Short Story Archive for Happiness:

The Wishing Tree

 

Every winter the story teller came south to a heartwarming welcome.  His advent was eagerly looked forward to the whole year by both the children and adults.  His spun tales enchanted everyone.

 

He began, “Today I am going to tell you about the Wishing Tree.  It is a true story.

It was an exceptionally warm day.  Everyone was trying to cool off with flavored ices and frequent showers.  Rains had been plentiful that year.

We were a ten strong group and moved everywhere in unison.  Two brothers in our group were catholic and attended the localchurchofVirgin Mary.  It was Sunday evening and we had congregated at our favorite spot near the town park’s swings.  It was a sticky hot day and we had cleaned out the sweetened crushed ices seller of his ices.  He had left for the evening.  It was then that the two boys blurted out something that startled us all.    Both of them had seen tears streaming down the face of the Virgin Mary during morning mass.  They had spoken to no one but invited us to verify for ourselves.

We  rushed to experience this phenomena for ourselves.  We took our cues from Johnny and Tommy and knelt in the pews and stared hard at the Virgin Mary.  I can still feel goose bumps even now in recollection.  We all saw the tears stream down.  We decided to ask the church pastor about it.

So far only our group had seen this miracle.  The pastor came and verified too.  He was all excited and kept making the sign of the cross again and again.  In exuberance, he had the church bells rung to beckon the believers.  They all came and marveled too.  No one knew what to make of it.  The bishop was also informed.  After a week, the tears stopped.  Thereafter, within the church complex, a dead tree stump suddenly came to life.  It was as if the tears streaming down the face of Virgin had brought it back to life.  Soon it grew to its full height with strong branches laden with healthy green leaves.  It was the holy *Peepal tree, much revered by us Hindus.

A worried mother, wrote a note to the Virgin asking her aid in healing her one and only very sick child.  She tied this note to the tree branch.  Within a week, the child was healed.  Soon others wrote notes to the Virgin asking for help.  The church coffers filled to bursting and on hold repairs were finally undertaken.  Then the Virgin appeared to the church priest in a vision night before Sunday mass and said that everyone whose wish is granted must untie one note from the tree and help that person as pay it forward and she would help through that person only.   Next day during mass, the priest shared his vision and thus the town started helping each other through the notes tied to the Wishing Tree.

One day an agitated neighbor came and knocked our door.  My father was theKrishnatemple priest and much revered among the Hindus.  His advise was often sought to settle petty disputes. The neighbor had sought help from the Wishing Tree and in return had brought back a note which had shaken him to the core.  He wanted advice from father on how to go about fulfilling this wish.  The note said, “Dear Virgin Mary, I live in the orphanage and long for a mommy and a daddy of my own who will love me.  I was left at the church steps when I was very little.  Since I am nine years old, no one will adopt me as everyone says I am too old.  Please help me.  –signed Rose Da Cunha.”

Mr. Shiva Sharma was a devout Hindu and it would be very hard for him to fulfill this wish even though his own had been met by the Wishing Tree.  He looked at father for guidance.  Father suggested that he talk about this note at home and ask for everyone’s opinion.  Since the family wish had been met, they were honor bound to pay it forward as desired by the Virgin Mary.  It had been very easy to ask help of the Wishing Tree in the church ground but very hard to cross the bridge of religious differences.  Sharma family was divided.  The Sharma children were open to sharing their home with Rose as their adopted sister but their mother would have none of it.  She had a hard time managing her own brood of three boys and two girls and now a sixth one and that too a possible meat eating Christian would be too much for her to handle.   She stayed adamant.

It was early morning time and Mrs. Sheila Sharma was busy performing the daily prayer rituals and had lit the lamp before the deity.  Suddenly, the image of herKrishnaidol became that of the Virgin Mary and she beheld tears streaming from the idol’s face.  Mrs. Sharma rubbed her eyes to reassure herself whether this was real or not.  Her belovedKrishnaidol had morphed into Virgin Mary!  She had a change of mind immediately and agreed to adopt Rose as her sixth child.  She realized that the inner divine is the same in all religions.  Rose was rechristened  *Roshni Sharma as she had brought enlightenment into their lives.”

The storyteller then dropped a bombshell.  He said his wife’s name was Roshni.

Notes: Roshni means light and Peepal tree: The Sacred Fig, Ficus religiosa, or Bo-Tree (from     Sanskrit  bodhi: “wisdom”, ” enlightened.

Timepiece

The heirloom, an antique timepiece was the family’s prized possession.  It had been given to their distant ancestor in recognition for gallantry by Empress Catherine the Great herself.  He had been a Cossack in the royal guard.  It was also a reminder of their Russian bloodline.  Names like Nicholas, Peter, Ivan, Anton and Alex were often given to their newborns either as first or second names.

The revered heirloom had to be kept within the family and not sold.   The four brothers had no solution for the only condition in the will.  This became a real headache as they lived world’s apart managing the family’s vast foreign holdings.  How to meet this condition?

Their beloved housekeeper came up with an ingenious solution.

She said,   “Each of you should keep it for a year and a week before the time runs out, you should gather here in this family home for a vacation and then hand it over to next in line.  This will keep you all closely connected, even your children.  Consider it as a yearly family vacation.”  Everyone loved the idea and it was at once agreed upon

The Cossack patriarch beamed in satisfaction from his portrait above the fireplace.

 

 

Secrets in Safe

Secrets in Safe

Bunty, Goldie and Raja, aka the triad sat staring at the safe they had just unloaded from the van as if it were a cobra!  They had never done anything illegal before but in this case the cause justified the means.  

They were all headed back to India during summer break and by a mere fluke they had been privy to a cryptic text message on a fellow passenger’s cell phone.  They had quickly noted down all the info and had decided to investigate upon landing.

Raja’s dad was a bigwig in the airline’s corporate staff.  Through his aegis they acquired full data with copy of fellow passenger’s passport.  Their job had been made easy by this information.  The safe’s secret had to be unlocked to get to heart of the matter.  Excitement tinged with fear was palpable.

Raja was tall and reedy in structure with a prominent adam’s apple but due to his dark liquid eyes, all the girls shamelessly gave him chase in the college campus.  He was shy to boot.

Bunty and Goldie were the extreme opposites and were constantly riding love’s seesaw on an off and on basis.  Bunty was of rugged build, fair and tall and had a wonderful voice.  Hence he too was much sought after. 

Goldie was the nerd of the triad and hence kept them afloat in studies singlehandedly.    Goldie was hooked on workouts, if not busy solving difficult problems.  He spent half of his free time tackling weights.  His body was like a Greek God’s and hence cynosure of many eyes of both genders.

The passport revealed the name of the passenger to be Salim Malik.  The message had come from a girl named Ameena Begum.  On further research they were able to locate the whereabouts of Ameena.  They had to find the alleged safe quickly to get to the bottom of this plot.  Here they faced a stone wall.  They went into a huddle to solve this issue.

Fortunately everyone was from Mumbai which made things much easier.  They solicited aid from   local police station officer (SHO) who thought if this yields some crime in the making, he would make headlines and hence helped them with all means at his disposal.    With inside information from the cell phone service provider they had nailed down the exact location of the house and hence the safe.   The police usually made the rounds in the riot prone areas and hence their SHO with help from his Mohamed Ali road counterpart, effected a raid on Ameena’s house.

Ameena’s father Abbas Baig was a cab driver and father of five girls.  Ameena’s mother Samina Begum was deathly scared of her bully husband and did his bidding.  Hence the children suffered without respite being girls.  The SHO had seen the dilapidated safe hidden in a small alcove in the backroom wall covered by a dirty curtain.  He told the triad that now it was up to them to retrieve, open and put back without anyone the wiser.

The trio rejected the numerous invites from local friends and relations and went into a huddle.   A series of festivals were imminent and the streets would be teeming with processions and an odd blast here and there to create communal disharmony.  Keeping all this in mind, they designed a harmless noisemaker as a diversion and planted it near Ameena’s house.  As everyone ran out, they ran in and retrieved the safe.  

Finally the SHO with expert help pried open the safe and it yielded three neat dollar bundles along with passports of Ameena, Samira and Aamna the three older girls aged 17,16 and 15 years.  All had Saudi Arabia visa stamps in them.  Apparently the girls were being sold to rich Saudi sheikhs.  They were all shook up to confront this human trafficking by a parent.  Now they wondered how Salim Malik their plane’s co-passenger fit in here.  They decided to visit him.

The SHO explained the whole situation to Salim and then he told them of his own heartache.  He was in love with Ameena from childhood but knew her abba (dad) was bent upon encashing all his daughters and had forbidden them from meeting.  They were only able to meet near their school or the mosque at given times.  They communicated via a note they left under a designated stone at a nearby park.  About two years ago Salim had gone to USA on scholarship and had been saving money to buy off Ameena from her Abba.  The information about safe and other details were messaged to Salim by a desperate Ameena who was scheduled to be married within the fortnight to a Saudi Sheikh along with her two younger sisters who had brokered a deal for all three of them paying handsomely to cab driver Abbas Baig, their father.   Now all the pieces fell in place.  The girls were under age and hence this was an illegal trade.  

The SHO openly returned the safe back to Ameena’s house even as the camera’s from all news channels rolled in live action.  Abbas Baig was arrested and all the girls were rescued.  Ameena and Salim Malik were married by the mosque priest and rest of the girls along with their mother were whisked off to a new neighborhood under different names with relevant paper work, ration card etc…  With Salim’s permission, Ameena sent money to her mother each month to meet all the expenses.   No one missed cruel Abbas Baig.

**

Ten years later

Raja, Goldie and Bunty as preplanned inaugurated their brand new NGO called Safe Haven meant for all homeless, abused and society’s pariahs seeking care and shelter.

The Illegal Squatter

The just completed house was a perfectly wrought jewel box.  Every single detail had been meticulously looked into.  Architect Shiva Shenoy had observed all the Vaastu diktats for his dream home.  It had aesthetic beauty with an inviting openness similar to those amazing floor through homes he had seen in America.  He had selected very pleasing pastel colors for the walls.  Any all old moldings, doors, windows, locks and details that could be salvaged from the old house had been reverently utilized giving the new home an extra élan and character.  An old family portrait occupied a place of honor.   It was an eco friendly green home which would keep house cool in summer, warm in winter, recycle water, and harness sunlight. A wonderful tree house atop an old banyan tree had come with the property along with the old family portrait.  The housewarming ceremony was a mere week away.
 

An unexpected SOS call from their US settled engineer son Shivam saw them on a flight bound for America.  The ceremony would be rescheduled upon return.  Shiva’s office staff started making cancellation calls to all invitees.
**

Ailing prisoner number 8957 had been released with thirteen others in exchange for the one political prisoner.  Pakistan authorities had failed to elicit any credible information from 8957 and had happily gotten rid of him.  8957 was sent to the army hospital.
 

Fingerprints and other tags in his old bag provided some clues and finally he was identified as Caption Karan Singh who had gone missing about a dozen years ago.  Sadly his grieving family of grand parents, parents had passed on due to broken hearts.  His only sister was happily married and lived in USA.  She had reluctantly sold the property and had decided to also leave the family portrait after taking several photographs of it.   The sale was contingent upon two conditions which had to be met.  The family portrait would occupy a place of honor and the tree house would not be cut down.  One friendly request was a permission to visit the property whenever she came to India.  Shiva Shenoy and his wife had acceded to them.  They were empty nesters with a son in USA and daughter in Dubai.  They couldn’t wait to move into their new home.
Jyoti Kanwar Singh, Capt. Karan’s sister was contacted and given the happy news.  Ecstatic with joy, she flew back to India the very next day.  Seeing her brother’s vacant eyes and piteous condition, she was heart broken.  Being a determined lady, she decided to help get him back on his feet.  The doctors suggested he be taken to the old home to accelerate recovery.  They left immediately.
The tree house, family portrait and other small knick knacks still kept in storage in a back shed by the Shenoy sparked some flares of recognition. 
Jyoti would keep talking about all their childhood events of joy sadness truancy and the umpteen tree house parties they had enjoyed together in their
growing years.  Slowly and surely Karan started regaining his strength and memory.  Finally it all came back.  This was like a watershed and they both
wept over the loss of their loved ones.  First thing they did was to have Karan perform shraddha** ceremony for the departed at the behest of their
family priest.  Now they could move forward.
She showed him photos of her husband and twin boys.  Karan was delighted to know that he was an uncle.  She wanted him to migrate but he wanted to stay in the house and resume service if his officer would have him.  She told him the property no longer belonged to them but he refused to budge.  Meanwhile she had to fly back which she did after extracting a promise of weekly phone calls and email updates from Karan. 

**

The Shenoys returned home after a couple of months.  They couldn’t wait to move into their dream home.  They called the pundit for an auspicious time and day for the move.  This time it would be only close family and friends.  All set and fully rested, they drove to their property.  They got the shock of their lives. 
The house was lit and the music was playing.  Gingerly they opened the door and walked in.  They saw a stranger sitting comfortably as though the house belonged to him and they were the interlopers.  Keeping their wits about, they greeted the man and asked to be seated. Then Karan spoke.

Karan told them that he knew that the house was no longer his but he had nowhere else to go. He had grown up here and wished to die here as well.  He wanted to buy it back.  The Shenoys were aghast.  They told him that it was not a matter of money.  They had built their dream home for which they had sweated all their lives.  He could not abort their dream before full term.  They would be devastated.  They had come to an impasse.  They decided to go home and sleep on it and return in the morning in a better frame of mind.  Karan appeared nonchalant.  For him there was no other option!
The Shenoy couple’s heads were in turmoil.  What to do! How to skin this cat!  They thought of various options but nothing appealed.  Their squatter meant business.  He was an army man and they had lots of respect for him and also felt sorry for him.  Poor man! He’d looked so lost but “we want our home backkk” their minds wailed!  They decided to speak to Jyoti, Karan’s sister.  She gave them an ingenious out.
Next morning with a spring in their steps they went to see Karan.    He welcomed them with tea and pastries and reiterated his offer.  They told him to hear their counter offer.
They said why not share this home!  We can build a small outhouse adjacent to the tree house as there was lots of acreage with the property.  This way they would both have privacy and each other’s company when desired.  Karan too liked the idea as he missed the old folks terribly.  He agreed and they came to amicable financial settlement with everything written in black and white to avoid any future strife.
 

The housewarming was attended by close family members of both Shenoys and Karan Singh who had also invited comrades from his old regiment and childhood friends.  Shenoy children, grandchildren and Jyoti along with her seven year old twins and husband were all in full attendance.

 
The faces in the family portrait beamed.  It was as though old ancestors had come home. The branches and the leaves on the old tree shook happily in celebration.

**
Vaastu*:  means the dwelling of humans & Gods. Vaastu shastra is an ancient science which helps one to get the natural benefits
 freely offered by the five basic elements of the universe in which we all live. These basic elements are Akash (SKY),
 Prithvi (EARTH), Paani (WATER), Agni (FIRE), and Vayu (WIND). Vastu Shastra can be applied by keeping in harmony with
 these basic five elements of nature. Vaastu Shastra is an edifice science that was developed by our learned people
thousands of years ago. Its application today is purely architectural and its principles are based on becoming one with nature.
sraddha**, Sanskrit ?r?ddha, also spelled Shraddha, in Hinduism, a ceremony performed in honour of a dead ancestor. The rite is both a social and a religious responsibility enjoined on all male Hindus (with the exception of some sannyasis, or ascetics). The importance given in India to the birth of sons is to ensure that there will be a male descendant to perform the sraddha ceremony after one’s death.

The rite is performed for the deceased father, grandfather, and great-grandfather and also for the mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. It is intended to nourish, protect, and support the spirits of the dead in their pilgrimage from the lower to higher realms, preceding their reincarnation and reappearance on Earth. The rites are performed between the 11th and 31st days after death, depending on caste traditions, and at regular intervals thereafter. The first annual death anniversary is observed by a sraddha ceremony that enables the deceased (preta) to be admitted into the assembly of forefathers (pitr).

Rebirth

Rebirth

Shell shocked she tried to regain her balance. She sat down heavily on the corner of her bed as past twenty years of their marriage flashed by.  Sam had cheated on her all along.  The second mobile phone with its messages from a string of nymphets was proof enough.  She had to get a grip on self and a new life now.  She had to prepare carefully.

~~

Demi aka Damini and Samir Shroff were well known socialite couple, much sought after by high society and numerous ribbon cutting ceremonies.  Both hailed from well to do business families and it was a union of bodies, minds and businesses.  The formula had worked or so it had seemed.  Now it was unraveling.

~~

Sam was a charmer with classic Adonis looks, smooth tongue and a body kept shipshape and in perfect health by personal trainers and nutritionists.  Everyone doted on him including his wife Demi and two college going kids.  He was clueless about the crack in this perfect family portrait.  He loved his family to the extent he was capable of, no more no less.

~~

Demi was beautiful but not a beauty.  She had a perfect body and her pliant face was capable of being gorgeous or not by mere clever strokes of makeup.  She was a makeup man’s dream come true as it could be transformed at will.  She had mastered this skill well and looked her best in Sam’s company.  They featured in Page 3 often as fodder for gossip and rumor’s grist mill.   Strangely, this family was unspoilt and down to earth.

This knowledge of Sam’s betrayal cut her to the quick and she decided to emerge from his shadow and come into her own.  She no longer cared to bask in his limelight.  Enough was enough.

~~

Demi created a new persona taking the latter half of her name “mini” and her parental last name of Mittal.  She created Mini Mittal and brought her to life by slowly adding substance, blood, bones, and sinew to this persona.  She got an affidavit from her maternal grandma regarding her birth date and applied for a new birth certificate under name of Mini Mittal along with new passport, bank account and PAN number for filing income taxes.  Mini was finally born.  Demi celebrated this event with her childhood bosom buddy MK and grandma.  They were sworn to secrecy about this.  MK too had married a social butterfly and had soon realized he did not love her anymore.  The children were another thing though as he loved his two sons dearly and consequently stayed put.  

MK’s family owned newspapers and he decided to offer her an advice column.  This idea had been tossed around recently and she would be a perfect fit.  He knew about her secret passion for creative writing.  Granny transferred a good amount of her trust to Mini’s account after taking her trustees into confidence.  Demi/Mini was determined about not taking any money from Sam.  She had to make it on her own.  Her dual life commenced.  She continued to shine wine and dine with her philandering husband.  In spare time she started writing for the column.  She also purchased a small apartment with a sea view and hired a live in housekeeper.

~~

The advice column slowly built up a good readership and the trickle of letters to the paper soon became a flood.  Circulation increased by leaps and bounds.  Paper was forced to hire couple of eager beaver wannabe journalists to sift through the mail and pick out the juicy ones.  Twenty questions were answered in each column.  In the meantime, Mini Mittal (MM) published her first novel aptly called “Makeover”.  Backed by a reputable publishing house that loved her column and reviewed by the mainstream newspapers, it became an overnight hit.  She attended book readings and signings setup by her publisher within the city.  She left her hair as is with an early cowlick of grey and understated makeup that lent an aura of mystery and solidity to her new persona. Mini Mittal had finally arrived. It was a year today since her new self had been born.  To complete her makeover, she wore padded inner garments to affect a fuller figure.  Now she was ready to walk away from her old self.

~~

Dinner was over and as whole family was present – she called them to the study.

Then, she dropped her bombshell.    She said that she was leaving Sam for good.  In order to preserve the family image she was going to fake her own death by drowning.   She had already created a new life for herself.  Then she informed them that they already knew her under her new name!  Everyone was flabbergasted.   Within few minutes she effected a change and returned as Mini Mittal.  Their collective gasp and jaw drop cut the silence sharply.   The kids and Sam bombarded her with questions.  Her accusing hurt look at Sam aborted his questions and then she told the kids that she was tired of her shallow life and wanted time for herself.  Henceforth she would like them to call her aunt Mini and never mom. She set the date of funeral of former Mrs. Demi Shroff socialite as first of following month.  Next she left to fake her own death.

Demi was gone and Mini was born.

(picture from internet)

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