Nisha squealed in delight as the car went up the driveway to Shiny Villa. After a 4 hour drive from the city, Nisha and her parents had finally reached their holiday home.
Having bought the place just a few days ago, it was their first trip here. And a whole lot of anticipation for 8 year old Nisha, for her young eyes had a lot to see and experience. Ashok and Nitu, Nisha’s parents, had decided to get a house by the sea so that they could have a break every now and then from their hectic work lives. Not only that, they thought, it would be a good chance for Nisha to experience and appreciate nature in its real glory.
Back in the city, any nature one got to see was only when they took occasional walks in the park, which were again becoming scarce owing to Nisha’s mounting schoolwork and games and artwork and whatnot. It was with these thoughts in mind that that had decided to close the deal when Shiny Villa went on the market. Sure, the villa was really old and had been lived in before, but it was a profitable deal and the location was just as Ashok and Nitu had desired. It was bordered by the beach on one side, and by the road on the other, a desirable way off from the city, nevertheless, with all facilities at hand.
“Mommeee!!! Come and look at the seaaa, it’s sooo pretty”, shouted Nisha as she reached the balcony in the midst of her whirlwind exploration of the house.
“Be careful Nishu!” yelled Nitu to no one in particular and she couldn’t help but wonder if, after all, her ‘relaxing’ holiday was going to be even more taxing than her daily life.
“Let’s go to the beach Daddy!!” Nisha was too excited and her energy levels were evidently sky-high.
“Not today Nisha, it’s almost dark now. And first things first, let’s change and get the house in a bit of order for the night.”, said her Dad, much to Nisha’s disappointment.
But Nisha was a smart and responsible kid, she helped her parents tidy up the place and later they all sat down in the balcony for a meal of noodles as they watched the huge waves crashing against the rocks, much like lovers frolicking and making up after a fight.
In the still of the night, Nitu could hear a soft musical sound, as if there was a banshee somewhere far off. When she mentioned it to Ashok, he told her it was because of the wind blowing in from the sea. Ashok and Nitu sat chatting into the night, with Nisha asleep in Nitu’s arms. “This almost feels like a second honeymoon”, said Ashok as Nitu playfully punched him.
The next day, the family spent a long day at the beach. The maid promised by the caretaker had arrived and with her help Nitu had prepared a sumptuous lunch. Nishu had a lovely time collecting shells and building sand castles, apart from flinging balls fashioned out of sand at her dad, which Ashok reciprocated whole heartedly-cum-handedly. Nishu also collected stones which she intended to paint and decorate her room with. And she made her dad promise to bring her to the beach again the next day so that she could collect more shells and stones.
However, the next day brought with it an unexpected downpour, putting a dampener on Nisha’s hopes. Nitu, though she didn’t show it, was a bit relieved to be spending the day indoors. Age was probably creeping in on her. And Ashok’s only plan had been to lie about, which could be achieved equally well indoors. Nisha, however, was very upset to have her plans foiled.
After waiting in the balcony for what seemed like an eternity for the rain to stop, she realized there was going to be no dearth of the Rain God’s blessings that day. So she went off to find something else to do. She decided to explore the unoccupied rooms of the house. She remembered the maid telling her mother that the earlier occupants had left behind some of their possessions, which had been stashed into one of the spare bedrooms, while the house was being reorganized to welcome its new owners.
Nisha spent a good deal of time looking through different articles, old showpieces, dolls, stuffed toys, diaries and also some books. She would ask her mummy later if she could carry the books with her when they went back.
Then she stumbled upon an old album which contained several black and white photographs of what must probably have been a family. The album was a really old one and a lot of the photographs had faded. But most of them, Nisha noticed contained a young couple whose expression was as if it had been photographed at gunpoint, along with a little baby. The starting days of a small happy family, Nisha gathered. Then she found some photos of the baby alone. And Nisha, by then a bit bored of sifting through history, had a spark in her mind.
Several hours later, Nitu’s relief at Nisha’s unusually quiet demeanour had given way to wonder and she went off to find what her daughter was up to. And she walked in on Nisha putting the finishing touches on a piece of work in her sketchbook. “Mommy look, I drew a picture from this photo I found”, Nisha held out a photo to her mother.
Nitu took the photograph and saw that it was that of a cute smiling baby, innocence shining from its face. And then she looked at the picture Nisha had drawn. Those art classes were doing Nisha good, she noticed, although she still had to learn to capture expression. The imperfections would improve with time and age, it had been only a year since her daughter had started art classes.
“Why, sweety, that’s a lovely picture you have drawn!! Mommy is proud of you,” she said, planting a kiss on her daughter’s cheek.
Just then, the maid walked in to ask if she should set the table for lunch. And then, noticing the photo in Nitu’s hand, she said,” Oh madam, you are looking at all these photos. I just can’t bring myself to look at all these things after knowing about the terrible tragedy!!”
“What tragedy?” asked Nitu, her eyebrows raised. She only had a vague idea of the previous owners of the house. From what she had heard, they lived in the UK and had decided to settle there for good, hence selling off the property in India.
“This baby was the Sharmas’ first son. Mr. Sharma had moved in to this house in 1980, with his wife, just days after the birth of their son. The new house was a gift to his wife as a celebration of their flourishing business. Sir had just established an office in England. They were a happy little family. Until that fateful day. Mr. Sharma was away on work. It was raining heavily that evening. There was a snag that had caused some wires to rip off and there was a power failure. The electrician was called and he had been working to set things right, when unknown to Mrs. Sharma, the baby crawled out of his bed and happened to touch a live wire. He was rushed to the hospital but the doctors declared him dead on arrival. There was nothing they could do.
The shock had been so bad that the baby’s features had been frozen into a contorted expression. The young mother simply refused to believe that her baby was gone, almost lost her mind, the poor lady, she said her baby was still alive, she prophesied that he would be the harbinger of all things good, and cursed that he would show people the evil that lurked in their hearts. Time didn’t heal her wounds, only made them worse. She cursed anyone who would try to reason with her.
Sir finally took the advice of his friends and consulted the doctors, but to little benefit. Madam cursed and she wailed, until one day, she wailed no more. About a couple of months after the baby’s death, Mrs. Sharma too died in her sleep. Too much grief had killed her, the doctors said. Sir couldn’t bear to live here anymore after that. He moved to the UK soon after. It proved to be a good thing for him, too. He met another lady and married her some years later. The couple had two children, a son and a daughter. The family lives in UK. With passage of time, they didn’t have anything to do with this country. And that’s why Sir’s son came here around a year ago and made arrangements for all of Sir’s property here to be sold off. There have been rumours that the house is haunted, but none of the tenants have ever complained.”
“Oh! That really is so sad. What a terrible fate to befall a family. But atleast, Mr. Sharma rebuilt his life again.”, said Nitu, pretty shaken by these new revelations. Later, she narrated the story to Ashok over lunch, who was equally surprised to hear the sad story that lived in the walls of the seemingly happy house.
The family finally came to an end of their week long break and returned to the city, with a happy suntan and loads of seashells and memories.
Twelve years later:
Just like each time, Nisha turned into a kid once again as the car turned into the driveway of their holiday home. She stuck her head out of the window looking at the house and the trees around. Twenty year old Nisha was a biotechnology student at an overseas university now and had come home for her holidays. Without a question, any holiday was incomplete without a week here at the beach.
Today Nisha felt like staying indoors and started sifting through the different books and albums that she had stashed here over the years. And she stumbled upon one of her old sketchbooks. As she leafed through it, an old memory was stirred and she started turning the pages more purposefully. After a while, not finding what she was looking for, she called out to her mother, “Mommy! Where is that drawing I had made of the baby who used to live in this house? You know, from that photo?”
Nitu walked in to find her daughter sitting with a spread of old books and albums around her. “Why dear, it’s that picture itself.” she said pointing to the sketchbook Nisha had open on her lap. “No Mommy, this isn’t it. That was the picture of a nice happy baby. This one has such a scowl on its face. I can’t even remember when I drew this horrid picture”, said Nisha.
“What are you talking about, my dear child? That baby you drew always had a scowl on its face,” replied her mother.