They say you always find love in the most unexpected places and from the most unexpected person. As beautiful as it sounds, he thought it would be equally impractical an occurrence in anyone’s life. But, that day, Anil Mishra was proven wrong. As he sipped on his daily dose of caffeine, sitting by the large window pane, watching the rain drops dance away in glory as they spatter all along the earth, he reflected back on the most significant day in his life. One that to the last breath of his life, he will savour.
“Do not run, the floor is wet, you will trip.” He yelled as he cautiously sprinted behind her to make sure he is not far away if she slips.
“Anil sir, do not worry, I am a strong girl.” She smiled while looking behind but running ahead.
No sooner did she turn she banged into a tall and lean matured man, probably in his 40s, presumably on his evening walk. Isha was so happy today, she gave out a huge smile to the gentleman as if nothing had happened and marched ahead in merriment along the beautiful Marine Drive in Mumbai on a wet July evening.
“Sir, I want kulfi.” She stopped in excitement at the sight of a kulfi vendor.
“No way Isha, you know you have a sore throat right, it is not….” Anil stopped abruptly as he looked at Isha and suddenly reality struck him in his head like a knife-poke.
“Ok Isha, come baby, which flavour you want?” He lifted her merrily in his arms so she could see all the available flavours.
“Bhaiya, give me malai kulfi, big one.”
Anil handed the money to the kulfi vendor and they walked along the queen’s necklace happily embracing the beautiful weather. Isha was a charming 5 year old girl who lived at a shelter home for destitute and homeless kids. It was run by a government funded NGO situated in the dusky and dense lanes of Dahisar, a distant suburb in north Mumbai.
“Anil sir, look the waves are splashing all over the road, wow, let’s go there.” She pleaded.
Anil, who had run away from his hometown Meerut to Mumbai to make a living when he was 18, used to work part time at the NGO, teaching the kids basic life lessons. He had a tattered past and had experienced all the hardships a small kid can ever go through. His mother had passed away as soon as he was born. His father, an old school orthodox who turned into an alcoholic soon after his wife’s death, blamed Anil for all that had happened. He and his family considered Anil an unlucky life and treated him as a liability. If not for his grandmother’s insistence, Anil’s father would have long abandoned him. Anil grew up amidst a lot of negativity and coarse around him, but he survived it all only under the influence of his grandmother. She would teach her all the good things when he was a kid, which he often fondly remembers even today and imparts the same wisdom to the kids at the NGO. Life however had other plans for Anil, for as soon as things were getting better, his grandmother died and left behind a lifeless soul that was always ridiculed and never loved. He left soon after for Mumbai, never to look back.
“Careful baby, do not run. Go easy.” I insisted she holds my hand while walking.
Isha relished the opportunity to play under the strong waves that were lashing along the boulders and splashing above the seating pavements to drench all the people walking along the stretch. Anil carefully looked at her from a distance, feeling a sense of bliss and at the same time sadness at the apparent turn of things that he knew was to come. Isha jumped and splashed along the pavement while getting completely drenched and cheerfully running around. She was never this happy ever in her life. She was a picture of heart wrenching purity, one that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time.
“Anil sir, you are so nice. Thank you for bringing me here. I love you. I am very happy today.” She hugged Anil tightly while still smiling gleefully.
“I am not nice beta, you make me nice! Be like this forever…” Anil twitched his words again, almost fumbling through the last few words.
He lifted her in his arms and hugged her real tight. He felt every single atom of his strong body cry out in aguish as he gave in the most compassionate hug he had ever given anyone. Small tears slowly started dripping along his cheeks mixing with the rain drops and the splash of the waves.
“Come sit here.” He walked her towards a slightly drier patch of mortar and made her sit along the pavement, facing the sea. He sat very close alongside her, hands firmly protecting her from the side.
Isha noticed tears in Anil’s eyes and in her innocent voice asked, “Anil sir, why are you crying? Are you not happy like me?”
There is something about the purity and candidness with which kids talk. No matter how stone-hearted a man can be, an innocent question from a small kid can simply melt a man to tepidness. Anil was in a similar situation today. He had no answer. He could not tell the truth to Isha since that would steal away all the bliss that she was surrounded with today, something he did not want. Sometimes being kind is far more important than being right, this was one such situation.
“No one has ever told me ‘I love you’ in my life, and you just did today. It made me emotional, which is why I had few tears in my eyes.” Anil said while still battling to hold back his tears. Anil was a sensitive person and he thought to himself he would always be candid and himself with people who he loves.
“Anil sir, your mummy-daddy did not love you?”
“My mummy passed away as soon as I was born beta. I only might have spent a few seconds with her, and my daddy did not love me because he considered me unlucky and always cursed me for everything bad that happened at our home. Only my grandmother used to treat me nicely, but she also left me soon.” Anil looked at her straight in her eyes and said it all out. He had never shared this with anyone else in his life. He had never got an opportunity either.
“Sir you are very nice person. Your daddy is unlucky, not you.”
His heart melted, he could not hold back his tears once again. Isha leaned slightly forward and looked at Anil’s eyes and while wiping his tears went on to say, “Sir, you have lived some time with your mummy-daddy but I don’t even know my mummy-daddy, but I am still happy.”
“I do not have anyone in my life Isha beta, no one after I came here to Mumbai. I only work as a clerk in the bank and in evenings I am with you and other kids at the school. After whatever that had happened to me when I was a kid, I have never trusted anyone in my life so I never got close to anyone. All I loved and enjoyed doing was spend time with you Isha beta, because I love you so much, but now even you…” Anil let out a huge sigh, but controlled his words and stopped as soon as he realised what he was about to say.
“Anil sir, that is not true. There is someone who loves you more than anyone else. I know that person. He is very sweet and is ready every day in the evening to take me to doctor uncle. He takes me out to have kulfi and chocolate whenever I want to. He is so nice that he laughs when you laugh and cries when you cry. You know who it is?” Isha got up to stand as she said the last few words as Anil held her hand to help balance her.
“It is you Anil sir.” She said with a huge smile on her face. “See, only if you love yourself will you love someone else and someone else loves you back. I know you love me sir, and I love you too sir, so that means that you first love yourself so much. Anil sir loves Anil sir.” She let out a huge grin and giggled hysterically as she completed her words.
Anil was so touched by this response that he hugged her tight and smiled gleefully while staring at the sea. He was a picture of sadness and remorse all his life but today for the first time he found love at the most unexpected place from the most unexpected person. He just realised what he had been missing all his life and secretly vowed to self to always be happy and cheerful, just like Isha.
“You are an angel and my sweetheart. I love you Isha. Thank you for showing me the way.”
He picked her up and they started walking towards the taxi stand at the end of a junction.
“Anil sir, the train station is that side.” She said pointing towards the opposite side.
“I know baby, but today, we will take the taxi home, it seems as if it will start raining again, and I want you to enjoy the drive in the rain.” Anil announced with pride which Isha gleefully accepted.
As they drove by towards their school that evening, Anil kept looking at Isha who had her eyes constantly out of the window, taking in all the beautiful sight the city had to offer in the rain. Slowly but surely, she started drifting to sleep since she was tired with all the running around all day. Anil slowly patted her forehead as she fell asleep in his lap. As soon as they reached the school, it was already dark and had stopped raining. Anil picked up Isha, who was reluctant to walk back to her room, lay her on her bed and put her to sleep.
“Anil sir, you will come tomorrow to take me doctor uncle again right?” She asked in a sleepy voice.
“Yes beta, I will be there. Sleep well, goodnight.” He said while pulling the quilt up her body.
Anil dragged himself back home that night. He was physically tired but spent a sleepless night. He kept replaying the entire day in his head several times while lying on his bed and staring at the fan above. It was as if he had found new colours in his dark and gloomy life. He suddenly had a purpose in life which he had long lost hopes of getting. However, every time he thought about Isha, his smile slowly turned into a sorry face. He knew what was to conspire and he hated the fact that he had no control over it.
Isha had a hole in her heart. Doctors had already predicted her death few months ago; they were surprised she was alive beyond the tentative time they thought she would survive. Anil cried a bucketful that night. He cursed God to have given a hole in the heart of such an innocent and beautiful little child who not only lives life to the fullest, but also inspires others to be happy. A beautiful dream was about to end and all Anil could wish for is for the dream to last as long as possible.
Next day, as he was getting ready to go to work, Anil got a message on his phone. Isha breathed her last that night. As soon as Anil reached the school, he saw a motionless little angel lying on the bed, eyes shut, with a beautiful smile. One that inspired. One that captured the essence of all life on this world. A smile so pure, it was addictive. Anil kissed her on her forehead and with eyes closed; fingers locked into each other, sighed, “I love you Isha, I always will.”
“I love you daddy.” A cute little girl came running towards him as Anil looked back.
“I love you too Isha, I always will.” He let out a tear, hugged her and smiled.
Father and daughter merrily sat alongside the window pane and continued to enjoy the rain outside.