The Heir is a story about a young man’s aspiration to make it big in the music World and how that makes him take a complex emotional route to connect to the aging owner of a music company, who is desperate to find a successor.
Srinath plucked out his headphones and rolled his head around on his hunched shoulders. He had spent the last few hours listening to the songs lined up for him by his creative team. Most of them had good beats, some even included the occasional rap and techno gimmicks used to embellish songs when they are not good enough left on their own, but none sounded soulful enough to keep Srinath engrossed. He swept his eyes through the quiet office stretching in front of him, looking for a flash of miraculous inspiration but could not find any at the moment.
Fifteen years ago, Srinath Iyengar, Sri to his friends, had started Music Mantra with his friend Sathis Fernandez. Now they had two state of the art sound studios in Mumbai, a cushy office at Andheri West, an independent record label and a coveted music production house. Srinath had come a long way from being the thin and lanky boy with a melodious voice and a head full of curly hair in a small village near Madras to the city of his dreams, Mumbai. His innate creativity had guided his company well till now but lately, he was lacking his signature drive. Was he hitting a wall finally?
His partner Sathis, had taken a back seat after a spell of bad health and now his daughter Jenny had taken over his work. But Srinath and Sathis still needed a creative head to share Srinath’s responsibilities and eventually take over his work. There were plenty of talented youngsters working for them but none had the spark to take over completely. On times like this Srinath wondered what it might be like if he had an heir.
Srinath sighed as his thoughts turned towards his wife. A year into their marriage Mahima discovered that her severe thyroid condition could cause complications if she got pregnant. Her life was more precious than anything to Srinath, so they decided not to have children. Mahima had felt a stab of guilt from time to time but she had a child from her previous marriage and that became her big consolation. Years had rolled by busily but peacefully and they had not really noticed a void in their lives. That had changed in the last couple of years. Srinath was not the domestic fatherly kind but he caught himself wondering lately what it would have been like to father a child, to have had the opportunity to nurture him with his love and care.
Mahima stuck a big red bindi on her forehead and tucked away a curl that had escaped from her hair bun. Her fair complexioned petite frame stared back at her unsurely from the ornate mirror hanging in her bedroom. She straightened her cream and red Paithani saree wrapped around her body, and studied her image in the mirror wondering if she had overdressed. Oh well, it was December, the only time of the year, when one could wear something dressy without dissolving into a pool of sweat in Mumbai. Mahima was looking forward to the night ahead. It was her husband’s birthday and she celebrated it with style every year.
Her relationship with Srinath was not a fairy tale by any means yet she wouldn’t have had it any other way. Mahima’s grandmother had advised her when she was just a girl, that she should not decide to spend her life with someone she likes to live with but with someone without whom she simply couldn’t live. Mahima could not think of a life without her Sri, her brilliant eccentric husband. He had the ability to catch the slightest glimpse of spark missed even by seasoned maestros but he was misunderstood by many in his industry. Luckily Mahima was not one of them. Mediocrity bored him. She understood his need to constantly access brilliance. Mahima herself had a good ear for music and had pointed out quite a few talents to him. Srinath never had a problem admitting that Mahima had played an important role in bringing in the most talented singers and composers through his company’s doors. He was not egocentric about admitting the truth and Mahima adored him for that.
Mahima’s thoughts drifted to the young man she had invited to perform at the party tonight. He was about the age of her son, but there was a shade of warmth in his demeanor that was lacking in her own son. Her son had chosen to lead a life that had no room for Mahima. The doorbell rang rescuing Mahima from her troubled thoughts. She opened the door to find a young man standing with a guitar case and a backpack slung over his slim shoulders. His thin face with a narrow nose was framed with shaggy thick hair. “Hey Malhar, you are early!” she said with a broad smile.
Malhar blinked nervously. “I didn’t have much choice about the timing because I took the train. I can hang around somewhere else if it is inconvenient for you.”
“No, you wait here.” She led him to the corner of her living room that had a makeshift podium, pointing at the couches flanking it.
Malhar slowly ran his eyes over the expensive upholstery and the chic home décor items. He remembered reading an interview of Srinath, in which he had tossed in information about his huge two-thousand square feet apartment in Versova. He had called it his little island of tranquility amidst Mumbai’s ever-increasing insanity. Malhar breathed in the clean smell of affluence. It was such a far cry from his crowded community living in the Chawl. At twenty-seven, Malhar had faced enough rejections and disapprovals to last a lifetime. His mother ai was a talented singer and had struggled for years to get a break in Bollywood playback singing. Though she managed to get some opportunities, she could never make it to the comfortably employed tier. When she discovered Malhar’s talent she enrolled him for the best training in music she could think of. She would nag at him to practice every morning. “Wake up, you lazy boy. It is time for practice. How will you become the biggest singer of Mumbai if you keep sleeping all day?”
She believed that one could attain anything through perseverance and sincerity till the day she died three years ago. But he knew now that he needed more than sincerity and perseverance to reach where he wanted. He needed a chance, and chances had to be created, sometimes fabricated. Years of struggle and rejection had made him desperate. Malhar shook his head. Tonight, he could not afford to get emotional. Tonight, was about proving to a person what he was all about. Ai spent her whole life suffering, but it will not happen to me. Malhar was determined to give it his best shot.
It was taking longer than usual to reach home. The traffic was atrocious even for a Saturday evening. As it slowed to a crawl, Srinath heard a familiar tune float from towards him from a nearby tea stall. Lag ja gale ki fir iye haseen raat ho na ho, shayad fir is janam main mulakat ho na ho. A black and white era Hindi film song. He remembered her. This was one of her favorite songs.
He took her to Juhu beach. She wore a blue and white polka dot saree. Her glossy thick hair fell on her eyes. She twitched her narrow nose as she asked, “How much do you love me?” Srinath clutched his palms together behind his back and said, “Thiiiiiis much!” She smiled with dimples in her cheeks and fiddled with his shirt-sleeve shyly.
They had met at the chawl ages ago. Aruna was a brilliant singer and had aspirations to become a playback voice in Bombay films. Srinath was into music composition. He would ask her to sing for him whenever he experimented with new tunes. She helped Srinath come up with a wonderful composition, their first ever. It was their special song. No wonder he could never sell it to anyone. He admired Aruna’s talent, but felt lost when she talked about starting a domestic life together. He knew that he was not ready for such commitments. He doubted if he would ever be ready. Her sweetness and patience though, had enchanted him into thinking that they would manage even if they decided to get married the very next day.
“If we have a son, we will name him…”.
“Wait, wait…are we not rushing forward a bit too quickly!” Srinath had panicked but her face held such a soft tenderness. He could not stop her from dreaming of a life together. There were rainbows, music, love and babies in her dream. She had looked at Srinath with unflinching trust. He had not deserved her.
Aruna wanted to make Puranpoli and Modak for him on Ganesh Chaturthi. She wanted a home and didn’t mind if it was in a chawl as long as Srinath was with her. He was surprised that she did not mind changing her priorities so quickly. “Don’t you want to become a playback singer in the industry? How can your dreams change so fast?”
She had smiled to that. “They have not changed silly!” A week later Srinath had got an opportunity that would change his life forever.
Srinath’s thoughts were forced to return to the present as his car came to a screeching halt. “How are you driving Bhuwan! Are you trying to kill us?” Srinath sounded shrill. Bhuwan was his trusted driver-cum-personal security-cum-informer. The last bit of the title was self-appointed and not too happily tolerated by Srinath. Bhuwan coughed and cleared his throat several times.
“What is it Bhuwan?” he asked.
“Can I tell you something, if you don’t mind?” Bhuwan said cautiously.
Srinath smiled. He knew Bhuwan would tell him what he had decided to, whether or not he really did mind. “Did madam tell you about the night we had to spend at the chawl?”
He continued without waiting for an answer, “It was a terrible night. It was raining so hard. The car got stuck in the water and madam twisted her ankle trying to get out.”
Mahima had told Sri about that night several times. He was away on work at Chennai then. “Yes, she told me. She mentioned some young chap going out of his way to help her out that night. Why?”
“Why are you wasting my time if you don’t want to talk about it,” said Srinath sternly. It was ridiculous that he was having this conversation in the first place.
Bhuwan said after some hesitation, “Sir, about a month ago she had gone back to the same place and spent a long time in there.”
“Madam came out crying. She went back in a week and again came out crying.”
“I hope she is not in any kind of trouble. Madam is so kind. She does not understand that the World is not as nice and simple as her,” he added.
“Mind your own business! She would have told me if it was really that troubling”, said Srinath putting an end to Bhuwan’s prattle. Now what is Mahima upto! thought Sri with a sigh.
Srinath considered himself truly blessed that Mahima understood him so well. She also had a good ear for music. She had brought several potential talents to his notice over the last few years. Was this again an attempt to extract some new talent he wondered. But then why would she cry about it? What was upsetting her? After losing Aruna he had lost all hope of finding true love but fate had been kind to him. He had met Mahima and she had pulled him out of his darkness. But he could still not forget Aruna. She was like a fond tune that stuck to his ears even after so many years.
Srinath’s first real opportunity was a unique one. A music director famous for creating unconventional music had chosen him for an important project. He had to travel to the interiors of Tamil Nadu to research folk styles. He travelled extensively and rediscovered Pura Pattu and Urumee Mellam. He was inspired by the Christian Keerthanai music as well. His training in Carnatic music had allowed him to fuse styles together seamlessly and offer a unique musical concoction. How he wished his grandfather had been alive to see him work. After his parents had died in a boat accident, his grandfather, a Carnatic music teacher, had taken him under his wings and trained him well.
His work had impressed his music director. He had been given an additional project right after. Srinath teamed up with his childhood friend Sathis when he was working on creating a fusion of Carnatic and Western classical music. Sathis had an excellent sense of Western music. His work had dragged on for more than four months and when he finally got back to Mumbai he discovered that Aruna had moved out of their chawl. Srinath had learnt from neighbors that she had moved back to Pune to her mother’s place. It made no sense.
When he had gone in search of her all the way to Pune, Aruna’s mother had told him firmly that she did not want to meet him because she was getting married in a month’s time.
He refused to leave without seeing her. It was late in the evening, after dusk had settled its quiet shadows on all. Aruna had come to the window at last. He threw frantic questions at her as she stood in darkness. Why are you getting married so hurriedly? What is the rush to settle down? You are still so young! He told her about his successful project in the South and his upcoming projects. He had to go to Goa in a week’s time. After finishing his work there, they would get married, he told her.
She asked him if he really wanted to marry her. He again hesitated. “Well, I would have really wanted that in a year or two but, if that is what you want I am ready for that.” He had blurted out foolishly before he could stop himself. She had sighed and told him finally, “All the best for a bright future. It would be a crime to hold you back.” In the dark, he had not been able to see her tear-filled eyes. “Go back to Bombay”, she had said and turned away from him. He had protested. He wanted her to come out of the house so that they could discuss this properly but she had refused.
Srinath had found himself in a cheerless mood for the longest time after that. His next project had taken him to Goa so, his mind was forced to turn towards work, but he was still wallowing in murky dark waters when Sathis decided to move in with him. That helped him in a big way and he became forever indebted to Sathis for his good judgement in those dark dark days. Srinath had drifted into a foggy and erratic existence when he started working with old Goan Portuguese music. He created beautiful music with bitter pain in his heart. Everything had felt futile and brittle. He missed Aruna much more than he thought he would. Gradually he resurfaced from pain but he was still broken somewhere inside and avoided contact with women all together. He was still hurting when he met Mahima at a music release party.
Like all other celebrity parties, most guests in the party were happily ignoring his performance and chatting loudly among themselves but there was this one pair of eyes that could not look elsewhere. Her gaze was not the usual fan stare steeped in enthrallment. He tried looking away but he could not. Her gaze was like a magnet pulling him into a spiraling trance. By the time Srinath had finished his performance he was not aware of anything in the room, except those magical eyes.
Mahima was heartbroken after a messy divorce back then. Her best friend had seen her mopping around like a wet rag for far too many days and had decided to drag her to the party. Initially she was regretting coming to the happy gathering while she was feeling so rotten inside but then the performance started and something stirred in Mahima’s heart when she heard him sing. They were both damaged and drawn towards each other and after a two-year tight friendship, they decided to tie the knot.
Srinath did not have the habit of looking back with regret but was surprised to find himself in a sickly pensive mood tonight. Perhaps, he was really getting old, as his good friend Sathis kept repeating these days. His car reached their Versova apartment complex. He groaned for he had no wish of stepping into a room full of people but he had no choice tonight.
He straightened his shirt, wrapped the old red and white chequered muffler tighter around his neck and braced himself for the night ahead. He had carefully lined up the songs to showcase his talent. Wearing a ridiculous seventies tweed hat was totally unnecessary but he wanted to make the maximum impact. He walked back to the podium and started tuning his guitar and setting up the laptop, not his own laptop, a friend’s. He couldn’t afford one. He continued strumming his guitar as guests started arriving.
Sathis sauntered into the room a few seconds later and looked around with a sullen expression, “Where have you hidden the Single Malts? Mahima’s bar is only serving Chivas!”
“Muttal, you are almost dying and all you can think about is alcohol?” Srinath chuckled softly.
Sathis raised his arms and started his usual rant. “What? I have given my whole life to our music company and now my daughter too! Now leave me alone.”
Srinath took in a sharp breath. He wished he could talk like Sathis. Jenny was doing a fine job after taking over her father’s responsibilities, but they still needed a creative head.
Srinath filled a glass and passed it to Sathis. “Now take your drink and shut up, you old fool.” Somebody had started playing a guitar outside. It was a pleasant tune and sounded vaguely familiar.
Malhar started warming up. He eased into the song he had planned as the first one. He saw Srinath walking towards him with a stunned expression. Malhar smiled for he knew this song would bring Srinath out. His ai used to sing this song often. He loved the tune. When he grew up he added a few variations here and there but still maintained the soul of the song. By the time, he finished the first song, his audience had gone quiet.
Malhar played dholki music on the laptop and started his second song for the night. It was a fast paced Lavni with an interesting western twist. The audience clapped wildly. The third song was a modern rendition of a famous Marathi folk song. The two songs following after were his own compositions with western beats. The last one was a semi-classical with western beats. The musical arrangements and the fusion made the compositions interesting. The audience in Sri’s apartment grew excited and applauded exuberantly as Malhar finished.
Srinath stared at the young man sitting on the dimly lit podium strumming a guitar. His posture, the way he held the guitar, his attire, the tweed hat perched slantingly on his head. A very familiar looking muffler hugged his upper shoulders. The muffler belonged to him once, so did the hat. He knew the song. It was the first song he had ever composed. The soft and melodious tune brought up a lump of emotions. The man was singing the lyrics with heartwarming perfection and all the right feelings. Mahima led him by the arm to a nearby couch and slipped him a scotch.
Srinath listened to Malhar sing. The songs were superbly composed with all the right nuances and pitches. Where was this boy hiding? Why hadn’t he contacted his music company? Where did Mahima find this gem?
As the performance ended and guests rushed over to congratulate the young man, Srinath sat silently appraising him. Mahima walked over to Malhar. “You were wonderful, just the way I thought you would be. Come with me. Let me introduce you to Sri.” But Srinath was nowhere to be found. “Malhar, please eat dinner. I will get Sri out soon. He can be a bit shy at times,” she said with a small wink.
The guests had started leaving finally. Srinath decided to come out and say bye to his guests. He walked to the balcony and set his dinner plate on a side table. The tasteful wicker furniture and Mahima’s charming little lamps arranged neatly around the big balcony made it look like a serene wonderland. He was about to sit down in one of the cane chairs when he spotted someone lurking in the shadows. He was the same young man singing earlier. “You are quite good,” said Srinath as he sat down.
Malhar coughed nervously and said in a gravelly voice, “I know.”
“Come sit near me. I can’t see you properly from here.”
Malhar walked over and sat down stiffly in a chair near him.
“What is your name?”
“So, how do you know Aruna?”
Mahima stepped into the verandah that very moment. “So, you have met each other.” She sat down next to Malhar and said in an excited voice, “Sri, remember I told you about the night Bhuwan and I got stuck in Parel? This boy helped us so much. But that is not all. Later I found out that he is a talented singer and your friend Aruna’s son!”
There was silence as Srinath and Malhar surreptitiously eyed each other.
Srinath asked after an uneasy silence, “How is Aruna?”
“She is no more. Ai passed away three years ago, fighting Cancer.”
Srinath’s eyes suddenly darted over to Malhar and then to Mahima as he asked abruptly, “How old are you?”
“I am twenty-seven Sir.”
“Come to my office next week. Do you know where is my office?”
“It must have taken you a long time to come from Parel. Did you take the train?” said Srinath.
Malhar nodded slowly. “Yes.”
“It is late. My driver will drop you back home.”
“There is no need Sir.”
“I insist!” said Sri.
Srinath sat quietly in the balcony. He had not touched his plate. As Mahima sat down next to him Srinath looked at her with curious eyes.
“Can you tell me about that night?”
Mahima started narrating. She was attending her friend’s fundraiser at Parel. Rainwater had filled every nook and cranny of Mumbai. Hundreds of people were stranded on the streets. Nothing could move, the cars and buses stood lined up bumper to bumper. Even the trains were not running. It was difficult to believe that everything had to come to a standstill in a constantly moving city. Mahima sprained her leg while trying to get out of her car. Bhuwan had run into a helpful young man living in the chawl on the street where their car broke down.
He was kind enough to her to his house, to his chawl. Mahima loved the community feeling there. Mahima introduced herself properly to him and his neighbors. She noticed Malhar’s smile vanish right after. Srinath was quite a famous name in Mumbai. People asked her so many questions about her life but Malhar shrunk back. Malhar came back to rescue her from the swelling group of audience, after a while. He offered her his room.
Next morning she looked at Malhar carefully as he set down cups of tea for them. “If you don’t mind my asking, I noticed yesterday after I mentioned my identity you grew distant.”
He didn’t reply so Mahima tried again. “I am so thankful to you for giving me your room for the night but it seems you did not rest well”.
Malhar let out a ragged breath and looked sadly at her. “I could not sleep a wink last night.” He said after a long pause, “I don’t know how to tell you this but my mother knew Srinath Sir. So, it was just strange seeing you in person suddenly last night.”
“Where is your mother? What is her name?” said Mahima.
“Her name is Aruna. Ai is no more”, said Malhar.
Mahima knew about Aruna. Srinath used to talk often about her when they had first met.
“And your father? Where is he?” she asked gently.
“I don’t remember my father.”
Could that be possible? Srinath needs to know about this! Her eyes widened with a sudden realization.
She looked around the room and noticed a harmonium and a long necked tanpura. She asked almost in a whisper, “Do you sing?”
Malhar shyly nodded his head, “Yes I do. I was trained first by ai and then later by her guru ji. I also compose.” Mahima’s heart started racing.
She looked at him closely. “What kind of composition?” she asked. He shrugged his shoulders.
“I like mixing different kind of styles.”
Mahima pressed on. “Have you ever recorded a sample of your work?”
He told her that he had recorded a CD.
“Would you mind giving me that CD?” she said.
Malhar looked embarrassed. “You don’t have to do that, madam. I feel so small!” he said.
Mahima sighed and looked outside the window. She saw Bhuwan shouting out a string of commands to a group of young boys who were helping him push the car.
“I was going to make us poha.” said Malhar.
Mahima looked at the boy and felt the sting of tears creep into her eyes. What a nice boy. So kind. So gentle. The more Mahima talked to him the more hopeful she got. Once back in her house, she listened to the CD. Malhar had not disappointed her. After hearing the CD several times over the next two weeks, she had called Malhar. He had sounded distracted and disturbed. He had said that he was glad she had called. He had something to share with her.
Srinath heard everything quietly. Mahima handed him an old worn diary. Aruna’s diary. “You need to read this Sri.”
Srinath looked at Mahima closely and said, “Are you thinking what I am thinking?”
Mahima shrugged her shoulders. “There is a fair chance that Malhar might be your’s.”
Suddenly Srinath remembered what Aruna wanted to name their son---Malhar.
Srinath’s head at once started throbbing. He felt dizzy. He looked at his plate of food, now cold and forgotten. He asked Mahima for Malhar’s CD and went off to his study shutting the door behind him.
Malhar reached home after midnight. He let out a ragged breath as he closed his eyes. “I am sorry ai, it was the only way I could make myself visible. Forgive me!”
He lay down on his bed and started thinking about the night he had met Mahima. When she disclosed who she was, Malhar had frozen. He knew that Srinath was an old friend of Aruna. She often told him stories of their chawl days together. Malhar wanted her to introduce him to Srinath, but she kept saying, “What is the rush? Try to make it on your own first.”
And then she got sick. Very sick.
Life for him till now had been a chain of struggles. He sustained his living through a job in his mother’s music school and occasional gigs at seedy nightclubs but he hated to see his talent languish like this. He was contemplating giving up his music career when fate threw Mahima at him. His cerebral wheels started turning. He had dragged out Aruna’s old trinket box that she had refused to share with anyone when she was alive. After she passed away, he couldn’t bear to look at it. He had even thought of throwing it away but now he was glad that he had not already done so.
He picked out old items from the box. Old pictures, notations, compositions, a tweed hat, a red and white chequered muffler. Old letters and a worn diary. He went through the letters and then started reading her diary. From the dates written neatly on the top of the pages he came to know that it was written thirty years ago, around the time his mother had met Srinath.
Aruna had mentioned Srinath with such fond details. About his talent, his dreams, about her growing love for him. They were almost on the verge of getting married. She had found out that she was expecting a child after Srinath had left for his first big assignment. She was ardently waiting for him to return to Mumbai.
Malhar’s eyes darkened once he started reading the pages after this. She had written to Srinath about how she looked forward to his coming back but had not shared the news of the baby yet. She had expressed her wish to get married as soon as he came back. But Srinath had written back to her that they should not hurry. This was his first assignment and there would be hopefully many more to follow. He would have to travel a lot the coming few years. This had depressed Aruna but she was hopeful that once Srinath came to know about the baby, he would marry her immediately.
And then Aruna lost the baby after the third month. Her bad health took her back to her mother’s house in Pune. Her mother was furious with her. “I knew this would happen. This is the reason why I did not want to send you to Bombay! And that Madras boy sounded like bad news from the very beginning. Does he know about this?” Aruna had started crying fitfully.
“Is he going to marry you?” she asked again.
“In a few years, maybe,” Aruna had said listlessly.
Her mother had clucked her tongue disapprovingly. “You can forget about that then. My hair has not turned white just like that.” Though her mother’s words sounded harsh, there was some truth in them. After losing the baby, she was unsure about almost everything. With each passing day, she lost a bit more hope, little by little. Initially she tried to defend him and said, “He does not know about my health condition.”
Her mother continued spewing her doubt, “And has he bothered to find out about what you are doing? How you are?” Aruna could not answer that. He had not tried to contact her ever since he had let her know over a trunk call that he had safely arrived in Madras, apart from the four letters they had exchanged. “I know these young ambitious kinds”, her mother had skeptically droned on.
As time passed and Aruna’s body healed, her mind became increasingly uncertain about what she would tell Srinath once he came back. She was not even sure if he would come back ever now. Her mother tried to coax her into meeting someone who had shown interest in marrying her a few years ago. He lived in their neighborhood. She had never found him interesting but she knew that Ritam was a decent man. Aruna secretly hoped that Ritam would turn away from her once he came to know the truth, but after hearing everything he had said quietly, “Aruna, marry me. I don’t care about your past. I promise you that we will be happy together.” Aruna had softened towards Ritam. She started thinking carefully about her future too. She knew that Srinath was ambitious. I should not hold him back, pull him down and smother his dreams. And then he will start hating me. Just the way Baba had started hating ai and left her, Srinath will also leave me. She had cried for days and then decided to marry Ritam.
When Srinath finally arrived at Pune, her will to fight had broken down. Her mother had looked at her with concern and told her to ask Srinath to leave for good. She did not tell him about the baby she had lost. It will only give him grief and guilt she had reasoned.
He had told her excitedly about the work he was doing. He had to go to Goa again for another project. He was just starting to do what he always had dreamt of. She had asked him again like a fool if they could get married and seen the same hesitation she had noticed many times before. Her mother was right. “Go back to Bombay. I am getting married soon,” she had said quietly and turned away from him. He had not noticed Aruna’s tear soaked cheeks in the dim light. He had protested for a while and then walked away into a wet misty night.
Malhar had tears in his eyes as he read about his mother’s decision to leave Srinath. He had sighed with a heavy heart and continued reading the rest. The last few pages were about her life after her wedding.
Ritam was a considerate husband. Aruna made peace with her fate and slided into the role of a dutiful wife. Once she started living with her gentle husband she almost forgot about her previous unhappiness. Ritam had a modest little house but a steady income. Aruna was not unhappy anymore. Malhar was born after a year. But this kind of pure and undemanding happiness was not meant to survive in her life.
Malhar closed the diary. He pretty much knew what had happened after this. He shut his eyes and tried to remember his father’s face but could only remember him vaguely. His father’s framed picture staring back from the wall at him, did not stir anything in him.
Ritam passed away after seven days of viral fever when Malhar was just four. Aruna had moved to Bombay with her mother and son. She got back her previous job at her music school. She also worked as a part-timer at a classical musical instrument store to keep her household buoyant. Something had hardened in her with time and repeated misfortunes. When she discovered that Malhar had a good voice, she started his training. By twelve, Malhar knew almost all the ragas. He had started performing in small shows by the time he turned sixteen. Things were looking more stable at home when he decided to travel a bit and learn more about Marathi folk music. He travelled for two years with a natak mandala, a theatre group and learnt the earthy music that touched common peoples’ hearts. He came back home determined to experiment on new compositions. Fusion music interested him immensely.
Aruna’s mother suffered a stroke and passed away. Aruna was once again left lonely. Malhar started spending a lot of time away from home, working on his compositions, recording at a friend’s make-shift home based studio. He failed to notice Aruna’s weakening health. Just when Malhar was making a dent with his compositions and talking to a few music companies, Aruna fell ill. She was diagnosed with Colon Cancer. Malhar spent all the money he had saved over the years to give her the right treatment but she lost the battle ultimately.
Now holding Aruna’s diary close to his chest, Malhar wept. He wept for all those times he could not cry before. He was a young boy of twenty-four when he lost all his family. He continued to struggle and hope that things would work out and his talent would get recognized, but he met with only rejections. He summed up his life till date, sighed and fell into a short and fitful sleep and had the weirdest dream. His ai was calling out to him offering him her diary. The diary fell open on his lap. It’s here, in this she said. He woke up drenched in sweat.
He started flipping through the pages again when he noticed a break---a gap between Aruna’s narration of the time she came to know about her first pregnancy and her loss of the baby. She had left many pages empty between the two incidents. And the narration after the gap was incoherent and choppy. She had stopped writing altogether after Ritam’s death. An idea bloomed quietly in Malhar’s head.
He tore off the pages from the diary after the gap, carefully and purposefully. His lips spread in a bitter smile. What if he led Srinath to believe that he was Srinath’s son. Most probably it would not work but what if it did? If nothing else, at least he would get Srinath’s attention for a while. And that would be enough to show him his worth.
Malhar deliberately played the “shaken son” role when Mahima had called him after two weeks. He had acted hysteric and shared his mother’s diary with Mahima when she came to meet him again at his house. Mahima was a good person and he did not like cheating her but he had no choice.
Malhar reached under the mattress and plucked out the stack of pages he had severed from his mother’s diary. He walked over to the stove and burnt the papers one by one, carefully.
Having spent her childhood in a civil service family surrounded by voracious readers and fervent political discussions, Sreya nurtured a wish to write from an early age. She did her undergraduate studies in Political Science from Kolkata’s Presidency College, now University and post-graduation from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. After a short stint as a journalist and a college lecturer in Kolkata, she set off for her second Masters in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. She worked in public policy research and advocacy in U.S. think tanks and published numerous non-fiction articles and op-eds for newspapers and policy blogs. More recently she has penned several short stories that have been published in print and e-magazines in India and the U.S. Sreya currently lives in Chicago with her husband and seven-year old son, and when she is not writing you can find her in the kitchen cooking up a spicy soup to fight Chicago’s icy winters.