Lalita's world blossoms on a warm wintry evening! Written for Roobear's Workshop
|Prompt for the Short Story Workshop: "Write a short story with all of the following. Keep the ending a happy one.":- snow, a deer, an abandoned human baby, bracelet and journal.
Lalita opened her daily journal to page 324 and sighed. November was flying fast, and soon it would be December. She remembered her resolve to adopt a baby this year. She had taken this resolution on the 31st of December of the previous year, and having advertised in the local newspapers and visited two of the three orphanages in Shimla, where she stayed, she had been unable to make up her mind.
Lalita was 39 years old. She and her husband had separated almost four years ago, and he had left his home for her to stay in. It was a palatial home, with over 16 rooms distributed over three floors. The hall was a huge 26' X 40'! Art deco items of furniture, paintings by famous Indian painters and beautiful Chinese vases adorned its various walls and corners. Now, this big house was getting a bit too lonely. She did meet a few men, but it never clicked between them; in any case, a re - marriage was out. She longed for company. Then someone suggested that she adopt a child. At first she dismissed the idea, but as she thought more and more about it, the idea grew into a resolve and the resolve became a resolution.
Now the year was coming to an end, and she was no nearer to adopting a child than before. She looked out of the window at the slight downpour of snow. It was just 2:30 p.m., and she had to still go out and bring stuff to cook dinner.
Oh, well, let me start now.
Putting on her new Cashmere sweater, she wound a woollen muffler (scarf) around her neck and set off for the mall. It was still early in the evening when she reached the Shimla Grocery Mart, run by Hitendrachacha. The latter stood behind his all glass counter smiling at his old friend and loyal customer.
"Hello, beti, how are you?" he asked affably.
"I am fine, chacha, and you?" answered Lalita, by way of courtesy.
"All right, I guess, at this age of 70 plus!" smirked the old proprietor. He took the list of groceries from Lalita and passed it on to his assistant to pack all the items listed therein.
"You look ... er ... worried, beti, is there any problem?" he asked Lalita.
"Worried, me? No, no, of course not, unless ..."
Lalita hesitated before replying. Her resolution was, after all, a personal matter, wasn't it? At the same time, she found Hituchacha (for that is what she called him) very benign and warm. She felt oddly comfortable with this simple old man.
"It's about the baby I am planning to adopt, you know ..." she began.
"Oh ... so what is the problem?"
"I am unable to find a suitable child ..." said Lalita.
"I see ..."
It was clear that the old man would not ask any more questions. Lalita wondered if any purpose would be served if she said anything more. She decided it wouldn't ...so she politely asked for the bill and collected the parcels. Paying the required amount, she left the store and arrived at Girish's Tea Shop in a few minutes. Girish was her childhood friend. They had both grown up together, being neighbours.
"Hello, Lalli," began Girish, as he left the cash counter and came forward to welcome Lalita.
"Hello, Giri! Could you possibly get me a cup of really hot tea?" asked Lalita as she came in and sat down on a chair nearest her.
"Yahaan kaise? What brings you here?"
"I was just passing by -" began Lalita. She tried to retain her composure, but tears began to well up inside her lower eyelids.
Girish came over to her side and sat down next to her. Secretly, he had always had a soft corner for her, and may have even asked for her hand in marriage, but she had made it clear many years ago that they were just friends, and he should not assume anything more about their relationship.
He asked her what the problem was. She told him about her loneliness and about her desire to adopt a baby.
Initially, when she had told him about it ( and that was more than six months ago), he had laughed aloud and ridiculed her for not having better priorities; later on, he had apologised for his insensitivity. He had even accompanied her on one of her orphanage trips; seeing the utterly wasted, dirty children there, he had felt devastated and had tried to discourage Lalita from ever adopting an orphanage baby. She had, on the other hand, got annoyed with him, and had eventually stopped discussing the adoption thing with Girish - and in fact with anyone else - and now here she was: raking up the same matter and crying about it too!
Girish was supportive of her need and as they sipped their teas, he kept sharing small things with her. She calmed down in a short while and was soon smiling and giggling at his jokes.
Pretty soon, it was time for her to leave. She got up, shook Girish's hand and walked out of the shop.
This time, she decided to hire a cab and venture out a bit afar. The cabbie took her to her home first, where she went in and dumped her purchases. She then left her home and got into the cab again.
"Where to, miss?" asked the driver.
"Take me to the Nishat Gardens," said Lalita absentmindedly.
The cabbie dropped her at the gardens and went on his way after collecting his not inconsiderable fare and a generous tip besides.
Lalita bought an entry ticket. It was a hot afternoon and there were few visitors at this hour. The deer enclosure on her left also looked empty, what with all its residents probably sleeping inside the man-made grass shed erected inside. Lalita walked past it and went about admiring the flora around her. Nishat Gardens are terraced gardens built by the erstwhile Mughal rulers of India, and are well known for their excellent beauty.
Lalita walked past the rose enclosure and approached the fountains that delimited this terrace from the next one laid out below this one. The water spouts were off at the moment and there was an eerie, empty feeling about the place. No one seemed nearby. She went and sat down on the parapet and looked down into the water well within the fountain.
What was that? There seemed to be a blanket thrown there by someone. It was moving! More like wriggling! She looked more closely. It was a baby! A baby! But how could that be? What was a baby doing inside the well of a fountain? She looked around frantically to see if anyone else had seen the baby, but there was no one around here. The nearest human was over a hundred meters away, two terraces down from her!
What should I do? She realised that the baby must be feeling very hot indeed! Making a decision, she put her leg over the parapet and climbed over it into the well, almost 5 feet below. She walked gingerly on the internal lip of the parapet till she reached small stone steps that descended into the well. The machinery and the pump were located in the centre of the well. She went down to the floor of the well and approached the baby. It was an abandoned baby - that was obvious from its unkempt look and wasted appearance. The sunlight shone brightly on its face while the rest of him/her was swaddled with a scruffy, dirty blanket.
Lalita picked up the baby and began the climb back out of the well. The climb was difficult, as the steps were small and she had to balance herself and the baby.
Eventually, she levered herself out and gently placed the wriggling baby on a bench just under a chenar tree. Nervously, she opened the blankets covering the child's body. It was a girl!
There was something else odd: on her left wrist shone a real gold (it looked like real gold anyway, thought Lalita indifferently) bracelet! A folded paper was tied to the bracelet with a rubber band. She removed the paper and unfolded it.
It was a note that said:
I cannot keep this child, as she is my fourth daughter and my in-laws want me to sire a son. If you find her, please keep her with you with love. Thank you.
Lalita was shocked. Someone had left the baby here just because she (or her in-laws anyway) did not want a girl child. What a shame! Her first reaction was to consider this as a God - given gift and take the child away with her. Immediately, she regretted the thought. I must inform the watchman!
She went up to the watchmen at the main gate. After a lot of conversation with the men, it became apparent that no one knew about the baby or about who had left her there.
"The gardens open at 9:a.m., madam, and there are so many visitors here ..." began one of the men, who spoke with a rural accent.
"Did you see any ... I mean any person carrying "this" baby?" she asked, pointing to the blanket - swaddled baby.
"No, miss, I didn't," said the man she was addressing. The man then turned to the other two men and asked them if they had seen someone with the baby. They hadn't.
"Now, what should I do?" asked Lalita.
"Miss, I will come with you ... we must go and file a complaint with the police." said the first man.
Lalita agreed that that was the best recourse to take. She hailed a cab from among the many cabs parked a little distance away from the exit. She glanced at the watch she was wearing. It was almost 6:30 p.m., and the light was fading fast.
They reached the Nishat Police Station and filed the complaint. One of the constables went and fetched some milk in a small cup for the now hungry baby. The baby was nearly four to five days old, Lalita guessed, and the cup of milk would probably be insufficient for the baby.
After lodging the complaint, she requested for permission to take the baby to her home.
"Of course not, I cannot permit that!" countered the inspector on duty. He promptly called up a number.
"Is that the Rajni Khanna Home for Destitute children? May I speak to Mrs. Jindal?" he asked.After listening for a short while, he added, "Okay, send someone to the Nishat Police Station. I have to hand over an abandoned child found by someone here at the Nishat Gardens".
Lalita was distraught but helpless. She handed over the baby to the orphanage representative when the latter turned up. However, she went along with the orphanage car to the said orphanage.
In her meeting with the warden, a kind bespectacled lady she had met earlier this year, she expressed her desire to adopt the child if no relatives were found. She also told the warden that she was willing to complete all legal formalities when these were shown to her. She left her name and address with the warden and left the orphanage.
Fifteen days after she had seen the baby in the well, she received a call from the warden. She was to present herself before a Family Court Judge and formally take charge of the child.
Accordingly, she finally adopted the child she had discovered abandoned inside the well of a water fountain in Nishat Gardens. She called her Prakruti, the local word for Nature.