This short story is selected as Story of the Month February’2015 and won INR 1000
This story is selected as Editor’s Choice and won INR 500
‘Go away, I’m reading.’ Rianna said as Ruhani entered their shared bedroom.
‘Stop acting like you own this place.’ came a sharp and annoyed reply. Ruhani hopped around the room and pranced towards her sister’s invaluable book shelf.
‘Trust me, I’ll kill you if you ever touch my books.’ Rianna’s voice caught her off guard and she made sure there was a three feet distance between the bookshelf and her body.
Rianna stayed glued to the book she was reading as her little sister jumped and crashed on the bed, sending tiny waves of tremor all over the room.
‘I want to watch Chotta Bheem. Go out and read.’ Ruhani declared as she grabbed the remote and flicked the TV on. The nation’s most favourite boy appeared on screen and his loud voice filled the room in a weird, eccentric way.
‘Turn down the volume, Ru, I’m trying to read here.’ Rianna snarled at her sister.
She wished she could poison one of those Laddus so that Bheem and his eccentric friends would stop haunting her reading time. Ruhani ignored her comment and giggled at the jokes on the show and cheered at her best friend as he saved Dholakpur for the millionth time in television history.
Rianna got up frustrated.
‘I just can’t wait to start college, get into a hostel and chuck myself out of this zoo.’
‘Me too.’ Ruhani echoed angrily.
‘You’re in sixth grade, stupid.’ Rianna told her. ‘You have years ahead to start college.’
‘I meant I can’t wait until YOU go to hostel.’ Ruhani giggled.
Rianna scorned out of the room and slammed the door shut. She marched up to the kitchen, where she sat up cozily on a wooden chair and opened her copy of Persuasion, hoping to read in peace.
‘You’ll miss her once you leave the house.’ Her mother’s soft voice brought her out of nineteenth century England.
‘Cliche.’ she said not looking up from the book and intentionally loud so that Ruhani might hear her. ‘I seriously doubt I will.’
‘We’ll soon find out.’ Her mother said with a smile.
‘I hate sharing my room with her, Ma. I’m seventeen and she’s nine. We hardly have any common interests. She’s talkative, I’m not. She’s messy, I’m not. I’m an adult. She’s not!’
‘Do you want some french toast for dinner?’
The topic was dropped. They had a quiet dinner and the girls went back to their room. Rianna told herself that it was only a matter of days before she had a mature roommate with whom she could discuss books and movies. She dozed off, and sometime around midnight, she felt a tiny elbow nudge her.
‘I’m sleeping, Ru.’ Rianna said and did not even bother opening her eyes. There was a moment of silence. Then another nudge. And a muffled whimper. She got up and turned on the bedside lamp.
‘Are you crying?’ Rianna was shocked.
‘You’ll leave?’ came a muted voice.
‘You said you can’t wait for me to start hostel.’ Rianna tried to hide the tone of surprise in her voice. ‘So what’s with all this disney girl drama?’
‘I have a holiday assignment.’ Ruhani said her face buried into the pillow. ‘It is for an elocution on the opening day of the year.’
‘Oh.’ Rianna said slightly disappointed. ‘And I thought you were crying because somewhere deep down you loved me and will miss me.’
‘Cliché’ Ruhani smiled a shy smile as she used the word she had learnt from her sister that day.
Rianna looked at the tiny face and couldn’t help but reflect the charming smile. She grabbed a pen and a paper from her cupboard and sat up on the cot.
‘Okay. Let’s nail this speech.’ She said as Ruhani jumped up and down excitedly. ‘What are you supposed to talk about?’
‘Uh..’ Ruhani stammered as she tried to remember the confusing yet rhyming phrase. ‘Drain game…or rain brain…something like that?’
Rianna raised her eyebrows. ‘You mean Brain Drain?’
Words flowed. She had always had a special fascination with the magic of words. The way they could act like magic and paint pictures, tell tales of love and make changes in the way lives were lived, enchanted her. Rianna filled three full length papers. Ruhani revised the content and recited it to her sister. She corrected her modulation, her posture and her attitude. By four thirty am that morning, Ruhani went to sleep, holding her sisters arms tightly.
Five years later.
‘You are the most cowardly and gutless girl I’ve ever met.’ Ruhani told her sister who was staring at her reflection in the mirror. The peacock blue saree accentuated her features and she looked absolutely beautiful.
‘Thanks for making me feel better.’ It was a short mocking reply. ‘I’m flattered.’
‘You spineless chicken!’ Ruhani was furious. ‘If you don’t tell mom and dad in a few minutes, you’ll be betrothed to the dumbest guy in all of history. Why can’t you just tell them, you git?’
Rianna continued starring into the reflection, her eyes empty and locked away at some distant thought.
‘So that’s it huh?’ Ruhani asked in disbelief. ‘You’ve put an end card to your entrepreneurship dreams with the arrival of this retarded NRI? Or have you fallen-?’
‘Oh, shut up, Ru.’ Rianna cut her off. ‘Your sharp words keep wounding me. You know how much I hate those folks.’
‘Then tell them that!’ Ruhani screeched. This was getting intolerable.
‘I’m not like you.’ Rianna said, her eyes overflowing with uncertainty and sorrow. ‘I can’t speak my heart and be impulsive like you are.’
‘Yeah maybe that’s the problem.’ Ruhani said, still angry. ‘I talk about my feelings with everyone at all times. You communicate with none.’
They shared a moment of silence, looking into each other’s reflection in the mirror and thinking about how much things had changed and yet how much it had not.
‘They’re here.’ Their mother opened the door.
‘Be kind and smiling girls. And don’t say anything that’s smart to the extent of being offensive.’ She said her eyes shifting to Ruhani. ‘Especially you.’
Ruhani rolled her eyes.
‘If you’re bringing home retards, then there is no way I can shut my mouth. I’m warning you. Last chance to lock me in the attic.’
Their mother ignored Ruhani and they walked to the living room to welcome the guests.
The first one to enter was a plump and haughty woman, who for some reason reminded the girls of Aunt Marge, a character from one of their favorite books. She was dressed in lilac Salwar Khameez suit and held an expensive looking clutch.
The boy, who was dressed in grey formal wear entered the room a few minutes later. He looked confused and already embarrassed that he walked so cautiously, following his mothers footsteps.
They sat down and the Lady in lilac threw a quick glance at the girls. Her eyes quickly wandered away and she began talking.
She talked about how much she missed India, and how much she was detested the lack of culture where she lived. She went on and on, continuously ranting about how she was a Hindustani at heart and hence she decided to seek a Hindustani wife for her son, and hoped that they two of them would live in the US in the most Hindustani way possible.
She claimed how even the girls back home in India were leading fake lives and steering in the wrong direction. And that she didn’t want her son to end up with such an egotistical wife. She gleamed with pride when she told them that she had paused everything else in her life until she found the right girl for her son.
Ruhani bit into her lip, hoping the act could stop her from saying something rude. Ruhani was outraged that her sister as an object she hoped to purchase for her son on her trip to India.
‘Look didi, you’re on the list with Pashmina shawals, Hyderabadi pearls, Nilgiri tea and Himalaya herbals. Looks like we’re exporting more than consumer goods.’
However, the lady in lilac talked and talked. She talked about the divine Darshan she had had at Tripathy earlier that week, and about the way she missed the Paneer Tikka.
About her Hindustaniness that the Ruhani could not bear with it anymore, and she snapped, even before she could stop herself.
‘Hey! If you like India so much, then why did you leave?’
A grave stillness filled the room.
The lady in Lilac stopped talking.
The guy is grey looked up, perplexed.
Her mother glared at her, and immediately regretted not locking her up in the attic as suggested.
Rianna stomped on her sister’s left foot.
Ruhani knew she was in trouble.
But she also knew that she had burst the bubble already and that she would have pay the price anyway. The way her mother looked at her, she knew she would be grounded for life.
She decided she might as well do it fully and get over it She had sinned. And she better sin to her heart’s content, because she was going to hell anyway.
She felt instantly liberated at the thought.
Ruhani continued, looking at the Lady in Lilac straight in the eye, as she looked flushed and offended.
‘Why, beta, Am I not allowed to recoil in some nostalgia?’ she said, her eyes wide and all innocent, but Ruhani knew full well that she was fuming on the inside.
‘See, this is the problem with NRI nostalgia. You guys choose to live in an American economy and then complain about their culture. You are a contradiction, to yourself.’
The Guy in Grey leaned forward, and she could spot a tiny smile at the corner of his lips. Ruhani doubted if he was enjoying the argument.
‘Listen, darling Ruhani, we went there for survival. For the sake of our professional well being.’ She said, her voice was not starting to squeak.
‘Please. Don’t joke.’ Ruhani alleged. ‘You were a cool drinks seller in India. You wanted to be an international cool drinks seller, so that you can make money for your family.’
The Lady in Lilac glared at their mother, a sign was translated to ‘Is this how you raise daughters in this family?’. Ruhani didn’t care. She took in a deep breath as she spoke up again.
‘And I have nothing against people migrating. It’s when they pretend as if they don’t like to live there that I lose my calm. You NRIs just love complaining about how much India is better than wherever they are. My question is if you miss home so much, come here and do the cool drink selling, no then?’
The silence persisted. Ruhani continued.
‘When you go there, and the country gives you all that you wanted, which is money. Money was all that you wanted. Don’t act like you hate that place. In fact, the truth is that you aren’t likeable at either of the places. You’re an immigrant when you’re there, and when you get back here, you’re an annoying bunch of show offs who look at India as a place to purchase wives for their sons.’
The entire audience was startled.
All that should not have been spoken had been spoken. The lady in lilac got up and left the house.
The Guy in Grey followed her, hastily, but he turned around for one short second and gave a quick thumbs up at Ruhani.
Ruhani breathed out, exhausted with all the talking. Rianna looked at her sister, and she smiled a teary smile.
The little girl had remembered every single word of the speech she had written for her six years ago, in the dead of the night and used it to save her dream.
The next day, after awaking up to an annoyed mother and three hour long lecture, Ruhani retired back in to her room and switched on her laptop.
There in the bright blue screen of her Gmail account, was an email from the Guy In Grey. She called out to her sister, and the two of them read the professional looking mail.
You are the most impressive and high spirited fifteen year old girl I’ve met so far.
I’ve never seen anybody stand up to my mother so confidently, myself included.
I see a spark in you. Do me a favor. Don’t ever let it die.
Let me get straight to the point. I’m writing to thank you.
You see, there’s a special girl back home, in Boston, whom I love very dearly. However, I’m afraid there is no way my mother would approve of a pale skinned, green eyed and blonde Daughter-In-Law step into her house. But I’m in love with her and I can’t imagine what I’d become without her. I had been thinking of in numerous ways to call this engagement off, but I just couldn’ gather enough strength to bring up the topic to my mother.
Yes, I’m a twenty eight year old Industrialist who is afraid to talk to his mother. (It’s okay if you judge me.) However today, my perspective changed.
You inspired me. Thank you. I’ll be talking to my mother about what my heart wants. And if things work out well, I’ll be sending you a wedding invitation and will be looking forward to meeting you in Boston.
Your parents tell me your sister dreams about being an Entrepreneur. I was relieved and what I might offer might come across as a bold and impulsive proposal.
We have plans at our company to open an Indian manufacturing unit. I hope she agrees to help us. I mean, considering she shared your DNA, she must be just as efficient.
Don’t forget to be awesome.
Guy In Grey.
Ruhanni’s eyes gleamed as she looked at her sister dazed and overwhelmed. Rianna took her in a hug, and held her for almost an eternity.
‘And the two sisters, lived happily ever after.’ Rianna said as she kissed her feisty sister on the cheeks.
‘Cliché.’ Ruhani said with a giggle.
DISCLAIMER: The story is not purely fictional and any resemblances the characters in this story, share with anyone dead or alive, are not co incidental and completely intentional. At one point of your life, all of us are bound to come across the Lady in Lilac. She exists. The author felt that the issue of brain drain needs to be stripped off its glamorous reputation. It needs to be washed out off its Bollywood-influenced misconceptions. Brain Drain is a dishonorable and shameful issue we have at hand, that need to be scrutinized and talked about as frequently as possible. No offense intended to the NRIs (As long as they don’t act like the Lady in Lilac)