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Constellations

by Sunil M S 

Sunil’s story explores the relationship between a father and a son. The ageing old man had once predicted his own riches. The son, a non-believer, would go against his father’s predictions. All said and done, they both now live under the same roof, in a present that was never promised or predicted. Who’s to blame?

My father sits by the window looking out all day. He is 72 years old now. He forgets things. Sometimes, even my name.

Every month, when Dr. Shinde comes home to visit my father, he only has one thing to tell me: my father aged too soon. He thinks it is because of the passing of my mother about 11 years ago. What other reason could there be? My father never drank or smoked. He watched what he ate. He was a regular at the Malleshwaram park, jogging and exercising with his colleagues from the bank every morning. He was part of the laughter club too. Not anymore. The doctor and I, we sit in the living room and talk about him over a cup of tea. He thinks father could get better if he willed it. I don’t say much. I just nod, waiting for him to finish his tea.

I know it isn’t about his body or his will. It’s about this future he thought he could have. He thought he had seen it on his palm and on a sheet of paper. Sometimes, he remembers it all and plays with my 9-year-old son’s hand, opening his little fingers one-by-one, squinting his eyes and tracing the faint lines with his frail fingers.

I sometimes catch him looking at his own palm. I wonder what he sees. He isn’t living in a penthouse of his own in an upscale place, decorated with the most expensive furniture. He doesn’t run any business, not even the business of his own life. He isn’t driving a red Mercedes. He doesn’t frequent houses of politicians and statesmen. He had never known one. He doesn’t own any land, not even in his own hometown. He retired from the bank a year after mother passed away. He draws a monthly pension which isn’t enough to buy his medicines.

***

“Get Prajavani from tomorrow,” he said one night at the dinner table.

“But Kannada Prabha is good with local news,” Anjali said, eyeing me from across the table.

“The affairs of the world don’t concern me.”

I nodded quietly to my wife.

“I will ask the newspaper guy,” she said.

“What future does Maava still hope for?” Anjali said later that night while she was making the bed.

“Let him be busy in his world. Do you want to deal with his tantrums otherwise?”

“I am just saying. He is old enough now to know he can’t change his future, a future he will hardly see if he keeps at it.”

“Anjali…”

“I didn’t mean, no, I… Prakhar.”

A week later, he asked Anjali to subscribe to Vijayavani. Anjali agreed.

“He needs to step out of the house. Get some fresh air, you know. He can’t lock himself up inside for years like this,” the doctor said during one of his visits.

I nodded.

“He can’t grieve until the very end. Sunaina isn’t coming back.”

“I tell him. He won’t listen.” I waited for the doctor to finish his tea.

***

My father grieved over the loss of his wife when it happened. But the grief did not last long. Perhaps it didn’t stick because he was getting old and he had a future to live, a future he thought was waiting for him. And now, the grief has nothing to do with my father’s self-imprisonment. The fact is, he is scared to go out into the world.

“I won’t be doing this stupid bank job for long, Kulkarni. Just wait and watch,” he would say to Kulkarni uncle whenever he would come visit us on Sundays after their morning jog.

“You have been saying that for years now, Kumar sir,” Kulkarni uncle would laugh.

Arre, it’s just this phase I need to get through. Shani is transiting through my eighth house now. It will soon pass, you see.”

“I will be around, Kumar sir. Don’t forget us when you will rise.”

“How can I, Kulkarni? How can I?” and they would laugh together.

Mother was a sceptic when it came to astrology. She didn’t know what to believe in. But, she believed in father and would often listen to his talks about the future. The kind of smile she wore during those times told me that she wanted to believe in all of it. And she waited. She waited till the day her stomach cancer killed her.

“It’s all written,” father said on the eleventh day after mother’s death.

I nodded.

***

“Appa, what is aeronautical engineer?” my son, Sujay, asked me one day. It was a Sunday, I remember.

“Where did you learn it from?”

“Ajja told me. He said I am going to be an aeronautical engineer when I grow up.”

“And when did he say that?”

“Just now. You know, he says these things looking at the boxes he draws? He drew one for me. He said I am going to be aeronautical engineer. What does it mean, Appa?”

“You like planes, don’t you?”

“Yes”, he smiled and ran away to fetch his little toy plane.

***

When I was in college, studying my bachelor’s in life science, my father was obsessed with my future too. He had a notebook with my name written on the front cover. He had it with him for as long as I could remember. Inside, there were details of all types – star and natal charts, dates of some kind, and observations he thought were important. He even said that he knew that I would go against his wish that I should pursue engineering, information science in particular. He had warned me that I would become penniless.

“You will do a breakthrough in your research very soon,” he told me  a few years back.

I did not say anything.

“All the planets are aligning in favourable gochara positions.”

He thought I was working on some cure for cancer. That I would patent a drug pretty soon. I was working as a part-time professor in MES college. I had given up on my research long before that day.

“You will make more money than you can spend.”

I smiled and nodded.

***

“Prakhar, we have practically subscribed and unsubscribed all the newspapers now. Maava wants Prajavani back in the house,”my wife said while we were out for a walk one night.

“I guess we just have to play on with his game,” I said.

“The newspaper guy taunts me these days.”

I did not say anything. I wasn’t sure what was Anjali getting at. She had been patient with my father. In fact, she loved him like her own father. But I guessed that was wearing out slowly.

“He should get some fresh air. Get out of the house, meet people, talk to someone other than just us, you know.”

“You know he won’t. He is too ashamed.”

“Of what?”

“You weren’t with us when he used to make lofty promises to the outside world – his relatives, friends, colleagues, even the vegetable vendor. He won’t go back to that world. He is a prisoner of his own boxes.”

I guess Sujay heard us, for he said, “Mommy, I am going to be an aeronautical engineer.”

“You be whatever you want to be, son,” Anjali smiled and brushed his hair.

***

A week ago, I was watching some news on television in the living room when father came and sat beside me. For a while, we sat in silence and watched whatever was coming on. I passed the remote to him. He took it. He did not change the channel. He let it play. Anjali was out with Sujay to shop for some groceries.

“I was wrong,” Father said finally.

I looked at his face and waited.

“Wrong about what?” I asked. His face was stoic. Looking at him, an old man, growing older every minute, hollow face, bald head and frail arms, my heart began to sink. I felt sorry for him and in that moment, I remember, I had begun to love him again.

“Wrong about you,” he said and turned towards me. His face began to change.

“It was you. You have been the negative influence all my life. My life ended when you were born in that nakshatra. The least you could do was take up engineering like I suggested you do looking at your horoscope. But, no, you wanted to do research. All my life, I had to support you because you couldn’t bring money home. I could never take chances because I had to feed you, a grown man. You are 43 and look at you…”

The gate opened and Sujay came rushing in. Anjali followed. She looked at us sitting on the sofa and she looked at my face. It was an unusual sight in the house. She stopped at the door. She raised her eyebrows as if to ask me what was the matter. Father took Sujay’s hand and walked inside.

“Baba, we will buy you a new toy tomorrow, a plane,” I heard him say in the other room.

Picture from https://astrozing.com/why-choose-us/

Sunil is a digital marketing professional from Bangalore. He writes short stories, poems, and novels after his 9-to-6 job and over the weekends. He loves taking a stroll down Church Street, have a cup of coffee at the Indian Coffee House and spend time at The Bookworm and Blossoms. Over the last many years, he has collected over a thousand books. Most of which he is yet to read.
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