I hate this feeling. Like I’m here, but I’m not. Like someone cares. But they don’t. Like I belong somewhere else, anywhere but here. I don’t think I have ever found a place where I belong.
“Aaj mein upar; aasmaan neeche!’ (Today I am on top and feel the sky below me)
Titli was singing this popular Hindi song, while doing the dusting in Naya’s room. Naya sat by the window, holding a cup of tea, and sipping it slowly. She liked her tea, hot. She had been watching Titli, their seventeen-years-old help, for a while now. Titli was methodically picking up, wiping and then gently putting back, every piece of artefact and showpiece in the room. Every day she spent around an hour, on dusting, in her room. Naya looked at her face that was full of concentration for her work. She was singing along softly, and the lilt in her voice expressed a refreshing hope and joy! How did Titli stay this cheerful and lively every day, wondered Naya!
Titli was barely ten years old when her mother passed away, while giving birth to her fourth child, a stillborn. Titli had two younger sisters but they lived with their maternal grandparents, in a village far away. Titli lived with her parents to help out with the daily house chores. Her mother was perpetually pregnant, and frequent miscarriages and child births had made her terribly weak. Her father was a daily labourer who would spend the evenings drinking all alone, and abusing the world at large. Her father’s mother, Titli’s grandmother, lived with them and worked as a house-help at Naya’s place.
Titli would accompany her grandmother, to work. She would take care of the lighter parts of the job - dusting, folding clothes, etc. Her cheerfulness and exuberance were infectious.
“Titli, what is that black mark on your arm? Did your father beat you again?” Naya seethed in anger. She hated Titli’s alcoholic and abusive father, whom she also held responsible for his wife’s death. And now, on seeing these black and blue marks on Titli’s arms and legs, Naya would feel like killing that horrible man!
“No Didi, it was really my fault. It was dark and I could not see properly and I stumbled in that darkness, in the process spilling Baba’s drink. Unfortunately that was all that he was left with, at home, and so he got angry.” How simply Titli dismissed the whole thing, wondered Navya.
“Titli, how can you be like this? For a man who does not even love you?” scorned Navya.
“Who says he doesn’t love me, Didi? I know he loves me.” How innocent and confident Titli sounded!
Titli’s words shook Naya. She was thrown back into her own world, a world that she believed was totally unfair to her. She would turn thirty in a couple of days’ time, and she already felt that she had perhaps overstayed her welcome. She worked as a journalist with a leading news channel, and was doing well professionally. However, she had not really fared well in her personal life. She felt completely disconnected from her parents. Naya always believed that she had a very turbulent teenage. Crushes, infatuations, going bonkers over friends, doing things more by way of daredevilry rather than to have fun, had allowed her easily to drift out from her safe family comfort zone and fall into the gorge of confusion, darkness and pain. She had had more than her share of heart-breaks and now, she could not take these anymore. She had alienated herself from her parents so much that, she could not run back towards them.
She was jolted out of her reverie as she saw a bunch of colourful balloons swaying and dancing in the breeze, while rising up to the sky. She could see a white piece of paper, fluttering at the knot where the ballons were all bunched together. She looked around her room; Titli was not there! So, that explained the bunch of balloons!
She got up and quickly climbed up the stairs to the terrace. Titli was standing there, looking up at the sky. Her gaze was following the balloons and Naya suddenly felt a tinge of jealousy; what an enchanting smile filled up Titli’s face! Why, when Naya looked in the mirror, she could never see such a beautiful smile on her own face! Titli looked at Naya and came towards her.
“Titli, are you sending a letter again to your Dadu? You never get any reply back from him, do you? And yet you keep writing, why? It has been around five years, right, since your Dadu passed away?” Naya tried to be as soft as she could. She did not want to hurt this girl whom, through these past years, she had seen walk silently and yet courageously, walk through all the adversities, strong and sure-footed. She loved her grandfather, Dadu, deeply and he had been the strong pillar in her life from her very childhood. He worked as a painter, painting new houses and buildings. Little Titli would be fascinated with colours. Her Dadu would let her dip the brush in the liquid paint and then paint their walls of their tiny house, any way that she liked.
Dadu, because of acute poverty, could not study in school but he learnt to read and write, by himself. Every evening, he would now teach Titli. He would tell her about the Sun, the Moon and the Stars. How the rivers came gushing down from the top of the mountains to the plains, and made their way to the sea; how the water kept on moving in cycles from the earth to the sky and back; how the high mountains, millions of years back, were under the sea; and on and on Dadu would tell stories to Titli. Titli saw the whole universe through Dadu’s stories. She would imagine and see in her mind her own achievements …. from being the first one to reach Mars, to the first one to find a living world of humans deep down the oceans. Titli truly believed she would accomplish such out-of-this-world feats, some day.
One morning, Dadu never woke up. He died in his sleep. Titli was inconsolable for many days. All her thoughts centred around her Dadu; their time together reading, playing, and looking around! Dadu was the only person Titli poured her heart to! Anything that disturbed her, from her drunkard father’s erratic beatings to her mother’s quiet sobs, or her empty or half-empty stomach, most of the days! Titli’s father would forcibly take whatever money her Dadu would get every day, and would spend it all in drinking.
One afternoon, she was sitting under a tree. Her heart was heavy with grief. She watched the fluffy white clouds floating by. Can her Dadu see her? Can he see how sad his little girl is? The thoughts just flowed one after the other. How will she ever see her Dadu again? How will she talk to him? Who will help unburden her heart? Her crying just wouldn’t stop. She kept looking at the sky, as if with the hope of getting a glimpse of her Dadu.
Suddenly she saw a bunch of colourful balloons in the sky high above! They were going up and up! Up somewhere near her Dadu? She jumped up! She ran and got a piece of paper, and scribbled on it, “Dadu, I love you!” Clutching the paper in her hand she ran to the corner of the road. Yes Ramu Bhaiya, the balloon seller, was there at his usual place.
“Ramu Bhaiya, can you give me just one balloon, please? I have no money to pay you, though,” Titli pleaded, softly.
“Yes Titli, don’t worry about the money.” Saying this Ramu Bhaiya handed her a red balloon. Titli’s face lit up with excitement. She went back to where she was sitting. She tied the piece of paper to the thread of the balloon and let it go. The balloon went up, steered by the blowing wind, rose higher, and soon disappeared in the sky.
“Please let Dadu have it,” little Titli prayed. Now she felt a lot better. From that day onwards, whenever Titli would feel particularly lonely, she would pen down her thoughts and send it to her Dadu, with the help of a balloon. She believed that Dadu answered her letters by always guiding her to the best possible solution.
“Naya Didi, as I’ve told you before, Dadu gets my letters and talks to me; and that’s why I always find an answer to things that trouble me.” Titli was all smiles, as she ran down to finish her work.
Who do I send a letter to, Naya kept on thinking, as she gazed at the little cheerful figure disappear down the stairs!