image is from Google
She was emailing. Her getup screamed “nerd”. At next stop, she rose to allow co-passenger to disembark. Suddenly a garishly tattooed arm grabbed her IPad and hopped off the bus.
“I must lodge a complaint to police now” she cried to the driver, stepping off.
Mission accomplished, smartly dressed she flew out for next assignment.
Aditya Raj had an over whelming urge to visit his ancestral home before his by-pass surgery inNew York. His wife and kids dissuaded vociferously but to no avail. He was sure that after completing this niggling task left undone in his old home; he could go under the knife worriless. Hence, sixty five year old Aditya returned toIndiaaccompanied by his elder son Vijay Raj.
Raj family had migrated toNew Yorkafter Aditya’s marriage. He was in the family’s diamond business and had entered into a 50-50 partnership with his childhood buddy Shiva who was already settled inNew York. The ancestral home had been in their family for almost two hundred years and he had left it in the able hands of his younger brother Satya and grandmother. Their parents had retired in the holy place ofBanarasbut the old grandmother refused to leave the home where she’d come as a bride. No lure of a holy place could pry her away from this house. Then five years ago just before grandpa’s first death anniversary, grandmother had taken ill and passed away. Satya was single and had no desire to wed, hence joined Aditya inNew Yorkafter granny’s death. The house was left in the care of their old faithful cook and jack of all Ramu and his wife.
Aditya and son Vijay had a good night’s sleep and were ready to walk down memory lane. This was their first visit after granny’s demise. Sounds of joyous laughter and scampering feet reverberated in their ears. Granny’s beckoning voice the loudest. She had a whole repertoire of fairytales and delicious goodies to share with her grandchildren. The kids adored her. Neighborhood children came by even after her grandchildren had migrated toNew York. She never tired of telling stories.
Zeba Khan was very attractive. Classic features, long brown hair and almond shaped eyes and an hourglass figure made her an instant cynosure for all eyes. She had eyes for Satya Raj only. No one else existed as far as she was concerned. All alliances put forward by kith and kin were summarily dismissed.
By one pretext or another, she would visit Satya in his oldDelhijewelry store and chat him up. She intimated that one of her ancestors had been an important minister inDelhi’s royal court where Satya’s ancestors were the royal jewelers. She shared many such anecdotes with facts and figures leaving no doubt in Satya’s mind that indeed, their family lines were interconnected. She tried to dangle a family secret as a carrot as she was madly in love with his looks and demeanor. But Satya would have none of it. Zeba was beautiful he admitted to himself and had gotten under his skin but he never gave up his resolve to remain celibate like his beloved deity Hanuman. Plus he was a staunch Hindu and she was a Muslim. His folks would be scandalized, not that he wished to marry. Then granny had passed away.
Caretaker Ramu and wife, in order to properly care for the house and make some extra money on the side, rented the house without Raj family’s knowledge. It was Zeba and her elder brother Ali who had rented the house. Unbeknownst to Ramu and wife, both Zeba and Ali searched the house every night. They especially targeted granny’s room. They had almost finished searching every inch of the room when by accident, Zeba’s hand hit upon the center rose carving on the bed’s head board. With a whirring sound the rose opened up and inside was a secret drawer. Full of excitement, Ali pushed his sister back and stuck his hand inside the drawer. A velvet pouch touched his fingers. With shaky fingers he extracted it and opened the bag. Out popped a priceless diamond, the size of an egg. This is what they had been seeking. Finally their hard work had paid off.
Ali was up to his eyebrows in gambling debts and needed money badly. He was aware that he was living on borrowed time. Zeba cried that in all fairness half of the money belonged to the Raj family as it was their property. As family history ran, this diamond was meant for the favored Queen of the King but she had been mysteriously poisoned and subsequently the King had declared the diamond unlucky. Raj family had since then hidden it from view for sake of its safety and family honor. Ali had no intention of sharing the proceeds from the diamond’s sale even with his half sister Zeba. Hence he had no compunction of ending her life. He smothered her with a pillow when she was asleep and fled. Ever since that day, Zeba’s ghost roamed the corridors of the old mansion always on the lookout for her beloved Satya Raj.
The caretaker and his wife had come to know about this ghost as it had appeared to them while cleaning the house. The police case had been closed after thorough investigation due to lack of clues. Ali had vanished into thin air.
Ramu and wife reluctantly confessed to renting the house in their absentia and the murder thereafter. Aditya and son were quite upset. Somehow Aditya felt, maybe that was the reason he had this urge to return home. He decided to play it by ear. That night he slept in granny’s room with her favorite shawl around his shoulders. After a while, he felt the air around the bed change a bit and he felt a presence. He saw the floating figure of granny and she seemed to be looking at him with love in her eyes. Aditya’s eyes moistened involuntarily. Granny seemed to be pointing at something. Then her finger elongated and touched the carved rose on the headboard. Aditya decided to examine it. He tapped it gently and it sprang open. Excitedly, he put his hand inside but came up empty. Then he pushed it further and came into another compartment and in that he found a small diary and a pouch. He removed both. The diary was written in pristine “Urdu” language (Urdu -is a register of the Hindi-Urdu language that is identified with Muslims in South Asia).
Luckily Aditya knew Urdu and read the diary with growing excitement. In great detail it narrated the story of their ancestor, the royal jeweler. His son had been fatally wounded while fleeing from dacoits. The ancestor had prayed to Lord Krishna promising a twenty one diamond studded crown in return for his son. The son healed in record time and now the promise was yet to be fulfilled. Somehow, the favorite queen got a whiff of this through her spies and wanted a necklace made with the biggest stone from the lot of 21 diamonds. Even before Satya Raj could plead his case, the queen died mysteriously after being poisoned. The diamonds were declared unlucky and went underground. This news did not deter the court’s greedy sycophants. Thus began the quest for diamonds. The promise to the lord remained unfulfilled. The chase was on.
Gafoor Ali Khan was one such greedy minister plagued by his many wives for expensive baubles. To end his money troubles, he set his sights on those diamonds. In the interim, Satya Raj had a master carpenter build a solid bed with a carved headboard with secret drawers. In the first drawer he had placed a false diamond; the size of the largest one to misguide any would be thief. He had the carpenter swear to secrecy on his only son’s head. The elder sons of the clan were privy to this secret only. Time sped and the diamonds stayed hidden in the second drawer, to this day.
Aditya Raj was inNew Yorkon business when grandpa shared the family secret with granny on his deathbed, to pass along to him only as Aditya’s father; their only son was unworldly and had no interest in family affairs. Granny had waited to convey this secret on grandpa’s first death anniversary when Aditya was sure to come down fromNew Yorkbut died without revealing it.
Aditya got in touch with one of his old trusted craftsmen. He had him overnight craft a beautiful crown for the lord studded with the promised twenty-one diamonds under a cloak of extreme secrecy. After swearing him on Lord Krishna’s name, he quickly left for the Lord Krishna’s temple in Vrindavan to make good the promise and uphold family honor. The Lord had a playful smile after receiving this offering.
Aditya and son returned toNew York. As promised, he checked into the hospital for the by-pass surgery. He felt on top of the world. A sense of well being pervaded his person. The doctors were mystified. After several tests, they discovered that his heart was completely normal and blockage free. The Lord smiled mischievously in his temple inIndia.
*Lord Krishna and Hanuman are Hindu deities
Gorby (Govardhan) – Ghost, Ravi’s friend/adversary/ TV-movie star
Biba – Gorby’s love, Monu’s mom, Ravi’s wife
Monu (Mandeep): Ravi’s son fathered by Gorby
Kaka- bungalow caretaker
Ms. Rosie: Monu’s nanny
Silently, ninja entered the house. Surefooted, knowing exactly where to go, he reached the bedroom. He tapped awake the sleeping man ever so gently. It was movie and TV star the Great Gorby. Once he was awake he threatened Gorby menacingly, “Leave Ravi Talwar and his family alone or else you will be sorry!” Gorby quietly extracted a gun from under his pillow and tried to shoot but his hand was shaking badly and the nimble ninja deflected the gun. Gorby shot himself instead. The gloved ninja left same way he’d come.
After initial hue n cry, the death was declared accidental. Mumbai’s tinsel town, notorious for its short memory span, soon forgot Gorby.
Gorby’s ashes were ritually immersed by his grief stricken dad but he never left. His ghost roamed the bungalow determined on seeking revenge. The caretaker Kaka was sorry that he had rented the place surreptitiously. He should’ve asked his “sahib” first. It was too late now.
Ghost Gorby was bored. He longed for real people to scare. Ever since his ignominious end, he had been thirsting for revenge, stuck as he was between the living and the dead. To date, he had merely scared caretaker Kaka and a bunch of adventurous kids.
Ravi Talwar was a restauranteur in New York. He had had no desire to join the family business that was well run by other family members. Quick wits and hard work had paid off and now he owned three successful restaurants offering ethnic Indian food. He had dark thick hair, laughing eyes, big forehead, biggish Talwar nose and full lips. His body was athletic due to morning workouts and careful eating. Altogether, he was a well dressed easy on the eye marriage prospect. Happy and ready to settle down, he proposed marriage to his childhood fellow prankster and love, Biba.
Biba was a distant relative of Ravi’s mom and often came to stay in their house with her parents who were also their business partners. Only child of doting parents, she had become a spoilt princess and being beautiful, everyone simply indulged her shamelessly. Only Ravi did no such thing hence Biba had a love hate fascination for him. She always tried to get the upper hand but failed- this had earned Ravi her grudging respect. She even felt a sneaky kind of love for him. The minx had determined that only way to make Ravi succumb was to marry him. So far, Ravi had held out.
Ravi’s proposal had been everyone’s dream come true and they became engaged.
Gorby after graduation had left for tinsel town Mumbai to try his luck in movies. A few pulled family strings had panned out and he had landed a small part in a TV serial. He was a consummate actor and soon got noticed. His drop dead looks, green eyes and chestnut hair also helped. His mom had been a fair green eyed Kashmiri beauty whose family had been uprooted from their beloved Kashmir valley. Enroute to their second home in Dehradun, militants had struck again and she had died on the spot. Pandit Kaul hastily made a makeshift pyre to consign the body to flames and waited for dawn to gather her ashes. Thereafter, he hid his three year old son under his shirt and headed non stop for Dehradun. His wife’s ashes were duly consigned to the holy Ganges there, amidst tears and chants.
Mr. Kaul’s close friend and neighbors, the Talwar family had taken them both in and healing had begun. Talwars and Kauls were business partners and to occupy his grief stricken mind, Mr. Kaul took upon himself all out of town travel secure in the knowledge that his beloved son was in caring hands… Gorby was easy going and charming but with a flexible slant to life unlike Ravi who had been molded by his mother and grandmother in strict moral code and conduct. He and Ravi were close buddies.
Biba heeded to her inner drummer alone. In their heart of hearts Ravi’s mom and granny would’ve been happy if Ravi had chosen another. But love is blind and they were happy enough with this choice. Better to deal with a known devil than an unknown one.
Dashing actor Gorby swept Biba off her feet at the engagement party and she fell headlong for him. He praised her looks outrageously and encouraged her to become an actress. Ravi and the rest were unaware of this.
A week before the marriage day, Gorby and Biba eloped to Mumbai. Spoilt Biba was in for a rude awakening. Nymphets like her were a dime a dozen and she was not amenable to the casting couch. She was blacklisted and Gorby had to apologize to everyone and mollify Biba as well. He genuinely loved her and wanted to marry her. They both felt terrible about backstabbing Ravi but were madly in love. In a moment of weakness, they made love after another scathing rejection of Biba. She became pregnant. Both were aghast as they did not wish for a child. Repentant and tear stricken she returned home.
Ravi still loved Biba and both the families quickly got them married and soon after they left for New York.
The nurse brought the wailing baby to Biba but she turned her face away. She had gone into depression. Ravi singlehandedly took care of both and finally engaged an Indian nanny to care for his son. They named the baby Mandeep but called him Monu.
To prove to herself her own self worth, Biba soon took an interest in the restaurants and became a cordon bleu chef. Digging out old family recipes and begging family ladies for recipes, she dabbled and created new dishes. She gave them exotic names and gradually introduced them in their restaurants. Their revenue trebled. Finally the family had come together. In time, she came to adore her geeky son Monu as well.
Monu was in the process of boarding his school bus when a brakeless car slammed into the bus injuring several kids. Monu’s spine was injured and he lost the use of his legs. He was only ten.
After trying all treatments, devastated Ravi and Biba decided to sell everything and return home to their beloved Dehradun valley. Fresh air, Ayurvedic massages were next on their agenda.
Exercise equipment, physical therapy aids, computers et al had been shipped in advance. The bungalow was readied for wheelchair accessibility. It was then that Kaka made a clean breast of having rented their bungalow to actor Gorby without their knowledge and his subsequent accidental death. Kaka was unaware that Gorby, Biba and Ravi were childhood buddies. He also said that their house was haunted. Ravi and Biba laughed in his face. Sheepish at this reaction, Kaka slunk out.
Monu was a nerd and it had been agreed by his US school principal that he could appear for exams online- so everyone was happy. His Indian nanny Ms. Rosie had agreed to travel with them and Ravi and Biba were relieved.
Monu was a night owl and as he worked on his homework, he felt a presence. He turned his swivel chair and saw a man seated on his bed. He was looking at him with love. Monu asked, “who are you?’ Gorby replied, “I am your dad son! “ But how can that be Monu cried my dad is Ravi and not you! But Gorby insisted. Then Monu asked why are you still here? Gorby said he wanted to know who had plotted to scare him to death literally. Then he saw that Monu was unable to stand and was stricken. He came to know about the accident and their move back home.
During subsequent days he noticed the love and devotion Ravi had for his son and he softened.
The day before, he had been seething in anger when he’d overheard Ravi and Biba talking. Ravi had confessed to Biba that he had sent his close friend, a New York cop to scare away Gorby from them for good. On chatting with a local Dehradun friend, he had come to know about the paying guest in their bungalow. The town was all excited to have Gorby the actor in their midst, his friend had expressed. He had had no intention of killing him he told her emphatically. She’d believed him.
During childbirth, Ravi had come to know that Monu was not his son, but had forgiven Biba and loved Monu as his own flesh and blood. Now he only wished to keep Gorby away from disrupting his family again. That was all.
Gorby forgave his childhood buddies and quietly departed from their lives. Next to Monu’s pillow they found an exquisite cameo with Gorby’s mom’s picture in it. Gorby had worn in his neck when alive.
Lalaji aka Amar Nath sat on the park in deep thought. Then he smiled, coming to a decision. He put back his head, gave a guffaw and returned home with a spring in his steps.
Lalaji sold his compact two bedroom place, banked half and left for his village, to live out his remaining days basking in old memories in the mellow surroundings of the ancestral home.
Shalani, an childhood friend and favorite cousin saw him under the ancient banyan tree surrounded by children and came over to greet. They had been very close as children and soon Lalaji spilled his guts and wept. He missed his grandchildren left behind in the city. Hence he showered his love on the village kids who soon came to love him and addressed him as Grandpa. Shalini decided to teach Lalaji’s three sons and their wives a lesson. She had a wicked gleam in her eyes.
Shalini’s daughter Leela and her husband Ram were close neighbors of Lalaji’s sons Amit, Sumit and Ankit and she decided to call them for a party. Her wedding anniversary was within days and would be the perfect excuse. Once Lalaji’s family was within earshot, Leela said to a friend,” you know it is a real shame about poor Uncle Lala Amar Nath. His sons deprived him of all his worldly goods sucking him dry and then got rid of him like yesterday’s newspaper! The shameless ingrates. My mom Shalini told me that she was very happy that they did not come to know about uncle’s safe treasure”. Then, she glided off leaving Lalaji’s offspring aghast!
The mercenary sons scrambled to huddle in a corner and palaver over this new information nugget. Their wives urged the sons to seek out the old man and invite him back to the city after showing abject remorse and seeking a pardon in piteous tones. The old man was sure to melt as he doted on his grand-kids.
Lalaji was seated at his usual perch surrounded by children when three sets of feet halted near him. In unison they genuflected before him blubbering for forgiveness. Shalini was standing behind the banyan having come there on an errand and became privy to this show of crocodile tears. She snorted and laughed wickedly. Her plan had been foolproof after all. Now it will be smooth sailing for cousin Amar Nath she thought and left with a happy relieved frame of mind.
Lalaji resettled in his family’s bosom where all his three sons lived in the dream home he and his beloved wife Shanti had built and they’d inherited from him. Each son lived on a separate floor and had separate business as well. Hence life was a smooth sail.
Lalaji was made much of each week by a different son and his shameless effusive wife who’s eye was only on the main chance of knowing more about the safe treasure. Lalaji stayed mum after having been stung so bitterly by own flesh and blood. He enjoyed his grand children very much. They never tired of his folk lore and fairytales and tales from the Panchtantra and the great Hindu epics. Thus their morals and moral fiber strengthened by gentle advise imparted with love and humor that matched his twinkling happy eyes. He silently thanked the good fairy whoever he/she was that had wrought this miracle. His sunset years had become full of light.
Lalaji had only hours to live. His family gathered around his bedside. Finally the youngest grandchild of five egged on by his mother asked grandpa about his Safe Treasure. Grandpa smiled and all the puzzle pieces fell in place. He remembered Shalini, his cousin called him a safe treasure- full of sound advice and a treasure trove of folktales for tender ears. Silently he thanked his beloved benefactor.
In a firm voice he said, “Listen children, the safe treasure you seek is me. Cousin Shalini always called me a “safe treasure” as she loved my stories that I weaved constantly and which she never tired of. Regarding any cash and valuables, I have in the bank a nest egg of a quarter million which I leave up to you three to divide equitably amongst you. However, if you can give me a proper sendoff in the traditional Hindu way and immerse my ashes in the holy Ganges River, your mother’s soul will be at peace. I do not care one way or another. Also if you my three sons, can on a regular basis visit a home for the aged and bring some cheer in the lives of the forsaken all your sins will be washed away. Your children will benefit immensely from such trips as well. I leave the decision up to you all. That is all I have to say to you”. Then he turned his face towards the wall and journeyed on.
** Pañcatantra, Sanskrit: ‘Five Principles’) is an ancient Indian collection of animal fables in verse and prose, in frame story format.
The safe was opened finally.
Last week the funeral had been conducted as befitting a much loved father and husband by the grief stricken wife Sheila and twin offspring Yogi and Yamuna, both doctors. The deceased was one of Jaipur’s top industrialists. His name was Yograj Sisodia.
Dr. Yamuna was short and stocky like her dad with gorgeous flowing hair and limpid clear eyes that mesmerized. Her other attractive feature was a tinkling laughter which reminded of soft musical notes. Other than that, she was ordinary in looks department but was a gifted general surgeon.
Dr. Yogi her fraternal twin was classically tall, fair and handsome. He had taken after their mom Sheila who was a known beauty in her heyday. Handsome doctors attract more nurses than their counterparts and Yogi was no exception. A graveyard of broken hearts could be chalked up to his name. He was an incorrigible flirt. His sis warned that one day he was going to fall flat for someone who would not give him the time of day. He merely snorted. The siblings however loved each other very much. Yogi was an interventional cardiologist.
The family was quite well off and hence inheritance was the last thing on their minds. It was more curiosity to know what their beloved (dad/partner) had had to hide from his family. The attorney came over with the key to the safe and they gathered in their father’s study room. It was his private den and only place that was taboo to all, without exception. Their dad even cleaned the place himself. Various properties had already been distributed per deceased’s last will and testament. The only item left was the safe.
Sheila said “I wonder what Yograj hid from us all these years? Yogi, Yamuna, do you guys have any inkling?” Both shook their heads equally mystified. Impatience and curiosity were palpable. Per instructions of the deceased, the attorney opened safe and left them alone. His work done, he quietly saw himself out of the mansion.
With rising excitement Sheila opened the safe door. In it covered by an antique red velvet table cloth, edged by an exquisite gold filigree lace was an antique Chinese box with carved dragons. It was one those trick puzzle boxes and they had a tough time finding the secret drawer as it definitely contained something which rattled when gently shaken.
Yamuna said, “Ma please hand it to me. Let me try“. Skilful surgeon hands gently tapped the mouths of each carved dragon. Finally the left side gave a clicking sound and a drawer sprang open.
Wrapped in a scented embroidered kerchief with royal insignia was a huge blue topaz the size of a small egg. It had to be priceless. Their collective mouths fell open. There was a sepia tinted old newspaper cutting under the stone. It spoke of a daring theft of the legendary Topaz from the royalpalaceofJaipur.
This stone was, per the legend stolen from an ancient temple and whosoever possessed it- misfortune would befall his immediate family. The temple thief had sold the gem to the royal jeweler for a mere pittance and disappeared. He had met with a freak accident and died on the spot. The royal jeweler made a forehead ornament for the royal princess and presented it to his highness the Raja of Jaipur. The jewel had next been stolen by an ancestor of Yograj Sisodia called Pratap Singh as he had easy access, being the chief treasurer of the palace.
“This topaz is driving me crazy. I have to have it or I will go crazy. Please gods either free me from this obsession or help me acquire it by fair means or foul”.
The minute Pratap had laid eyes on the topaz he had been hypnotized by its beauty and was driven to do the unthinkable. He seemed to be possessed by the evil spirit of stone itself.
Once the stone came in his possession, bad luck came along with it. His prize winning horses suddenly broke their limbs and an ancient Peepal tree inexplicably shriveled and died. Pratap Singh realized his error but it was too late.
Repentant and grief stricken, in order to make amends, Pratap Singh performed various rituals and tantric remedies with help of knowledgeable priests to appease the malefic planets and demi gods. Then per the sage’s instructions, he placed the stone in this box along with its history to be passed on to his bloodline. Tide of bad luck had been successfully averted.
Sheila and the twin doctors were shaken, enchanted and fascinated by their discovery. Knowing one another well, they decided to gift the topaz to the national museum where it truly belonged, unanimously.
**Hindus worship Peepal tree like a deity, without having any knowledge about its history & origin. Check out a few interesting legends about it. Peepal Tree- The Sacred Fig (written for a challenge- using “safe” word in a short story 1000 words max)