“Trrring…..trrrrring…..trrrrrrring”, the shrill doorbell woke up Sujata that hot and humid afternoon in June. “Why are doorbells always irritating?” wondered a sleepy Sujata as she glanced at the alarm clock on the side table by her bed. “Who could that be?” she wondered as she stepped out of her room and walked towards the door to check. As she opened the door, a gush of hot air rushed in and she saw an anxious, sad and tired looking Sundari sitting with drooped shoulders, a hung head and both hands on her head. Anyone could imagine something was seriously wrong – and so did Sujata at that moment. Sujata was very fond of Sundari, the washerwoman and almost everyone in the locality appreciated her calm demeanor, her devotion towards her children, her respect of her profession and her self respect and dignity. Seeing a limp, almost lifeless Sundari frightened Sujata. Anticipating a bad news, Sujata held her shoulders. She stood up, hugged Sujata and broke down. Gently Sujata brought her to the dining table and poured a glass of chilled water for her. The water did soothe her parched throat and perhaps, the hug her parched soul, for she was more in control after it.
“What happened, Sundari?” Sujata asked, her hands still on Sundari’s sweaty shoulders. “Raghuveer has not come back home after his paper, memsahib….he’s neither in school nor with any of his friends” she spoke as if in a trance. She was blank with grief and despair was written all over her red face. Sundari lost her husband two years ago and she was bringing up Raghuveer, 12 and Suryaveer, 8 entirely on her own since then. Her source of income was the small laundry business that she and her husband had set up in Sujata’s colony and she was continuing after he passed away. The residents appreciated her hard work and determination to educate her sons. But today seemed like shattering of her dreams, her plans, her life – her entire being.
Sujata opened her diary to look for numbers to contact and immediately started calling people for help – the police, the school, local authorities, the newspaper offices, television, and radio stations for alerts on missing persons. All were cordial and empathetic but none was hopeful and did not promise anything positive. Sujata went with Sundari and helped her close her little shop, took her to her home where Suryaveer was waiting for her. She had packed some bread and fruits for him because seeing Sundari; she knew she will not be able to cook for Suryaveer and herself. Making both of them eat, Sujata began walking back home. It was late evening and a dark one too.
The next morning was as normal as could be for everyone around except Sujata and Sundari. After completing her chores for the day, Sujata left to meet Sundari in the next block. Her shop was open and she was at her work – she had to. Suryaveer had left for his exam. “Namaste memsahib” she greeted her, just like on any other day but something was missing from her voice….her life, actually.
The routine continued….Sundari continued with her work, she greeted one and all but her eyes were different – they were searching forever….searching for a lost treasure. She went once daily to the police station expecting good news but it was not to come. Summers ended, monsoon arrived and this year it was as if the sky was weeping its heart out for Sundari. She did not miss the customary visit any day though. Days, weeks, months and years passed and Sujata watched her aging fast. “What all can grief do to a person”, Sujata wondered…. “It can add years faster…..”
Sujata’s husband got posted to another city and she had to leave with her family. Sundari was most upset about her leaving. To her losing, perhaps, the only friend she had was a big blow; but it seemed she had learnt to adapt by now to whatever life had to offer her. Her routine remained unchanged – she focused more on her work and Suryaveer. Days, weeks, months and years passed and once again after 10 long years Sujata came back to the city and her house. She had not forgotten Sundari, though the memories had become a little hazy, but they came back into focus as soon as she saw her at the same old place, diligently doing the same job. Both met again and Sundari’s pleasant “Namaste, memsahib” greeted her as if those ten long years in the middle never existed. Sujata saw a young adult (which she assumed was Suryaveer) of about 18 lending her a helping hand. Sujata immediately thought how much Sundari must have desired to have two pairs of strong hands by her side. But she was not complaining, though her eyes still had that empty look of a mother searching for her child in a crowd. She introduced Sujata to Suryaveer and then Sujata asked her if she ever got any news of Raghuveer in all these years. “No, memsahib….”she mumbled. “Must be painful? How did you cope?”Sujata questioned. The simple lady’s answer passed on precious wisdom to Sujata along with a cup of tea – “I bless and wish all kids who are with their parents and all those who aren’t, memsahib – it adds another good wish and blessing for the kids who are with their parents; and for those who aren’t, maybe, my wishes and blessings will help in uniting them with their families someday.”