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Click on the below links to read my previous stories..

Bus#126W       My Family and I       Games we play       All Roads Lead Home       As Good As It Gets       Whodunit?      

The Reunion       A Dog's World      My Sister's Daughter

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

All Roads Lead Home - 20

I looked up, surprised. “You knew them?”
He nodded slowly. “Why are you looking for them?”
“Its nothing.” I didn’t know how much I should tell him. After all, I was pretty sure I    didn’t want to know anymore.
“I knew Arjun.” Vishal looked away.
“Do you know where he is now?” I asked, maybe a little too desperately.
He turned to look at me sharply, “This,” he said, referring to my tone, “is not nothing.”
“Okay,” I said, “I admit, its important that I find them.”
“Them?” Vishal questioned.
“Mili or Arjun. Did you know Mili?” I asked eagerly.
“Yes I did.”
“Do you know where she is now?” I held my breath.
“She died Ira.” He said it so softly, that at first I thought I didn’t  hear him correctly.
“I’m sorry?”
“She died around a year ago.” He said quietly.
A gasp escaped me before I could stop it. My search had come to a grinding stop.
“How did.. ” I hesitated.
“She..” he sighed deeply, “She killed herself.”
My eyes opened wide in shock. “No..”
“Her family was just devastated,” he continued, unaware of my shocked reaction. “It was very sad.”
“Her family, where are they staying?” I asked, thinking quickly.
His eyes narrowed, “Around here somewhere.”
“Will you help me find them?”
“They’ve already been through enough Ira. Don’t put them through this.”
“Through what? I’m just going to offer my condolences.”
“Ira..” He shook his head.
“Why? Why can’t I go see them!”
“Because, you look exactly like her. One look at you, and anyone can make out you’re her daughter.” He had raised his voice a little now, people were staring at us now.
“I think I’m going now.” I turned around and started to walk out when he caught my wrist.
“Ira, please.” He had lowered his voice again. “The family doesn’t need to know that Mili had another daughter. They have just started to adjust to Mili’s death. Please.”
I struggled in his grip for a couple of minutes and then I realized how futile my attempt was. I stood there, silently, my arm limp in his grip.
“you can let go now, I’m not going anywhere.” I managed a half smile. “Thanks” I muttered through misty eyes.
I turned to go back to my room.
“Mili came to see me a couple of days before she..” he hesitated.
I turned around, “Why?”
“She told me she had a daughter, whom she had to abandon,” He started, I cut him short.
“Why’d she come to you?” I asked sharply.
He smiled awkwardly. “Why do you think she came to me?”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

All Roads Lead Home - 19

The next morning, I woke up relaxed and calm. As I rubbed my eyes slowly, I became aware of a looming shadow behind me. Surprised, I sat up in the bed. It was Prachi.
“What are you doing up so early?” I asked stifling a yawn.
“Oh, you’re up finally!” She came around, in front of the bed and placed her hands on her waist. “Do you mind telling me why you told mom we’ll are coming back?”
I stared at her. There was something about her tone, the way she was standing, I had to smile, “Prachi! You sound exactly like mom!”
“Don’t change the topic.” She said, but her tone softened and her hands slid off her waist.
“I don’t know..” I pushed off the covers and started to get up.
“Oh no,” Prachi pushed me back on the bed and sat down next to me. “You are going to tell me what’s going on! We have so many leads to follow up on now and you want to go home? Why?”
“Prachi, let it be, you won’t get it.” I shrugged.
“Try me.” Prachi said quietly.
I looked up into her eyes and then sighed. There was no point in trying to keep things from Prachi. It drove her nuts. I had learnt from experience that it was better to tell her everything she wanted to know than to incur her wrath.
“I didn’t come here to create a scene.” I said simply.
“I don’t understand.” She frowned, like she always did when she didn’t follow anything.
“Its just that, what am I going to say to her when I find her?” I said, “Hi I’m the daughter you abandoned?” I shook my head. “She’s probably living a very happy life somewhere, I don’t want to ruin her life.” Even though she tried her best to ruin mine.  The unsaid words hung heavy in the air.
“Come on Ira, we came all the way. We are going to finish this search.” Prachi got up briskly, “Come on, get dressed!”
I shook my head slowly, “I’m not going Prachi, I’ve had it.”
“Fine!” Prachi turned around and started walking out of the room.
“Where are you going?” I called out after her.
“I don’t know about you, but I want to know what happened.” She slammed the door behind her.
A few seconds later, she opened the door suddenly, “And don’t worry, when I find something, I won’t tell you anything.” She added sarcastically before slamming the door shut again.

After Prachi left, I packed up our belongings, Prachi’s and mine. Despite her protests, I wasn’t going to let her stay on here. As I was finishing up, the phone rang. It was the front desk.
“Madam, there is someone here to see you.”
“Send him back.” I didn’t want any more information. There was no point meeting Om now.
“Yes Madam.” I hung up. Before I could turn around, the phone rang again.
“Yes?” I asked brusquely.
“Is this Ira?” I couldn’t place the voice.
“Yes, Who is this?” I asked cautiously.
“I don’t know if you remember me, but I offered you a lift, a couple of days back.”
“Of course, I remember!” why had he come?
“You left something in my car.”
“Oh. Funny, I never realized that I had.”
“Its just some bunch of papers.”
“I’ll be right down.” As I locked the room behind me, I tried to remember what papers I could have left in Vishal’s car.

He saw me, before I saw him. He was watching me intently. As I came closer, I felt a little uncomfortable.
“Hi.” I said awkwardly.
My voice seemed to shake him out of a trance and he noticed my outstretched arm.
“Hi, how’ve you been?” He asked formally, taking my hand.
“Not getting lost,” I smiled at my little joke.
We stood there for some time in silence.
“Umm, the papers?” I asked.
“Oh yeah.” He rummaged around in his pockets, pulled out some notes and handed them to me.
I glanced through them.
“These are not mine,” I said handing them back to him, “Except this one.” The sheet of paper that had the address I was trying to locate.
He looked at the sheet and then looked at me, “Why were you looking for the Sinhas’ house?”

All Roads Lead Home - 18

Once in the room, Prachi crashed on the bed and was fast asleep before I could bat an eyelid. For me, sleep was elusive. I tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable spot on the bed.  After ten minutes, I realized how futile my attempts were. I groped around in the darkness, trying to find Prachi’s phone.
I tiptoed around, trying not to make any sound, but the unfamiliar surroundings befuddled my sense of direction and I kept bumping against the arbitrary pieces of furniture which seemed to be scattered all over the room.
“What!” I heard an exasperated Prachi say, “In the world, are you trying to do?”
“Sorry, looking for your phone.” I apologized.
“Uff!” She tossed her phone at me, “Here you go! Now hush!” With a glare, that made me smile, she turned her back to me and went into a deep slumber before her head hit the pillow.
I settled in the chair next to the window. This was turning out to be my favorite place in the room. I scanned Prachi’s phone for Mili’s picture. I couldn’t get myself to call her anything other than that. The word “Mother” did not associate with the picture of the lady I was looking at. I thought of my mom, who had raised me. ever since I had come to this place, I hadn’t called her. I knew she would have been sick with worry, but to her credit, she hadn’t called either. She realized I needed my space to adjust. Suddenly, I longed for her and before I knew it, I was calling her. It was late, I knew she would be sleeping, but I had to hear her voice.
“Hello..”  A sleepy voice drawled over the phone.
“Dad, it’s me. Is mom around?”
“Ira? Are you alright? What time is it?” Concern was apparent in his voice.
“I’m okay dad, can I talk to mom please?” I shut my eyes tightly to stop the tears from flowing down my cheeks. Why was I crying? I had no idea.
“She’s sleeping Ira, tell me. What happened?” My dad whispered into the phone.
“Is that Ira?” I heard my mum’s voice and then she came on line. “Ira.?”
“Hi Ma..” I smiled through the tears.
“Are you alright?” I sensed the underlying restraint in her question. I knew she wanted to ask me a million questions.
“Ya.. Sort of, I think..” Was I alright? What was I doing in this strange town. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to know about this Mili woman. It was obvious she had left me, not because she had to, but because she wanted to.
“What’s wrong Ira?” My vagueness didn’t fool her for a minute. She knew right away that something was bothering me.
I sighed deeply. “I want to come back home mom. I don’t want to know more about her.” There was a stunned silence.
“What?!” Prachi exclaimed. She had been eavesdropping.
“I think I want to go home.” It sounded better than it had the first time. I let the thought swirl around in my head. Yeah, it felt all right. There was nothing for me here. Why should I go looking for a woman who never wanted me?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

All Roads Lead Home - 17

“Now do you believe me?” I asked Prachi, “She knows something. Why did she clamp down like that?!” I shook my head. I was pretty sure the mother-in-law had answers to all my questions.
“First of all, I have always believed you.” Prachi said stiffly. I turned towards her, surprised.
She stood her ground. “I have come,” She said, “all the way here, just because, I believe. I believe that you need to do this, I believe that you will find them, I believe you, when you say you HAVE to do this. SO don’t go accusing me of not believing you!” She glared at me.
“I didn’t mean it that way.” I said meekly. I didn’t realize that what had been a big decision for me, must have been a bigger one for her. I had left everything to come find myself. Prachi had left everything behind, just for me. A warm glow enveloped me. Before she could say anymore, I put my arms around her. She struggled a bit, but came around pretty soon.
“Don’t say such things again.” She said a little gruffly. Then she smiled, “Sorry, just lost my cool there.”
I nodded. It had happened to me a couple of minutes back too. This whole thing was way too stressful for both of us.
“What say, we go back to the room and try to find out more about Mili and Arjun?” I said, with my arm still around her.
“Yeah.. Not a bad idea. With a name and a picture, we might have a better chance.” She said casually.
“You didn’t!” I squealed. Sometimes, Prachi surprised me.
“No, I didn’t take the photo!” Prachi shook her head, “What did you think, they’d let me walk out with it?” She asked.
“What I did do,” She continued smugly,“is to take a picture of the picture.”
“That’s great!” I said excitedly, when a thought struck me, “So..” I paused, “What are we going to do with it?”
“I have noooooo idea..” She said, exaggerating the “no”. With that, we both burst out laughing. The tension between us from just a moment ago, long forgotten.
“So..” Prachi sighed long and deep and we made our way back to the hotel room. Somehow, the excitement of finding my house had made us walk a LOT. Suddenly, we were faced with the colossal of walking back.
“What are the chances that your dog loving friend will come by this way today?” Prachi asked after walking for about fifteen minutes.
“Not very good.” I panted. I was kind of disappointed. Not like I was hoping for him to show up. But, it would have been nice if he had. I had felt as though I had a found a friend in him and I would have definitely liked to meet Lyka.
“Lets go see him..” I tossed the idea at Prachi.
“Your dog friend? Why?” She stopped, with both hands on her waist, breathing heavily.
“Just, maybe we can show him her picture.” I didn’t know why I wanted to meet him. I just did.
“How old was he again?” Prachi asked suspiciously.
I laughed. “As old as dad! Maybe older.”
“Okay..” Prachi relented, “If we make it back to the hotel alive, and we have the energy, we’ll go see your old man.” She said.

As we struggled to make our way back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but wonder, what it was, that was drawing me to him.

Monday, August 23, 2010

All Roads Lead Home - 16

Prachi and I stared at the picture for a long time. I was a splitting image of the lady in the picture.
“Ira,” Prachi said softly, “I think you found her.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t need to.
“Do you have any idea, where she is now?” I asked Aunty.
She shook her head slowly. “She moved out a long time ago. Sometimes, she came back to visit her family. But she never came and met me.” I detect a tinge of sadness in her voice. “We were best of friends, from school. And she just disappeared.” She sighed heavily and pulled the album on to her lap and started flipping through the photographs.

I turned towards Prachi, who nodded encouragingly. Could I dare to hope that this lady in front of me knew who my father was? There was no other way to ask her.
“Did you know she was going to have a baby?” I asked, I kept my head down. For some reason, I was embarrassed to ask her this question.
She looked up at me thoughtfully, “Come to think of it, no..”
“So there was no man in her life?” I asked.
She laughed, a little too hard, “Mili..” She paused, “Mili always had a guy around.” She said. I didn’t like the way she stressed on the word always. I stayed silent.
“Don’t get me wrong,” She said hurriedly. “Mili, was the kind of girl, everyone loved and adored. But she always wanted someone she knew she could never have. Why, half the boys from school would have married her, had she given them any signs.” She looked away, lost in her thoughts.
I glanced at the picture again. Sure, the woman smiling back at me was pretty, but she wasn’t of the “drop-dead gorgeous” variety. There was nothing, remarkably pretty about her.
Maybe Aunty was exaggerating, I thought to myself.
“Don’t you go on the photo..” She said, reading my mind. “Mili had a personality that could warm up a thousand hearts and a smile that could light up an entire city.”
Somehow, hearing nice things about her, made me feel nice.
“So is there no one that you can think of, who will know where she is now?” Prachi, who had been listening silently all this while, asked.
“No.. not really. I mean, she lost contact with all of us here, once her father died. And her brother moved out a month after her his funeral. We ever heard from them again.” She sighed wistfully.
“A brother?” I asked, surprised. I didn’t know why the idea surprised me.
“Oh yes, Arjun, he was the star of the family. We all knew he was going to make it big. Good-looking, intelligent, he could have been anything he wanted to. But after his father’s death, he just faded away.”
“Did something bad happen to the family?” I asked dreadfully. I was afraid, that I was the reason, the family fell apart.
“Nobody knows. Their father died of high blood pressure.” She said. I relaxed visibly.
“Or, maybe that’s what they told everybody.” She added.
“Did you see a baby? Ever? I mean with the family?” Prachi asked.
Aunty shook her head. “Not that I can remember.”
“I’ll be right back..” Prachi announced, and walked out of the room.
As soon as Prachi left, Aunty placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Listen.. Your mother, was a very nice woman. She wasn’t the kinds who’d sleep around. The guy,” She hesitated “Must have been special.” She was saying the words I needed to hear.
I nodded. “You were her friend right?” I asked.
She nodded.
“Why would she leave me? At first, I thought, maybe, she didn’t have enough money.. But the family seems very well off.” I tried to hide the bitterness I felt inside.. The hatred towards this woman, who had left me, not because she could afford to raise me properly, but because she had made a mistake. She had left me to fend for myself.
“Ira, Mili loved you..” She checked herself. “I’m sure Mili loved you.”
I stared at her. “You’re lying.” I said in disbelief. “You knew about me. You knew that she had a baby!” I accused her.
“Of course not. I’m just trying to help. Why would I lie?” She defended herself.

Prachi walked in, unaware of what had just taken place. She was holding the picture from the wall.
“Here, ” She pointed at my baby picture, “This is Ira. You must have seen..” She paused suddenly, as she sensed the sudden tension in the atmosphere. “What’s going on?” She asked.
“She lied to us!” I said hysterically. “She’s lying Prachi!”
“Calm down Ira, what happened?” Prachi held me by the shoulders.
“What is happening is, that I want you both to leave now.” Aunty’s face had hardened and she closed the photo album shut and held it against herself. “Leave, now.” She commanded.
“I’m not going anywhere!” I shook off Prachi’s hold on my arm and glared.
“Come on Ira, lets go.” Prachi tugged at my arm, pulling me outwards.
“No! She knows something! I’m not going anywhere till she tells me.” I was shouting, but I couldn’t keep my temper in check. Why was she hiding things from me after being so forthcoming with so many details. I just didn’t understand.
“Ira. Please.” I heard the quiet plea in Prachi’s voice.
As I turned around, I became aware of all the other ladies who had gathered there. All of them were regarding me with hostile glances. The scene could turn from bad to ugly.
“I think you should leave now Ira.” Mrs. Gurung echoed what must have been on all their minds.
Quietly, I began to make my way outside when I heard Prachi talk.
“If you ever feel like talking, please, please call me.” Prachi handed out her card, which nobody took.
She placed it on the table and walked out.

As we walked away from my past, Prachi asked thoughtfully.
“Why was she so sure that you’re Mili’s daughter and not Arjun’s?”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

All Roads Lead Home - 15

Mili?? I looked around, confused.
The woman got off the couch and walked towards me, her eyes never leaving my face.
I started backing away as she put out her hand to touch my face.
Prachi stood behind me, blocking my way.
As the woman’s fingers touched my face, I closed my eyes momentarily. When I reopened them, she was smiling at me.
“Come with me.” She said.
I turned towards Prachi, who nodded encouragingly. The lady led me to her room and made me sit down. “I’ll be right back, stay right here.” She smiled kindly at me and went out of the room
 Prachi stood at the door.
“What’s going on?” I asked her.  I was finding the whole thing a little too eerie and creepy for my liking.
Prachi shrugged, “I have no idea.” She said.
We waited impatiently in the small room. I tried not to get my hopes too high. But it was hard.
Don’t, don’t don’t, I chanted to myself, but I knew it was a lost cause. The lady knew something! I could feel it in my bones. As a small smile appeared on my face, Prachi shook her head disapprovingly. She too, didn’t want me to get too excited about it. But I guess my smile was contagious, and pretty soon, Prachi too was bubbling with excitement. She came over and sat next to me, holding my hand.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the woman appeared with a stack of old albums.
Albums! Photo albums! She might be having my parents’ pictures! I quivered with excitement.
“Wait,” She smiled at me as I put out my hands to take the photo albums from her, as a little child would do.
She put on her glasses and opened one album, looked at a picture and then peered at my face.
It required all of my self control not to snatch the album from her.
She wiped her glasses, slowly and carefully looked again and then shook her head.
I caught my breath, and shut my eyes tightly. I didn’t want to hear her say it.
“If you’re not Mili’s daughter,” I heard her say “I need to visit my optometrist again.” She placed the album on my lap.
Surprised, I opened my eyes and quickly glanced at the picture in front of me.
It was a black and white picture, two young girls maybe aged 10 years were smiling into the camera. I looked up confused.
“I don’t understand Aunty,” I asked her. I really didn’t. Who were these girls? Why was she showing me these pictures?
She laughed and pointed at the heftier girl in the picture.
“That’s me!” She said, “And that..” she said pointing at the skinnier girl, “is Mili.”
“Who is Mili?” I asked, although I suspected I already knew the answer to that.
“Mili, is the girl who used to stay next door.” She said it simply. I frowned, looking at this picture, I couldn’t tell if we were related. There was no noticeable family resemblance. I tried to conceal my disappointment as I shut the album.
“Wait..” She put her hand in the album, not allowing me to close it. She turned the page over and suddenly, it was my turn to gasp.
The woman in the photo, looked exactly like me. Or more correctly, I looked exactly like her.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

All Roads Lead Home - 14

“Ummm..” I tried to cover up for Prachi’s absence, “She must be around here somewhere.” I offered lamely.
“Yes, I think I saw her.” Mrs. Gurung’s interest in my sister faded and then she led me right in the middle of the ladies circle.
I felt as though I was handling a press conference, with questions being asked from all directions.
“Don’t be scared, they all want to help.” She whispered in my ears as she abandoned my side.

Help. Ya right!

“Who raised you?” one woman asked me. I couldn’t remember her name.
“I was very lucky to be adopted by a wonderful family.” As I said it, I realized how true it was. I had been extremely fortunate. What would I have been, had I not been adopted?
“Why did they tell you?” Was another question thrown at me.
I hesitated. All I had wanted to tell them was that I was looking for my parents who might have stayed in the house next door.. I hadn’t agreed to answer all their questions and I failed to understand why they expected me to do so.
I looked around at the expectant faces in the audience and saw Mrs. Gurung. “Answer!”, she mouthed.
I shook my head. As nice as their intentions could be, I didn’t want to share my deepest thoughts with complete strangers. Prachi was right, I would get nothing from this except a few moments of their attention.

I could tell I was nothing more than some form of entertainment for them. By the time they finished stuffing their faces with tea and biscuits that was now being offered, they would have forgotten all about me.
“I have to go now.” I said suddenly. I wasn’t up to answering their questions. “Prachi!” I called out.
“What happened Ira? Tell them, maybe they know something.” Mrs. Gurung was by my side in a jiffy. I shook off her hand off my arm. Suddenly, I was feeling claustrophobic. “Prachi!!” I called out again. I had to leave.

“Ira, maybe you should come inside.” Prachi had appeared magically by my side, shielding me from the rest.
I looked up at her, confused.
“Just come.” She held me by the hand and took me inside.
“Prachi! What are you doing? We can’t just go walking inside somebody else’s house!” I was mortified.
“Oh hush! I was inside all this while. And..” She stopped mid sentence. I turned towards her expectantly.
“She knew your mom.” I stopped dead in my tracks.
“How does she know that that woman is my mother?” I asked softly
“Well, that’s why she wants to take a look at you. Now come!” Prachi dragged me into a smaller room.
At the far end of the room, a television was on and a lady was sitting on the couch in front of it. From where I was standing, I could see the mop of grey hair on her head. She turned around as she heard us approach. She didn’t look very old. Maybe 50.
Her eyes locked on to my face as a gasp escaped her mouth.

“Mili!” She said.

All Roads Lead Home - 13

“Let’s just take the picture!” Prachi whispered hurriedly as we heard the lady of the house finish off her telephone conversation.
I shook my head and pointed at the empty space on the wall, where the picture had been. It looked as though the picture hadn’t been moved in a long time. The wall around the picture had faded, leaving a clear indication of where the picture had been. Taking it was not an option.
I barely managed to put it back as the lady entered the room. She paused as she saw us fiddling with her treasured pictures. She glanced suspiciously at the pictures and then back at us.
“We were just admiring the pictures.” I explained, “Are these pictures of your family?”
She gave in a little and smiled, “My husband’s side of the family. They grew up here.”
“Oh, how nice.” I said politely. Somehow, I had to ask her about that picture.
“Where was this picture taken? Such a pretty place..” I selected a random picture and commented, in an attempt to draw her out.
She came closer, to take better look.
“Ah.. That picture, I think it was taken near Monkey Point. That’s a tourist spot on the outskirts. You should go there. The view from there is spectacular.”
I nodded, feigning interest. “And this one?” I selected some other picture with the same boys playing around.
She threw her head back and laughed, “That’s my husband and his brother. Must have been taken somewhere in the city only. Wait, let me ask my mother-in-law.” She took the picture from the wall and rushed inside.
I looked up at Prachi. A mother-in-law?! Maybe she knew my family! I had to get introduced to her!
Prachi was scanning the other pictures. I guess she was hoping to find another picture with me in it. But I wasn’t too hopeful.
“Prachi!” I hissed. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what? I stopped listening after monkey point, why don’t you just ask her directly?” She turned towards me with a bored expression.
“Her mother-in-law is here! Maybe she knew something. I have to talk to her!” I said excitedly. Before the words were out of my mouth, I heard some sounds coming from the room inside.
“She doesn’t really feel like talking right now.” The lady, coming out of the room, said apologetically.
“Oh, I understand.” I said. I was racking my brains trying to figure out a way to get meet her mother-in-law when the doorbell rang.
Prachi groaned inwardly. “The vultures have arrived.” She whispered in my ears.
Mrs. Gurung and her band of friends had arrived. She greeted me warmly and then introduced me to all her friends. I pretended to pay attention as Mrs. Gurung passed me little tit-bits about her friends, but my mind was completely preoccupied.
“This girl,” Mrs. Gurung was saying, “Has travelled all the way from Bangalore, all alone, just to find her parents.” I felt all eyes turn towards me. I smiled awkwardly.
“Now, that’s not true. My sister’s here.” I turned towards where Prachi had been sitting a few moments ago.
She had disappeared.

Friday, August 20, 2010

All Roads Lead Home - 12

I was skeptical about the change, but figured, we had nothing to lose. We accepted her invite and made our way inside her modest house.
“Mrs Gurung says you stayed here when you were a child.”  She asked before I crossed the threshold of her house. She must have called Mrs. Gurung to confirm whether she really knew us. Gossip spread like fire in small neighborhood like this and a child looking for her parents was the kind of stuff that would provide the fodder for generations to come.
Prachi rolled her eyes. “We’re not sure about that yet.” Prachi answered for me in a brusque manner.
“Be nice!” I whispered in Prachi’s ear as she passed me.
Prachi shrugged and followed the lady in.
“I am not sure,” I started “Maybe I’m completely off course. So, I was hoping you could tell me more about the family that stayed here.”
The little lady turned towards me, her smile was a little hard to interpret. “Well, of course. I wish I could have told you something of use. But I moved in here some ten years back. This house was abandoned even then.”
My face fell. Every time I dared to be little hopeful, it turned out to be a dead end.
“Anyone who you think will remember?” Prachi asked.
“Well, I could certainly ask around, but why don’t you just ask your parents?” The lady was trying to extract information out of us. Neither of us fell for it.
“Thank you for your help.” Prachi said, getting up. “Maybe we should ask the other neighbors too?” Prachi turned towards me.
I nodded, trying to hide my disappointment.
“Why don’t you stay a while? Mrs. Gurung is coming over.” The lady insisted.
Prachi looked positively livid, “Absolutely no..”
“We’d love to.” I finished the sentence for her. Prachi glared at me.
“Oh.. You know what, I’ll call some other ladies over, maybe they’ll know something.” She said gleefully and disappeared into her room, presumably to call all her friends.
“What’s wrong with you?” Prachi asked me in disbelief. “Don’t you know what this is? They are just going to gather here, listen to your story and pass it on to somebody.”
I smiled, sometimes, Prachi could be so na├»ve. “Isn’t that great?”
Prachi looked at me as though I had lost my marbles. “Great??? What’s so great about it?”
“Prachi! Don’t you see? Maybe one of those women will know something. Or somebody they talk to, might know something.”
“Ummm.. Aren’t you worried about what you might find? I mean..” She hesitated. “Ok.. never mind.”
The unspoken words were heavy in the air. I knew exactly what she was thinking. I was perfectly aware that there was a very high chance that I was an illegitimate child. But really, was I to care about my birth mother’s “reputation”?
Why should I anyway? She had abandoned me. What did I care what people in her old neighborhood thought of her.

Prachi suddenly grasped my arm.
“Ira!” She exclaimed.
“What, what is it?” I looked at the wall Prachi was staring at. It was adorned with old pictures.
“What happened?” I glanced at the pictures and then at Prachi. Color had all but drained from her face.
“Look at this picture.” She pointed at a picture hung on the wall. Nothing special about it. The picture focused on two little boys playing in the lawn, happy faces. I couldn’t understand what had captured Prachi’s attention.
“What, Prachi?”  I asked helplessly.
“Don’t you see?” Prachi took the picture off the wall and pointed. And then I saw it. In the background was the house. My house. And in front of the house was a woman with her back to the camera, holding up a baby.
There was no doubt about it. I had seen a million of my baby photos.
The baby in the picture in the woman’s arms was me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

All Roads Lead Home - 11

With Prachi by my side, I followed the same route I had the day before. Surprisingly, this time, it led me to the right neighborhood. I kept backtracking, but I couldn’t figure out where I had lost my way the last time.
The area was modest. Nothing fancy, a couple of big houses but mostly smaller ones. We could sense people watching us from the closed windows. This wasn’t a neighborhood frequented by tourists or strangers. We made our way through the narrow street, conscious of how we stood out in this place.
We couldn’t have been more conspicuous if we had a clown costume on.
As we inched closer to my parents or mother’s, as I had recently discovered house, I felt suddenly apprehensive about what I was going to find there. What if I didn’t like it? Would I be able to forget it and get back to my life?
I sighed involuntarily. There were so many unanswered questions. Was I ever going to get any answers?
 And suddenly, there we were, in front of THE house. It was exactly how Om had described. Huge and abandoned. There was an old car parked outside which looked like it hadn’t been moved in ages. Dry leaves and twigs covered the lawn area. The main door, had a huge padlock on it, rusted to the core. We stepped in a little closer and I peered inside through the window. Utter darkness, I couldn’t see anything.                                                                                                                              
Disappointed I turned around, a sudden movement caught my attention. A woman, from the house on the opposite side of the road was staring at us, alarmed.
Natural, she must have been surprised to see two strangers lurking about, looking at abandoned house.
“Hi, I’m looking for Mrs. Gurung!” I called out to her.
She eyed me suspiciously.
“She stays four lanes ahead.” She said briskly.
“Oh, I guess we got the wrong address,” I tried to engage her in a conversation.
She folded her arms in front of her and waited. I guess she was waiting for us to leave.
“How long has this house been abandoned?” I pointed at the house and asked with a polite smile.
“For as long as I can remember.” She didn’t want to make conversation, she just wanted to see us gone. I wondered why she was being so hostile.
“Did some Sinhas stay here?” I wasn’t about to give up. Who better to give me information, than the nieghbours neighbours.
“Who are you? Why are you interested?” she stepped closer to her door, as though afraid that Prachi and I would attack her.
“We are friends of Mrs. Gurung.” I tried to pacify her. To my surprise, the woman went inside and slammed the door shut.
“What just happened?” I asked Prachi.
“I think, she thinks that we’re dangerous.” Prachi was trying not to laugh. I gave in to the moment and joined her in the laughter. A couple of moments later, tha the lady came to the door. Her demeanor had changed completely.
“Why don’t you girls come in?” She asked with a smile.
As we accepted her offer, I couldn’t help but wonder what had triggered the change.

Monday, August 16, 2010

All Roads Lead Home - 10

I rushed down in my pajamas, with Prachi close at my heels.
We both reached, a little out of breath and a little excited.
“Did you find something?” I panted.
Om nodded, “Yes, that address you gave me, nobody stays there anymore.” He thrust the piece of paper that I had given him yesterday into my hand and turned around to leave.
“Wait!” I was a little taken aback by the abruptness of the conversation. “What do you mean, nobody stays there anymore.”
Om shot me a impatient glance. “I mean its abandoned. Whatever you’re looking for, its not there.” Then on seeing my face drop, he said gently, “Go home. ”
“No..” I whispered half to myself.
“Since when has it been abandoned?” Prachi placed a reassuring arm on my shoulder.
He shrugged, “Ten years, twenty years maybe, no one knows for sure. I think the old tenants died.”
I covered my mouth as a gasp escaped me.
“Do you have their names?” I didn’t know what Prachi was thinking, but her hand on my shoulder was extremely comforting.
Om thought for a while. “It was hmmm.. ” he paused, “Sinha, I think. Old man, stayed there with his daughter I think.”
“How old was the daughter?” Prachi asked quickly. I suddenly looked up at her, I knew what she was getting at! I looked expectantly at Om.
He scratched his head, “Well.. She was young, maybe your age or slightly older when her father died. She left soon after his death and I think the house has been abandoned since.”
We both did the math. It was quite possible that this daughter was my mum!
“Any idea what happened to the daughter?” Prachi asked.
“Why?” he asked suspiciously. “What does this family mean to you? Why are you asking so many questions about them?”
Uhhhh… I wasn’t ready to share my lineage with him. I struggled to come up with a plausible excuse instead.
“We might be related.” Prachi answered carefully. That seemed to satisfy him.
He shook his head slightly. “No, maybe the people in the neighborhood will know.”
“How did you find out? I mean. How can we be so sure, that your information is accurate?”
He almost laughed at us. “twenty years back, people used to communicate via letters. Postmen knew everything. The postman who used to deliver to that area, I know him.”
“Could we?” I looked at Prachi, she nodded. “Could we meet him? Please,” I said, as I realized he was going to say no. “Its very important.”
“No, he’s very old. He doesn’t meet anyone.” He said gruffly.
“Please..” Prachi pleaded.
“Please!” I joined in.
He looked at me and then at Prachi, probably wondering about the cause of our desperation.
“I’ll see what I can do, but no promises.” He said finally.
“Thank you!” We both chimed. By now, we knew how to get the gruff man do things for us. He couldn’t say no, when asked nicely.

We had a name now, Sinha. After all how many Sinha’s could stay on one street. As Prachi and I readied ourselves, we thought of questions that we had to ask the neighbors and the excuses to explain why we were interested.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

All Roads Lead Home - 9

Prachi’s plans, were even more vague and impractical than my non-existent ones. We sat up late that night, poking fun at her best laid ideas. As we giggled and laughed, we never realized when the conversation took on a serious tone.
“What do mum and dad feel about this whole thing?” I asked her. I hadn’t spoken to them about it in great detail.
Prachi looked at me sharply. I played it cool, playing with the piece of paper I held in my hand.
“What do you mean?” She asked, pulling the paper out of my hand.
“I mean, are they okay with it? I never asked.”
“Well, I don’t think they are too happy about it.” She said thoughtfully. “But there’s nothing they can do to stop you, and they want you to know that they are always there for you. Whatever decision you take, they’ll be behind you, one-hundred percent, even if they don’t like it.”
I nodded. I already knew all that.
“Can I ask you something?” Prachi asked hesitantly.
“Sure.” I was intrigued.
“What’ll you do if you find them?” Prachi looked me straight in the eye. “Its not going to change anything right?” She wanted me to reassure her that everything was going to be just the same.
“I don’t know.” I told her the only thing I was sure of right then.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” I could see the lines on her forehead gathering, which indicated that she was trying to not to lose her patience.
I held her by the shoulders. “Please Prachi, I don’t have the answers right now. All I know is that I HAVE to do this. It’s a part of who I am. When I find the answers to the rest of your questions, I’ll let you know. Okay?”
She looked at me for the longest time and then nodded slowly.“Okay, deal.”
“Now that that’s clear, lets sleep! We’ve to start early tomorrow.”  She yawned loudly. I laughed. It was 3 AM, there was no way, we would start early tomorrow. As I turned off the lights, I heard my sister call out. “Goodnight sis.”
An involuntary smile touched my face. Despite her staking claim on the window side bed, she had moved to the other one. I fell asleep as I watched the moonlight stream into the room, illuminating it softly.

Turns out, we did have an early start. Prachi, the practical one, had asked the front desk to wake us up at seven. When the phone rang, Prachi lifted on one lazy finger, which promptly went under the blanket.
The phone rang persistently. Cursing Prachi under my breath, I got up and groggily made my way to the phone.
“Hello..”  I said, stifling a yawn.
“Madam, this is the front desk.” His cheerfulness was almost annoying.
“Yes, we’re up. Stop calling!” I gave out precise instructions.
“No Madam, there is someone to see you.. He’s waiting in the lobby. He says his name is Om and you’re expecting him.” *Poof!* my sleep all but disappeared.
“I’ll be right down.” I had hung up before the words were out of my mouth.