The team waited at the gate for the bhajan and yoga to end. Then they walked to the large portico of the Gothic bungalow.
Mereeta Shenoi was waiting for them on the verandah. She pulled off the hand kerchief which held up her hair for the yoga. Her salt and pepper hair fell to shoulder length; the warmth on her face seeped through to her limbs.
‘No trace of her childhood insecurity!’ thought Markose. He had gathered every detail of Mereeta Shenoi, the ever first recipient of the LOVE IN ACTION award.
Seated in a plush couch for the interview, Markose noticed that there was no sign of bitterness or haughtiness on her face.
Her eyes were sharp, a hint of pungency lurked on her face. Head held high, she sat like an epitome of success.
The crew was getting ready for the interview, when Mereeta said: ‘I know you media people sweep out secrets from under the carpet. I shall be open and honest with you. But please don’t tarnish my ancestors. Include only what is relevant. Treat the rest as trash.’
‘No, Ma’am! It’s only a short documentary on the origin of this Rehabilitation Centre.’ Markose agreed.
‘This is a noble cause and it should be treated like that and nothing else.’ Mereeta said with an air of authority.
She remained quiet for a short while. She twirled the crystal ball, as if she were unwinding her bitter past.
‘Any questions to me or shall I tell you my story?’ she asked in the end.
‘It’s your choice, Ma’am.’
‘Forgive me if it sounds weepy at times.’ Mereeta sat looking into the void for a moment, before proceeding to unfold the story.
Her Grandpa bought the bungalow from a British doctor. It became the symbol of splendour for the family, but to Mereeta it was a symbol of insecurity and loneliness. Born in the lap of luxury, Mereeta was least interested in the expensive toys Dada bought from all the sea ports en route. Instead, she wandered forlorn in the sprawling bungalow. She lived closeted within her own orphaned mind. Mama was interested only in parading her own beauty and affluence. Dada remained rejected and unwelcome each time he returned home from the ship. Mereeta’s memory was crammed with the outbursts of Dada and Mama. Dada was very possessive of Mama. Mereeta had learned from the house-maids that Mama met Dada, Captain Giridhar Shenoi during her College days at Bangalore, during her week-end escapades to Ooty and Mysore. The romantic moments in their horse rides and boating brought them closer. They went for a civil marriage and drove straight to the bungalow. Grandpa and Grandma could not accept the inter-caste marriage. For them, it was a gross violation of their ancient tradition. Outraged, Grandpa stopped them at the portico. He was a little too violent in his reaction. In that scuffle, Grandpa had a massive cardiac arrest and Dada rushed him to the hospital. In that shock Grandma became mentally deranged. It was just the beginning. The family went through many such crises.
Dada’s periodic visits and Mama’s weekly dance parties at home became a constant irritant to Mama’s parents. Grandpa’s incessant wailing from his confinement and Grandma’s mad ravings at the very sight of Dada scorched Mereeta’s mind. Nightmares and a deep rooted sense of being forlorn shattered her completely.
Mereeta paused in her narration. She was obviously disturbed by the rush of memories. Each one a slice of her searing mind! Markose diverted the story with a question.
‘There’s a strange scar on your face. Does it have anything to do with your success story?’
‘Good that you asked.’ With that she continued her narration.
‘Everyone who attended Mama’s weekly dance relished the splendour of the bungalow, the Bar and the exquisite dinner. Mama was the star attraction at the dance. Dada was jealous of Mama’s partners. That fateful night, Mama looked gorgeous in her scarlet gown. Guests were yet to arrive. Mama appeared gliding down the floor, flaunting her trailing gown. Dada sprang to his feet like ferocious lion, his revolver drawn and screaming like a lunatic! Scared out of wits, I ran across the floor and threw myself at Dada. We both fell down. The deafening gun shot was followed by a shower of crystal shingles on Dada and me. Dada had missed the aim and the shot crashed the British chandelier. A mind-shattering experience! This weird scar is only one among the many wounds I sustained that evening. Those were wounds in my body and mind alike! This scar is the symbol of my horrible parents! It reflects my scarred mind!’
‘You know, people are really unpredictable. Fresh trouble started when Grandpa decided to bequeath to me all his assets. Grandpa’s brother, who had been very supportive till then, became our arch enemy. He challenged Grandpa’s will, producing forged documents. With that legal rigmarole, there came other issues. Grandpa lost his will to live, when his brother turned against him. Heart broken and having lost faith in anyone, he died. Mama became penniless with the demise of Grandpa. Dada got legally separated from Mama and left us. Mama was forced to earn her bread. We were forced to vacate the bungalow which was in Receiver custody. Mama put Grandma in a hospice centre. I continued my studies in a convent. Mama left for Goa to work as a receptionist in a tourist home. Years of financial crisis and shame followed. Thankfully I was good in studies. A nun in the convent arranged a German sponsor for my higher studies. I joined a reputed institution and qualified as a Psychologist and a Counsellor. I also took a short course on Special Education.
Thank God! By then the case was disposed in my favour. It had been my long cherished dream to protect children who faced challenges in life. I was able to feel one with them. My studies also exposed me to the needs of children with special abilities. Children in wheel chair, crutches, palsied and walking crooked! What could I do to bring such children to the mainstream? That question was like an anchor to my life, you know!
As soon as I took legal possession of my childhood home, the spacious rooms I used to wander about, I decided to come back to it. The bungalow which had never given me a sense of security! Still it sounded a home-call from far! It could be the homing instinct! I returned to this bungalow!
The orphan, the forlorn child! The cracked crystal bowl! An unwanted baggage for Mama! But I could transform that cracked crystal bowl into a precious cradle.’
Tears trickled down Mereeta’s cheeks. She smiled through her tears.
‘A mere cracked crystal, but a cradle! That was my dream!’ Mereeta looked wistful.
‘That image was the spark in my life. What if I had been an unwanted baggage in Mama’s life! I could make a difference in someone’s life. This is a celebration of life!’
‘This is a celebration of LOVE!’ Mereeta said in a hushed whisper. A heavy but positive silence prevailed!
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