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Atonement

a short story by Paramjit Sharma

Atonement
The king fisher flight from Mumbai airport to Coimbatore took off at 6:30 am, from Coimbatore; they were to reach Kodai by road to look for a property belonging to Gurumurthy. On board he enquired about the inspiration behind Aakashs obsession for starting the movement Aashiyanas. Better I may be excused at this moment Aakash emphatically told Guru. You see Aakash , I need to be sure of your intentions in pursuing this obsession before I part with my property at Kodai Guru said It is quite painful to hear and narrate it, may be when we reach the comfort of Kodai I could be in a position to muster courage to say something. Right know, let me use this time to have a little nap as I got up at 4 am to catch this flight Aakash told Guru while rubbing his eyes. Guru agreed to his proposal but his mind kept on meandering in that thought process. They reached Kodai in the evening and straight away drove to the Bungalow of Gurumurthy. The property was beautifully located touching Kodai Lake. Aakash liked its location, decor and colonial style. It was a three storied terraced building with 8 bed rooms on the three floors having a beautiful lawns and living room at the ground floor. It would perfectly fit into the dream Aakash had in his mind to locate something at a hill station. Guru asked his care takers to arrange for their dinner at the front terrace of the top floor with some drinks along with the instructions to keep everything ready after they were free from getting themselves fresh. The dinner and drinks were lavishly arranged. After they finished two drinks, Guru reminded Aakash his promise to narrate the reasons behind following this obsession. Guru Bhai, I am actually a very unfortunate man in this world...... I was cursed and condemned by my father and I am trying to come out of this indictment of nature......I dont know when...when and when I would be free from this curse, Aakash said while looking towards the stars which were quite clearly visible on that night. My father was a simple man. Since I was born 10 years after my parents marriage, therefore, they were quite possessive about me, my likings & disliking...moods and interests. My father retired from his Job before I could complete my studies. Despite his limited means, he sent me to Chicago to get my Architecture degree. While at college I fell in love with Vandana whom I later married. She was the daughter of a big builder at Mumbai. Aakash stopped for a minute and requested Guru to make another peg for him. He gulped few sips of whisky from his third peg and continued his story

When we returned back to India, I started a job with one of the well established architect in Mumbai and Vandana joined her father. We got married after two years of courtship and whatever savings my father had that time, he spent on my marriage with Vandana. Aakash took the glass of whisky in his hand and left his chair to have a look at the lake where people were still enjoying boating despite the clock showing time of over nine pm. After my marriage with Vandana, I left my Job and joined my father in law who helped us in setting up an impressive office and flat to live at Bandra. Till then, I was occasionally visiting my parents and the periodicity reduced once I started getting more projects. My parents lived in a Bungalow at Goregaon which was constructed in half an acre of plot by my grandfather. He was given that land free of cost in recognition of his services to British Government as Post Master. Occasionally, my wife would also accompany me to visit my parents. With passage of time I observed her making excuses for not visiting my parents. Aakash stated pressing his forehead as if he was experiencing chilling pain. Guru took warmly the hand of Aakash in his hand and brought him to settle at the rocking chairs which were aesthetically kept at one corner of the terrace. He instructed the helper to bring the table having drinks closure to the area where they were sitting. A servant came to enquire about timings and place where they would like to have dinner. Guru signalled him to bother them little later. By then Aakash started sobbing slowly and later cried to say oh my father, have mercy on me, I have suffered a lot already,.....please pardon me for all my sins On seeing Aakash crying, Guru held his head on his chest and requested him to stop narration as he found him in great pains. Instead of taking dinner they came out for a walk in the lawn. Seeing Aakash shivering in the cold, Guru asked the caretaker to bring two shawls for them. The feel of shawl made Aakash warm and comfortable. You see, one evening my father in law proposed to my father to sell his property and in lieu of that he would provide my father a flat of the same area as being occupied by him and in addition give him Rs 20 crores compensation for selling the property to him. At the outset, it was a brilliant proposal and I felt good for my father as he was virtually left with no funds to support himself and my mom. With advancing age their expenditure on medicines was increasing at an alarming rate,

To my surprise my father refused the proposal on the grounds that he cannot part away with something which is connected with his child hood memories and the house was built by his father with great fondness. I could not convince my father despite understanding the stupidity behind his decision and repeatedly had heated but futile discussions on this matter with him. Ultimately I left that house and did not return to that place again. In that process I terminated all possible modes of communication with my parents. Will we get paan(beetle leaf) now at Kodai? Aakash enquired from Guru. Guru was surprised at the sudden interruption by Aakash, but did not insist for its continuation and instead called his driver to go near to the Bus Stand Circle and also check the market near Carlton hotel. Why dont, we go with the driver, Aakash insisted They sat on the back seat of the car and went out to have a view of Kodai Kanal and in search of Paan. Whole city was sleepy and not a person was noticed on the streets. Well like this town, my parents would have spent their last days.... I was the only person who mattered for them and unfortunately for them and me, we did not speak to each other....I have really let them down. Hardly any relative would come to see my parents as they rarely visited anyone and remained preoccupied with me only due to my studies during the school. I was probably the only interest of them and remained always their first priority and when they needed me most I was unfortunately not with them. now Guru felt that Aakash was speaking through the kick of whisky. Perhaps worst was going to come to my parents, Aakash continued, Under the influence of my wife and father in law I filed a suit in the court claiming share in the property as my father inherited the house from my Grandfather. As per laws of the land I was also the inheritor of the property Aakash asked the driver to stop the car as he saw some paan shop in the corner near to the entrance lane to the Carlton hotel. They got down from the car and happily walked towards the paan shop as if they have found gold mine in the desert. After gulping one each into their mouth, they asked shopkeeper to pack two more for consuming them later. Instead of getting into the car, Aakash insisted to spend some time in the lobby of Carlton hotel where around the charcoal heated fire place, many guests were still chatting and enjoying coffee.

The property case continued for 5 years in the different courts. Aakash continued to add, I lost the case and also my parents forever. My mother died because of this shock and indifferent and selfish attitude of me Out of anger and displeasure my father did not inform me about her death of and her last rites. Guru you tell me, dont you think I am the most unfortunate person on this earth? Aakash buried his face in the shawl and smartly tried wiping his tears with the shawl so that Guru doesnt observe the state of his mind. There were many guests sitting and chatting around the fireplace. He could not cry loudly in presence of them. Guru was recognised by the staff and they came to enquire if anything could be served to them. Guru ordered for some hot coffee. After the completion of twelfth standard we also sent our son Sameer to Chicago to complete his Bachelor of Architecture, although he couldnt get admission into the same college from where I and Vandana have passed out. The idea was to train him into the same profession so that he can later take care of our offices. When he was into his final year at Chicago, he once called me to go to his Grandpas house and enquire if everything is ok with him as he was not responding to his calls for more than a week I dont know when he established links with his grandfather. Before going to Chicago, perhaps he gave one mobile to his grandpa and remained in touch with him, Aakash again stopped because the waiter had come with coffee. Hot Coffee was a great solace during that cold environment, though they were getting enough heat from the fireplace. My fear came true. When I reached the place where my father stayed, I noticed lots of people assembled near the Bungalow and amongst them few policemen were also present My heart sank and started beating like thousands of drums as I enquired from a person the reason of such a rush around that place. He, recognised me and said, perhaps your father is no more, I cried so loudly which attracted the attention of the policemen, who were perhaps called by my fathers neighbours. A Policeman coolly took me inside as I was totally shattered to see my father lying on the bed as if he was sleeping.

Doctors informed the death in sleep due to cardiac arrest and the body was sent for post mortem. Next day I was called by police at the hospital and the inspector handed over to me a letter written by my father before he died. I am not keeping good health. I may die alone in this house. In case I die....my son should not be allowed to give fire to my body, neither he be allowed to perform my last rites. My grandson should perform all my last rites. In case no one is available....... my body may be used for medical research.......Balwant Rai Tell me Guru, was it not a curse? Aakash said while looking at the fireplace where the heat has increased tremendously after char coals were replaced by the bar boys. Guru nodded his head in affirmative They finished the last drops of coffee left over in the cattle. Guru paid the bill and they both sat in the car to go back home. Guru noticed Aakash totally broke emotionally and did not insist for further narration of the story as it was already midnight. They were in no mood to take dinner at that time. The servants enjoyed the feast. Next morning Guru was surprised to see at 6 a.m Aakash in a tracksuit, having a morning walk around Kodai lake Arre: What a surprise to see you at this time? Guru surprisingly asked him. Guru, apna to seeda rule hai, Kitne baje bhi sone ko jayo par subah 5.30 baje nedh apne aap Khul Jati hai Aakash was quite cheerful as if nothing happened last night. After walk, they assembled in the lawn for tea; it was still chilly at seven in the morning. The tea was brought in a big thermos with acquisitive pieces of China wares. Guru made tea for both as Aakash appreciated the flavour of the tea. Sorry dear for bothering you last night. Actually I am a very poor story teller and every home has some story or other. Guru you have been quite mean last night. You did not tell me anything about you and I am feeling quite envious of you. Aakash told while sipping tea. Guru wanted to say something about himself when Aakash cut him in between. You see the shock of my fathers death made me guilty of not doing enough for him when he needed most. I was really selfish to leave him like that. Therefore I decided to do something in his memory,

In consultation with my son and wife, we sold half of the land left by my father for my son and with that money we built the first Aashiyana near Karjat for those old parents, whose children have left them in lurch , like I did But my model was different, I decided to be different, firstly it wont be free and secondly the inmates would do some business to earn. The business could be a Restaurant, a Workshop, a Consumer store, a Petrol Pump, a General store which differs from place to place....a true business model I formed a trust and inducted people which matters and who can help the trust to run effectively as a business model so that we can have more such units in India. The objective was to have Aashiyans near cities and highways where there were more chances of having exploited parents. Today we have centres at Mohali near Chandigarh, Balajinagar near Bangalore, Sonipat near Delhi, Karjat near Mumbai, Rajindra Nagar near Hyderabad, Gandhinagar near Ahmedabad....still lot of places to cover. Really it is very impressive .Is your wife and son also in the trust with you? Guru inquisitively asked There was huge smile on Aakash face which faded in the same manner as it came. You see nature is a great leveller. Aakash said while sipping up the second cup of tea. Like me, my son also returned with a wife from States. He secretly married there, but we accepted her in our family. She was a daughter of a state level politician from Maharashtra. They also started practicing with Vandana as I left the office and concentrated on building and maintaining Aashiyanas,. Aakash said while looking at the tea and avoiding to see Guru It must have happened some seven years back, no eight years back Aakash started counting on his fingers and continued to tell that he was busy in supervising the construction of Aashiyana near Bangalore. It took him 3 month to supervise the construction according to the design. When he returned home to Mumbai, he did not find any one of his family members at home. He was surprised to know from his father in law that they have left India for Paris after selling off my fathers house & our office. Perhaps they got rid of me as I was pursuing my objective of constructing more such homes. His father in law purchased the old house of my father and started constructing 20 stories residential complex on that land. My family never corresponded with me thereafter. The nature treated me in the same manner as I did with my father.

The curse of his father was not letting him leave in peace...... Have you really lost touch with your family Guru enquired PhysicallyYes Aakash replied sadly But, why didnt you try to contact them. You must be feeling horrible without them and compromising solution can be worked out Guru emphatically told Guru, I told you I am an unfortunate man. I cant meet them till I die Aakash said in low tone What do you mean Guru angrily said They all died in 9/11 attack on World Trade Centre towers when they went to New York to undertake some Project Shocking...shocking..really shocking to hear Guru said while holding his trembling hands tightly. Couple of months later...I got a compensation of 3 million dollars from US Government and later I sold their flat and office in Paris too. Part of that money I have spent on building some of these Aashiyans and the balance may also be utilised in pursuing this painful obsession Now, Guru you tell me the price of this Bungalow? Aakash told Guru. Aakash, your life has such miserable happenings. I was very sad to learn about that. But you tell me, does this Bungalow fulfil your requirements Guru said while getting his hands to pick up news papers. Oh yes, Aakash said with a smile. Get yourself fresh we are going to see the city and a solar observatory. We will talk about our deal at night over drinks. Guru got up while handing over the news papers to Aakash Whole day was spent having an excursion around city and solar observatory. They also went to a beautiful lake in a picturesque setting around 30 km from Kodai. Both returned in the evening and went straight to their rooms for rest. At night they sat for drinks again. Aakash, can you make me one of your associate in your obsession. Except two rooms which I wish may be reserved at the top floor for both of us for at least twice a year, so that we can come here and share our feelings, rest can be kept at your disposal Guru said in one go. That is so nice of you Guru; I never imagined that we will become so close friends during this shot stint. But you promised to tell me the money you would be charging for this Bungalow Aakash enquired while sipping up Black label.

Aakash, there is no price, the property would be transferred to the trust without any charge Aakash was amazed at such offer and he got to his feet to give a tight hug to Guru. You Know., Guru further said, You are considering yourself guilty of killing your father though you didnt. I have actually poisoned my father to death in this Bungalow as he was....... not handing over this property to me I escaped law because no one believed I could have killed my father, but you see I could not escape that Almighty. I lost my whole family in tsunami at Chennai. Guru said while virtually crying loudly Aakash was shell shocked to hear such words from Guru as he tightened up his hug of Guru, conveying emotional message to face the curse together till the last of their breath.....