Where Are You Aliya?
Anish was shattered beyond words. He was sitting alone on the bench, on the banks of a dried up nallah, on the back road. It was dark and deserted. Anish sat there playing his harmonica, with full passion. Tears never seemed to stop streaming down. He seemed to be pouring out all his anguish, into playing the music. A few stray dogs kept looking at him, as an unexpected stranger, but at the same time they seemed to be trying to appreciate his outpouring.
Anish was a software engineer by profession. He was middle-aged, and was extremely soft-spoken. He always had a busy working day, because after office, every evening, he would go to ‘Drishti’ a night school for the blind, to teach computers to visually impaired students. He was very popular among his students and teaching them was his passion, just like playing harmonica was. In fact he taught playing the harmonica too to a few children there, the ones who really had an interest in it. His dedication towards teaching these children was remarkable. Children treated him like their friend and mentor, sharing all their problems and challenges with him, and Anish would patiently try to guide them to the best possible solution.
Anish’s dedication and hard work would help children stand out in the field of technology and his positivity and encouragement would make them stronger as persons. Their success, and their sense of achievement, was the reward that Anish always looked out for. And in the past ten years he has been amply rewarded. He never asked for anything else.
Anish was one of the highly respected teachers out there. He was known for his simple and effective teaching methods, and for his popularity.One day the facilitator at ‘ Drishti’, called him, and smilingly handed him a letter.
“What is it, Mrs. Gupta?” enquired Anish.
“Why don’t you check it out yourself, Anish?” smiled Mrs. Gupta.
With some curiosity Anish opened it, to find an invitation to attend the Republic Day ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan where he, along with some others chosen from different fields, would be felicitated by the President of India himself, for exceptional work done for the society.
“I am so very happy Anish, for you, and for us. Your great work has been recognised and appreciated. Our school too, will be in the news.That’ll be great publicity, Anish. Imagine, being felicitated by the President of India! I am getting goosebumps,” gushed Mrs. Gupta.
Anish, his usual humble self, thanked Mrs. Gupta and, all red in his face, he left the room. The news spread like wild fire and all the teachers as well as the students started congratulating Anish. Everyone was genuinely happy, except for Mr. Sisodia. He was the senior most teacher in age there, and he taught Mathematics. He was associated with the night school, for about fifteen years, and was always jealous of Anish’s popularity among the students. He was pretty much short-tempered, so was not much of a favourite with the students. Now, Anish being chosen for the felicitation, did not go down well with him at all.
It was three days before the felicitation ceremony of Anish, when Ram, the peon, came to his class.
“ Sir, Madamji wants you right away.”
“Ok, will go see her straight after the class,” Anish replied.
“ No, no Sir, it is something urgent. Madamji wants you right now,” Ram insisted.
A bit surprised, Anish left his class and went to Mrs. Gupta’s office. What urgency could it be that he was asked to leave the class, he thought. A look at Mrs. Gupta’s angry, flushed face, and Anish could make out that something was seriously amiss.
“I am shocked to say the least, Mr. Anish! Never in my wildest dreams could I have thought of this about you.” It seemed Mrs. Gupta was struggling to find the right words.
Anish failed to make out anything. A tiny sob made him turn to find Mita, one of his Standard 7 students, standing in the corner with downcast eyes.
“Was it Anish Sir, Mita, who behaved inappropriately with you yesterday evening after class? He is here, so say that in front of him. You have nothing to fear,” commanded Mrs. Gupta.
Was he hearing right? What has Mita complained of? Inappropriate behaviour? Anish’s hands were turning cold.
“Mita, do not be scared. Tell me, did Anish Sir misbehave with you?” demanded Mrs. Gupta again.
Anish couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Mita nodding slowly in the affirmative! Everything seemed to be happening in some other world. Mrs. Gupta speaking sternly, Mita sobbing softly, and then he walking out of the room in a trance. He in that same trance reached this deserted place on the back road of his house, and spent so many hours there on the bench. It was almost dawn when he got up, and dragged himself home.
The whole of next day, Anish did not step out of his home. He sat on a chair in his verandah and seemed to be lost in some other world; a world about which no one else knew. He never spoke about it to anyone here. In fact, he never ever spoke about his personal life. Personal life? Yes, once upon a time he had a beautiful family - a loving wife, and a charming daughter, Aliya. He could see everything so vividly. His wife Suma and he doted on each other. How miraculous the moment seemed, when he had held infant Aliya for the first time, in his arms. A lovely bundle of joy! And then the shocking moment of revelation when both of them realised that little Aliya could not see. How Suma had cried and cried in Anish’s arms, while Anish gazed at little Aliya sleeping peacefully in her cradle. At that moment he had vowed to himself that he would do everything for Aliya, to make up for this handicap. And he did! He gave so much of love and positivity to the child that she blossomed into a strong, beautiful flower. She was as chirpy as any ten-year old could be! She was completely self-reliant in her daily activities. Aliya went to a school for children who were visually impaired. She was a brilliant child and, apart from excelling in her studies, she also painted beautifully. And, like her father, music was her passion. Anish would spend hours teaching her to play the harmonica and soon she could play good enough, to be able to do shows with her father.
One day Aliya, with her parents, was on her way to the neighbouring township to take part in a music festival there. Anish was driving and after a couple of hours they took a tea-break. Aliya demanded her favourite strawberry ice-cream. The ice-cream shop was on the other side of the road. Anish went to get it, while Suma and Aliya waited in the car. Suddenly he heard the dreadful sound of a huge crash, followed by a big commotion. Anish turned to see, and for a moment he froze on the spot. A massive tanker, perhaps because of a brake failure, had rammed into his car that was parked at the side of the highway. A crowd gathered, and Anish ran with his heart in his mouth. Sadly, his worst fears had come true … both Suma and Aliya had been crushed to death.
It took months for Anish to even come to terms with the tragedy. He had lost both his loves, together. He did not know how to live without them, but he had to live. But soon it was getting too painful for him, to continue staying in the same house, the same city. He just sold off everything and set off for this place that he had heard of, where a certain night school for the visually challenged, was doing a remarkable job for the children. He found himself a job, then a small place to stay, and joined ‘Drishti’. He saw his Aliya in every child, and ten years had just whizzed past.
He was shaken out of his reverie by somebody calling out to him. His already open eyes came back to the present and he saw Mita standing there, with her mother. Her mother stood there with folded hands, and Mita fell on his feet. Anish was taken aback and he asked her mother to pick her up. Then Mita, crying all the while, narrated what had happened. Anish, in a daze, kept listening. Mr. Sisodia had apparently taken Mita aside after his class, and had asked her to make this accusation about Anish! He had threatened her that if she did not comply, he would fail her in his subject. Mita was a very submissive child, she got really scared, and in that fear she went and did what she was asked to do. Later, she was troubled by her conscience and, not being able to hold herself any more, had blurted out the whole thing to her mother. Not finding Anish at school that day she had come to Anish Sir’s place with her mother, to confess of her wrongdoing and to ask for forgiveness.
Mrs. Gupta heard the truth from Mita the next day and was furious, to say the least. She immediately called for Mr. Sisodia and asked him to leave, that very moment. She then sent for Anish. The peon went to call him from his class, but found the children waiting for their Sir. There was no sign of Anish.
No one there saw Anish anymore. He was done with this place too. Sitting at the window seat of a train, Anish just kept looking at the fields that seemed to be racing with the train. And his mind was screaming in pain, “Where are you, Aliya?”