Wednesday 25 October 2023

Short Story 2023 Longlist, Sakshi Bhatnagar

Life is a Bliss

The alarm rang exactly at five in the morning. She got up but her body refused to support her. She felt a tinge of pain in her body but she knew she didn’t have any other option so reluctantly she pulled herself out of the bed.

She looked outside as she drew curtains and let the sun rays in. The morning sun today didn’t give her good vibes yet again. The view was beautiful but she didn’t feel any energy inside her. As she touched her forehead, she found that she had a high fever. To induce some strength in her body, she made her a cup of hot coffee and tried to gear herself up for the day.

Amma- - - Amma! Could you please lay my breakfast and iron my clothes? I am already running late for college.

Samira shouted, ignoring her mother’s condition.

Samira, I have been having a fever since last night and now I don’t feel like getting up. Can you please help yourself today?

What! How can you even say this! You practically don’t do anything but laze around and now asking me to do the household chores. So shall I leave my school and be a maid like you.

The words from Samira pierced her mother’s heart. The agony she felt was way more than from what she’s experiencing from her ailment.

Before she could comprehend what just happened, Samira stormed out of the place.

Shikha, Samira’s mother, sat there, helpless. All these years, she had tried to do best for Samira and vehemently tried to improve her ties with her only daughter but all seemed in vain.

When Samira got distant from her mother, she herself didn’t know.

Her entire life flashed in front of her eyes.

Samira was only two months old when her father left her shirking away from fatherly duties. Last thing she heard about him was that he got married again. Lack of support, be it emotional or financial, Shikha was broken but still kept herself going for Samira. Considering she had borne a baby girl, her relatives didn’t come forward for help as well.

With no particular educational background and baby in her arms, it was a struggle for her to find a decent job. So she started as a housemaid but always tried best to give Samira the life she deserved. But somehow, Samira always held her responsible for driving her father away and never tried to develop a bond with her.

It was evening and Shikha was still sitting motionless at one place, reminiscing her austerity of years to ensure a stable life for Samira. It was only when Samira stormed in that she came out of her reverie. Her body had been burning with high fever. As she saw Samira stumble to make her way to the room, she was flabbergasted to see her inebriated.

Samira pushed Shikha past her and somehow made her way to her room and latched from inside.

Shock, dismay, anxiety, disappointment were all the emotions Shikha had experienced at once. She could feel people mocking at her and sneering at her for not raising her daughter right.

She was too tired to contemplate anymore and fell asleep.

The next morning wasn't as good as expected. As Shikha confronted Samira, she put all the blame on her.

Amma it is you who pushed me to this world. You never had time for me. Never gave the life I wanted. You even drove my dad away. We live in this hole with no luxury.

Samira kept on blurting and Smack!

The loud slap on Samira’s face reverberated in the room.

You thankless and shameless girl! I almost gave up my life so that you had yours. But you had the audacity to raise your voice against me and demean me. How I wished I had done this earlier so that you knew your limits. From now on, I will have a life too. Better not talk to me and we are going to live here in complete oblivion to each other or better if you can make your arrangements somewhere else.

All these years of humiliation and resentment from Samira became afresh in Shikha’s eyes.

Having said this, Shikha left and Samira stood there startled.

The next day came as a new beginning for her.

She frantically searched for her tiny almirah and was relieved when she found out her treasure. A pair of old ghungroos were nothing less than a treasure to her.

Then without even checking on Samira, she left the house.

Shikha came back home after a long time and when she came, there was a sparkle in her eyes.

Amma, what’s in your hands?

She ignored Samira’s questions and became busy with her chores.

Samira could not take this cold behavior of hers but still out of arrogance, didn’t apologize.

The next morning was the same. Shikha left the place and came back only in the night. This continued for days.

Samira’s patience was now reaching the saturation point. But this time Shikha did not budge.

At least you can tell me where you go daily from morning till late evening.

I don’t feel the need to.

But I have the right to know. I am your daughter after all.

Oh really! Since when did you realise that?

Amma, can you please tell me what’s going on? Samira almost shouted.

Well, I have started my Kathak classes again. For three months, I will relearn and then I will start my own classes.

Samira burst out laughing.

Kathak and you! That too in this age.

While it’s good that instead of getting rotten at home, you did choose to use your time productively but do you really think it is going to work?

The taunt from Samira only kept Shikha going.

Day by day, Samira has now started missing her mother’s warmth and her care for her. She started to realize what all struggle her mother had gone through and was now guilty of her hostile nature towards her.

It did come to her mind to make amends with her mother, but still she was too arrogant to apologize.

She drove my father away. Even if she had borne the atrocities of this world as she claims, she chose her path. Then why should I forgive her and an apology is out of the question. If she can’t apologise to me for my lost childhood, then why should I?

Samira was trying to get in her thoughts that what she did was right.

Even in college, Samira couldn’t concentrate. Seeing her eat canteen food, her friends would often mock her.

Samira felt that all of a sudden, her life was starting to go downhill. She felt like a laughing stock amongst her friends and this only made her hate her mother even more. She kept on cajoling herself that she’s right by not trying to make the first move.

Shikha on the other hand, was trying her best to flourish. From morning till evening, she would invest her time in learning the dance with perseverance and determination. No matter how tired she was, no matter how much dance was exhausting her, she’d made up her mind to prove Samira that she is still capable of everything.

Sometimes, both of them felt the missing connection and eagerly wanted to talk, but neither Samira nor Shikha took the step forward.

One fine day, while Shikha was returning from her classes, she found a little girl of not more than four or five years of age looking at her as if trying to seek help.

Shikha couldn’t help resisting going closer to her.

Hi, what’s your name? Where are your parents? She asked.

They had gone to meet God and still hadn’t returned. I was waiting for them but then my aunt, I don’t know whom she was talking to, but said, for how long we have to deal with this burden.

Shikha felt her heart ache. The little girl continued,

Aunt then told me that we are going out for a party and then I don’t know where she is. She must also be worried. I really miss her.

It didn’t take a second for Shikha to realise what had happened to this girl. She felt sorry for the girl and wanted to help her. Mustering up all the courage, she asked the girl, “Will you come with me?”

The little girl was confused.

Shikha still tried to pester her.

I live nearby only. Till the time your aunt returns, you can stay at my place and rest and I will give you tasty food too.

It was evident that the little girl was hungry. The mention of food was enough to convince her.

Pav Bhaji is my favourite. Mumma used to cook it for me and papa.

Shikha remembered something when the little girl mentioned Pav Bhaji. Keeping her thoughts at bay, she took the little girl home.

What is your name? Shikha asked the little girl.

Shikha Raghuvanshi, smiled at the little girl with pride.

The name rang the bells in Shikha’s head.

No, no, no this can’t be true. This isn’t possible. I hadn’t heard from him for so many years and this is only an honest coincidence.

Aunty, Aunty, what happened. I am hungry. Can you please give me something to eat?

The little girl’s sweet voice brought Shikha back to reality.

You know what, Shikha is my name too. So how about I call you Jr. Shikha.

The smile on the little girl’s face was a sign of approval.

Shikha gave her cornflakes and milk and as she was eating, Shikha’s heart was melting with her innocence. For once, she got drifted from her aim of making it big as a dancer and this little girl even made her forget about her biological daughter and her discourteousness. How she wished this little girl to be her daughter.

Shikha wondered that Samira was never grateful to her even during her childhood, and how thankful Jr. Shikha seemed even for a bowl of cornflakes. Tears welled up in her eyes.

So Jr. Shikha, what was your mother’s name? asked Shikha to strike a conversation.

Jahnvi, the little girl was so busy eating that she only gave a precise answer.

Land slid beneath Shikha’s feet as she heard the name.

And Father? Shikha was now extremely perturbed as she asked.

Viraj Raghuvanshi.

The name echoed in her mind and Shikha felt as if she was being stabbed with a thousand knives at once.

Hurriedly Shikha went to her room and came out with a photograph that was hidden in the room, just like she hid all the memories of her past life in her heart.

With trembling hands, Shikha presented the photograph to the little girl.

Do you know this man? Asked her.

Hey…it’s my papa. But who is this little baby in his arms? Aunty is it me?

Shikha plunged to the floor, unable to breathe. She even failed to notice Samira’s presence.

Amma, who is this girl and what is this photograph? Samira didn’t like the girl very much.

It’s your father in the photograph which was taken when you were just born. And this….this girl is your half-sister.

She said your father and her mother have gone to meet God and didn’t return. Shikha’s voice was now coarse.

The words fell like lava on Samira’s ears. She now understood everything. While the mother daughter duo was embracing each other, Jr. Shikha was watching them in amazement.

Three years passed in a jiffy and Amma’s struggle paid off. She was now a famous Kathak trainer and her business was booming. Samira on the other hand, became more responsible and almost a mother to Jr. Shikha.

The turmoil that Shikha had gone through had really paid off. Both Shikha and Samira accepted Jr. Shikha with all their hearts and they are now one happy family. Shikha now also forgave her late husband and started to embrace life. She no longer hated the sun rays caressing her face and embracing her soul. Jr. Shikha also loved her new family dearly. She always thanked God for giving her sister and new mamma and now has understood that her parents are watching and blessing her from the stars.

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