“C’mon Chinar, you can do this. It’s going to be fine”! Chinar hums to herself for the umpteenth time. She has been in the fresh room for an hour now but standing in the same position and in the same place. She has lowered her head on the center of the washbasin, making her head-cover fall down on both sides of her face. She has rested her hands on the either side of the basin.
“Are you okay? Should I get you some water?” friendly voice speaks from behind. Chinar straightens herself and turns to this lady standing near her. “ I’m fine, thank you. Just the usual travel jitters,” Chinar replies confidently while moving her hands over her head-cover to check if it is in place. “I understand! Had the same problem but now I keep this medicine with me in case of emergency. Here take this.” The woman takes out some pills from her purse and gives it to Chinar. “Oh! That’s so sweet of you. I…” Chinar stops while talking to the woman as her attention is caught by the announcement made on the loudspeaker.
“This is the final boarding call for Miss Chinar Khan travelling by Indigo Flight No. 987 to Srinagar”. Chinar turns around in panic to locate her handbag and finds it on the floor. She bends to take it and moves towards the exit. “Thanks once again. I’ll take the medicine for sure”, Chinar says to the woman while giving her a quick hug. This is Chinar. Tangled yet full of love.
Chinar runs towards the boarding gate through the lounge area and is received by a staff member on her way who guides her. “Hurry up ma’am! You are the only one left.” Both of them reach the gate and after punching her boarding pass, Chinar is given a ride till the aircraft – alone. She gets in and breathes easy.
“Cheenu! Have you boarded?”
“Yes papa! Waiting for the take off”. Chinar bites her lip.
“Okay… Don’t forget to inform me when you are ready to take off. I will leave accordingly.”
“Don’t come na, I’ll take a cab.”
“Stop chattering and do as I said.”
Chinar frowns and disconnects the call in agreement.
The driver who looks in his late 50’s gives a look to Chinar implying that he wasn’t happy about her lying to her father. Chinar met him in the eye, understanding well what he meant; she gives him a warm smile but he doesn’t respond.
They reach the aircraft and the driver speaks for the first time, “take the right exit, please”. “Thank you so much and sorry”, Chinar smiles at the driver and this time he smiles back and says to himself, “she’s not as bad as I thought”.
Chinar climbs the stairs hurriedly and reaches the entrance of the aircraft.
“Thank God!” She almost screams and suddenly realises that the entire aircraft filled with passengers is staring at her – not in a good way. “What do you think you are doing, silly girl. Made them wait so much, you think they will like you. They hate you Chinar! She murmurs to herself amusingly while looking for her seat.
Chinar locates her seat and feels happy that she has a window seat. The cabin crew announces the takeoff and directs to follow the safety instructions. Chinar makes a prayer while keeping her eyes closed. She lies backwards on her seat and looks through the window. “Dilli, I will miss you. Miss me too ok?” She sighs and closes her eyes again – to take some rest, to stop her thoughts. Chinar has this thing about her- small things matter to her.
“Crew, please be seated for landing”. Chinar wakes up to this announcement and takes a look through her window. “Finally! The mountains.” She takes a deep breath, sets her head cover and closes her eyes for prayer.
It takes her sometime and multiple calls from her father, to collect her baggage and exit from the airport. As she reaches outside, there are many people outside waiting impatiently for their loved ones. As she takes a few steps towards the parking, she locates her mother. Chinar starts moving fast towards her and embraces her- eyes moisten again.
“Walaikum salaam! How was the flight? I hope you did not vomit?”
“No mamma. I am fine.” Chinar replies proudly.
“Why have you dressed strangely?” What has happened to your choice?”
Chinar looks at her attire in a disappointing manner and remembers all the hard work that went into buying that shirt and contrast trousers. “What’s wrong with them? It took me one full day to look for a shirt with a butterfly print.”
Chinar follows her mother towards the car and finds her father standing there. She runs towards him leaving her baggage trolley and they hugs him for a long time. Then, she places the baggage in the car and gets in.
In the backseat of the car, Chinar is deeply lost in thoughts. Looking outside her window, she travels back in time and remembers how coming back from Delhi to Srinagar after vacations was the best thing of her childhood. The fact that schools would re-open after a long winter break so she would be able to meet her friends and her favorite teacher seemed to be the happiest time of her life. She longs to feel the same but she is a grown up now and this place doesn’t feel like her own anymore. Her thoughts are broken by her father’s question asking her about the weather.
“Hmm…the weather? Yes its nice.
It is early October- the autumn has just set in. Autumn – the season of haze and warm richness. Everything turns into gold. The red-carpeted gardens are a treat to the eyes. The transformation of nature from one form to another is majestic and one cannot help but admire.
Chinar, however, is busy talking to herself in her mind. She is happy to unite with her parents but she misses Delhi- the heat, the sweat and everything else. She blames herself internally for felling like this and just thinking about herself without caring enough to share the present moment of bliss with her parents. Not for long though.
Chinar steps out of the car and opens the huge gate of her home for her father. Chinar’s house is a three-story building with two balconies in every story located in the centre of the plot surrounded by two gardens, a kitchen garden, and the garage just near the entrance. What makes her house unique is that it is located on a slope- somewhat higher than the ground level. So one can enjoy the view of mountains and paddy fields from the balcony of the third story.
Chinar climbs up the slope; moves around in the gardens, taking a look at the flowerbeds, kitchen garden, and the pigeons that have made a home in the roof of the house from the time when it was built in the late 70’s. She moves towards one of the corners of the garden and sits on the grass while touching the rose plant with both her hands. She smiles-her eyes fill with tears. Suddenly she looks up in the sky and whispers “miss you dado! Our roses have grown exactly the way you wanted them to”. She takes out the weed out of the soil surrounding the rose plant and gets up to go inside. Everything in that place is special for Chinar- the house, the gardens, the pigeons as it reminds her of her dear grandfather who left them three years back. She never wants to let go off his memories.
By the time Chinar unpacks and settles in her room, its dinner time already.
“Cheenu, dinner is ready”, calls out her mother in the corridor. “Almost there mamma” Chinar retorts while going through her old books and other stuff. She leaves everything as it is and comes down for dinner.
As Chinar enters the kitchen, her parents are already seated around the dining table. She takes her usual place and starts eating. She just eats few morsels and she is done. As she stands up to put her plate in the sink, her mother looks at her in an infuriating manner.
“Are you done? Are you not ashamed of how thin you look? You are 25 but you look 15. You came travelling all the way from Delhi without eating anything till now and you are done with few morsels”, reprimands her mother. Chinar freezes unable to say anything but her body is shaking.
“Relax Annam. She will start eating better soon. She has returned after a year. Let her be”, says Chinar’s father in her support. “Cheenu, you carry on with what you were doing”, he added. This rages her mother even more and she screams saying, “Fine. Don’t blame me later on. She is your responsibility.”
Chinar is barely able to control the tears that are unasked-for this moment so she moves towards the sink. She stands there for a minute resting her hands on the sink and is lost in her thoughts-again. She remembers the moment from the airport restroom when she was trying to be strong and telling herself that it was going to be fine. She feels heaviness in her heart and whispers, “nothing is going to be fine. You shall forever be a problem.” She cleans her hands and goes back towards her room without saying anything to her mom and dad. She doesn’t want them to see her tearful.
Chinar is back in her room staring at the box titled miscellaneous. She cleans the dust over it and opens it hesitantly. She takes out all it contained. Letters. Greeting cards. Embossed leaves. She sits by the window of her room and picks a Chinar leaf that dates back to 16th November 2012 that reads:
“Perhaps, there is something about the rose which explains why beauty is imperfect without an element of pain in it.”
After reading this quote, she suddenly starts weeping profusely. She is not able to contain the emotions anymore and uphold the grace she maintains otherwise. She opens her handbag to take out her diary but her eyes fall on the medicine that lady from the airport gave her. She takes it out and realises that they were just paracetamol tablets. She smiles as she realises how kind and innocent that lady was. She keeps the medicine in that miscellaneous box as a memory.
Chinar sits by the window and starts writing in her diary:
For reasons unknown, I can’t live here. My heart feels heavy and I want to go back. I have no wish to stay here and bring grief to mamma and papa. I can’t keep them happy because I can’t change anything about myself. My eating habits too. I will talk to papa and I am sure he will understand and let me go. I know I am 25, done with masters, no big goals to achieve but I want to know myself. I want to just be. Read more books. Breathe. Yes, the stars here seem nearer and the weather is good too. Mamma and papa worry about my marriage but they should try understanding me first. I want to leave. That’s it.
The clock strikes twelve and Chinar realises that she should put off the lights so that her parents don’t come up to find her awake and miserable. She puts off the lights and moves back towards the window. Suddenly, she steps over something in the dark. She tries to see what it is with the help of the light of her mobile and is shaken to find out her grandfather’s spectacles. She quickly picks them up and cleans them up with her scarf. She curses herself for being so careless with Dado’s precious belongings.
Chinar rests her head on her study table while looking at Dado’s spectacles-keeping it close to herself. Within few minutes, weary Chinar falls asleep.
The alarm starts ringing at seven in the morning, which breaks Chinar’s sleep and her dreams too. She rubs her eyes and realises that her body aches too much, owing to the fact that she slept in a bad posture. Dado’s spectacles on the table remind her of the dream she woke up from the previous night. She quickly gets up to get her diary-she can’t wait to write. She writes:
I love you Dado. I miss you. The biggest regret and agony that I always carried was that I wasn’t there when you left us. I wanted you to stay. I thought you left with disappointment for me in your heart. But you coming in my dream gave me a sense of relief. Dado, I am sorry. I realised how stupid I was. I thought I was keeping your memories but I was actually running away from them. In the dream when we both touched our roses with happiness, cleaned its surroundings and watering it; I realised how much you wanted me to be here. Dado, I know you want me to take care of everything that you left behind. The gardens. The pigeons. Your son. Your family. I won’t go back Dado, I promise. Love. Cheenu.
Chinar stops writing – the happiness on her face and the sparkle in her eyes are undreamed-of. She quickly goes out in search of parents. She finds both of them out in the garden watering the flowers. She runs towards them barefoot, embraces them tightly. “I love you both so much” she cries happily. “Cheenu? Are you okay? Are you going to die?” asks her father humorously. “No! Won’t let your secret wish come true.” All of them share a blissful laughter.
Before going to sleep that night, Chinar sits to write on a Chinar leaf she had picked from the garden during the day. It read:
Through the trails of your memories and the impressions you left behind; I shall seek to know myself. Through you, I shall find pleasure and wisdom. What you were, I will be.