Ananya And Anant
By Prajkta Lad
Piya tose naina laage re, naina laage re,
Jaane kya ho ab aage re...
The song played on repeat on her phone as Ananya cleaned up the living room of her mother’s apartment. The apartment had an open plan. High ceilings. A view overlooking the city. The walls shades of brown, complemented with white. Minimal furniture. Reflecting precisely on her mother’s taste in house interiors and life – she often preferred to keep it simple, and elegant, nothing extra.
Ananya packed the boxes, picked up the marker and labeled them. A satisfied smile etched on her face as she finished her work. She sighed in relief looking at all the packed boxes.
“How is possible, I swear I had seen it somewhere here.” Anant entered the room and started reopening the packed boxes, putting all of Ananya’s efforts of the past few hours down the drain. He did not bother to check the labels she had put with extreme care while sorting all the items, nor did he care to put them back into the exact boxes he had taken them out from.
“Anant, what in the world are you doing? I did not spend the last four hours tiding everything so that you could come and mess it all again.” Ananya’s annoyance at her brother’s actions was evident in her voice. Anant did not bother to reply and continued rummaging through the boxes. “What on earth are you looking for? Tell me, I’ll help you find it.” She could not bear all her hard work going in vain.
“You cannot help me, it was Maa and my thing, you don’t know about it.” Anant replied, unpacking another box, and spilling the contents on the hardwood floor and searching through them.
“Oh, so you are looking for this.” Ananya’s answer made him stop mid-actions and turn in her direction. She was holding a small wooden box, carved with intricate details. Anant's eyes widened in shock. He realized that she was indeed holding what he was looking for.
“How did you--”
“Oh so you really believed Maa when she told you that it was going to be a little secret between you two? You should have known better.”
She chuckled at her brother’s innocence. He was not expecting her to know about the box, it was written all over his face that he was oblivious to her knowledge. “Oh my dear little brother, why do you always forget that I am Maa’s favorite, there is nothing in the world that she has hidden from me, including this.” She pointed at the box in her hand.
He rolled his eyes at his sister’s dramatics.
“Whatever.” He moved forward to take the box from her but at the right moment, she stepped back. His irritation increased. “Ananya!”
“I know my name; you don’t have to yell it.” She was not going to let go of an opportunity to have fun at her brother’s expense.
“Give it to me, I don’t want any fooling around with it. It is important.” Anant tried his best to sound like he meant business, but Ananya was not going to give in easily.
“Well, I’ll think about it, while you can clean up the mess you have created.”
She pointed to the entire ruckus he had spread around the living room. He tried another time to snatch the box from her hand but she was quick to step back. Among the two, she was the more attentive and alert one. He stomped his feet in annoyance and started collecting the things from the floor and putting them back into the boxes. He knew his sister well. At the moment, he had little choice. She suppressed a laugh and continued with her instructions making sure he put the right things into the right boxes. No way was she going to let him have a moment of peace.
After what seemed like an eternity to Anant, he managed to pack the boxes again. He sighed.
He slumped on the couch and forwarded his hand towards her. She settled beside him and put the box on his palm. He turned to her amused. She leaned back and rested her head on the back of the couch.
“I am not as mean as you think I am.” She did not face him. “I wasn’t going to make you work more for something that is so precious to you; I just got my work done.”
He was quiet for a moment. A knowing smile crept on her lips.
“Just say it Anant, whatever is on your mind.”
“How do you always know that I want to say something?”
“Umm, nice question. How does this sound that I have been your sister for the past twenty-eight years? And I know my brother a lot better than he assumes.”
“Whatever that helps you sleep at night.” He scoffed. “I know you better.” He added.
“Really, you wanna debate on that?” She sat straight and turned to him.
“Actually, no.” He had a sheepish grin. She shook her head. “So Maa did tell you about this box?”
“Only after you went to London, she missed you a lot and once when I visited her, she let out ‘your secret’ to me.” She air-quoted the words. He gave a nod. It was something their mother would do.
“I always knew this was going to happen one day. She wasn’t exactly a secret-keeper.” He had a sad smile on his face.
“Except, when it was about her life, her problems, and her cancer.” The heaviness from Ananya’s heart filled his heart too.
“She didn’t want us to worry.” She sighed hearing his words. Her brother didn’t take a break from being their Maa’s lawyer.
“You always manage to take her side, and understand her. That’s why she loved you more.”
“That’s just a part of the reason. The real reason still remains the fact that you are adopted.” She looked at him and let out a laugh. He laughed with her, easing the tension in the air.
“Sometimes, even I feel all this anger build inside me when I get reminded that she kept it from us for a long time, only told us when it was time to go. I also have moments when I am upset with her decision, I may not have shown it but I was hurt too.”
Ananya was surprised to hear this from Anant after all these months. He had never expressed that he too, like her, was upset with their mother’s decision of keeping them in the dark.
The cancer had been diagnosed about two years back. Their mother only let them know about it six months back, when she was sure she did not have much time left.
Ananya had spent a major part of that period being angry and upset, while Anant had tried his best to spend as much time as he could with their mother. He took the earliest flight he could and came back from London.
Ananya, despite staying in the same city, did not visit for the first few weeks. She did regret it at times. She knew she was being a stubborn kid, but there was nothing else she could do at that time. She did come around eventually and the trio spent a lot of time together, making sure there were enough memories to help them live a lifetime with their essence.
Memories of loved ones are what keep you going even in the darkest times.
Their mother always used to say this. After their father’s untimely demise, the three had become each other’s world and support system. And this philosophy of hers had kept them going always.
“But you never showed it. You were always her little-good-boy. Never made a mistake, reacting the way she always expected from you.”
Anant didn’t react to her choice of words. He knew she was not taking a dig at him. It was her way of letting things out.
“I had to. I didn’t want her to spend the last of her days with regret. I didn’t want her to feel that she had failed us or disappointed us. It was the least I could do, you know why, because my sister was busy playing the difficult kid, like always.”
“I didn’t want her to feel that either. I was not angry, I was hurt. We lived in the same city, mere minutes away from each other, visited each other on weekends, and she kept lying to me for more than a year. Lying to my face. How was I supposed to react? I felt betrayed. I couldn’t stop thinking that I had failed her as daughter, that she couldn’t even share her pain with me.”
Her eyes turned moist. It was not anger but grief speaking. He put the wooden box on the table and placed his hand over hers giving it a little squeeze.
“You know that is not true, right. She didn’t tell you because you just had a baby, she didn’t want to snatch away your happiness and replace it with sadness. She knew you were going to lose her one day, all she wanted was to make sure that you had less days spent in sadness and worry.”
“I hate it, you still manage to put her in the clear, and make me feel like I am the wrong one.”
“Uh, you know me, I am my mother’s son, and why would I be on elder sister’s side, which has always annoyed the hell out of me and still manages to do so?”
“I am not the annoying one, you are.” She slapped his shoulder. He feigned hurt. She shook her head while he smiled.
She looked at him as she wiped the tear drops from the corner of her eye. “Well, not bad, I must say, living with Divya has made you quite proficient in handling emotional women.”
“Oh, I had that training ever since I was ten. You know growing up with two women, a mother-daughter, who never get along isn’t easy.” The two chuckled at the comment.
There was a silence as neither of them spoke anything for the next few moments.
“I miss her, like a lot.” Ananya broke the silence that seemed to stretch for too long. Her eyes welled up again.
“I miss her too.” Anant replied. He too could not control the tears.
Another silence followed.
“She would hate it if she saw us sitting like this, looking like shit.” He turned to his sister and wiped the tears.
“Oh definitely, I can already hear her long lectures on not losing the spirit, and making it through each day with a new founded hope.”
“She was a tad bit too optimistic.”
“Only when it came to us, otherwise she was quite the opposite.” His eyes followed the apartment that looked emptier than ever now with their mother’s absence.
“’Cause she loved us the most, and wanted to make sure we never let down by the hard times in life.”
“Wrong, ‘cause she loved me the most. You were just a complementary, I tagged along.”
“Haha, how funny. Your sense of humour has just gotten better with time.” Ananya mock praised her brother for making the same joke they had been using on each other for more than two decades of their lives now.
“I am man of many talents.” He did a fake collar raise.
“More precisely, Jack of all trades, master of none.” Ananya spoke.
“I’ll take it as a compliment.” Anant replied. She rolled her eyes.
Ananya’s phone rang breaking the flow of their conversation. She picked up her phone. Her smile dimmed a little looking at the caller id. She received the call. The conversation was one-sided with Ananya talking in monosyllables at certain intervals. It did not take Anant much to guess who was on the other end.
“Yes, Mr. Verma, sure, that’ll work for us too.” Ananya spoke for some time before disconnecting the call.
Mr. Verma worked at one of the old-age homes in the city - the place Ananya and Anant had decided to donate some of their mother’s belongings to. Their mother was a giver, and she had volunteered for various NGOs over the past few years. Once she left, the brother-sister decided it was best to donate their mother’s things to people who needed them and could make better use of it. They knew their mother would have preferred the same.
“Mr. Verma will be coming by 5. We’ll have to keep everything ready by then.” Ananya informed her brother the same.
“A major part of the work is done. We’ll be able to wrap up by 5. Not a problem.” She nodded at his words and kept her phone back on the table. Her eyes wandered around their mother’s abode.
This place was their mother’s nest – the could walk in anytime, knowing that their mother was going to be here and now all of a sudden, she was not going to be there, welcoming them with open arms and a bright smile that lightened their world.
Anant also looked around the house, before his eyes landed on the small wooden box. His mother and his secret – their thing. He had gifted it to her on her 50th birthday. She often mentioned the box on their calls while he was in London and she missed him.
He picked it and opened it. It was a music box. The instrumental tune of their mother’s favorite song played on the little device. He placed the box back on the table.
Ananya rested her head on Anant’s shoulder. They sat in silence listening to the music, reminiscing the days they had spent with their mother and the memories they had made together. The memories that were going to help them make it through the remaining phases of their lives. No more words were exchanged as the soothing music filled in the room.
By Prajkta Lad