After living in Delhi for 25 years, Meera and Krishnan finally moved into their family's sprawling two-story bungalow on Eldams Road, Chennai. They were accompanied by their children, Anita and Abhimanyu. Krishnan’s father had passed away and his 75-year old mother was living alone in the ground floor now.
Cleaning up the long-uninhabited first floor presented itself as a humongous task. The couple decided to take up this work over the entire weekend, and asked their children to lend a helping hand. But the antique knick-knacks turned out to be a major distraction for Abhimanyu and Anita. The living room on the first floor was a mini-antique cum curio shop. It was filled with small wooden toys, marine instruments, a monocle, their grandfather’s school certificates, old letters, patti – grandma’s intricately made jewellery box and board games from the British era – the two spent the entire Saturday snapping selfies with these. As a result, their parents ended up doing most of the work.
On Sunday morning, when Krishnan opened thatha’s (grandfather’s) study, huge teak wood cabinets stared back at them. Krishnan knew right then that he had again lost the support of his children in this cleaning mission. Abhimanyu and Anita barged in and were soon lost amid ornate punching machines, staplers, wooden stationery, photographs (including one of their grandfather with The Queen herself), cufflinks, engraved stationery and a library of unusual books.
On the colonial era study table, sat a handsome red notebook. Each page had an intricate border of red and gold. From a distance, it looked like wedding cards stacked over each other. The papers had turned a shade of yellowish orange. Anita drew a pen and quickly scribbled ‘Abhimanyu The fool’ on it. The ink slowly began to spread and blot. Abhimanyu grabbed the sheet and tore it off, lest the remaining pages of the beautiful creation be damaged. He walked across the hall and flung the paper out of the window. He then came back to admonish Anita for this childish behaviour.
As he stretched his right hand forward, pointing an accusing finger at Anita, something hit him. A small object landed below his feet. He bent to pick it up. It was the same paper he had thrown out. He straightened the crumpled sheet. Written across it, in red ink, was ‘ That was indeed a hilarious observation. I do agree, the lad is a little short of wit’. Abhimanyu threw the paper on Anita and took to his heels. Anita stared at the notebook in bewilderment, put the paper and the notebook in her bag and sneaked out of the room.
Later that night, Abhimanyu walked into Anita’s room and asked her what happened after he left. She showed him the paper. It was blank now. Abhimanyu’s face turned pale.
After Abhimanyu left, Anita picked up the sheet and wrote the same thing once more. She flung it out of the room and closed the window to see what happens. In a few minutes, Abhimanyu came pounding at her door. He was covered in sweat, as he held the crumpled piece of sorcery in his hands. When she took the paper from him, slowly fading away, were the words ‘ I doubt writing this again will be of any help. As I see it, not much time has passed since the last time you said the same thing. The young man will continue to remain this way, unless destiny plays a strong hand. At this juncture, I only hope it does.' Anita did not know whether to laugh or hide in fear. The language reminded her of Siri.
Abhimanyu grabbed the notebook from Anita and took it to his room. Anita went to sleep. When she woke up in the morning, there was a paper ball at the foot of the bed. ‘A fine day to go around the city, young woman. Good Morning to you. Hope you had a good night’s sleep, devoid of nightmares and decorated with the choicest of beautiful dreams’, she read. And then the words faded away.
At the breakfast table, Krishnan was arguing with his mother. It was an argument that had been taking place ever since they had landed in Chennai. Bhagi, as he lovingly called his mother, was refusing to get an eye test done. As Anita drew the chair to sit, Abhimanyu gave her an enquiring look. Anita nodded in response. Her brother choked over the cereal bowl. Neither of them spoke after that. Were they living in a haunted house?
That evening, Anita and Abhimanyu decided to perform more tests. Sitting in the porch, Anita wrote, ‘Appa is stingy’ and hurled the paper towards the living room. It knocked their father’s balding head and landed on the couch. Abhimanyu dashed to pick it up. Anita had to suppress a giggle. ‘I see the man has taken after his father where matters of monetary concern are involved. There is no doubt he worries a great deal on trivial matters. A finely made wig should do him some good’. Should she tell her parents what was happening?
“What if we don’t address anyone in the paper?” Anita thought out aloud, sitting on her bed later that evening. “Okay. Let us try that,” said Abhimanyu.
This time, Anita wrote ‘Today is Monday. The earth is round’. Both of them then went to the balcony and threw the paper from there. The paper ball came back to Anita in no time. Abhimanyu opened it and his jaw dropped. ‘It is safe to assume that the two of you engage in activities of no significant use for most part of the day. While I appreciate curiosity, it may be put to best use in pursuit of arts, science or sports. May I also add that I am not to be used like Facebook?’
The next evening, as they were watching TV, Anita pulled out a sheet, wrote ‘Meera’, rolled it into a ball and gently pushed the paper. The paper rolled and stopped at her mom’s foot. Anita ran to read it. ‘Ah! The television. What a wonderful creation to keep one entertained within the premises of one’s own home. I hope you are enjoying this show, Meera.’
When Krishnan left for Bangalore,that whole week, Abhimanyu and Anita played paper cricket all over the house. The paper kept coming back to them with something interesting written on it. And once read, the contents would fade away. They were careful not to go near their grandma, lest they disturb her. Besides, they did not want her to know they were playing with thatha's stationery. .
On Friday, Grandma was sitting in the verandah, sipping coffee from the brass tumbler and supervising the gardener. One of Anita’s experimental paper missiles drifted towards her, hit her chair and got stuck at its foot. Patti picked up the paper and was about to throw it away, when Anita came rushing downstairs. She opened the crumpled ball of paper and saw patti’s face turn crimson. ‘This is thatha’s stationery. What are you doing with it here?’, she said and grabbed the paper from her granddaughter. By then, Anita had already begun to read.
‘Bhagu, it looks like you have gained some weight. You need to be more careful with your belongings. Your glasses are in my medicine cabinet. Don’t scold the children. They only helped. The past week has been a lot of fun. Take care’
Patti gave a knowing smile and retrieved her glasses.
When Anita tried to write again, letters would not appear on the paper. The red notebook was put back in thatha’s room and remained untouched.