Box of Chocolates
It was a beautiful cottage. Away from the hustle and bustle of the main town of Manali in Himachal Pradesh. “Starry Sky” was built on the green plains with the mighty Himalayas’ as its backdrop. The Beas river flowed close by and one of its streams flowed from the right side of the cottage. The sound made by the gurgling waters created a sense of harmony in the surroundings. Fed by the waters from the stream, the whole place abounded with flowers, plants and trees of various kinds. Its close proximity to the mountains ensured that a beautiful mist always covered the place like a pretty umbrella. The cottage was built in a contemporary style, blending the new with a little bit of old and the marvellous natural splendours around it only added to the charm. It looked like it was built by someone who had a great personal taste with the ability to nurture it.
What was surprising though, was that no one lived in that beautiful cottage except for the old caretaker Raju Singh and his lovely wife Parvati. It was rumoured that the place was owned by a wealthy lady who stayed somewhere in Goa, but no one knew for sure. No one had seen the lady or her family in the cottage for years. Raju and Parvati took excellent care of the cottage and remembered the lady, Kaveri Khanna, with great fondness. It was almost 25 years back that she had purchased this land and nurtured it with her own hands. She had stayed there for 3 years and supervised everything while “Starry Sky” was being built.
“This is the home of my dreams.” she always used to say to Parvati when they rested together after a long day’s work. Toiling day and night and employing the finest labour in that part of town, she had created this beautiful piece of heaven. Within the beautiful surroundings, she had curated it with art and artefacts that she had collected from her travels around the world.
So when one fine day when she stopped coming to the place, both Raju and Parvati were bewildered. It was not their place to ask her what happened but they always discussed among themselves why she hadn’t returned. One day they got a call from her checking on how much money was required to keep everything the way it was. Once Raju had informed her of that figure, Kaveri always ensured that the required money was wired to them every month for the upkeep of the property. She spoke to them once a year on the 8th of October and used to call up Raju on the old landline.
“Is there a letter for me?” she always started with the same question.
“No memsaab.” Raju used to say with a nod.
“Is everything okay?” she used to ask.
“Sab theek hai.” was his standard reply.
“Kaveri ji aap kab ayengi yahan phir se?” Parvati used to jump in and ask her lovingly.
“Jaldi hi.” was her standard reply with a hint of a smile.
“Aap ki bahot yaad aati hai.” Parvati used to say with sadness.
“Mujhe bhi…” Kaveri used to say.
And she used to disconnect the line. This was the same conversation that followed every year for the last 25 years. Nothing ever changed. Neither the date, nor the time, nor the words used. That “Jaldi hi” never came. Raju and Parvati were very loyal caretakers and took care of the cottage and its surroundings with utmost care. Unfortunately, they did not have kids so taking care of the cottage for Kaveri was their life’s purpose and they took great pride in it. Seasons came and went and blacks gave way to whites, the cottage continued to bask in its beauty.
Raju was milling about in the garden weeding the plants and Parvati was busy in the yard behind the cottage feeding the chickens when both of them heard the phone ringing. Neither one of them needed to check the calendar for the date or time. It was yet another 8th October. A Thursday this time. Raju wiped his hands off his pants and ran inside to answer the phone.
“Is there a letter for me?” asked in the same dignified voice. Raju and Parvati looked at each other with a little unease before Raju answered.
“Yes, memsaab. A letter came last week.”
There was a hushed silence at the other end.
“Though the address on the letter is ours, but…” Raju signed off. He knew how patiently Kaveri was waiting for a letter to come in her name. Finally, a letter had come, but in some other person’s name. He didn’t know how to tell her that.
“But what Raju?” she gently enquired.
“Memsaab, the letter is addressed to some Roma-ji. The address is ours. I don’t know who this Roma is or why the letter came here. We have lived in this village for generations and know everyone around, I am very sure there is no Roma in this entire town. Who is this Roma? Should I return it to the post office?” asked Raju looking at Parvati who had the same confused look on her face.
“Hmm…” said Kaveri. Raju did not notice the soft tone her voice had taken. If he could have seen on the other side, he would have seen Kaveri smile to herself.
“Keep the letter with you. I will come there on Saturday” Kaveri signed off to Raju’s surprise.
A single tear rolled down Kaveri’s cheek. She made no attempt to stop it. It kept flowing till it emptied the basin of her eyes. To steady her shaking legs, Kaveri sat down in her chair and rewound her tape of memories. Her eyes discovered new sources of water and flowed unabashedly for a long time. It was a while before she regained her composure and steadied herself. Clasping her hands together in her lap, she closed her eyes for a moment and stood up. She wiped her eyes, brushed her hair a bit and fluffed it up the way she used to, during her younger days. With a surprising spring in her step, she walked up to her room and stood in front of the mirror and smiled that dimpled smile of hers. And she laughed, that throaty laugh of hers. She looked at herself in the mirror for a long time and then lightly touched her dimple with her forefinger. He used to love doing that. “I miss you too Avi…” she said to herself softly.