Chapter 2: Flashback… was anything real?

Chapter 2

Nitya turned over the simmering omelette making sure not to let the side burn. Naman loved his eggs in a particular manner or he didn’t eat them at all. The tiny kitchen was filled with the aroma of desi ghee, an indulgence she could afford for Naman. He would be back from his computer class anytime now and she always made it a point to keep his breakfast ready before going off to work. The 18-year-old liked his breakfast just a little warm.

It was a month since her mother had passed and despite the woman being like a breathing piece of furniture in her last days or not being there for her for over 15 years, Nitya still missed her. She missed her presence or the smell of the talc that Nitya insisted she use. It often prepped the woman up during her depressive spurts.

Usually, whenever Nitya was away at work, Naman stayed alone and Kamble kaka occasionally checked on him. She texted Naman as well and he replied religiously using emojis or little texts. That put her at ease.

Today she had taken an extended leave given the events in the past few days after her mother’s passing. She wanted to clean up the house and also spend quality time with her brother. Above all, she wanted to reply to Sajid’s proposal. She had decided to break up with him and to her surprise had felt like a burden had been lifted off her shoulders. They hadn’t exchanged a single message or call after that last text. She didn’t even miss him or feel his absence.

There had been no over-physical proximity between them. Now that she thought of it, they never had a chance and not just her, Sajid too didn’t seem much interested in the same.

It wasn’t that she considered herself chaste or virtuous… She had lost her virginity years ago when she had revolted against her mother and the family situation and taken off with her 11th-grade crush. They were both experimenting and awkward. She hadn’t felt anything and both had moved on as if nothing had transpired between them. In the past years, when the going was very tough she had hooked up with a couple of instructors from the gym she worked at earlier but she didn’t enjoy the process and realised unlike those men, she didn’t only need a physical outlet but an emotional one as well. So, she had given up over 5 years ago and to date hadn’t found anyone she could indulge in all the way… not even Sajid.

She sighed and looked around the modest drawing room. Despite her best efforts to scrub and clean, the room reeked of negligence and poverty. The wall plaster had chipped away ages ago leaving it bare to fend for itself and the mosaic tiles were just barely there, broken in so many places that it looked like a barren desert… She had put an old excuse of a carpet over it so they didn’t hurt their soles. The lone cupboard that held her meagre possessions stood crumbling and proud, a lone witness to the various shenanigans at home whenever her mother threw a fit in depressive spurts. She stood before the mirror attached to the cupboard and chuckled at the splintered image staring back at her. How very apt visual of her life.

She opened the cupboard creaking painfully as the door stood on the last vestige of its hinges.

She had been hesitating to do this but this was important and needed to be done. She removed her mother’s only remaining physical memory. An old bag filled with her minuscule possessions. They had always lived a hand-to-mouth existence given her father’s indiscretion, as they called it. Nitya didn’t want Naman to see it so keeping an eye on the clock, she opened the zipper of the airbag that had seen better days. Her mother always fiercely guarded the bag and never let anyone touch it till a month before she passed when she had been delirious. Nitya respected her wishes and stayed away from the bag.

Today she opened it…

Nothing looked out of the ordinary…just like their routine life all these years. There were a few cotton sarees, her mother owned forever. Faded but soft, reminding her of a time decades ago when her mother was full of hope…. A hope that faded away with time making her mother a shell of her former self. There were just two cotton sarees. Nitya lifted the pale blue saree and held it close to her face. It still smelled like her mother and tears stung her eyes. Her mother had had it tough…. Very tough

Her mother had been very young and gone against her family to marry the man she loved. She was a brilliant student as well but unfortunately didn’t share the same vision as her ambitious husband. Nitya remembered as if it was yesterday, how much her parents had fought over her father’s decision to move to Yemen for better opportunities. Her mother wanted to stay back and bridge the gap between them and Nitya’s maternal grandparents. Naman was a baby and her mom wanted to take up a job in the same organisation where she had studied. Her grandparents would have helped look after Nitya and Naman.

But alas, all that remained just a dream. Nitya’s father remained firm in his resolve and insisted his wife continue being at home and manage things while he earned the moolah.

“It’s for Nitya’s higher education and dowry… Naman should also go abroad for higher education…. It’s just a matter of a few years, my dear. I can give you a life of comfort…” Her father always argued.

“But, we are comfortable… I love being with you all. Aai, baba are willing to take care of the kids… I can start work…”

“No… Naman is still very small. He needs you. Please stay at home…” Her father continued to plead.

Her mother eventually gave in when nothing she tried could shake his resolve.

Nitya’s father was an orphan so there wasn’t any relative from that side to help them.

Initially, the money had come regularly with an occasional phone call. But everything trickled down… both the money and the calls, till there was nothing… no news about her father. No one knew anything about his new company.

And then came along 26/11…

Her maternal grandparents and uncles who were just warming up to them were repelled by the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks where her father was named as one in cahoots with the perps. Life went downhill after the incident and her mother never got over the shock.

They had to move all the time to avoid being hounded by the media and the worse was the hatred in people’s minds for the families of the perps and those associated with them.

Nitya hated her father for destroying their lives and at times she was grateful Naman had his condition to hide behind it. Otherwise, he would have had it the worst. She was proud of her brother for having fought his own battles despite his condition. He had enwrapped himself in his own world of codes and ever since he had got her father’s ‘gift’ he had been engrossed in something she never could understand.

Naman was a genius in software, coding in particular. She had to take him out of the special school and on the advice of the counsellor had enrolled him for a computer class. He was self-taught and had even started taking up little assignments for the computer classes. He couldn’t write but typed with an enviable speed. His dexterity was poor for his routine skills but when it came to the keyboard, he was brilliant… an ace. Nitya always wished to know what was going on in his head but there was no way she could follow him.

Naman, despite everything had a strange radar about people. His judgements were correct most of the time.

Naman never reacted aversely to people in general. If he didn’t like someone he just moved on. If he liked them, which was rare, he smiled shyly and held their hand and smelled it. However, his reaction towards Sajid was strange. The guy seemed to hate the man. As if at that time Naman was a typical young guy… It surprised her. She tried asking Naman using every mechanism possible but Naman withdrew in his shell the moment Sajid’s name was mentioned.

That was one of the reasons she had wanted to break whatever fragile thread of relationship she had with Sajid.

She shook her head and got back to her task at hand. She was about to put back the saree in the bag when her hand touched a raised part at the base of the bag. There was something beneath the cloth layer at the base. She got a pair of scissors and cut open the cloth. A tattered photo album looked up at her.

Oh Amma… what did you hide here?

She picked up the album the size of a thick novel. She had always thought amma had destroyed everything linked to their past. But no… here was something.  She flipped through the pictures. Some black and white ones when her amma was younger and radiant… she was a stunner. No wonder appa fell for her. There wasn’t a single photo belonging to appa. She flipped through carefully and there were a few pictures from her childhood but appa’s face had been torn out. Tears filled her eyes and began to roll down her cheeks. They were such a beautiful loving family… why did things go ruthlessly wrong?

She turned further and stopped at the picture. It was during a martial arts camp. She always looked forward to this annual camp and despite her amma’s protests appa always supported her. The reason being…Maanav. In the picture, she stood with him on the rock during their trek. He was her special friend. She remembered having a great time with the guy who gave her so many pointers on shooting… she had wanted to learn the sport but it never happened. In fact, this was the last time they had a good time together… she lost her best friend that day. He betrayed her… he would have been just around 14 years or so but he backstabbed her. She was more heartbroken than angry…

Nitya touched the picture and sighed.

She knew Maanav from much before those couple of camps.

Appa always took her for ‘outings’ on certain days. It would be some garden or public parks and while she would enthral herself in the myriad instruments of childhood pleasure, her father would disappear amidst the fauna. She didn’t mind at all because she had a friend despite odd hours and the blazing sun. Maanav would be there with his father and his father too would be gone into those bushes or just disappear somewhere with her father. Maanav and Nitya would play to their heart’s content. He taught her games she didn’t know existed… They helped her gain an advantage over her peers. She could show off to them. This went on for 2 years or so and she often heard her parents fight before appa took her out. Her mom didn’t want appa to take her along but she wanted to and threw a tantrum. Appa seemed to struggle to explain that Nitya ‘had’ to go along. Something about maintaining ‘cover’… she remembered it now.

Nitya attended her first martial arts camp because of Maanav and loved it. If crush had a name, for Nitya it was Maanav.

They met again after the first camp in the park and now they were old enough to just stroll and chat rather than play on the slides!.

Maanav seemed to be the storehouse of knowledge and his focus was enviable.

“Nitya, when you are in combat mode, you should be still like a rock” Maanav once said.

“But why? If the enemy can be attacked sooner, you can have the advantage, can’t you?” Nitya had argued.

“No Nitya, my baba says, to engage the brain before engaging the weapon and unless you get rock still, the enemy can sniff you out.”

The same day Nitya saw their fathers emerge from the foliage. They were arguing unlike their usual friendly demeanour when they picked their children.

“No Mohan… you don’t understand. I don’t trust Jafar. You sure about this, my friend?” Maanav’s father, a tall strong muscular man with a thick beard covering his square jaw, and sunglasses perched on his straight nose, asked appa.

“Colonel, I need this job. I did my bit for my country but that’s not enough for my family…” Appa looked at Nitya and continued. “… She has big dreams… she is brilliant too… has a great future and I have to afford that. We know Jafar from college. He is a good guy and promised to help…Don’t worry its just a matter of a few years…”

“I hope you know what you are getting into Mohan…” Colonel uncle had patted appa’s back and then they had dispersed.

Appa had soon left for Yemen and she had attended the camp the following year, her last excursion before heavens befell them.

Nitya shuddered as she shut the rest of the empty album and placed it in the tattered bag.. Her hands touched something else. A ragged leather bag…

Was this a bag or a Pandora’s box…

Nitya wondered what her mother had wanted to keep a secret that she had hidden it all in this manner. With trembling hands, she opened the rickety zipper and saw soiled … letters. Smudged ink only revealed the address to their old home and her mother… It wasn’t rocket science to understand the handwriting, however, messed up, was her father’s.


She suddenly realised she didn’t know her parents at all….

She blinked back tears and glanced at the album she had placed back. She had stayed away from all kinds of social media for her reasons and there was no cord connecting her to her old life. But curiosity was meant to be the biggest cause of happiness, was it not?

Where are you, Maanav?


(Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)


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