Malhar Krishnan Sharda Iyer,
4th January 2014.
I signed at the bottom of the page and closed the book. The tedious process of signing the books was finally done. The muscles of my back were tauting, my knuckles had developed a severe phobia of pens and markers and my eyes were as tired as hell. I was sick of signing these books, travelling between geographies and time zones, delivering motivational speeches to people who waited in long queues to hear me talk about me. They believed I was living a perfect life. However the truth was buried.
The truth was that I was leading the most loveless life. I was hollow from the inside of me. For ages I hadn’t felt my heart beat, I had been unable to see beauty in anything that the world considered beautiful. For more than a decade I had only written books and stories and walked across the globe for inaugurations faking smiles.
My bags were packed and ready. I had to leave for Jakarta in about 20 minutes time. I was eagerly waiting for the cab to arrive to pick me and drop me to the airport.
Just then my show organizer called and informed me that the flight to Jakarta had been delayed by 6 hours due to a sudden storm that was fast approaching Cape Town.
Darn, I banged my fist on the wall. I was annoyed at this sudden delay. I opened the curtains and looked outside the window. It was raining heavily, dark clouds had covered the otherwise clear blue sky, there were occasional moments of lightening accompanied by loud sound of thunder. I saw weaker trees getting uprooted, stronger ones holding the ground beneath them strongly . The storm had really decided to claim the evening.
I reclined on my chair anticipating some sleep. Well, good thing about delays are that you get some unanticipated time to mull over your fears.
“May I come in Sir?” I heard a knock at my door.
“Is it room service? I don’t need anything. I will check out in about 6 hours. My flight is delayed.” I confirmed without moving an inch from my chair.
“Sir, its the cab driver”, I heard from the other side of the door.
My flight to Jakarta was delayed. Why has the cabbie come so soon? Darn! I was annoyed at this uninvited guest.
I opened the door and found her standing at the door, drenched completely from head to toe. She was tall and huge, had curly locks, a very dusky complexion that shone with all its might, eyes that were so deep that for a moment I felt I had seen the world in it.
“Sir, it’s raining outside and driving back home will be difficult so I thought I will come to see you a little early.” She explained peacefully.
“Little Early?” I looked at my wrist watch and exclaimed.
“Sir, I have read your books and admire them. So I thought this will also give me an opportunity to spend some time with you. So...” she tried getting my acceptance over her unwelcome presence.
I realized I was being impolite to a woman. I gestured her to come inside. She slowly walked inside. I noticed she was wearing a uniform. Fiery red shirt, spotless white jacket. She held a small book in her hands. Your Karma, it read.
Strange, I thought to myself.
“Would you want a cup of coffee?” I asked trying to camouflage my annoyance over her uninvited visit.
“Certainly Sir. She made herself comfortable near the heater.”
“How did the Hotel authorities let you in? Isn’t this a five star hotel?” Sarcasm was my middle name.
“Well, I sneaked in Sir. Most of the times people don’t notice me coming. Only the ones who have a clear heart and virtuous life can see me coming.” She smiled.
“So you mean, no one ever notices you? because a clear heart is an impossibility in today’s world.” I smirked.
“Exactly Sir”, she replied holding the coffee mug closer to her lips.
“How can someone not notice a huge woman like her?” I thought to myself. Well, this is Africa, anything can happen, I consoled my self.
“Sir, do you really like writing?” She broke the awkward silence that was slowing enveloping the room.
“Well, yes I do. I always wanted to write. Hence...” I detested this question more than anything.
“But Sir, why do you always write tragic endings?” She interrogated
“Errr! I don’t know. May be because... I..”
“Do you feel sad from within?”She was making me uncomfortable.
“I have some unclosed business, some unheard voices, some unexplained feelings, trapped within me.” I tried brushing the topic aside.
“Then why don’t you seek a closure, Sir?” She stared straight into my eyes and I felt lost for few moments again.
“Sir, we African’s believe that one must seek closure before it’s too late. You never know when will the soul separate from its mortal body. No one knows when will Kifo arrive? She sounded like a monk.
“What is Kifo?” I asked annoyed over her Swahili accent.
“Sir, Kifo in Swahili means death.” She answered.
“See, it’s my personal life and I don’t want to discuss this with a cabbie I have never met before.” I was curt this time.
“Do you still long for Niharika? Do you still hold a grudge against her?” She asked sipping her coffee.
I was stunned. For a decade I had been escaping from this name. Ruuning from continents to continents to forget this name.
“How the hell do you know about Niharika?” I was intimidated by this woman’s knowledge about me.
“It is written Sir.” She explained sensing panic in my voice.
Really? Mr. Murthy, my manager must have let the cat out. I felt anger soaring like an avalanche inside me. How could he give out my personal details like this?
“Sir, you must let her go. She has walked ahead and it’s time, you do too. Sir, forgive yourself and forgive others. Open up your heart to your Amma and Appa. Let love flow in to your life again. Mend your relations with them. They long to see their son. Close your unfinished business. Heal yourself. Let guilt move out. Let compassion fill your life.”
She blurted in her Swahili accent like an agony aunt.
“How the hell on earth do you know all this?” I bellowed at her.
“Listen Miss, don’t try to get close to me. Leave and wait at the hotel lobby. I will see you in 6 hours. Now leave.” I angrily opened the door.
“It is written Sir. I just want you to liberate yourself and love your life. It’s precious.” She said as she stood and looked at her book as if trying to read something.
You have a gentle heart. She read from her book again.
I turned to her and gave her an angry stare.
“What do you want for God’s sake?” I screamed louder than the sound of lightning that struck miles above the place I stood.
She wore her jacket and left without responding.
I reclined back in to my chair wondering over the moments that I had spent with this African woman I had never seen in my entire life. She had opened my wounds to the world. I felt vulnerable and gullible.
Resentment - Forgiveness
Malhar, may I? I heard a familiar voice at the door.
Who the hell is it? I barked like an angry dog waiting to pounce.
Niharika? came a prompt reply.
Was I listening things? Niharika in Cape Town? I pinched myself and it hurt. I was awake, I wasn’t dreaming.
I jumped from my chair and opened the door. There she stood in a simple blue and red salwaar kameez, her long hair tied in a pony tail, her long ear rings hanging from her ears, her pink lipstick making her lips look fuller, kajal neatly lining up her black eyes. She was just as I had seen her 10 years ago when she abruptly left me. There was no reason given, no arguments shared, no explanation sought for, nothing at all. Only a hug and a whisper, “Move on Malhar, I will always love you.”
Nihar...I ..I mean Niharika, you in Cape? I was mumbling.
“I never left Malhar. You never let me out of your heart. But I am trapped now. Let me go. I had to leave you because I loved my family more than you. They were against us and I had to oblige. Please forgive me and let me go. Let go of the resentment you have for me." Niharika pleaded.
But?? I felt short of words. I had never got a closure to our relationship. I was scarred. And now when she was around and I was getting what I longed for, I couldn’t speak a word.
“Let go. The resentment that you are holding in your heart is ruining your life. Amma and Appa are waiting to see you. They want you to be happy, again. Your resentment towards me has made you a different man.” Niharika was as vulnerable as I was.
“You met Amma and Appa?” Sweat beads formed on my forehead. I held the handle of the door tightly.
“Yes, they are here. But they can only come when I go.” She informed me as I cried my heart out. I hadn’t cried for ages.
I looked at her, held her hands and whispered, “Go Nihar, I set you free. Go, be a doting daughter. I forgive you”, and I gently left her hand. She slowly walked away.
After a few steps I lost her sight. I felt a heavy load off my chest. I could breath easily.
Guilt - Acceptance
A few moments later I saw Amma and Appa walking towards me. I had not anticipated them, here. I ran towards Amma like a lonely child and hugged her like I often did as a kid. I slipped in to my childhood where hugging Amma was as easy as breathing. They walked inside the room with me. Appa carefully closed the door.
I cried like a child. “Amma please forgive me for being an unreasonable son. I know I have ignored you and Appa. I never fulfilled my responsibility. I have hurt you both. I was selfish." I felt the sword of guilt hovering over me cutting through my flesh and bones.
Appa lovingly stroked my hair. “Kanna, we know everything. We knew you were heartbroken. We knew you were battling a bigger battle within yourself. We were never angry with you. We wanted to help you. Let the guilt out. We love you.”
Appa’s words soothed my soul. These tiny drops of love fell on my ever thirsty heart. I felt lighter, happier and a sense of relief that I hadn’t felt for long.
“I will be a dutiful son, Appa. I won’t hurt you both anymore.” I promised them.
Amma sang the lullaby I loved and I felt my eyelids drooping. I was asleep in no time.
Love - Expression
Sir, are you ready? I heard a loud knock at my door and woke up with a start.
1:00 am, I looked at the wall clock.
Sir, are you alright? I heard the knock again.
I rushed towards the door and there she stood. The same peaceful look, bright eyes, strange uniform and her little book.
“Thank you cabbie," I was on my knees.
“Sir?” she was perplexed.
“Thank you. Had it not been for you I wouldn’t have realized that I had been wasting my precious life over things that are of no value.
“Sir, you look younger and happier.” She giggled.
“Well, may be because I have shed all the anger, guilt and resentment. May be now you see the real me.” I laughed through my tears.
“Great then. Let us have another cup of coffee to celebrate this moment. After that I have to drop you on time. The storm has also subsided. I have other pick up’s lined up as well.” She said and entered the room.
“Come and meet my parents”, I urged.
“Well, they left Sir. Thus I am here to accompany you. They had to catch an early morning flight.” She informed.
“What? Amma and Appa left? But why?” I couldn’t understand a word.
“Sir, it is your journey and not theirs hence they couldn’t join you.” She explained.
“So Sir, you feel better now?” She asked trying to divert my attention.
“Yes I do, cabbie.” I am sorted from within. I smiled.
But she still had some questions on her face. She opened her book and read. “But you still have an unfinished business. You have left someone waiting for you.” She exclaimed.
Waiting? I thought to myself.
Oh! Yes, Swara. The woman who has loved me from the time she understood what love feels like. Amidst all this mess, I left her lingering on a thin line of hope that someday I will marry her.” But how the hell do you know this? I felt fear for a moment.
“It’s written Sir.” She answered again.
Written? Well, Mr.Murthy will have it from me, I whispered.
Sir, may be you should call up Swara and get this unfinished business a closure.
I suddenly felt a sense of urgency within myself. I immediately picked up the phone and called Swara.
Drrn Drrn... the ring went for long before a sweet voice answered.
“Swara, is that you?” I asked with my heart pounding.
“Malhar? what happened?” A question for a question.
“I love you Swara, will you marry me?” I proposed.
There was a pause for 20 seconds and I heard a feeble “Yes” accompanied by silent sound of tears amalgamated with a beautiful smile.
“Swara, I am so happy. As soon as I reach Chennai we will meet up and we will.... we will marry Swara.” I replied before she kissed the phone and hung up.
“Cabbie, you are a genius. I love you.” I had never hugged a huge woman but I hugged this amazing woman who I met just a few hours ago.
“Well Sir, people usually hate me and are wary of me.” She giggled again.
Hate you? Why? You are so wonderful and pretty. I complimented this wonderful woman.
“Nzuri, is it?” She jokingly asked.
“Nzuri?” I asked back pondering over this word
“Nzuri in Swahili means good....beautiful.” She translated.
“Ah! Yes yes, Nzuri.” I laughed again.
We shared another cup of hot coffee. This time a serene silence filled the room. Soon the storm subsided and the weather became clear. I started packing my stuff as my cabbie scribbled something on her book.
Gratitude - Prayer
“Cabbie, the night after the storm shall always remain in my memory. Usually storms bring destruction, but for me this storm has uprooted my false beliefs and what has remained grounded inside me is the person who loves life. I shall fondly remember this night and you, till eternity. I told her.
“Sir, in my company, people usually see their entire lives flashing in front of their eyes.” She mysteriously answered.
“Ah! Then you must be a monk.” I nudged her jokingly.
“Sir, do you really love your life now?” She curiously asked.
“More than anything, cabbie. I am keen on going back to my loved ones.” I told her excitedly.
“Well, Sir in that case I can’t take you to your destination”, she answered and started leaving.
“What? but why?” I was stunned at her words.
“Sir, I suggest you must cancel your flight to Jakarta and leave for India today.” She ordered as if calculating something.
“Cabbie, what are you saying?” I worriedly asked her. For once her eyes looked shallow.
"Sir, life does give a second chance to people who love it, who realize their mistakes. You have got a second chance. I shall pray to God for you. A strangely beautiful expression covered her face.
“Sir, you have to promise me that you will not write tragic endings anymore and that you will believe in the goodness of life.” She requested.
“I promise, cabbie.” I held her huge palm gently.
“And the next book that you write you must thank me for giving you this chance to write again.” She spoke as if she were doing a favour to me.
“But how do I thank you? I don’t even know your name.” I explained my helplessness.
She mysteriously smiled and opened my palm. Then she placed her little book in there. This book shall guide you. I need to go, now. There are other pick ups for the flight to Jakarta. She informed me and left in a hurry.
I still don't know why I felt compelled to obey her. Obliging her words, I called up the show organizers and cancelled my trip to Jakarta. They hesitated but eventually agreed. I immediately booked an evening flight to India and extended my stay in the hotel for few hours, more. I couldn’t contain my joy. I was excited about surprising Amma and Appa. The thought of meeting Swara made me beam.
I prayed like I never prayed before. I thanked God for sending the cabbie to me. I thanked him for the last night. I thanked him for the storm. Had it not been for the storm, cabbie wouldn't have spent so much time with me.
Realization -A second chance
Just then my phone rang. The name, Yousuf flashed on my screen. Yousuf was the event manager from Jakarta.
“Sir, are you alright?” he enquired as soon as I answered my phone.
“Yes, I am fine, Yousuf. What happened?”
“Malhar Sir, did you not take the flight to Jakarta?” he curiously asked again.
“No, Yousuf. Haven’t the organizers informed you? I cancelled my trip to Jakarta.” I informed him.
“Thank God Sir, because the flight to Jakarta has crashed and there are no survivors.” He informed me with sadness rolling over his tongue.
I couldn’t believe my ears. I immediately hung up and rushed towards my luggage. I anxiously pulled out the little book that cabbie had given me.
I felt a shiver run down my spine. I slowly opened the little book and it read....
Malhar Krishnan Sharda Iyer
9 July 1980 - 4 January 2014 - 4 January 2054
Kifo Nzuri - Angel of Death.