That winter on the top floor of a hotel in the beautiful valley of Panchgani, Shyam decided he was born for happiness. Sanskriti was pregnant. Shyam’s around her, the stood watching the hills and the off-peak silence around them. The sun was painting hues of orange and yellow in the sky. Their hands clubbed together, they stood dreaming of the promising future. Shyam could almost see their simple life arrive here, to a holiday time in the beautiful valley.
Six years from that day, Sanskriti watched the lonely stars twinkling in space from the balcony of their house in Pune. She could still visualize the ecstasy on Shyam’s face when he had said that aloud. His voice kept ringing in her head, magnified as they now spoke only in monosyllables. Sanskriti walked to the railing and looked down at the empty streets. It was deserted save for the lone motorcycles zooming on the shinny streets. She looked at her watch. It was 3am. The night was starry and cool. She loved to watch the stars and listen to the soothing whispers of the night. Usually it brought peace to her. But not today. Today nothing could bring peace.
A crow sat perched on the drainage pipes, cawing. ‘It is an unusual time for you to be awake’, she said. ‘Can’t you sleep too?’ The crow cawed again.
She smiled and wondered how this little black, ugly thing could have so much importance in the Hindu mythology. When her grandpa died a ritual was performed. The crow was fed Appa’s favourite sweets so that his spirit went straight to heaven. In her orphan childhood, he was the only guardian she had ever known of. A relation of pure emotion. After him, it was Shyam. Together she and Shyam had seen good times. That had changed since the past few months. He had still not recovered. They had not talked after that incident. Communication had reached a null point.
Good news, she thought. She had made Gulab-Jamun for Shyam for the occasion. Today, she had decided, she would take the first step. She would make him sit and listen. She would hold him if he cried. She stared into the hallow darkness of the night, resembling her life. A night which would lead to a morning; she prayed.
She sighed and sat in the reclining chair. The stars were twinkling in the distance. They always reminded her of Krishna. Krishna – her son, who lived for whole of 5 years and six months. Who she loved very much. And he loved the stars. He had wanted to become an astronaut. She had smiled at the seriousness on his innocent face. Shyam got a big book of pictures of stars and planets the next day. He looked proudly at his to-be-astronaut as Krishna spent hours pointing his little fingers at the moon and the stars, asking questions with intelligent eyes. Since then everything was stars and moon for Krishna. Sanskriti had even stuck little fluorescent stars and planets on the ceiling above his hospital bed. The pain still caught her unawares. It was etched in her being. At these times, the happy days just remained a memory.
This is how it all began...
Shyam had always been very soft. She had fallen for him in their first meeting. After they married, they shifted into a small one room flat. It was like a dream come true. He was everything she could have asked for; caring, loving, and understanding. It had been an endless joy ride. Then Krishna came into their life. Making their family complete. She never heard the silent footsteps of worries creep behind the laughter. Krishna was born with complications. He kept losing weight with an alarming rate. They took him to doctors who said it was natural in some children and he would gain later. They said he was fine, until the end.
One day after his fifth birthday, he vomited blood. Sanskriti watched as fear gripped her gut. She gulped hard and called Dr Rathi. After many tests they got the results. Krishna was detected with blood cancer. It had reached the last stage. They didn’t know how long he would live. One month? It could be more. It could be less.
Then the nightmare began. A daze blinding the reality. The rides to the hospital. As they hugged him, the fear in their guts that this might be the last hug. The last twinkle in his eyes. They lived in the hospital, died in the hospital. Took turns sitting with him and waiting to sit with him. It was a bitter fight. In the day they would smile in front of Krishna. And in the night they would cry in different corners.
As days went by and Krishna was fading, tears came less. His face was obscured by tubes with more added each week. He talked less as if he understood everything and was waiting. One morning he had an attack, precisely two months after the first. He spat blood for hours. More than his tiny body could hold. Pain stamped all over his face, he struggled and fought for breath. Until he couldn’t breathe no more. Sanskriti held his tiny hand long afterwards, as they removed the tubes. His eyes closed, he looked like a sleeping angel. Shyam was crying with his head in his hands. Their life had suddenly reached a full stop.
After he was buried, she would cry holding the smell of him in his shirt. Everything in the house was a pain filled memory. Shyam grieved in his own way, remained invisible for days, drifting apart, walked streets in the night. Days went by like this. She overcame it before him. She knew she had to fight it. Live with Krishna’s death. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to. Funny how we know lessons of life, and can’t imbibe them at the right time. Very rarely we learn, even if we know.
One night when Shyam came home after his walking spree, he found Sanskriti in Krishna’s room, crying.
‘Sanskriti…’ he gulped and put his hand on her shoulder.
She froze and stood up, looked at Shyam. He put his hand on her cheek and gently wiped her cheek.
‘Shyam…? He was so small. So little life he had seen. Why did God do this…?’ her face was creased with pain, sobs breaking her.
They clung to each other that night. Later at times when he found her crying, he would hold her. And they would find comfort in love in the darkness where each could hide from the pain, which would return by day light.
This is how it ended...
She had visited the doctor today. She was pregnant. Four weeks. She didn’t know if she was happy. She didn’t know what to feel. She wanted to tell Shyam, see his reaction. Get a clue. Maybe the baby would help them get on with their lives, she thought. Today, again she needed him.
It was twilight now. The stars were slowly fading, washed by a brighter star, a cool summer breeze blowing over her cheeks, the crow cawed, trees swished; a morning had come. In the distance she heard the telephone ring.
‘Hello?’ she said.
‘Yes, this is Mrs Sehgal’… ‘What?’
The police. They had found a body last night below the Taj Towers. Somebody had jumped. They found this address in his pocket. The name was Shyam Sehgal. Sanskriti dropped the phone and collapsed…
The crow perched on the railing. Cawed once, then twice, looked at Sanskriti lying motionless; frozen in time.
Ah, it said, and then it thought of sweets and singing and dancing. And flew away.