Summer vacations had finally begun and 15- year- old Mala was glad to be one of the lucky ones in her group of friends who would be escaping the sordid Bhopal heat. Her parents had finally decided to take the long overdue vacation to Bangalore and they were all set to spend a glorious summer with the Shettys – her parents’ friends ever since she could remember. Better still was the fact that Anshika, Shetty uncle’s daughter was Mala’s best friend and when they were together, they needed no one else.
Mala stood in front of her tiny wardrobe trying to pick out clothes that would help her to blend in with the hip Bangalore crowd. She had decided to enjoy herself to the fullest; after all she deserved the break. She had slogged hard for her final exams, as a result of which, not only had she secured first position in her class but Amma had also promised her a grand prize. Although Amma would have preferred to present Mala with a copy of The Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Mala was resolutely determined to acquire a pair of hip sunglasses. “‘Sunglasses are in, Amma. Besides, almost all my friends possess a pair.” she had argued. Finally Amma had given in and Mala couldn’t help feeling over the moon.
As the sound of Papa’s loud guffaw drifted in from the living room, shaking her out of her blissful reverie, Mala said a silent prayer. She hoped against hopes that her family would not ‘be themselves’ and embarrass her in Bangalore. It was definitely asking for too much because this year she also had her 26- month- old brother Mohit to cope with. In Mala’s opinion, had there been something like a competition for the ‘World’s most embarrassing family,’ her family with Mohit and his stupid baby antics in public, Papa with his loud laugh and Amma with her nose always buried in some book or the other- would have won hands down. Why couldn’t Amma care more about how she dressed instead of what she read and why couldn’t Papa understand that his booming voice and resonating laughter could be heard from miles away?
At last the day she had waited for arrived and a 24-hour journey later, their train pulled into the crowded Bangalore City Junction. Mala spotted Shetty uncle and Anshika who had come to receive them at the railway station. Exhibiting classic teenage-girl behaviour, Mala and Anshika instantly glued themselves together and chit chatted all the way home totally unaware of the rest of the world.
Over the next few days, the girls indulged in several fun activities together. They participated in swimming competitions at the club house, went to the movies, gossiped, played Uno and other board games with Anshika’s friends and in general had a great time.
True to its reputation, time rolled by quickly. Their vacation was soon approaching an end and the important shopping trip was yet to be made. So, one fine Saturday morning, Anshika and Mala pestered their parents into taking them to MG Road-the hip street which had all the branded stores and all the ‘cool’ people. The day had come when Mala would choose her perfect pair of sunglasses and that too from a fancy big store. Clad in her favourite t-shirt and jeans, Mala hopped from one room to another in an animated delirium.
Once at the store, her excitement knew no bounds as she tried several pairs of sunglasses and finally set her heart on a very glamorous one. Just looking at them she knew that she had found her sunglasses. Amma and Papa exchanged a look as she and Anshika drooled over this particular sample. In no time the deal was finalized and Mala walked out clutching her beloved sunglasses which were neatly tucked in a pretty black velvet case.
Stepping out of the store, Mala entrusted Papa with her precious velvet case as their party of eight headed to a restaurant to celebrate the occasion. Settling down in an unoccupied booth at the restaurant Mala squealed: ‘Papa; can I have my sunglasses please. I cannot stop looking at them!’ Papa fumbled from one pocket to another, his expressions changing from pleasant to quizzical to apologetic. Mala had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Papa had managed to lose her brand new sunglasses! Mala could not believe that her happiness was destined to be so short lived. She gave Papa an accusatory look and promptly burst into tears. Everyone sympathized with her and tried to console her, but no one could really understand her grief-or so Mala thought. Papa stood silently looking at his woebegone daughter and felt just as miserable. He blamed himself for Mala’s misery.
An ice cream and a promise of a new t-shirt later, a semi- mollified Mala headed back home. She knew that she would never forgive Papa. She had been a proud owner of an expensive pair of sunglasses for exactly 15 minutes and now they were gone. Her parents would not be able to afford another pair this year and it was all Papa’s fault. ‘How could he do this to me?’ she thought. On the way back, Mala was so dissolved in self pity and anger that she did not realize that ever since the dreadful incident, Papa had vanished.
A couple of hours later, Mala had already tucked herself in bed. As she lay there moping, she heard a soft knock on the bedroom door and Papa walked in. Mala was in no mood to face either of her parents, least of all-Papa. “What do you want Papa? Should I give you something else that I like so that you can go ahead and lose that as well?”she asked in an acerbic tone. Without uttering a word, Papa sat down next to Mala and placed a familiar velvet case in Mala’s tiny hand. ” I am sorry betu for causing you so much sorrow,” he said softly.
As it turned out, Papa had gone all the way back to the same store where they had bought the original sunglasses. He had laboriously checked all the available sunglasses and had finally been able to locate another piece of the exact same kind. Delighted, he had quickly made the payment and rushed back home to surprise his little girl. Mala jumped out of bed, gave Papa a quick hug and rushed to Anshika’s room with the new acquisition. Even though in her excitement she had forgotten to thank Papa, he was happy to see his daughter’s elation.
Today, sitting in her beautiful apartment, thousands of miles away from Bhopal and her family, Mala stares at the broken pieces of her favourite sunglasses in pin drop silence. Earlier in the day, her cleaning lady had accidentally dropped them from their place on the shelf. Papa isn’t here to replace them for her, just so that he can see her smile again and Amma isn’t here to console her either. There is nothing in the world that she would not be willing to give to be able to curl up in Amma’s lap and listen to her read, to hear Papa’s deep throated chortle or Mohit’s constant banter. Not everything in life could be replaced. She knew that now.
Preeti Sharma is an MBA from Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies and dabbles with creative writing. As she stepped into the hectic and mundane routine of corporate life, her writing became her stress buster. Her insatiable wanderlust and need for change prompt her to travel as much as possible.