Little Bobby loved to venture now that he could crawl. His mom Raji was usually at her wit’s end turning pots n pans, closets, nooks and crannies for him. Finally she’d extricate him with cobwebs hanging on curly locks and dust smearing his cherubic face. His endearing smile melted her anger and she hugged him to her bosom, thankful that he was safe.
“Mom is really busy today and now that my tummy is full, I can go and seek new adventure.” His tiny anklets tinkling, the baby made a beeline for his favorite haunt, that secret room with big brass inlaid doorway and old fashioned chain and lock where happily he gurgled and cooed as though playing with someone. Luckily the door had been unlocked for mopping and dusting.
“Today I am going to explore that dark corner which has some really interesting jars and pots. Even though I like that silver baby in the swing a lot but if I can crawl into the rocking chair, then I can have a better look. Let’s see if I am able to climb on.”
Pre-Partition of India and Pakistan
Chowdhary Ratan Singh was greatly respected in his town in West Punjab, now in Pakistan. His family owned a flourishing business in dry fruits. His brothers and their families also lived in the rambling mansion. Ratan had one son and two daughters. He got his girls settled early and was on the lookout for a suitable bride for his son Rajratan(Raj). Around that time there was a problem in the dry fruit supply from Kabul and he sent Raj to investigate. Raj went to meet their main supplier Aftab Khan who invited him for dinner. There he met Khan’s daughter Kesar and fell head over heels in love with her. Kesar felt the same pull. She knew her father was ready to marry her off to her awful cousin Kaif who was a mean person and hence knowing their families would never agree, they bolted to Delhi.
Kesar’s mother was in the know and not only approved but had given whatever money she could lay her hands on and jewelry. She even sent a maid to help them. Both the fathers were angry and washed their hands off them and forbid everyone from even uttering their names. Ratan cursed his first born but on his deathbed forgave his son and wished they had patched up.
Rajratan Singh and Kesar were hardworking and after selling their jewelry and diamond ear-rings they were able to have enough seed money to start they own dry fruit business in Delhi. Both knew the supply sources and through a trusted hand were able to build up their business from scratch. Here in Delhi festivals and marriages took place all the time hence dry fruits were always in demand. They had chosen well. The couple missed their old homes. They constructed their new home incorporating the beauty of both ancestral homes. The doors had brass inlaid work and the windows and latticed balconies had intricate colored glass designs to keep the harsh summer sun out. Cross ventilation kept their home cool. They were happy except for the one recurring pain in their bosom for their kith n kin whom they missed dreadfully. Raj and Kesar each had worn cameos of their parents around their neck and hence got paintings done of their elders and it occupied a place of honor in their diwan khana (drawing room). The kids would get to know their grand parents in this manner only.
Time sped and Raj and Kesar’s two sons decided to study abroad where they subsequently married and settled down never to return. The parents grieved for their sons realizing how their own parents must’ve felt. They reconciled and now took one day a time.
There was a lot of unrest against the British rule. Some firebrand Hindus decided to bomb the local prison and set free their leaders. Raj and Kesar were in the bazaar when the bomb misfired and were killed instantly. Their horse buggy driver and jack of all cook Bakshi quickly gathered up their mangled bodies and got them cremated before sundown. Then they dispatched mail to their sons overseas to return home and immerse the ashes in the holy Ganges. The letters never reached as the post office was bombed the next day. The sons remained oblivious of their parent’s demise. Finally the family lawyer as per instructions sold off the mansion keeping one room locked with family heirlooms for the sons whom he had informed via telegram. It was a clause that was agreed upon by the buyer in the sale deed. Their parent’s curse did not let Raj and Kesar rest in peace and their ashes languished along with the heirlooms. They lingered on.
This was the room which attracted the baby most. The keys had been provided to the new owner for mopping and dusting and for this service the sale price had been adjusted.
Little Bobby managed to climb the rocker in the forbidden room. He was in seventh heaven. There were so many interesting objects on the mantle above the fireplace. Also there were those huge pictures of old people. He scrambled down and crawled into the corner, when suddenly four hands quickly embraced him and hugged him. He felt kisses being showered on his cheeks and squealed with delight. The maid was passing by and heard the sound and came rushing in. She brought out the dirty squirmy brat and then his mother saw perfect lip marks on his two cheeks! She got the fright of her life! She decided to investigate. She saw the nook where Bobby had crawled and there under the red velvet cloth lay two pots tied up with red threads. They looked like someone’s ashes!
So the old people’s spirits were still in residence! Oh my God! Her hand flew to her mouth in a silent cry. She quickly called her husband home and showed him the ashes.
Next morning they called the local pundit who knew the departed well and said that they were waiting for salvation at the hands of their sons. Fortunately the sons were finally in town to tie up the loose ends of the family business and property sale and had indicated that they would like to see what their parents had stored for them. They were grief stricken and remorseful about their callous neglect. But it was too late. Next day they performed “Havan” and all rituals required to speed off their loved ones. They immersed the ashes in the holy Ganges. In their dream their parents had asked them to gift their silver swing with Bal Gopal to little Bobby their little playmate whom they had enjoyed during transition.
Bobby was in seventh heaven as now the secret room was thrown open and made into his playroom. He slept with the Balgopal by his bedside. His elderly friends no longer played with him. They were resting in peace.
pictures from internet- not mine