This story is by Adie Kaushik and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Come home soon, Anand”, cried Shanti as the boat left the sea-shore.
Her son left on a boat many months ago to an overseas land, but he was never to be heard from.
Shanti eyes looked out from her half-broken hut for her son. Anand had promised to call her daily at the lala’s shop, a local trader who smirked at Shanti everyday.
“He has died on the boat or has got caught by the police…he would not return”, the lala rebuked.
Days passed and lala’s sympathy for Shanti grew, he continued to support Shanti with credit for food and rations. His overtures were not all kindness, but Shanti was just grateful at this time to get his support.
Everyday, Shanti would take her basket of flower garlands to the sea-shore in the hope that one day a boat would arrive and she would at last see Anand return. Days, weeks and months passed, seasons turned from the pleasant cold by the sea side to scorching heat but there was no return of her son.
“Mother, I am going to become rich. We can build a new house and live happily”, Anand promised her mother as he stepped onto the boat in hope of a brighter future overseas.
As Shanti saw the boat disappear over the horizon, her worries and longing for Anand overwhelmed her. Shanti grew sad, and about a year later even her eyes grew weary, heart filled with immense sadness.
Anand was Shanti’s only support after husband died. As a child, he would walk by her everyday to the seashore, holding her sari. All day he sat by the mother, calling customers and charming them to buy the garlands. Then one day, an old man came over to Shanti and asked why Anand doesn’t go to school.
“I have no money, Sir”, replied Shanti.
“He can study for free. Send him to school, Shanti. It would change his life,” replied the old man. He was the head master at the nearby school.
“And he would get two free meals too!!”
The thought of her son eating well, was enough for Shanti to drop Anand to school every day.
Her days of loneliness by the sea shore started when Anand started going to school. But her heart was filled with hope for his future. Her loneliness would end by afternoon when Anand returned from school filling her day with stories of what he ate, what he learnt. Most of what he said Shanti did not understand. But her ears longed for his stories.
Now her loneliness was endless, for months only Anand’s stories filled Shanti’s ears as her eyes scanned the shore for every boat and the sight of Anand stepping out of one.
As she walked home, she could feel Anand’s tiny feet walking next to him.
“Amma, Amma”…her constant calls for Shanti were her only companion.
“Are you fine Shanti?”, Lala asked as Shanti walked past his shop.
His rebukes had now turned into worry for Shanti. He had always been fond of Shanti since his wife died.
He felt compelled to support her as he had no family of his own. Only his brothers family, who were more keen on his wealth and his shop. They would often look down upon his fondness for Shanti.
Shanti was a flower woman and he was a trader. “She is not your class” his brother would reprimand him. Think about the family’s honour. Lala knew his brother were worried more about the fortune going to Shanti and Anand, rather than the honour.
No one understood his love for Shanti.
Even Shanti felt that his love for her was not true but a means to take advantage of Shanti’s condition. Fears of lala’s constant tirades reminding her of her son never to return would haunt her everyday. His advances had now become a call to marry him.
Lala’s burden became a source of guilt for Shanti. She felt obligated to return lala’s favours but her heart felt otherwise. Shanti had promised herself many years ago, never to get married after her husband had died at a construction site.
Lala was her only support for rations and food when she did not have enough money from selling her basket of flower garlands. Now with her son Anand gone, she felt ever more grateful of Lala’s support but never felt the need to marry him.
Summer had started to wither into autumn and the rains were setting in.
Shanti struggled even harder to collect flowers in the nearby fields to create her garlands. Her walks were longer and with every flower she collected, she felt sad about her son’s absence. But her feet felt hopeful to collect enough flowers to finish the garlands. Her feet ached to walk to the sea-shore, where the hope to see her son rose with the rising sun and faded as the sun set.
The festival of Lord Ganesh (elephant god) was finally here, this was Shanti’s busiest time with many people buying her garlands for the statues of Lord Ganesh festival that lasted two weeks. Shanti was elated, filled with joy as the Lord was supposed to break any deadlocks. Her belief grew stronger and for the two weeks, she felt more joy than despair.
Lala came dressed in silk robes to greet Shanti on the last day of the festival. He had been very helpful over the past two weeks, getting her small house painted and repaired at his cost.
He wanted Shanti to be happy before she agreed to marry him. Everyday, he would give hope to Shanti, making sure she was never alone in times of need.
Shanti was very pleased and got her basket of garlands ready for the sea shore.
Lala smiled, “Shanti, today you may get some news about your son.”
“Yes, Lala ji, I feel that too”, Shanti replied.
Her heart had renewed hope today on the last day of the festival.
Lord Ganesh never fails anyone. He overcomes everyone’s trouble. At least, that’s the belief Shanti grew up with.
Dressed in her only red Saari (traditional attire) with a large smear of red on her forehead, Shanti felt like a bride, happy and filled with hope to see her son.
As she walked to the sea-shore, she was surprised to see the docks filled with boats, but they were getting ready to carry hundreds of statues of Lord Ganesh to submerge them in the sea. A ritual that wished the lord goodbye until next year.
The festival came and went, Shanti spend the evening with lala by the sea-shore, tears falling from her eyes, her heart filled with despair as very little traces of hope was left in her lonely heart. But lala comforted Shanti, that Diwali, the festival of light is just a few days later.
“Don’t be disheartened Shanti, Anand will surely return this Diwali”, Lala encouraged her.
“I am sad Lala ji, as he has not called, he has not written, I don’t know if he is well” cried Shanti.
“Goddess Laxmi, (wealth) would not leave you empty handed” responded Lala, trying to encourage Shanti to not lose hope in the strength and believe in the power of the deities.
Diwali was finally here and Shanti’s hopes returned recalling Lala’s words.
She dressed in her finest sari again in the hope to find Anand at the sea shore. Lala arrived with some snacks for Shanti to take with her. He smiled and assured her, “Today, you will get some news”.
Her heart filled with joy and she smiled and thanked Lala ji for his kindness.
“Thank you, you are very nice Lala ji”.
A renewed hope filled her heart today, a instinct that Diwali and Goddess Laxmi (Goddess of Wealth) would not disappoint her. As she reached the shore, there were festivities and everyone was dressed in colourful clothes.
Shanti put her basket of flower garlands in her usual spot. Customers came by to buy and she felt with every garland sold that her wish will come true on this auspicious day.
It was mid-day, time for Anand to return from school, Shanti could feel Anand’s presence nearby. There was just one garland left in the basket.
“Amma, Amma!!, one garland please”, cried a voice. Shanti looked up in the hope to see Anand.
But a young man stood there in plain trousers and a coloured shirt. “Are you Anand’s mother?” he asked.
“Do you know him Beta (Son)?” Shanti’s heart was filled with excitement and joy.
“He lived with me Amma, he asked me to give you this”, said the boy.
Shanti was filled with a thousand questions, the boy clutched onto the bag given by Anand. Inside, were Anand’s clothes, a letter, a new sari for her and a bag full of money.
“Anand is no more, Amma”. Shanti fell to the ground with the last flower garland in her hand.
Her hope from overseas had finally come to an end.