I often write to my little sister. It’s one of our special bonds. This is an excerpt from one of my letters to her.
30th August 2015
I have in front of me on the table a half-eaten apple, and in my lap, on a notepad, a half-written letter.
I look out the window but mist and fog block my view. I reach out and clean the pane with the hem of my long sleeve; the cloth makes a screeching sound on the cold glass. The noise is disheartening: I look around the room to make sure that the disturbance has not woken up the others. Ravi, Renu and Suman all remain fast asleep.
We are in a hotel in uptown Mussoorie. Exhausted from yesterday’s travel, we’re not to get up for another couple of hours, but somehow I wake up. And now I am unable to go back to sleep. But because the stillness of dawn helps me think, I am up, my notepad and my pen ready, just in case inspiration strikes.
I look out the window again and all that greets me is a sea of white. Clouds, actual clouds are floating beyond the window, just an arm’s reach away. Even as I strain my eyes, trying to make out patterns through the mist, a slow breeze gently blows, pushing the clouds away and I get a glimpse of the valley below.
On a smaller hill a few hundred yards below us, I see a wooden house. Surrounded by a canopy of trees it stands alone as the only human-made structure. The roof is thatched and the walls caked with dried mud.
There is a thin trail of smoke coming out of the chimney, and as I look on, a silhouette of a woman appears from behind the door. She has in her arms a bundle, which I can only assume must be a child wrapped in blankets.
The woman moves around her small courtyard doing her morning chores, and all the while the child sleeps peacefully in her arms. She clears out a pitcher of water, sweeps the floor, cleans the little garden and waters the plants.
There is a certain dexterity, a sort of assuredness to the woman’s movements. She is not too mindful of the baby in her arms and yet I am certain the baby cannot be more secure. It is the sort of expertise that you gain from years of practice; like she had done this before. I deduce, therefore, that this is not her first child.
The sudden, shrill ringing of a mobile phone pulls me out of my thoughts, back to my reality. The sharp noise of the phone is a like a knife through butter, cutting through the still room with ease and malice.
The others stir, their faces scrunched up by the inconvenience of a disturbed sleep. I quickly look around the room and find the source of disturbance to be Ravi’s phone: he had forgotten to disable his daily alarm, idiot.
I kill the alarm and quickly get back to my chair, eager to go back to my new little world on the hill below. But even as I settle down I am disappointed, for the clouds are back, blocking the view. I sit there and wait patiently. It is another fifteen minutes before the clouds part again and I am able to see down the hill. But I am disappointed yet again.
This time because there is no woman in front of the house. The door looks firmly shut, and the smoke from they chimney is a pale shadow of its former self. Apparently, she’s left for work, locking the door behind her. I conclude, accordingly, that the woman lives without her husband, and that she probably owns a tea-stall: the only job for which she’d have to leave so early from her house.
I pick up my pen and notepad and start scribbling my thoughts and observations. I jot down a few words but struggle to find my rhythm. And I know the reason why: because I haven’t had my morning coffee yet. I pick up the intercom and dial room service.
‘Good morning, Sir!’ a voice quips from the other end.
‘This is 307. I would like a coffee, please.’ I say.
‘How would you like it, sir?’ he enquires with a tone so concerned as if his life depended on getting the beverage right.
‘Dark, sugars on side.’
‘Sure, sir. Would you also like some breakfast?’
‘Um.. Some brown bread, if you have any. Just a couple of slices, slightly toasted.’
‘Very well, sir. Anything else?’
‘Some cheese or butter would be nice.’ I add as an afterthought.
‘No problem, sir. A server will be there in ten minutes. Please call if you need anything else.’
‘Have a good day, sir!’
‘Thanks, you too.’
I put the receiver back and go lie down on the bed, the whirring of thoughts accompanied aptly with the slight snoring in the room. And as I wait for the coffee to arrive, I wonder what should I be saying in that half-written letter on my notepad. So far, I have only managed —
Dearest Sis …