“Rohan, Rohit......... come and drink your milk?” Sushila was screaming at the top of her voice, when she heard the sounds of 2 pair of feet running down the stairs. Now if she thought at this moment that her 15 year old and 13 year old are running to drink the "delicious" milk which she prepared for them, then she couldn’t have been more wrong. But as she knew them inside out she knew they were not running down to drink milk. Which meant only one thing, that their dad Sushant was home. And today they were so eager to meet their daddy dear because he had called in the noon and said he had a surprise for them.
Sushant got down from the car and looked up to see his sons standing in the doorway with eager eyes. He was smiling to them when he approached, but with every step he took towards them, their smile seemed to fade away and eyes were searching him. Even though he looked like he didn’t get them the surprise he mentioned, but he did. He gave the keys to his elder son Rohan and said in a whisper “its in the back seat” and walked inside the house to greet his wife.
Both the boys ran to the car and opened the door to back seat to find a big bag in it. Both were very excited when they carried it into the house. Sushant was lounging on the sofa with a cup of coffee in his hand, waiting to get lots of thanks and gain brownie points with his sons.
Rohan opened up the bag and was continuously saying wow, wow, oh my god when he took out all the cricket items from the kit, laid out neatly in the bag. While on the other hand Rohit was going more and more silent with each wicket and glove taken out.
Rohan was freaked out and he got up to hug his dad and said “ this is awesome dad, thank you thank you thank you so so so much.”
And when Sushant turned towards Rohit to get same praise, then did he notice the change in his younger son’s mood. It seemed that he didn’t like the gift. Sushant called Rohit to sit beside him and asked “You didn’t like it?”
Rohit smiled meekly and said “No, dad its fine, its wonderful actually... Ugh I need to go and finish up my homework...” and walked up to his room.
As soon as Rohit got up, Rohan sat beside Sushant and started talking with so much enthusiasm about his plans with the new cricket kit. Even though the attitude of Rohit was bugging Sushant he sat there to listen to his elder son’s obvious pleasure in the gift.
Sushila who was watching all this, went after Rohit to console him. But Sushant didn’t understand, why did he need any consoling at all?
After a rather quiet dinner, Rohit was reading comic book sitting on his bed in his room, when Sushant walked in. He sat down beside Rohit and put his arm around Rohit’s shoulders and asked in a very gentle voice “Rohit, what happened ? you didn’t like the set ? Do you want one for your own ?”
Rohit stopped his dad before he asked more questions and said “Dad, you had said it was a surprise for "both" of us. So naturally I expected you will bring something for me too. That’s all.”
Sushant stared at his 13 year old son who was talking like a 130 year old man, telling him its ok that he didn’t like the present. He was still thinking when had his son grown up so much, when he realised that Rohit not only didn’t like the gift, he thought it was not for him. He turned his son towards him and said “Whoa whoa whoa, what do you mean by I didn’t get you anything. This kit is for both of you. I got this hugely expensive, excellent cricket kit, so that you both can enjoy playing with it. What with the big match in your school, you guys need all the practice you can get to get into the team.”
Rohit was looking at his father with surprise. And Sushant couldn’t understand why and he was thinking what was wrong. Rohit got up and asked his father with tear filled eyes “You brought a Cricket kit for me, A Cricket kit ... seriously dad??”
“Dad, i don’t like cricket, i don’t like to play it, i don’t even like to watch it. Sports is not my thing... when have you ever seen me playing cricket?.”
“But you always go with your brother when he is playing with his friends. And come on he loves playing cricket, there should have been a time once or twice when you played with him.... don’t be so dramatic and tell me you don't play cricket”
“I don’t dad, i don’t play cricket. I go with Rohan because my friends come to the same playground to play. And you don’t even know that. You always treat me like am junior version of Rohan. Am not, am a different person than he is.”
Sushant had to again think when had his 13 year old matured so much to explain to his dad that he is not similar to his brother. But Sushant didn’t like being corrected by his own son, that too younger one. So he said in a more authoritative tone “Ok Ok, you are not the same as Rohan, do you think i don’t know that. I just thought I will get you boys something you will like doing together. Now don’t make such a fuss over it. When I was young, me and my brother always used to play together. Every sport we played with each other. That's common in siblings especially brothers. And naturally I expected the same here. Now stop being upset and go to sleep” and he got up to go to his room to get a good night’s sleep.
But good night’s sleep was not in his luck that day. After getting exhausted with all the tossing and turning he couldn’t hold out anymore, so he switched on the light and waked up his wife. Sushila was groggy from sleep but as soon as she saw Sushant’s state, she understood why her darling husband was waking her up in the middle of the night.
Sushant said as if he was assuring himself rather than telling his wife “I don’t understand, he tells me I treat him like he is Rohan. Now why would I do that ?? I know he is not Rohan and that he is Rohit. I mean that boy tells me he never played cricket with his brother, that they are so very different that he can't even consider playing cricket with him. And you know how he looked at me?? he looked at me like I don’t even know my own son. I mean seriously, when I think about the relationship I have with my brother, I pity that my sons don’t share the same bond. I mean we used to play and be together all the time, I mean all the time Sushi. We were so bonded, so alike. I always wanted my sons to enjoy that kind of bond and togetherness with each other...but...”
Sushila stopped Sushant in mid sentence and said “What you have with your brother is totally different from what your sons have with each other. And you should have known that Rohit is not the sporty kind, he is more artistic. He loves painting, drawing you know. I thought you knew that. Now stop worrying about it and go to sleep. He is a kid, cut him some slack” . Sushila said as much and turned back to sleep.
Sushant understood what she said, but he couldn’t agree with it, even though he knew she is right. But by morning the weather in the house was back to normal. Kids running around getting ready for school and Sushant saying every minute that he is late, while Sushila calling everyone to breakfast for the umpteenth time.
Things in Sushant's household may have returned to normal, but the words of his son were still bugging in his mind. Finally he pushed that thought into a tiny little box and locked it in his mind.
After a week, everybody in Sushant's house were getting ready to go to their native for the festivals. This was a routine trip taken every year, and there was not one year when Sushant would have considered going anywhere other than his home. His parents had expired a long time ago, the only person Sushant was so eager to meet each year was his brother Sukhant.
Sukhant had two daughters and his wife had died two years back. Every year come hail or storm he would celebrate this festival, and eagerly wait for the arrival of his brother and his family. There was a 7 year difference between the ages of Sukhant and Sushant, but from the time Sukhant had lost his mother when Sushant was just one year old, he had looked after his baby brother. He loved him to pieces and when his father expired, he had become the surrogate father to Sushant. And that's why he was pacing in the garden from the morning gazing at the corner turn of the road, just waiting for that first glimpse of the car, the first glimpse that his brother was coming home. And then he saw that. And the hard, extremely strict, fit for military Sukhant Sharma's face broke into a grin. A smile of pure joy.
The hustle bustle of settling down of Sushant's family was turning the house into the expected chaos. The hellos, the how-are-you's, the am-fine's were floating around all over the place. It was evening by the time everyone settled down. Sushant was searching for his brother, and found him standing near the edge of paddy fields. The crops were swaying lightly to the evening breeze, the sun was about to dip into the horizon and he was just splashing colours all over the sky. The whole nature around was sparkling in the golden sunlight. Sushant approached his brother and stood silently beside him. He closed his eyes and drew a long breath, just inhaling all the scent of soil and moisture.
Sukhant looked at his brother and smiled at his breath of fresh air and asked "So how have you been??"
Sushant didnt open his eyes and just smiled while he said "Am doing fine, How are you??"
Sukhant replied with smile "Hmmm, am good. And right now I am great" and he closed his eyes imitating his brother and drew a long breath.
By the time both the brothers got home, it was night and they had updated each other about their own lives and were talking merrily. The house was ablaze with lights and laughter. While one of Sukhant's daughter called them for dinner, another daughter was already chasing Sushant's two sons for their mischief. At that moment, both the brothers were content, happy and smiling with each other.
Dinner was a celebration of its own, with wonderful dishes and excited voices. They were not the sit-down-quietly-and-eat family, they were more of hit-on-your-head-for-taking-my-food family. And they were happy being that. After dinner, everything was put away, kids were sent to sleep and one by the one the lights were being put off. Sushant walked up to his brother who was sitting on the terrace eating paan, the one habit his brother had from the time he was a teenager.
Sushant sat beside his brother and said with mischief "Do you remember the time you got in trouble with dad for eating paan. Oh god, how angry he was and the beating you got was epic"
Sukhant laughed out loud remembering that old memory and said "Oh yeah, that was one hell of a beating, he couldn't believe that his elder son could be so irresponsible to eat paan in front of his younger brother. I got more beatings for exposing you to a bad habit and less for actually having the bad habit"
Sushant joined his brother in the laugh but the words kept nagging at him, like they were trying to open up that tiny box filled with unresolved issues. So he asked his brother "You know I miss those childhood days, I mean we used to have so much fun. Running around the neighbourhood, playing pranks and escaping from punishment. I miss them so much."
Sukhant was lost in his nostalgia and didn't answer his brother. After some time, Sushant remembered something and said with a chuckle "Do you remember the game of monkeys and trees that we used to play. We used to play that every day, and how you always got out in the game."
Sukhant said with a smile "Oh yeah, I remember that, you loved playing that game, as if you couldn't get enough of it. And I was so afraid of heights that I used to get out in the first try, so that I couldn't have to climb up more in the tree. What fun we had isn't it??"
The smile on Sushant's face wiped off with this tidbit and he thought "Afraid of heights? my brother was afraid of heights and I didn't know that. And still he played tree climbing with me everyday?"
He saw the joy on the face of his big brother and pushed that thought away, as maybe a minor overlook and leaned back on his chair again. But the thought kept nagging at him, and the tiny box was trying hard to open up. But he just shook his head to clear it up and tried to bring the good feeling. After a moment he remembered another memory and said "Oh do you remember the time we went to the falls, and we leaned from the top rock to see the falls falling. That was so awesome. Sometimes I wish my kids could enjoy all that."
Sukhant had closed his eyes with hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair while he corrected his brother and said "We didn't lean from the top rock, only you did. I was afraid to lean, but i held your pants while you leaned. Boy, were you happy doing that."
After a moment's pause Sukhant sighed and said "You were always like that, the adventurous type. You were never scared of anything, you were confident and ambitious. And I really admire that about you. You would jump from tall trees, swim in river and chase cows for fun. And you were quite a handful."
Sushant looked at his brother and asked "Handful??"
Sukhant opened his eyes and looked at his brother and answered with a laugh "Oh yeah, you were a handful." and he turned fully towards his brother and said like he was telling am amazing story "Once what happened that you were maybe 5 years old and we were playing hide and seek. Now the rules were that you had to hide only inside the house. But you were you and you didn't want to get caught. So what you did was, you went to the carriage house behind the house and the carriage house had this attic in the top which has to be entered by a small door in the ceiling, so you climbed up there and closed the door and hide behind the hay there. Now here I was searching every nook and corner of the house and I couldn't find you. I knew you, so I started searching outside but you were nowhere to be found, I even called out to you to come out of your place and i will not catch you. I tried to offer you bribe, but you couldn't hear me. And I didn't remember to check the attic in the carriage house. By this time you were exhausted with all the wait and everything and you had fallen asleep on floor of the attic behind the hay. Evening came and still you were nowhere to be found and now I was totally in panic. Dad came home and learned that you were missing from noon. And he got so angry. And i got so many beatings that day. The house was in panic everybody was searching for you and finally one of the servants found you in the attic sound asleep among the hay. He roused you up and brought you down and the first question that pops out of your mouth is "Am I out??" I mean you didn't even know that you were lost and everybody was looking for you. And suddenly everybody started laughing. We laughed so much that we had tears in our eyes and you were standing there in the middle, surprised because you had no idea why we were laughing so much."
By the end of the story Sukhant was laughing hard. After he calmed down he took a deep breath and he said while he checked his watch "God those were wonderful days, we had so much fun isn't it?... oh! look at the time, I didn't realise how late it was. You must be tired. Come on, lets go to bed. Tomorrow lot of work is there. Good night"
"yeah sure, good night then"
Both the brothers parted and Sushant was sure he will not be able to sleep tonight. Because tonight he was seeing his brother in a new light and he needed to process it, he needed to think.
The next two days were the busy with preparations and celebrations and on the third day the whole family decided to visit the nearby temple to seek blessings. All through this time Sushant was thoughtful and silent. He was there but he was not there. And this didn't go unnoticed by Sukhant and on the fourth day evening he finally approached his brother and said "What's the matter? you seem lost from last few days. Is there any problem? Tell me, I will help you"
Sushant was moved by his brother's words, his kind and generous brother who always thought of solving his problems for him. But he knew he needed to talk and so he said "You remember the hide and seek story you said that night ?"
"Yes, what about it?"
"Well I wanted to know why did dad hit you?"
"Because I deserved it. You were a baby, and you were my responsibility. Keeping you safe was my only job, and it had been my job since you were a one year old baby. And I had lost you. I was irresponsible and careless. I should have been looking out for you. Every hit he gave me, I deserved it. After that day, I never lost you, ever." and he said those last words with such pride that Sushant was speechless at the love of his brother.
But he still asked again "You were afraid of heights, then why did you play that game with me ? Why did you climb up to reach falls with me?"
"Because you loved to play that game. And it was your birthday wish that I take you up on the top rock of the falls and let you lean down to see the water falling."
After answering this with a soft patient voice, Sukhant questioned his brother "But why are you asking all this. I mean what happened to you? Why are you worried about those old things?"
Sushant couldn't speak anything, he just got up and hugged his brother and said "Nothing, its nothing." and he walked away. Sukhant was worried and surprised at his brother's behaviour but he decided to give him some space to deal with it.
The next few days turned out normal and Sukhant was relieved that his brother didn't seem to be sad or thinking all the time. He saw that Sushant was happy with smiles and laughs. And so he was happy and convinced that whatever was bothering his kid brother was not bothering him anymore.
The vacation came to an end and everybody were busy packing and telling goodbyes. Sukhant was busy overlooking the packing for various fruits and items to be sent with his brother when Sushant approached him and asked if he could talk with him for a few minutes. Sukhant agreed and they both went on a walk towards the fields.
After reaching the edge of the fields where water was flowing in the canal, they both sat down with their feet in the water like they used to do when they were kids. Silence reigned between them for a moment and then Sushant said "I love you brother and I am sorry..."
Sukhant was surprised and he asked "Sorry??"
Sushant stopped him and said "Wait let me finish, I have worked on this speech for last few days and I can't finish it if you speak in middle"
Sukhant smiled and gestured him to continue. So Sushant started all new.
"I love you brother and I am sorry. I always thought that we both were very similar to each other. We always did things together and played together. I always thought that we both liked the same things. I always thought that we both were having the same childhood. But now I know, I know that, that thought was an assumption. I realised that you and I are not same, we are very different, you are absolutely nothing like me. That we both never had the same childhood." Sushant took a long pause and looked at his brother.
Sukhant was feeling like he was breaking, he never thought this day would come when his brother would say that he was not like him. While he was still trying to digest this Sushant placed his hand on Sukhant's shoulder and said "I realised that you had a different childhood before I came, that you lived in my childhood all these years for me. And I realised that if I get to be half a man that you were when we were kids, then I couldn't ask to be a much better man in my life. And I realised how wrong I am in assuming that I am in the same level as you. I realised how much more I have to climb up to reach to be like you. I love you brother, and I am sorry that I didn't try to understand you better. That even though you were the best brother that anyone could have, I couldn't be the best brother you deserved." By the time he finished Sushant's eyes were filled and he saw that Sukhant's eyes were filling up too.
He turned and wiped his eyes and said with a laugh "Look at us crying like small kids"
He looked back that tears were rolling down his brother's eyes and he just pulled his brother and hugged him. Like he had never hugged before.
After the moment had passed they both laughed hard and cried even more. And Sushant said "You have got to tell me about your childhood someday. I want to know you, understand you like I never did before"
Sukhant couldn't say anything other than nod. Both the brothers started towards their home with a skip in their step. They were half way through when Sushant exclaimed loudly "Of course, now I know what to do"
Sukhant was startled at this exclamation and asked "What?"
Sushant just smiled at his brother and said "Nothing brother, but thank you for the answers"
Sukhant didn't understand a word he was saying but just then his daughters and Sushant's sons came calling for them and he couldn't ask.
After lots of goodbyes, call us and take cares, Sushant family finally left their native to reach home. They reached home late at night and everybody was exhausted. The next day was the same old routine of "I am late" and "Have your milk".
But when Sushant came back from work, he went to his younger son's room and kept a huge parcel on his bed. When Rohit came back from playing and went up to his room to finish his homework, the whole house could hear his words of delight and he ran back down to hug his father and thank him profusely. Sushila was totally confused and gestured to her husband as to what was the matter when Sushant answered "Nothing, I finally realised that having same parents and living in same house doesn't mean they both should have same childhood. That they both deserve to live their own lives."
And finally that tiny box was silent sitting in its corner.