Kids Corner


Part IV
Prem Kahani

A Short Story by T. SHER SINGH





Friday, November 16, 2012


Continued from yesterday ...



I waited by the curbside. Passengers emerged from the terminal in waves.

I was surprised, yet once again, by the number of Sardars you see around nowadays, even though an airport is naturally where you’d expect many, with all the comings and goings. 

I wait. He knows I’ll be in a silver Jeep with a soft top.

“A Jeep jeep?” he’d asked.

“Yes,” I’d said. “A jeep Jeep.”

“Well, I’ll be in a white turban.”

So, I waited for a white turban.

Kabir had asked me where I was going.

“It’s this bloody gramophone. A guy with a gramophone that apparently belongs to Mum.”

He had rolled his eyes.

So, I was expecting a fellow walking out of the sliding doors with a huge funnel in his arms. Like a tuba.

I spotted him. I could see the white dastaar bobbing above a box piled atop a cart he was pushing towards me. I got out of the car and waved at him.

He wasn’t the weirdo I had imagined him to be, for some strange reason.

Tallish, about 5-10 or so. He wore his California bronze well under his white turban and black fifty, his dark beard with a liberal dusting of salt.

We shook hands. He had a kind smile. Sad too. And shy.

I opened the hatch and he lifted a suitcase into it. And two huge boxes, one of them a huge cube. “The tuba!” I thought.

I noticed he was wearing a greyish tweed jacket over a sky-blue turtle-neck, and dark cords. From California? Nothing matched, the way yuppie Sardars dress up nowadays. Still, he looked good. Mellow.

“How’s Shani doing?” he asked, as we drove away.
Shani? He knew her well enough to call her Shani?

I had called him in the evening and told him of my lie. He hadn’t said a word, but I had rambled on and on, trying to explain why I had embarked on this plan.

All he said, when I ran out of things to say, was, “I guess it’s good news … and bad news. But thank you for telling me all of this.”

“I’m sorry,” I blurted, not sure what to make of his response.

“I think I’m somewhat relieved. But I’m not entirely sure. It’s like being hit with an earthquake … and then, with another, a few hours later. But it’s still a gift …”

I didn’t say a word. Because I had started crying.

The drive to Ethridge was peppered with short spurts of conversation. But mostly, we drove quietly through the morning rush hour. “Who is he? Who is he?” is what my brain was demanding. I had no answers.

He wanted to know about Mum’s illness. I told him of how she’d first found out; that the doctors had said it was too late. That she had rejected treatment … “No valiant attempts for me to add a few months” … that we’d concentrated on managing the pain. That the end was nigh.

He was kind. He wanted to know how Kabir and I were faring, how we were coping with it all.

It’s the most difficult thing you’ll ever have to grapple with, he’d said. He too had lost his parents, both one after the other, within two years, but more than a decade ago. You never get over it, he said. But we must, he added, it’s the way of life.

“All the love you’re receiving will heal you. Difficult though it may appear now, we survive.” And then he went quiet, and we drove on, lost in our thoughts.

*   *   *   *   *

Mum was alone in her room when I opened the door. We entered and I closed the door behind us.

He took a few steps and then stopped. He couldn’t see her face. I didn’t think she knew we were there.

He stood there. Couldn’t move, as if, just staring at the bed. I thought he had looked young when I had stolen glances at him as we drove. Now, suddenly, he looked older. Maybe it was the dim light.

I could see a movement. Mum was stirring.


“Yes, it’s me.” He stepped forward and slowly walked to the foot of the bed and looked down at her. He had burst into a smile.

“Mum,” I asked redundantly, “are you awake?”

She was looking at him, from across the length of the bed. I noticed her body was shaking, even trembling, maybe. I moved closer and bent over her. She was laughing!

He too began to laugh.

All they did was look at each other. Neither said a word.

I loudly whispered I needed a coffee and quickly left the room.

*   *   *   *   *

I sat in the cafeteria, nursing a coffee. My head was in a whirl. Didn’t know what to make of it all.

I phoned Kabir: I didn’t want him to barge into Mum’s room at this point, even though I wasn‘t sure why. He was at the funeral home, working out the arrangements. They were intrigued by what we were doing, oddly, even excited a bit. Wanted to help, but had no specific ideas. Kabir had to improvise as they went through the check-list.

Would I call the florist and order the bouquets? Sure, I said.

I told him I had picked up the gramophone chap and he was with Mum now.

“Alone?” Kabir was concerned. “I don’t think Mum should be having any visitors now, sis. You know she tires easily.”

“Sure,” I said. “I’m about to go back and drop him off at the motel. He’s taken a room there as well.”

I opened Mum’s door a bit to take a peek. I heard him talking. He sounded animated. He was laughing too. I even heard Mum laugh. His back was towards me, his chair close to the bed.

Well, I thought, I should leave them alone for a bit more.

I sneaked out.

I’m not stupid. There was something going on here, and I needed to get to the bottom of it.

I went outside and took a stroll to the brook that ran behind the property. Some river, I said to myself angrily, as I passed by a sign saying “Riverside Hospice.“

I stood by the water. Its loud mumblings and grumblings as it tumbled over the stones calmed me down a bit. I’m sounding like I’m the mother, she the child, I chided myself. Sure, there’s something fishy going on here. But then, why not.

I began laughing at myself. Loudly. Here she was, dying, and yet laughing in the company of a strange man, and I was getting all maternal and wanted to know what was going on!

I went back inside, had another coffee in the cafeteria, made a few more phone calls, and then decided I had given them enough time together. Maybe he was eager to get to his motel room.

I knocked on the door this time, and then let myself in.

They were still chatting away, but Mum was sitting up, almost, the bed cranked up under her upper body, and a pile of pillows propping her up. Lord, she looked so frail, now that I could see her more fully.

I pulled up a chair on the opposite side.

“Where’s Kabir?” Mum asked.

I told her he was checking out the arrangements for Saturday.

“At the funeral home?” she asked.

I looked at her, searching her face. I wondered what was going on in her head then; the funeral home, yes, and it was her funeral we were working on!

I nodded.

I seemed to have dampened the conversation a bit, and tried to revive it.

“You guys known each other for long?”

“A few years,” said Mum, looking down at her hands, as she washed them in air, over and over again, in slow, measured movements. Self-affirmations, somebody had once described them.

I thought I’ll try another kick-start.

“What’s with this Victrola? What’s the story?”

They looked at each other and smiled.

“It’s something I had found in an antique shop. And bought.” She was looking at him, as she was speaking. “It was for you, actually, Biba, but …”

“So, how come he had it?” I asked.

“Well, he was with me when I purchased it.”


In a little town along the coast. in California.”


“A few years ago.”

“So, how come he has it?”

“Because I had left it with him.” She looked away, and then around the room. “And never went back to get it.”

Each answer brought a flood of questions to my lips. I stopped myself. I’m beginning to interrogate her, I realized. And my voice is getting louder. Why am I getting angry?

We all went silent. Weighing our thoughts, I suppose. Readjusting, realigning …

Mum was the first to speak. But first she reached out with her hand, and took mine. Held it in both of hers and gently patted it a few times. And then began washing it in her trade-mark gesture.

“We were … are … friends … for several years. Close friends.”

Hari was looking at her. His eyes turned to me. He looked like he was anxious for her, I think. He nodded.

“Close friends?” I asked.

She stole a glance at him, and nodded.

I laughed, nervously. “Boyfriend … girlfriend?”


I sat back in my chair. Hadn’t meant to, but I had pulled back my hand, and my arms were across my chest now, locked in.

“I need to sit down with you and tell you some stuff. Lots of it.”

I nodded. “Yes, you do!”

“I don’t think you know that you’ve been an angel way beyond your dreams. You’d set out to comfort me, and you’ve unleashed things you didn’t know about, way beyond you could’ve imagined. That’s what angels do.”

I stared at one, then the other. Had I unleashed a whole world of problems?

“Have I done something wrong? Opened up a Pandora’s box?”

“You’ve opened up a box, indeed. Of joy. Of things I thought I would take with me, unresolved, to the grave. Now, like a farishtaa, an angel, you’ve done what we couldn’t do on our own.”

We were all looking away from each other now. Embarrassed, because we were tearing up, each one of us. We passed around the Kleenex box, and then began to laugh at the incongruous scene.

“More later. I promise. Let‘s talk this evening,” Mum said to me.

Hari got up. “I‘ll be back …”, he said, and went out.

I couldn’t wait till the evening. “Is he married? Is that what happened?”

“No,” she said. “That’s not it.”

“What, then?” I whispered urgently, keeping an eye on the door.

“He was single. Still is. We were both single. And stupid.”

I had managed to wipe the smile off her face. I leaned over and hugged her. We stayed like that for a bit. Until the door opened.

Two huge boxes clumsily walked in, with Hari’s arms around them.

He set them on the floor. And began to rip them open, one by one.

From the smaller one emerged a wooden base, in reddish mahogany, a pink felt platter on the top, a crank-handle sitting on it.

Hari wheeled a table from across the room and placed it past the foot of the bed, plunked the contraption on it and stuck the handle into its side.

He then tore open the bigger box, and out came a huge brass horn, a huge sun-flower smile one end, tapering into a small pipe-like aperture at the other. He carried it carefully across the room and fitted it into the gramophone box, and turned the funnel towards us.

A decal on the front of the wooden box showed a dog with its snout pointed into a similar horn. Below the image, it read, “His Master’s Voice.”

Mum began to laugh, and couldn’t stop. She rolled over towards me, grabbing my hands. I gave her some water. She held her stomach, and began to giggle  again.

I hadn’t seen her like this for a long, long time.          



Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, (Malaysia), November 16, 2012, 11:01 AM.

This is resurrection. A miracle. I am speechless.

2: Rosalia Scalia (Baltimore, Maryland, USA), November 16, 2012, 1:17 PM.

Looking forward to reading the ending! This story is especially poignant: far too often people have no clue as to how they positively impacted others and their lives.

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Part IV
Prem Kahani"

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