It was Saturday morning in Mumbai. Mrs. Kulkarni stood in a halo of sunlight and dust as she beat the sofa cushions to cleanliness. She had on a chef’s apron and a chequered napkin on her shoulder. Her ears were tuned towards the whistles of the pressure cooker in the kitchen and a conversation happening at the door of the house.
Mr. Kulkarni was arguing with the milkman over the number of days he had delivered the milk last month. Every once in a while, Mrs. Kulkarni punctuated the conversation with her meaningful ‘Hmms’ to egg on Mr. Kulkarni.
Little Puru, recently turned 6, was on his haunches in the middle of the room, a heap of papers about him, sketching away with his pencil, happy and totally unmindful of the hullabaloo that surrounded him.
Twice he raised his pencil at his mother but dismissed that idea and swung his hand towards his father instead. He wasn’t yet comfortable drawing women, he thought to himself. He slid his thumb on the pencil, squinted his eyes and measured the proportions of his father’s face, just like his drawing teacher had taught him.
While the scene changed around him, he stayed fixed to his spot for hours after, head down and hands busy, gripped by his favorite thing in the world- his drawings. Then, having accomplished his task, he looked at the portrait with a satisfied smile and turned around to find another admirer.
“Look who I drew?”
“Ohhhh…Yes yes. It looks exactly like him. Let me see…And is this the hole in his banyan? This is uncanny.”
Puru smiled widely, took his drawing back and stared at it appraisingly.
“Mommy…when will we go to Grumpa? I want to draw him.”
“Next weekend we will go to Pune, this weekend we have some work na.”
That midnight, Puru slept peacefully in his room, one hand on a transparent zipped bag of drawings that lay on his bed. Slowly, a man’s figure tiptoed into his room and came to his bed. He sat next to the sleeping boy and caressed his head. Puru squinted at him and then his eyes sprang wide open!
Grandpa continued to caress his head. He looked sad.
“Sorry beta, my time has come to an end. I need to go. I am sorry”
“But…Grumpa, please. Please don’t go…please…”
But Grandpa smiled feebly and disappeared. Puru woke up with a start and started sobbing. He rushed to his parents’ bedroom, crying. The parents woke up and switched on the bed lamp. Between sobs, he managed to get out…
“Grumpa is dead..”
“Oh baby, you saw a bad dream honey…Come here.” Mrs Kulkarni held him close to her chest and comforted him. But Puru was incosolable.
“No, it wasn’t a dream…I know, I know he is dead”
Mr Kulkarni patted Puru’s back while scratching his eyes.
“No honey, don’t worry. Go back to sleep, you are missing Grandpa, that’s all. We will call him tomorrow morning okay?”
They quieted him down and Mr Kulkarni carried Puru back to his bedroom. He put him on the bed, kissed him on the forehead and switched off the lights.
When Mr. Kulkarni got back to his room, Mrs. Kulkarni was wide awake. Her fingers were hovering over the name ‘Baba’ on her mobile phone. Mr. Kulkarni frowned.
“It was a dream. Let’s go back to sleep.”
“But…should we just check…He lives alone…”
“Honey it is 3 am…Let’s go back to sleep.” This time his voice quivered with a hint of hesitation. Mrs. Kulkarni pressed the button to dial. The phone rang. One, two, three, four…no answer. They looked tentatively at each other and dialed once more. Same.
“He is obviously asleep and the phone is silent.”
“Yes of course…”
“Okay…let’s go back to bed then?”
They switched off the lights.
The next moment, Mr. Kulkarni switched the lights back on.
Mr. and Mrs. Kulkarni’s lone car made its way across the wide traffic-less roads of the city before the strike of dawn. Mr Kulkarni was at the wheel and Mrs. Kulkarni fidgeted in the seat next to him. Puru in the back seat held on to his bag of drawings and looked out the window, sad. He mumbled.
“I know it wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t..”
“Shhhh Puru..” Mrs Kulkarni, in her seat, kept calling grandpa, but still no answer.
All faces drowsy but tentative, they set out to find the answer.
They reached Pune just past sunrise and rushed to the house, the three looking like a bundle of nerves.
Grandpa was up and about and watering his roses in the garden. Surprised to see them, he smiled a big warm smile as Puru literally pounced on him.
“Grumpaaaa, why did you say all those things yesterday!”, and hugged him tight as Grandpa watched him confused.
Quickly, the parents screamed-
“Let’s go in. I will make tea for everyone.”
Grandpa is welled up seeing them.
“I was missing you all so much.”
“What happened to your phone Baba?” Mr Kulkarni asked the senior Mr Kulkarni and found his phone on the table, showing 38 missed calls. He muttered to himself in confirmation. “It is silent”. He went ahead to delete the call history.
“You had called?”
“Uhh..Yeah. We just wanted to see if you were home.”
“Where will I go.”
The husband and wife, once alone in the kitchen, shared a warm hug. “Thank God.”
Little Puru, happy and contented, placed himself with his bag on the swing in the living room as they all chatted around, sipping elaichi tea. Puru’s favorite custard apples from Grandpa’s garden were placed right next to him to his delight.
The day went by- Mr and Mrs Kulkarni giggling as they watch a childhood photo-album and Grandpa reveling in his wonderful company for the Sunday. And Puru, drawing away.
The airy little house with the scent of roses wafting through the garden seemed so warm. They all decided to stay over and go back home only the next morning. The day went by in perfect harmony between hearty laughter, scrumptious food and the warmth of old memories. Today when they went to bed, they all wore happy smiles.
Dawn. Puru was the first to wake up, from between his parents. Rubbing his eyes, he made his way to his Grandpa’s room. Grandpa, with his spects on, was sleeping on his rocking chair by the window side.
Puru went to him and hugged him. Grandpa didn’t wake up. Puru got off Grandpa and stood mute, staring at him.
Later in the day, Mrs Kulkarni found on the swing in the living room, Puru’s finished portrait of his Grumpa.