TWO STORIES ABOUT THE CHALLENGES IN THE LIVES OF TWO WOMEN
TWO BEAUTIFUL EYES
Life is an empty canvas to draw a picture with the pencil of events and colours of experience. Man holds the perfect freedom to make a priceless masterpiece using strokes of passion, patience and peace or transform it into a waste with lines of discord and unrest. And so did it wait for yet another hand to give it a new form.
There she stood, at the edge of the hill, a young woman, her black hair caressing her cheeks, the cool breeze whispering something unclear in her ears. It was the Sunrise Point on the Tiptop Hotel Resort in Lansdowne. The lush green valley was stretching its arms, becoming her to feel the warmth of its bosom; to finally find a place to rest her weary heart.
She was absolutely unaware of the changing hues of the snow-clad mountains as the sun began its journey in the sky. The chirping of the birds, the whispering of the leaves could not penetrate the dark clouds of despair and desolation surrounding her.
It seemed so easy; to end all her agony , pain and suffering, end all the dreadful memories- just one step forward- into the valley of Death and Oblivion. ’’Take that step and come into my arms’’-she heard.
The Universe had plans unknown to her. Silently unseen angels brought words which would kindle the spark of life in her.
‘’O Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul
For it is in giving that we receive
In forgiveness that we are forgiven’’
The inspiring notes of St Francis’ Prayer could be heard from a distance. She couldn’t do what she intended. A step forward turned a step backward. No authority had man to end life-- a divine gift.
The melody mesmerised her as her feet turned towards an unknown destination. In unfamiliar surroundings she saw innocent faces singing beautiful lyrics, the meaning of which would grow deeper as they passed through the trials of life Quiet ,still as a statue ,Nisha basked in this heavenly manna. The children were lined up in a courtyard near an ancient building.
However Nisha’s eyes were stuck at the centre of the stage as she gazed at a wrinkled face full of compassion. The wrinkles were a witness of the numerous hardships life had thrown on her way and the gentle triumphant smile was a tribute to her grand victory over all of them.
‘’My child are you looking for something?’’
The sweet tender voice compelled Nisha to come out of her trance.
‘’Yes, peace , tranquillity, rest and repose’’ Nisha’s heart longed to say; aloud her mind replied
‘’As I was on my walk the melodies drifting through the mountains compelled me to reach their source.’’ As the old lady smiled Nisha continued ‘’ I am Nisha, I am staying at Hotel Tiptop for a short time.’’ Talking to a stranger not aware of her past, being spared of the looks of pity, hollow words of comfort- what a welcome change for Nisha.
‘’These auspicious notes mark the beginning of each new day here at Shantiniketan ,a refuge for those sweet and innocent children who were sent by God but rejected by Man.I am Renu Shrivastav –Headmistress cum Guardian cum friend of these little angels.’’
‘’There are around 250 students ,the youngest Reema who is only 8yrs old and the oldest is Prakash
who is 18 yrs old .I have a dedicated staff of 22 teachers and 8 helpers who manage their studies and day to day activities. Prakash made us proud as he stood first in the state 12th Board exams this year.........
Her gentle voice fell like a drizzle on Nisha’s ears as she went on with her statistical details .However the panoramic view of the students; some eager to start the day, some still sleepy trying vainly to stifle a yawn behind the books some talking and giggling as only the innocent can; captivated Nisha’s full attention.
Covertly observing Nisha’s absorbed look, Renu came to the conclusion that Nisha was not one of those affluent , wealthy ladies from the metro city who had come to spend some quiet time in Lansdowne to recouperate, before plunging headlong into her busy life There was something different here,a sense of loss, possibly of grief, Renu couldn’t put her finger on it exactly.
Nisha’s next words confirmed Renu’s suspicion.’’ Is... is it possible.... er I mean ... may I spend some time with the children? I mean I do not want to disturb your schedule but a few moments with these lovely children would make my stay here a memorable one. ’’
Nisha’s beseeching look and pleading voice made Renu’s heart miss a beat. ‘Could she be the one? Were her prayers finally answered? She kept her emotions in check and with a steady voice answered’’ Sure my child you can meet them in the recess break’’
Nisha’s whole day was spent waiting for that one hour with the the children. Shy at first, they started bonding with her as the week passed. Loving and non-judgemental, as she was, they started confiding their deepest secrets in her ever willing ears.
‘’I would do anything to ride a new bicycle. This one is so old , all it’s tyres are worn out and the chain keeps slipping off’’ Rahul’s outburst reminded Nisha of Sonal. She went on her knees and helped him repair his both his chain and his frustration.
‘’It was my favourite dress and now it is torn- why am I so unlucky’’ sobbed little Reema as Nisha gently took her in her lap and rocked her to sleep.
‘’All the teachers and students are expecting me to excel in the Board exams like Prakash.I am so scared. What if I fail? The very thought makes me choke so that I can hardly breathe.’’ The lines of anxiety and fear clouded the serious face of Shiela.
Queries, confessions doubts were poured into her sympathetic ears as her mind and heart worked overtime to find an amicable solution.
The icy grip of grief slackened it’s hold over Nisha’s heart as she immersed herself in the lives of the children. The tormenting thoughts of Rajeev and Sonal became more and more distant. Her lips actually managed to curl into a smile in reflection of the joy in Rahul’s face when he saw his new bicycle. Reema’s tight hug, on seeing her favourite dress mended as good as new brought tears of joy in Nisha’s eyes.
‘’ Life is a delicate balance between what we can control and what we cannot. Striking the right balance between effort for the former and surrender for the latter is the key to happiness. Make your efforts to the best of your ability but surrender the result to God. ’’The anxious look faded from Shiela’s face replaced by a glow of calmness as the wisdom from Nisha gradually sunk in.
These words made Nisha introspect, it was time for her too, to stop fighting with her past, accept her fate , and surrender to the will of the Creator.
In another part of Shantiniketan Renu’s mind was in a turmoil.’’Is it possible that Nisha is the answer to my problem?Is she capable of taking on this huge responsibility and more importantly will she be willing to take up this this daunting task?’’Time was running out and Renu would soon have to take a decision; a decision which would affect the lives of all the people closest to her. She sat in silence and prayed for guidance.
The universe works in mysterious ways. Mankind has discovered but a few laws which govern it’s mechanism, the majority of it’s secrets are hidden from the mortal eye. What we think of as chance or luck or fate is in fact the end result of a million possibilities; one which is most appropriate for that situation.
The cloud does not know why it moves in a particular direction but the sky knows- said someone wise. The series of events which followed were a reflection of the truth behind this statement.
A feeling of dread gripped Nisha as she stood in the near empty courtyard. Maybe it was the grim faces of the children, or maybe the glint of unshed tears in the eyes of the teachers, or maybe it was just the overcast sky hiding the sun,which brought this intense feeling of gloom and despair in her.
Her eyes desperately sought the comforting presence of Renu, with her lovely smile and twinkling eyes to dispel her fears .Renu was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly she caught sight of Alia, Renu’s secretary.
‘’What’s wrong Alia? Where is Renuji? Why are all the children so depressed today?’’ Nisha bombarded Alia with her questions till she saw Alia’s drawn out face with dark circles under her eyes. Her trembling fingers and hesitant manner increased Nisha’s anxiousness.
‘’Nishaji, Nishaji......’’Alia choked on her words. She could only gesture Nisha to follow her. With each step Nisha took a heaviness began to grow in the pit of her stomach.
Alia’s steps came to a halt and Nisha emerged from her daze to see the building in front of her ‘’ The Pinacle Hospital’’. Nisha’s worst fears and nightmares came to haunt her again.
A different scene played in her mind’s eye; people screaming all around her, the smell of burnt flesh in her nostrils, the sight of broken bodies on the ground and broken sprit of their loved ones as they stood near them. The memory opened the door to all the despair and grief which Nisha had managed to lock away during the past one month. She blinked her eyes to remove the past and concentrate on the present.
Room no 212- Her final destination. It took all her courage to open the door and face what was in store for her. Her face as white as the hospital sheet on which she was lying; oxygen mask on her face, I.V drip attached to her forearm- Nisha saw the motionless figure of Renu .Involuntarily a gasp escaped Nisha’s lips and Renu opened her eyes-eyes which were still full of love and compassion as always, but today there was a twinge of anxiety and desperation in them.
Renu managed a weak smile as she whispered ’’Nisha this is not how I had planned to break the news but as you can see things are out of my hands now.’’ She paused and took a deep breath as if to gain all her strength before uttering the next words.
‘’Nisha I have Acute Myeloid Leukemia- a form of blood cancer .I do not have much time left.’
’Nisha swayed and held on tightly to the chair in front of her .Renu’s eyes were serene as she continued’’ I am not afraid of death, I have drunk my cup of life to the lees and now look forward to this new experience.’’
She measured the next words carefully as they could make or break the situation.’’ I am worried about Shantiniketan. The trustees had started this venture keeping in mind that I would be there to look after it. Lansdowne is a small town and the other teachers do not have the credentials or experience to run this school. If we do not find capable hands to take care of my children they will be blown hither tither by the harsh winds of life.’’
Renu’s voice broke down at the mere thought of this. She collected herself and continued’’ Nisha I have looked into your past. After losing your husband and child you are looking for some purpose in life. I am giving you that purpose .The fate and future of these children is in your hands now’’
Renu tightened her grip on Nisha’s hand. Nisha felt as if Renu’s energy was coursing down in her veins , flesh upto her marrow, filling her with courage and enthusiasm for the future.
‘’ Your business acumen and experience will convince the trustees and your love has already won the hearts of my children, I am sure in your capable hands Shantiniketan will touch new heights of glory. Nisha life is a precious gift, you should not sacrifice it at the altar of the past. Rather use it to build a bright future for these under priviledged children and discover yourself again.’ ’
Renu had used up all her strength. She fell back on the bed exhausted both in body and spirit.
Renu’s words opened a Pandoras box for Nisha.
‘’Mummy mummy ‘ see how do I look?’’ Sonal pranced around in the drawing room in her fairy costume, waving her wand in the air.’
‘I will win the fancy dress competition, I am sure of it. Can there be any better fairy than me? What will you give me when I come home with the trophy? Papa has said I can have choc fudge ice-cream on my way back.’’ The words tumbled out of her little mouth without pausing for breath or answers to her numerous questions. Where does she get so many ideas and all the energy to follow them, Nisha wondered as she fondly watched her princess dance all around the house.
A twinge of guilt filled her heart. It was Sonal’s special day, she would be performing on stage for the first time, but her mother would not be there to encourage her, clap for her. The tears threatened to stem out from her eyes.
Warm, tender but firm hands held her and soft lips whispered’’ Do not worry .I will take care of our princess. Don’t beat yourself up again and again. Your meeting with the advertising group is crucial for the company .Go for it with A positive mind , without any guilt. I am sure you will nail the deal and maybe I will get a choc fudge ice-cream for you too.’’
Typically Rajeev; he could touch her heart with the most sensitive words and make her laugh with the most frivolous ideas at the same time.
Tears retreated back as a smile lit up her face. Rajeev and Sonal, the sun and moon of her life, lighting up her days and nights She waved as the silver Honda city moved out of the driveway unaware of the disaster that lay ahead.
The meeting was in progress but an uneasiness seemed to loom in the background. Nisha couldn’t concentrate on the presentation. Definately something was not right but she couldn’t put a finger on it.
‘’Nisha you have to see this’’ An agitated Nikhil stormed into the conference and ignoring her protests pushed her towards to the audiovisual room. 24 pairs of eyes were glued to the huge T.V screen showing gruesome pictures of injured men , women and children. The grave voice of the anchor was giving the horrifying details- ‘’Today at 10 A.M. a series of blasts occurred in the Barakhamba road causing considerable damage to life and property. The peak traffic hour was targeted to inflict maximum destruction. From the initial reports it seems to be a terrorist attack, however no group has claimed responsibility till now’’
The whole room blurred in front of Nisha’s eyes and she would have fallen if Shruti had not caught her. Barakhamba road, that was where Sonal’s school was.
‘’O God please let them be safe. O God please let them be safe.’’ The words formed a mantra in her mind reverberating in the background as her fingers moved frantically to dial Rajeev’s mobile number.
’This number is not reachable at the moment’ ’The mechanical voice answered.
She tried the school’s no, class teacher’s no, her friends no, anyone she could think of....She was drowning in a sea of despair desperate to hold on to any tiny straw.
Shiva was dancing the Tandav, The dance of death and destruction. Disfigured bodies lay strewn all over the road. One could not make out which limb belonged to which torso and which head was the part of which body. It was an accumulated mass of burning bleeding humanity; a pool of blood covered the road- no individual could be identified separately.
The terrified shrieks of the injured mingled with the wails and cries of the relatives who recognised the remains of their loved ones. It was a scene from Hell.
Nisha stood aghast in the middle of it all. Her eyes desperately searching for any sign of Rajeev or Sonal, while her heart dreaded what she would find.
The of sunlight reflecting from the silver Honda H.R. 7042 caught her eye .She rushed ahead only to find that the rear of the car was all that remained. The driver’s seat , front seat and engine had been ripped apart by the blast.
A silver fairy wand was lying 2 meters away- a silent witness to the simultaneous eclipse of the sun and moon of Nisha’s life.
A deep churning in the pit of Nisha’s stomach emerged as a wail from her lips, as the truth finally hit her .The wand was clutched tightly in her hand as a tailsman, as if it’s magical powers could bring them back to life.
Questions Questions and more Questions surrounded her. WHY? WHY? WHY? Why this senseless violence, this destruction- to what end? To achieve what great goal? What higher truth? What was more important than human life? How could any end jutsify this means of achiving it?
“”What had Rahul and Sonal done to deserve this? How were they to blame? What was their fault to receieve this terrible punishment? Why did they have to DIE?
How many more lives have to be lost at the altar of fundamentalism till we discover our humanity? Till we realize that one innocent life is worth more than any hollow ideals. Man created these ideals for his betterment not for his destruction.
Then the questions came closer home .O why did Rajeev and Sonal go to the school? Why hadn’t she stopped them? She had an intuition that something was wrong, why had she ignored it? Why didn’t she ask them not to go? What if Sonal had sulked and said that if mummy was not going she too would not go ?What if Rajeev had not been so understanding and caring to offer to take Sonal to school? What if....What if.....What if....The questions churned in her mind.
Then there was the one question which lurked in the shadows behind all the others—which was indistinct but had the power to haunt and hurt the most—
‘’Why was I spared? I should have died with them. What right have I to continue breathing, moving , talking, living when Rajeev and Sonal cannot do this any longer? Our lives were entwined with each other so why was my life spared when theirs was taken? Why should I be forced to live this empty life? Why did I not DIE? ‘’
These thoughts continued to torment her day and night; passing through her like an icy knife, torturing her without respite or mercy.
She had been close to ending it all many times, trying to rectify the Creator’s mistake. But some higher power always pulled her back at the last moment. Her time had not yet come. There is no mistake in the Creator’s plan; and though her role had not been revealed to her yet, she definitely had a greater cause to serve.
She came out of her thoughts To find Renu’s hand still in hers, Her questioning eyes fixed on her face.
It is the nature of life to move forwards –her life was not hers alone, to shed bitter tears as she dwelled in the past, rather it was a challenge to overcome her own grief and wipe the tears from the cheeks of these children; to lead them to a bright future that lay ahead.
Nisha realised that it was not she who was helping the children , rather they were the ones who were giving her an opportunity an anchor ,a purpose towards which she could move forward finally leaving the past behind.
Her rudderless ship which had been at the mercy of waves of fate had found a destination towards which it could move with determination.
She had found purpose in life.
Nisha’s eyes met Renu’s. For once there was no pain or despair in them. They were full of hope, purpose and passion, and maybe a hint of happiness lurked in them.
Six months had passed.
‘’Congratulations Madam, Shiela has stood first in the board exams. We are so proud of her and Shantiniketan’’
‘’I now invite the Mayor to inaugurate the new computer wing of Shantiniketan , May the school scale to even greater heights.’’
‘’We are very happy with your ideas Madam Nisha and grant you ten lakh rupees for the further modernisation of the school.’’
There were many such words which filled Nisha’s heart with pride and joy, but it was in the silence of her garden looking up at the night sky , watching two stars shining brightly in the eastern sky that Nisha truely found inner peace and bliss. Renu’s eyes were watching approvingly- two beautiful eyes ,eyes full of love and compassion.