your head, change your name, box you up, and ship you to Alaska. And we might also adopt a dog in your place. So try not to do that?’
Mayank grinned, ‘Sure!’
‘Now that’s more like it,’ Papa punched his arm lightly, ‘Do your best, squirt.’
‘Thanks, Papa! You’ll be there on time, right?’
‘Come quickly, okay? You won’t get a good seat otherwise.’
‘I will. Now off you trot. Vedansh is waiting for you. See you in an hour.’
Clutching the violin in his left hand, and the bow in his right, Mayank Sinha stepped onto the stage. His keen eyes swept the hall, scanning the audience for Papa and Mumma. He didn’t see them. Not in the first row, nor in the second, nor any row after. They were late. Papa and Mumma would miss his performance. They were late enough for that.
Mayank shut his eyes and squeezed them tight, and taking in a deep breath, opened them. He began playing. He played like he had practiced so many times before, and he played the way he had never played before. His wrist danced and his elbow swayed. His body flowed, picking up notes and dropping them. The hall was enraptured. Mayank didn’t see them. He was lost in the motion. The audience didn’t see him. They were carried away by the music. It was as if the vestibule itself had held its breath. In that moment, the only thing that existed was the violin and the incessant awareness that Papa and Mumma had missed his performance. And then, all at once, it was over. Mayank bowed. There was a hush that followed for a few seconds before the auditorium erupted in an ear-splitting applause as Mayank walked smartly off the stage.
‘Mayank Sinha?’ A voice called after him.
Mayank turned. A short and portly man with a rotund belly, in a police uniform signaled him to stop.
‘You are Mayank Sinha?’
‘Yes, sir, I am. What do you want?’
The man looked to the ground. He seemed to find the tiles interesting all of a sudden. ‘Son, I am from the police. I have some very bad news for you. If you could come with me,’ the officer motioned to Mayank to follow him, ‘There was an accident, my boy. An ugly accident. Your mother is in the hospital as of now. She’s not really hurt-the doctors say it’s just a shock. But your father….. I am really sorry….. you need to stay strong.’
The words took a moment to register.
The violin case dropped from the boy’s hand and clattered against the floor.
The boy didn’t say it. He didn’t have to.
Three months had passed since Papa’s death and nothing was right with the world. How could it be? Papa’s voice was meant to joke, to laugh, to read. How could it be silent? Mayank was sitting on the porch, chins in palms, elbows on knees. He craved Papa’s reading to heal the pain within. Mumma had changed drastically. She now worked in an old bookstore to make ends meet. Mayank had changed drastically. A nine year old heart is not supposed to carry so much pain.
Mayank had stopped playing the violin. He had stopped wanting to read. Today, like every other day, he was sitting and staring without seeing. He felt a light tap on his elbow. Snapped from his reverie, he looked down to see a river turtle- no, the river turtle butting its head against his elbow to draw his attention.
‘What…what do you want,’ Mayank’s voice cracked.
The turtle didn’t reply.
‘WHAT DO YOU WANT??’
The turtle jumped.
Mayank’s eyes filled with tears and he stood up suddenly and ran inside, inadvertently making the turtle jump again. For once, Mayank didn’t laugh. The boy wasn’t fascinated anymore.
We have already established by now how things hardly seemed to tend in Mayank Sinha’s favour. Over the span of the next twenty years, Mayank Sinha the almost-doctor, the almost-architect, and the almost-entrepreneur never actually became those things when he joined his first job as a trainee manager at a hotel in an adjoining town to his hometown. Within his first month of joining, the hotel was declared bankrupt and Mayank Sinha had to go looking for work elsewhere. His second tenure of employment lasted twice as long as his first before his employing hotel merged with another, and Mayank was one of the many who lost their job in the wash out. Mayank had been enjoying his newly acquired post as a junior manager at a restaurant in the same town when his cousin, Manish, showed up at his apartment door with his eight-year old daughter.
‘…and so her mother and I have to leave for a business trip without her,’ said Manish over a cup of tea, ‘and so if you could please look after Geetika for these seven days?’
‘Yeah, definitely! It’ll be a delight to have niece over. You can rest assured.’
‘Oh, thank you so much, Mayank! You’re being such a huge help. I’ll drop her here on Wednesday by six in the morning. It’s done, then.’
The following week, Manish, his wife, and Geetika arrived with packed luggage, as promised. Last minute instructions were given, ‘Yes, Ma,’ and ‘Yes, Pa,’ exploited, checklist, gone through, and generally a lot fuss, created. Habits and requirements of the child were recited to Mayank and just as he was beginning to wonder if kids came with a user manual for smooth operation, the instruction-giving ceremony came to an end.
‘Be a good girl and don’t trouble Mayank Chacha, okay?’ Her mother wagged her finger.
‘Yes, Ma,’ the girl cooed and pecked her mother on the cheek, ‘Now, go or you’ll miss your train!’
After a final bout of hurried fussing and triple-checking, Geetika’s parents thanked Mayank for the hundredth time and hastened off.
‘Guess it’s just you and me now for a while, right?’ Mayank asked the girl.
‘Yup, sure looks like it,’ Geetika nodded enthusiastically.
‘We’ll have lots of fun together. I have some really nice movies we can watch. And then Ma and Pa will be back in a week. It’s not that long,’ Mayank told her.
‘No,’ the girl murmured, looking away, ‘They won’t.’
‘Sorry? I didn’t catch that.’
Geetika glanced at Mayank.
‘I said I was hungry! Can we eat something?’ She said brightly.
‘Ah, yes, of course! Come on, Geets.’
Manish and his wife didn’t return after seven days. And they never would. A missing report was filed. There was no contact whatsoever with them. Ten days had passed since Geetika had been left in Mayank’s care. He put her to bed sharp at half past nine. His sister-in-law would have approved.
Mayank was adjusting her plushy teddy bear and her covers when Geetika said suddenly, ‘Chacha, you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to.’
Mayank blinked. ‘What do you mean? Do you want the teddy on the other side?’
‘No,’ Geetika held his gaze while she spoke. Her round, young face serious. ‘I mean, with your life. You aren’t doing it right. You are destined for other things. You’ll face problems if you continue this way.’
‘Oh, really?’ Mayank gave a small laugh. ‘What problems?’
‘You’ll understand when you’re older. I’ll tell you when it’s time,’ Geetika said.
Twenty-nine year old Mayank chuckled. ‘I see. What, then, in your opinion, am I supposed to be destined to do?’
Geetika shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I guess you’re supposed to just make people better.’
‘And how am I supposed to do that?’
‘Hey! It’s your destiny! I can’t tell you everything, can I? It’ll take the fun out of it.’
Mayank laughed again. ‘Yes, of course. I need to figure something out for myself too. Now, go to sleep, Geetsie-Weetsie. We’re going to my Mumma’s place tomorrow for the weekend.’
‘Wait! I found a violin in the storeroom today. Is it yours?’
‘Do you play it?’
‘Why? Can you please play for me?’
'We'll see in the morning. It's way past your bedtime! Get into your bed or Ma will be dangerous if she finds out upon returning.'
'Aww, come on! Can I at least keep the violin for a while then?'
‘Only if you promise to listen to whatever I say.' Mayank looked at Geetika's huge round eyes, 'Now just go to sleep, you little devil!’
‘Okay,’ Geetika tittered quietly and hugged him, 'Thank you, Chacha.'
Mayank patted her head and tucked her in. As he switched off the lights and left the room, the conversation was still playing over in his head.
Mrs Sinha, Mayank, and Geetika had a nice time together to take their minds off the gnawing worry they had for Geetika’s parents. Mrs Sinha whipped up a scrumptious cake for her son and the girl. Geetika learned to bake biscuits and apple pies over the weekend. The old kitchen was full of gleeful chatter, people, and a lot of flour, for the first time in forever. On Sunday evening, Mayank and Geetika went out for a walk around the town.
They chose a long route, passing the school Mayank used to attend as a child, the old park where he used to play football, the old clearing where he and his friends used to hang out as children and which was now turned into a parking lot. A lot had changed over the years. He showed Geetika the run down library Mayank used to go to with his Papa. The building had been repainted and a fountain erected at the entrance. It wasn’t run down anymore. They each got an ice-cream from a vendor outside the library- Geetika, picked strawberry, and Mayank, butterscotch. They were licking away eagerly when a tall lanky man approached them.
‘Bless my soul! If it isn’t Mayank Sinha?’ The man exclaimed.
Mayank looked at the man and gasped. ‘Is that you, Vedansh Kashyap?’
The man grinned. ‘It’s Dr Vedansh Kashyap for you now. Gee, I haven’t seen you since I started college! How have you been, old boy? And who might this lovely little lady be?’
Mayank introduced Vedansh and Geetika to each other and then they talked about the old times. Vedansh was now a surgeon at Silverstone Care- a hospital for children with terminal diseases. He had moved to a more populated region in the town.
‘By the way, Mayank, do you still play the violin?’ Vedansh asked.
Before Mayank could answer, Geetika piped in,‘No, he doesn’t! I tried to make him play, but he wouldn’t!’
Vedansh glanced from Geetika to Mayank. ‘I see. Anyway, I was hoping to get someone to play for the children at the hospital. They could do with a cheering up. There’s such incredible sadness there what with all these sick children and hopelessness’
‘Yeah, I…’ Mayank began.
‘Anyway, think about it. You’re the best violinist I have ever heard play till date. Here’s my number and address. If you ever need anything, just give me a shout.’ Vedansh tore out a page from his notepad and handed it to Mayank.
‘Thanks, Vedansh! Same goes for you!’
‘Haha, anytime. Now you better get home. It’s getting dark. Mrs Sinha will have Mayank and Geetika soup for dinner if you loiter around so late. Nice seeing you!’
‘Ah, you’re right. Good evening.’
Mayank and Geetika must have reached home on time because Mrs Sinha definitely did not have Mayank and Geetika soup for dinner. We know this because that night, Geetika tried yet again to get Mayank to play the violin she had brought along with her, but to no avail. She was sent to bed at half past nine, but sleep did not come to play with the girl’s dark curly locks until a quarter to midnight. Geetika lay awake, tossing and turning, unease eating away her stomach.
She had only been asleep for about twenty minutes when she was awoken by the sound of music. It seemed to resonate from within her yet it came from without. It was the sound of a violin. Geetika sat up in her bed and listened intently. The climbing and falling notes tickled her ears and hugged her shoulders. She could see the music inside her room, prancing, dancing, giggling, living, breathing in the freedom that being played was setting them to. If you asked her to describe the tune, Geetika would say it smelled of Jasmine. If you asked her what the music sounded like, she would say that it tasted like chocolate. If you asked her if she liked the music, she would say that music was warm and cool. And she would be right, for the music was colourful, and trying to grab onto it was like holding water in cupped hands- the more you tried to hold it, the faster it trickled out. It looked like a calm day, if you ever heard it. But of course, you do everything but hear the music.
Outside the window, illuminated by lamps, Geetika saw a river turtle limping across the garden towards the house. It stopped in its tracks on the grass and rested on its stomach on the ground, lifting his head higher as if he too were getting drunk on the symphony. A movement some distance away from the turtle caught her eye. A figure dancing. No, a figure playing- Mayank was in full form, swaying, and giving in to the fluid motion of playing, as if an angel was controlling his wrists and body and was guiding his movements. The music lasted forever, and yet, when it stopped, it was still too soon. The night had fallen silent to bear audience to the melody. And it remained silent for a few seconds out of respect. And then, all at once, the music of the night picked up. The crickets chirped and the wind rustled the leaves. The grass and branches waved in applause. Mayank bowed to the turtle when he was finished, and began walking in his direction.
The turtle lifted itself up and started towards Mayank, too. Its limp was gone and his steps were stronger and surer.
‘Hello, old friend. Since when did you start taking interest in music?’
The turtle didn’t reply.
Geetika smiled and shut her window. She had witnessed magic other than hers at play. Her job here was now done. Papa’s reading was Mayank’s playing. His music healed the way Papa’s reading did. He had healed the turtle. He had healed the rift of his Destiny. And finally, he had healed himself. He was now ready to heal others. To make people better, thought Geetika. She now was no longer required here. She’d have to move on. There was a lot of work to do. A lot of people to set right. After all, she was born with a curse. A curse, to carry the burden of everyone’s Destiny. Yes, you guessed right, dear reader, she would leave the house the very same night. The tattoo branded on her wrist before her birth was tingling, excited to make amends for the nine long years of absence.
Since I started the story, as you may remember, with a prologue, it only seems fitting to add an epilogue at the end. It was nice narrating this tale to you. I hope I wasn’t too cumbersome, and if I was, hey, that’s the way things are. It was destined to be written this way.
Anyway, back to the story. The story ends with two letters. Dr Vedansh Kashyap received a confirmation the next week via mail saying that Mayank Sinha the violinist was ready to accept his offer to play for the sick children at the hospital. He would join right away.
The second letter was opened by Mayank the day Geetika left his care to disappear into the night, without a word of goodbye. Written in crayon, on a sheet folded twice in half and left on Mayank’s dresser, it was more of a message than a letter. It ran as follows:
You are now old enough to understand. I hope you enjoy making people feel better. After all, it is the ultimate right thing to do. Good luck.
It wasn’t addressed to anyone by name, and it wasn’t signed. It didn’t need to be.
Three people. Two gifted. One cursed. Add salt to taste. Serve hot.
My favourite recipe for cooking up a story.