“Who the hell are you? Told you million times not to walk into my lawn. This is private property, not a playground…”
A soft, hesitant, near-inaudible voice interrupted Mr. Naidu’s vituperative monologue.
“Uncle…my tennis ball fell in your garden…I came to…pick it up.”
Mr. Naidu adjusted the thick bifocals on his nose bridge and looked angrily at the source of the soft, hesitant, near-inaudible voice. It emanated through two delicate, shining, pink lips, which sat perfectly on an extremely fair, round face, which, in turn, perched on top of the slender shoulders of a five-year old girl.
“Who the hell are you?” He asked gruffly.
“Uncle, my name is Pinky Khanna. I am studying in UKG, Section-A in…”
“Uncle, you asked me.”
“What?” A growl.
“Who the … huh … Who am I?”
“Oh!” Mr. Naidu paused. “You could have called me before entering my property.”
“I called two, three times, uncle. You did not answer. So…”
“Your brother, sister, or friends could have come. Why did they send you?”
“I don’t have any brothers or sisters. I have no friends. We came into in this house a few days ago,” Pinky said, pointing to the next house.
She paused before popping the question, “Will you be mine?”
“I don’t have time for all this nonsense. Now, take your bloody tennis ball and get lost. Don’t enter my lawns again. Understood?”
“Okay, thanks, uncle. You are angry. I shall come later.” Pinky fumbled with the ball thrown by Mr. Naidu and made to leave.
“Don’t,” growled Mr. Naidu.
Pinky turned her head, looked at Mr. Naidu, giggled, and ran away towards her home.
Mr. Naidu, a septuagenarian, retired from State Government service. He lived with his wife in the house for a very long time. His wife of over fifty years died without bearing a child, ever. They kept to themselves not because the wife was not gregarious but because Mr. Naidu was not. There was hardly any visitor to their abode. They, too, did not venture out of their home except for the customary shopping for vegetables and groceries.
Mr. Naidu was notorious for his intemperate word and deed, and, as such, the entire neighbourhood avoided him like the plague.
It was this residence of Mr. Naidu that the lovable five-year old Pinky entered that day, as destiny would have it.
“Happy birthday tooo youuu…happy birthday tooo youuu … happy birthday tooo dear Pinkyyy… happy birthday tooo youuu …”
The singing from the adjacent house annoyed Mr. Naidu no end. He was pacing his drawing room floor like a cat on a hot tin roof. Finally, he opened a window and shouted, “Hey guys, stop the ruckus. I am trying to relax here.”
The volume of the singing dropped significantly.
The faint call of the gentle voice reached the ears of the septuagenarian after a couple of minutes.
The customary curse. The habitual frown. The ritualistic scowl. The standard phraseology.
“Who the hell is it?”
“It’s me, Pinky.”
The reluctant trudge. The screeching of the angle-iron gate.
“What on earth…?”
The little girl scurried into the house underneath the arm of Mr. Naidu.
“Come in, uncle.”
“You are inviting me into my own home!”
“I have brought you a piece of my birthday cake; with great difficulty I saved it from my school friends. Come, take a bite, uncle.”
Mr. Naidu was flabbergasted.
“You disturb me at this hour and offer me cake?”
“Unclllle…,” she drawled exasperatedly, “…the party ended just now and my friends left. I came running to you immediately. I know you sleep early. So…”
Mr. Naidu stood silently, glowering at the petite girl.
“Here, I’m leaving it on the dining table. Eat it when you feel like it, uncle.”
Suddenly, she bent down and prostrated before him, touching his feet.
“Bless me, uncle.”
It was like a whiplash to the hardhearted old man.
He drew away his feet and said, “Okay, okay, blessings and happy birthday to you.”
“Good night, uncle.”
Next moment, Pinky vanished from the house.
“Pinky…Pinky…” Mr. Naidu called out.
Pinky, who was playing on the street, came running to him.
“You called me, uncle?” She was panting.
“Come in. Come in.”
He offered a plain, white envelope to her.
“I didn’t give you any gift on your birthday. Take this and buy anything you want. Okay?”
“Sure, uncle. Thanks.”
“And, Pinky, the cake was very yummy.”
A happy Pinky giggled and ran away.
The melodious dingdong of the doorbell. A stream of muffled curses. The creaking of the door.
“It’s you, again? What now?”
“Uncle, can you help me with my English and Math lessons?”
“I have a test tomorrow, uncle.”
“So? Ask your father or mother?”
“My father has gone to Mumbai on office work; will return after a week and mother cannot teach me.”
Reluctantly, Mr. Naidu made her sit at the dining table and helped her with the lessons.
“Thanks, uncle. It was so easy after you explained.”
“This was only once. Don’t make it a habit.”
“Okay, uncle, bye.”
A faint smile pranced on the cracked lips of Mr. Naidu for a fleeting moment.
“Uncle…” A hesitant Pinky.
“What now?” A customary growl.
“Our Annual exams start from next week…”
“I need your help, unc…”
“Again? Told you not to make a habit of it, remember?”
Pinky dragged her tearful steps towards the gate.
“Wait…” A slightly softened growl.
“Yes, uncle…” A hopeful smile.
“What happened, uncle?”
“I am too old to be your uncle; call me…grandpa.”
“Sure, uncle…I mean, grandpa.”
“All right, what is the examination timetable…”
“That won’t be required, grandpa.”
“You want me to help you or not?”
“Okay, let us go in an orderly manner. We don’t have much time.” Grandpa Naidu paused. “What were you doing all these days?” He growled.
“Grandpaaa…” Pinky drawled.
Both of them laughed.
“Grandpa, mom sent you rotis, bhindi masala sabzi, and dal fry.
“Looks yummy to me; why did she take all the trouble?”
“You are my grandpa, remember?”
“Grandpa, you are having fever! Mummy…mummy…” Pinky ran like a hare to her home.
Half an hour later, a doctor from a nearby clinic visited Mr. Naidu, prescribed some medicines, and left.
“Why did you take all the trouble, Pinky? I would be all right in a day or two.”
“Are you crazy? You are having high fever. You didn’t even tell me yesterday.”
Mr. Naidu tried to say something and Pinky silenced him.
“You are all alone, grandpa. If we don’t take care of you who will?”
Mr. Naidu turned head on the pillow to hide his tears.
“Grandpa, my dad has been transferred to New Delhi.”
“We are leaving in a couple of weeks.”
Mr. Naidu was silent for a long time.
When he spoke, he muttered something like, “…in this old age…” and fell silent once again.
Pinky dragged her silent feet away to her home.
A few weeks later, Mr. Naidu was sitting in his favourite cane sofa in the porch with an inland letter in his hand.
Pranam. We reached New Delhi safely. Dad is busy with his new office. Mummy is busy setting the house. I don’t like it here. It was beautiful there; you were there. I have joined another school in New Delhi. Grandpa, can you visit us? It will be nice. We can see so many places here. I am giving our address and phone number. Please write letters and call me. I will write and call you, too.
A smile broke out on his face.
He rushed inside, rummaged his study table, and unearthed an old inland letter.
He took out his fountain pen and started scribbling.
A couple of years elapsed.
The mood in the Khanna household was one of sombreness. The eyes and ears of Pinky and her parents were glued to the advocate from Chennai.
“I was surprised to see the transformation that came in Mr. Naidu. His neighbours and maidservant told me that he was a completely changed man. He was ebullient and smiling all the time. He would mention the name of Pinky in every sentence that he spoke. It was obvious to everyone that he missed your daughter very much and that explains his will. I hope you understand,” the advocate said.
Pinky did not but her parents understood what the advocate was telling.
“In short, he left everything – his house, his bank deposits, savings account balance – to Pinky, mentioning you, her parents, as the trustees of the funds, until she became a major. He wanted the money to be spent on her education. He wished that Pinky would become a doctor, a surgeon, in fact.” He paused. “Now, if we could complete the formalities quickly, I can go back to Chennai and complete formalities there. The transfer of funds may take several months. Don’t worry; I’ll guide you through all the processes.”
Pinky’s parents nodded.
“Oh, I almost forgot. Pinky, Mr. Naidu wanted me to give you this letter.”
The advocate handed a white envelope to Pinky.
The words ‘To my darling granddaughter, Pinky’ were neatly printed on the face of the envelope.
“Grandpa…not Mr. Naidu,” Pinky corrected the advocate.
Pinky’s father opened the letter, read it and handed it to Pinky.
“My darling granddaughter, Pinky,
This would be my last letter to you. If you are reading this, it means I have joined your grandma in heaven.
We spoke so much in Chennai and exchanged so many letters after you moved to New Delhi. Still, I feel I didn’t speak my heart out to you.
I will now, through this letter.
I am a curmudgeon; have always been in my life. Why? I don’t know. I realise that now. I don’t have any friends. The few relatives that I had have always avoided me – abandoned, would be a better expression. I have never been a gregarious person; always lived in solitude. Unfortunately, my wife, who was a highly gregarious creature, had the solitude thrust upon her, the whole life. She lived and died in solitude. Was I wrong? Yes, absolutely, I realise and accept it now, but it is too late, isn’t it?
While I trudged along on my lonely path, a little elf, an angel walked into my home and my life, suddenly and uninvited. I reacted in my customary cantankerous style, but the angel persisted. On some excuse or the other, she would visit me seeking my help or offering me solace. Slowly, the ice-cold demon in me thawed. I started getting fonder of the angel day by day. A stage came when I couldn’t live a single day without seeing her.
All things come to an end and all good things come to an abrupt end. That’s life. My angel left me for other shores. We communicated with each other regularly, exchanging thoughts and information.
My health started failing and I realised I didn’t have much time left on God’s earth. I had to make amends to my cantankerous life style; do something good and worthwhile before I departed. I made a decision.
You are my angel of hope, kindness, and happiness, Pinky. I want you to bring happiness wherever you go. I want you to heal sick people as you healed my sick mind. I want you to become a doctor, a great surgeon and alleviate the pain and suffering of people. It is not easy; it requires lot of money. I found the good deed I must do! I am leaving all that I have saved, accumulated during my life – my house, my bank balance, my deposits – to you. I am sure your parents will use it wisely for your education and practice. Please don’t say no.
What else is there to say, my angel, but bless you with a healthy, happy, and fruitful life?
May God shower his boundless kindness upon you and your family.
Good-bye, my dear granddaughter,
Your loving grandpa.
Dr. Mrs. Pinky Malhotra, folded the old, crackling, time-tanned sheet of paper neatly and placed it carefully in her table drawer. She shut the door of her chamber and paused a minute to wipe with her white coat sleeve the nameplate on the door that read ‘Dr. Pinky Malhotra, M.S., FRCS’ She walked the long corridor briskly and exited the hospital building. The security guard at the main entrance saluted her and wished her ‘good night’. She got into her car and drove away towards her home. As the car left the premises, Pinky glanced at the hospital building. Tears welled in her eyes.
She silently said, ‘I love you, grandpa.’
… Shyam Sundar Bulusu