My story, ‘A Father’s Aching Heart’ has been accepted and published in a literary magazine called “Indian Short Fiction”. It has been accepted for the May-June issue. This was my first attempt at writing an Indian short story and I must say it was a splendidly fun experience
Maybe its my tiny attention span, but some of my favorite books growing up are infact collections of short stories. With only brief chunks of time to spare during the day, I appreciate a short read even more these days.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Here is the link to the story: http://indianshortfiction.com/short-fiction-stories.php?id=204
A Father’s Aching Heart
Nandan rubbed his eyes as the soft ringing of bells and scents of Jasmin incense floated out of the pooja room taking over his senses. He smiled at hearing the melodies of his wife singing her morning shlokas. The same exact melody had been waking him up every morning for the past thirty-seven years and he prayed he’ll be blessed with it for thirty-seven more.
With eyes still shut, Nandan rolled out of bed and walked to the courtyard. He instinctively picked up a bucket already filled with hot water and carried it with him to the bathroom. Twenty minutes later, emerged a fresh and energetic man wiping his head with a towel while another was tightly secured around his waist.
“Arrey! You are early today!” said Banu as she sprinkled drops of holy water on him and applied a little vermillion on his forehead. She then gave him a sweet that she had specially prepared earlier that morning as an offering for God. Her cheeks turning red and glancing down at her feet, she said “Happy birthday, my love.” Despite all these years of marriage, Banu still felt like a shy new bride around her husband. He in return placed a soft kiss on her forehead and hurried off to get ready.
“I am sure there will be a letter today.” shouted Nandan buttoning his uniform. “I mustn’t be late. Postman Rajaram will be waiting with the good news for me.” Grabbing his tiffin box, he quickly slipped into black shoes and hurried down the dusty road. Banu sat on the veranda outside her house with a look of worry. “He has been going to the post office every day for the last two years only to be disappointed. Lord, please let him not return empty handed today.” she prayed aloud.
“Good morning!” exclaimed the milkman to Nandan as they passed each other on the road. “A good morning it shall be indeed.” he replied. “I am off to the post office.” The milkman nodded his head in disbelief while at the same time impressed by the old man’s perseverance.
He then came across three men huddled together under the shade of a large Banyan tree. “What’s the hurry, Nandan? Why don’t you come join us for a game of cards?” asked one of the gentlemen. “Oh, no no!” said Nandan. “Not today, my friends. I have something waiting for me at the post office and I must not delay.” he continued picking up his pace.
“Rajaram! Rajaram! Where are you?” shouted Nandan completely out of breath from the long walk but too excited to take rest. “Good morning, my dear friend.” said a cheery voice from inside a room. “You are early today. That too on your birthday! Will you not take atleast today off?”
“I love my job and seeing those children smile and play makes my day. Why should I take leave. Now come on. I am sure a letter has arrived today.” said Nandan a little annoyed that his friend was trying to make small talk. Postman Rajaram slowly removed his glasses and let out a muzzled sigh. “I’m afraid I have nothing for you today either. But tomorrow is Tuesday and with Hanumanji’s blessings, you are sure to receive good news.” said Rajaram hoping to pass some encouragement. For the last two years, he had watched his dear friend stop by everyday hoping for a letter from his son. He dreaded having to face him every morning and share the same message. “Nandan, Vivek is happy and well. He loves you very much and you don’t need a letter to confirm that.”
Nandan was distraught. He had gotten used to being turned away empty handed every morning, but something deep down told him that today would be different. That today, he would hear from his son whom he loved more than life itself. Without saying a word, he turned around and walked out of the post office.
Tears streamed down his face. The last time he had cried was when his son, Vivek, had sent him a letter letting him know that he had found a lovely girl and had gotten married in a rush as per the wishes of her ailing grandmother. “Amrita is the perfect partner and daughter-in-law. I can’t wait for you and Amma to meet her.” he had written. That was two years ago and they had not heard from him since.
Nandan sat at the edge of the sidewalk and gazed at the open road. He watched two young school boys joke as they rode their bicycles with no cares in the world. He remembered the times when Vivek would laugh uncontrollably at his jokes and say, “Amma, you have married a comedian!”
He was always the first in class and never once did Nandan or Banu have to hang their heads in shame. Vivek was also the first in their entire family to complete school and that too with distinction. On graduation day, Nandan had distributed sweets to almost every house in their town. “My son has made me very proud! Please take more laddoos!” he had insisted. Banu had taken a vow that she would feed the hungry if all goes well and had fulfilled it by serving a feast to a large group of beggars outside the town temple. Everything was perfect.
Vivek had always wanted to be an Engineer. The type that makes cars and other vehicles. He had applied to many colleges in America and received acceptance from one with full scholarship. Nandan remembered vividly that Saturday morning when Vivek showed him the acceptance letter. “It is my dream, Appa.” he had said. Nandan had tried to convince him to study in one of the colleges in the nearby cities of Coimbatore or Chennai but all in vain. There is nothing scarier for a parent than letting their child go alone into a new world that can sometimes be so harsh and unforgiving. He himself had dreamed of being a teacher as a child but lack of money had made him drop out of school after fourth grade only to help his father on the rice fields. Nandan knew that he had to let his son go.
They gathered all their savings to buy Vivek’s airline ticket and surprised him with it. Vivek’s eyes had filled with tears of joy as he hugged his parents. “I promise to return every paise and make sure that neither of you will ever have to walk to any place again.”
Dusting his back, Nandan picked himself up from the sidewalk and headed slowly towards to the nursery school. He took his usual position at the front entrance of the school ready to meet and greet a slew of little faces full of life and joy. “Good morning, Mala!” he would exclaim giving a little handshake. Or “What’s for lunch today, little Ravi?” he would ask tussling the young lad’s hair. He knew every teacher, child and parent in the school and everyone knew and loved their beloved security guard. He had watched over the school for over thirty years and every day was a joy to see the little hands and feet at play. Some returned all grown up with families and made sure to share pictures and stories with Nandan. He felt that in some small way he had helped these children.
Just as Nandan was about to leave for his lunch break, Miss Rani from the front office stepped out and requested him to stop by for a minute. The instant he walked through the large wooden door, loud voices shouted, “Surprise!” followed by laughter and giggling. Placed in the center was a large cake surrounded by savory treats. Nandan was overwhelmed with gratitude and stood stunned and speechless. “Thank you, thank you so much” he muttered. Suddenly his aching heart wasn’t hurting anymore. All the children came running to him giving him hugs and kisses. The unconditional love these children showered on him made his pain fade. He let his tiffin go cold while they all feasted on cake and samosas together.
It was past 5pm and Nandan slowly trudged back home. He thought about the day’s events and smiled at the memory of the children. He loved each of them like his own. Suddenly thoughts of Vivek came rushing back flooding his mind. He stopped for a minute and shut his eyes. With a deep sigh he assured himself that his son is happy wherever he is and that is what is important. He had faith in his son and Vivek and his wife will always have their blessings.
“Banu, you have to hear about my day.” he started while removing his shoes at the entrance. Lying there was another pair of black shoes and a pair of sandals. “Arrey! We have visitors and I didn’t bring any sweets today.” thought Nandan. He stepped inside adjusting his shirt and belt when a voice stopped him in his tracks. Standing in front of him was a tall young man dressed in a well-tailored shirt and pant. “Appa,” said the voice. “Happy Birthday.”
Nandan hugged his son letting the tears roll and emotions flow. “My son! I knew you will come back!” he said showering him with a million kisses. “I am sorry it has taken me this long. But I did not want to come back until I was able to give you what I promised and more.” said Vivek hanging on to his father.
Emerging from the room was Banu with a girl dressed in a beautiful yellow and red saree. Nandan needed no introduction. He rushed to his daughter-in-law and hugged her. “God bless you, my child. I have now gained the daughter I never had. Welcome to the family, Amrita!” he said his eyes brimming with tears.
“Appa and Amma, let’s step outside for a minute.” said Vivek. Amrita looked on eagerly hardly able to conceal her excitement. Parked outside on the side of the house, was a brand new Bajaj motorcycle. “Now you and Amma will never have to walk anywhere.” he continued. Banu hugged her son wiping her tears with her saree. Nandan patted Vivek on his back. “Thank you, my son. But now you will have to teach this old man how to use it!” he said as they all burst into laughter. “Let’s go in and you can tell me all about your adventures. I hear the buildings in America are taller than our temple and the roads are as wide as three houses put together? And …“ Voices faded as Nandan and his family went inside.
Laughter and chatter filled Nandan’s house and heart.