Nikita sat edgily, waiting to be whirred into motion.
Through the small oval window on her left, the shim-
mering lights of Seattle accosted her. Her beloved
city where she was born, where she had built a happy life
with her family and had never wanted to leave, ever.
The city, she was now leaving, for a place she had never
even been able to pronounce the name of, properly.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome onboard Continental
Airlines. Our flight time to Cochin . . .” The pilot started the
announcements in his customary tone. The stewardess hurried
down the aisle, making final checks before the take-off. A
few bags in the overhead bin above Nikita’s seat needed
some readjusting, so it could be shut properly. She hurriedly
shoved things about, to find the perfect permutation to stow
them correctly, until her hand touched cold metal. Her fingers
calculated what it could be, for a few seconds; before her
eyes saw it. The horrified hand shot back, with surprise and
a tinge of respect. It was a brass urn of a peculiar kind. Her
eyes instinctively dashed to the sole passenger underneath
it—Nikita’s teary eyes were glued to her, hoping that she
wouldn’t have to explain what the urn contains.
What an absolutely insufferable thing to have to say to
someone—‘It carries my husband’s ashes’.
Nikita stood across the road, bags by her side and her
clammy hands holding the urn. On the other side, the house
of Sandeep’s parents stood judging her, as cynically as she
12 | Radhika Maira Tabrez
expected its inhabitants to. The long flight from Seattle to
Cochin and the five-hour taxi ride from the airport to this
tiny hamlet of Arattupuzha, was far easier than the ten steps
she needed to take, to cross this narrow street.
The dilapidated house had a pall of grief, invisible yet
stifling. Her panic hit its peak.
She looked at the urn and thought of Sandeep. He always
held her hand while crossing the streets. Her hands clasped
the urn tighter and she took the first step. She was here to
keep her promise made to the man, who had always kept his.
Sandeep deserves that she gives it her most earnest effort.
Kedar and Arunima Narayanan had lost their son many times
over in the last twenty years. The first was when he accepted
a scholarship from a corporation which took him to America
for higher studies and a subsequent job. The job came with a
ten-year contract. The second time was when Sandeep decided
to marry a Punjabi girl, Nikita Bajaj, against his father’s explicit
disapproval. The third one was rather subtle and gradual. It
happened over the next many years; over dwindling phone
calls and a long period of absence. The loss had been mourned
by the Narayanans years ago, and the agony had somewhat
Or so they thought.
Two weeks ago, when Nikita had called in, to tell them
that their only child has passed away, the pain regurgitated.
However, silence had long become the language of grief in
their elderly household. When Nikita came, that deafening
silence was the only thing that greeted her.
Arunima was in the kitchen, trying to make her everyday
tasks stretch out as much as possible. When one is as old as
she was, filling up the hours of the day becomes an elusive
art. Nikita had been here two days and so far Arunima had
managed without exchanging even a single furtive side glance,
Built From The Ashes | 13
let alone a few words. All because of the fact that Nikita was
asked by Kedar to stay in the outhouse at the far end of the
courtyard. Arunima knew her husband wouldn’t approve of
her speaking to the unwanted visitor. The fact that he let Nikita
in was in itself a wonder; which Arunima was quite certain,
happened in the shock of the moment. What else could one
do, when they find the most unlikely of the guests standing
at your door, bearing the most horrifying thing one can ever
bring you—your son’s ashes?
Arunima was distractedly sifting the flour, when a rustle
made her turn around. Nikita stood there, looking hesitant
yet hopeful. Arunima froze and her eyes dashed to the clock,
mentally calculating the time left for Kedar to be back from
‘I think Acha is out for his walk . . . can we please talk,
Amma? It’s important.’
Arunima was taken aback when she was called ‘ Amma’,
by the woman she had once, a long time ago, considered her
nemesis. She was astounded by the warmth and a sense of
belongingness it filled her with, inside. How was that possible?
Isn’t this the same woman who had been the harbinger of the
breakdown of her happy family? To her mind, Nikita had after
all been an extension of Sandeep’s existence, for better or for
worse. She felt as if Sandeep was calling out to her. But her
eyes, her heart and her motherhood parched for years, weren’t
ready for that moment, or that rationale. They gave up.
Nikita rushed over and hugged her. It wasn’t a premeditated
move, rather an impulse fuelled by the incoherence of their
situation; but the longer it lasted, the more right it started to
feel to both the women.
‘ Amma . . . Sandeep loved you and Acha a lot. He was very
sorry. His biggest regret in life was that he didn’t come back
and see you even once. At first, it was only because it would
have been emotionally difficult, because of Acha’s stand
against our marriage. And then, I guess ... as the years passed,
the gorge just became too wide to leap across. I know that is a
pathetic excuse but . . .’ Nikita struggled to deliver the words
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