‘For heaven’s sake I need to do it today!’ Deepika was mumbling to herself. She simply hated cleaning and organizing her closet.

She would prefer spending lazy hours in front of the television or maybe indulge in a siesta. But she had to do it this weekend, since it had not been done for ages. It was to the extent that anything she would keep in, would lose its way and simply vanish or lose its existence. She geared herself up, with a vacuum cleaner. And as she started moving out all the bundled items; Pop! Something dropped and hit her head. It was a photograph album, long forgotten. It’s difficult to keep aside a 90s photo album without flipping it. And off course, she flipped through it.These were her earliest childhood memories. It was a nursery-school picture where she was clad in her school-uniform with oiled hair tied into tight plaits.

‘Please go back to your seat’, her class-teacher had requested with a smile.

‘I like your chair and will sit here’, she had replied promptly.

‘Go back to your seat’, her teacher responded slightly losing her patience.

‘No! I will sit where I want’.

She had always been a stubborn girl whom no-one could dictate over. Madam’s patience was now exhausted. She hit her gently on her back, ‘Go, I say’.

‘Smack!’ Deepika had placed a tight slap on Madam’s face while simultaneously mumbling, ‘How dare you hit me? Dumbstruck, her teacher walked out of the classroom and returned back with an official notice addressed to her parents for a parents-teachers’ meeting. She didn’t remember the reactions of her other classmates who had silently watched upon the entire live drama.

Deepika was from a close-knit family with her mom, dad and three sisters with Deepika being the eldest, followed by Kanika and Diya. Deepika remembered the times she would rock Kanika on the wooden horse, singing alongside. She would move around peddling her toy-rickshaw, towing her sisters in it and ferrying them to imaginary places.

 

Deepika was the elder one and was both sisters’ undeclared bodyguard at school and anyone messing with them would receive a hard punch from her side. As they grew, Deepika would protect them all the way from the bus stop to their home which was just an alley away. Those were times when parents didn’t need to wait for their children being dropped at the bus-stop. Relatively safe times!

There were also funny times, when Deepika would alight from the bus realizing that her sisters had dozed off and not got down at the stop. She would eagerly wait at the stop till the bus touched the last stop and return with a wailing Kanika and Diya. Those were mobile-less times when parents could not check upon the children through networking means.

Deepika remembered all sitting together for homework or for a game or for having lunch together even at school sometimes. While Deepika and Kanika had graduated to becoming sisters, Diya was like the over pampered baby whom both treated like a baby.

‘Didi, can I jump off this terrace and try flying?’

‘Okay!’ was her disinterested reply.

Little did she know that Diya was serious and dumb enough to actually take the plunge. The very next moment, she saw her fallen on the ground, wailing like crazy! Her mother had agreed to all the three sisters going to the park for playing. There was a building being constructed at one end of it, which the younger one was exploring while the other two were bicycling.

And now, she was petrified to take her back home in her limping state. This fear was least bit because of Diya’s poor condition. It was because of the fact, Deepika was the undesignated care-taker and the entire incident’s onus would fall on her head. Deepika tried explaining the situation to her mother as her sobbing sister wailed in pain.

‘Whack!’ was the immediate response, right on her face, even before she could complete her side of the story. Her parents hurried Diya to the doctor’s. ‘Thank God’, there was no fracture, just a severe sprain which would heal gradually along with following the medicines on the prescription.

The ‘Thank God!’ was not for her sister but for her; else she would have been at the receiving end of all the scolding and advises. Her sister was now smiling with her broken tooth. This was a snap of her sister with a broken tooth. It certainly had a story to tell.

Deepika flipped on.

All the three sisters were comfortably playing in the boot-space of their Maruti van which was big enough to house the three kids. Her father had conveniently got small seats fixed for the young devils. It was like a ‘moving-house’ for the three and a lot of fun! The car speeded through the over-bridge as they enjoyed playing in it. Suddenly, the door went open, and fling went Deepika’s two siblings. Her jaws dropped, as they looked like superman or shall she say super girls flying in the reverse direction. She was unable to utter a word in shock and disbelief.

She was completely dumbfounded. The bystanders yelled out to inform the others travelling in the car. ‘Screech……!’ the car halted as her parents ran to help the children. Deepika gathered herself to give a hopelessly late update.

The onlookers cursed her parents for their negligence. It was simply a divine blessing that there were no vehicles behind their car, when this incident took place. There were mild contusions and cuts. However, this situation was a boon since it could have otherwise been an excruciating debacle.

They certainly owed their gratitude to God. And all of them were sitting on the foot-steps of a temple with vermilion smeared on their foreheads. As Deepika looked upon this photograph she closed her eyes to thank God once again.

Irrespective of how busy their parents were, they would all make it a point to have dinner together; where the little ones enthusiastically shared even the smallest happening of the day with them. Who would laugh or cry or complain or advise, would entirely depend upon the narrated incident.

Bruised knees, sunburnt faces the three of them enjoying mangoes; comfortably perched on the branches of the trees. These would be lazy afternoons of the summer vacation when the kids had managed to sneak into the grove-yard, seeping in the nectar of the delightfully delicious mangoes! Their parents would either be in offices. No vacations for them……oh so sad for them and ‘so glad’ for the children.

There would also be weekends when they would lull their father to sleep who on the contrary would was in-charge of putting them to sleep, on crazily hot summer afternoons. While, the others would be enjoying their afternoon siestas, these three birds of the same feathers would flock upon the tree-branches plucking the King of fruits which was their favourite. While Kanika would wonder and be inquisitive about, why the mango she was enjoying had such a huge seed Deepika would scoff it off. ‘Just eat and shut up!’ Diya would just watch the other two in all her innocence and confusion. Their priority was only that of enjoyment. No summer heat or winter chill could hinder that.

The three sisters would all study together, go for music classes together, go to play together and never felt the need for any other friend. Off course they would join in, when others in their locality formed groups to play but the three of them enjoyed each other’s company. It was a respite from the usually fighting siblings. They were a friendly, self-sufficient huddle.

Sadly, when the schools would reopen, they would have to turn to being competitors since a comparison chart would be drawn by the over-curious moms, chatting across their home’s boundary walls. Apartments were non-existent and people could easily chat across the walls conveniently. What a wall truly!Whoever scored more was the ultimate villain for the other children although a hero for the respective parents. This was a snap of the parents posing in front of the red-brick boundary wall.

As adolescence was quietly descending, Deepika had gradually started becoming the preaching one. Deepika would be their ideal at times when it came to studies or performances on stage. All the other sermonizing times, she was a true bully. The younger ones knew what was good for them and they did not need advice all the time! She would lock them in a room if they didn’t listen to her. And the little ones would be too petrified to even complain to their parents when they returned home in the evening.

Their respective worlds were simultaneously growing. Deepika was getting dissolved in her group at school while Kanika and Diya in theirs. And then, teenage started striking cupid’s arrows on Deepika while the other two felt

estranged. Deepika had started drifting away from their huddle. The time she now spent with her siblings had drastically reduced since that was engulfed by the other friends in her life. Kanika and Diya felt alienated and started growing closer to each other.

Friends, exams, parties; all was invading very fast in their lives and in no time, Deepika was ready for a hostel life. The sisters had tears in their eyes as they went to see Deepika off. In any journey, the pain of the people left behind is much more aggravating than the one who is moving away. The former returns to the same house with everything intact except the missing person. Kanika and Diya looked at everything around in their home reminiscing the connection the thing had with Deepika. Deepika’s was a mixed mag of emotions; sad because of the separation and apprehensive about the new world which lay ahead. While her parents and sisters wept on return, Deepika was received by a new world which totally dissolved her unhappiness in its nuances. This was Deepika’s picture of her first day in college.

The entire family had to collect themselves and continue with their lives. This time, it was Kanika’s turn to create a blanket of protection around Diya, just in the manner which, Deepika had earlier done for them. Well, time flew……and the mango grove was sold to a real estate builder. And the sibling huddle gradually started disintegrating as life no more allowed them to flock together.

Deepika landed with a job offer outside town. These were times when the entire family would come to the railway station to bid farewell to the single departing person. There were no options of video-chats or any other application which could enable communication between them. A ‘telephone call’ had put its foot in the door, but it had a long way to travel.

An overly emotional moment! Deepika was embarking on a new journey and they would not be by her side. It was then that Deepika realized how much she had lost upon the time of being together with each other. All this time lost was in the excitement of a new life with its luring adventures. This was a picture of the entire family with tear-filled eyes at the railway station.

The big bad world was up before Deepika with its ready claws in its obscure image. It pounded upon her with professional failure. She came back home to share her grief and, all were ears for her. Its only when the adventure trips fail, you realize that the only shoulders to cry upon is your family. They welcome you with open arms irrespective of how arrogant or rude you have been to them earlier. These experiences were learning lessons for Kanika since her world had started unfolding by this time, at almost the same pace. The youngest one was too young to comprehend the complexities. This was a picture of them sitting on the terrace together.

Kanika took every step carefully since she now knew what the results would be if caution was thrown. It was her turn to depart to a far- off land. How would she take care of herself in an unknown world? Deepika reiterated to herself that she would be able to take care especially given the values their parents had brought them up with. She would stand tall irrespective of the circumstances. This was their first snap at the airport.

Diya had started comprehending all around her by this time. Thankfully, the technical world was growing at a pace manifold than the rate of their lives. Hence, now they could see each other over video conferencing on the night of Diwali. It was the family’s first Diwali when the entire family was not together. While they reached out for the blessings from the distant ‘aarti’ lamp; each one just thought to themselves, ‘God bless the person who discovered this technology’. A beautiful Deepawali snapshot!

It was an ‘out of the world’ moment for her parents when Kanika decided to give her parents a surprise visit. They tried their best to open their eyes wide enough to believe whether it was true or was an impression of the dense winter fog. Those were priceless expressions captured in the image.

Each of the three birds had gradually embarked upon building their new nests separately in the distant faraway trees twig by twig. It was so different from them sitting on the same branch of the mango tree of the erstwhile grove-yard.

It was all before Deepika: her first bicycle ride, her face beaming with her sports trophy, her family picnics, their birthday celebrations. Now, the world had welcomed soft pictures and digital cameras. Very unlike the quick browses and slide-shows, these photographs now had faded colours. their crispiness lost as each one stuck itself to its own compartment of the album. This collection of snaps was however very precious. It was a gift-pack of all her memories which and grounded her to her roots.

Truly, Old is Gold! As for the closet cleaning? Deepika had postponed it.

This story has also been published on https://shilpakshahdeo.wixsite.com/kiosk

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