I slowly opened the door of daddu’s room. It was a small dingy room with paint coming out at various places, wide blotches of water at the ceiling due to the heavy rains two days back. There was a cot at one end of the room, a small table at the other end with a dirty plastic jar and a cracked plastic glass on it. There was an almirah at the foot of the bed. The doors of the almirah were open and all that it contained once was packed in a tattered suitcase lying near the table. The sunlight was filtering through the sole open window and was bathing the Pandora’s box lying on the bed.
I had the key in my hand. I had always wanted to open it and see what was inside but today I couldn’t muster up enough courage. It was a wooden box with carvings on it. I moved towards the bed and sat on its edge. I moved my fingers over the curves of the box trying to figure out the secrets it held. Tears were welling up in my eyes as I inserted the key and opened the lock. Everything was blurred and I couldn’t see anything at first. Then I wiped my tears and took out the contents.
* * *
I was born Zahir Shirazi in the city of Kanpur. Zahir is an Arabic word which means “radiant”. The name was given by my grandfather Wahab Shirazi whom I fondly called Daddu. Daddu used to tell me that when he saw me for the first time, he found my face as radiant as the morning dew glittering in sunshine. When I was born, mother was already very weak but my father was too euphoric because of my presence to notice that. Daddu was always on her side taking care of all her needs but everything turned futile as she took her last breath two months after I was born. She was the daughter daddu never had and somehow he couldn’t get over her death for the rest of his life.
As I grew up, I sensed a constant rift between daddu and abbu. I could never understand the reasons. Abbu was a very eminant lawyer and didn’t had much time for me. Daddu used to take me to the park where we used to run till I was left breathless. Daddu was very energetic for his age and he always used to encourage me for going into sports. This was something unacceptable to my father. He wanted me to be a bada aadmi (successful man) and a career in sports was a path I could not tread.
Once when I was 9, I went into Daddu’s room and saw him sitting next to the wooden box. He was holding something in his hands and as soon as he saw me, he just dropped it back in the box and closed it hastily.
“Had your lunch?”. He asked.
“What are you hiding daddu? Show me!show me!”. I tried to take the box which he had hid behind him.
“No, Zuhu. Baba, this is the Pandora’s box. Children are not allowed to look into it.”
“Pandora’s box. What’s that?”
“Its a box which contains evil things. If it is opened, then it may unleash something which is not good for anybody. That is why it should be kept shut.”
“But you just opened it!”.
“Zuhu…Ok. We both shall make a promise to each other. Ok?”
“Ok”. I was somehow a little sceptical but consented.
“I will show you what’s inside the Pandora’s box when the time is ripe. That’s my promise. Your promise to me will be that you will always listen to your heart and do what you think is right for you. Ok?”
I stared at him for a while. He was looking in my eyes and I knew at that moment that he would definitely let me see the contents of the Pandora’s box someday.
* * *
As I grew up, I saw Daddu many times sitting with the Pandora’s box just staring at it.
“When will you show me the Pandora’s box?”. I asked him several times.
“You will see it when you need to see it.”
I was good at studies but was better at sports. I used to run like a cheetah (that’s what Daddu used to say). I won a lot of competitions at school but somehow father never used to encourage me. There were times when my trophies were smashed against the walls and I was slapped hard. Things went out of control on that fateful day when I won the Racing championship of my district. I was 14.
“This is how you will become a successful man? Running and jumping like a buffoon?”. My father said as he slapped me hard on the face.
“Your son has won….”. Daddu tried to intervene.
“You…you, just keep out of it. Thanks to you, he is neglecting his studies and winning these useless trash of trophies.”
“They are not useless…”
“Is it? Who can know this better than me?”. His eyes were blazing red and for a second he stared at Daddu. Daddu lowered his eyes and went out of the room.
A few days later when I went into Daddu’s room after coming from school, it was empty. Father promptly told me that Daddu has moved in an old age home.
“I cannot allow him to live here anymore. You can meet him once a week for one hour.”. He said as he promptly closed the door of his study.
* * *
I was devastated. Daddu was the center of my existence. I used to stare aimlessly at walls for hours and soon lost my appetite, but my father was very firm. Daddu was not coming back. I used to meet him on Sundays. He was his radiant self and used to cheer me up a lot. We used to race till the end of the park and then drop down and laugh. Oh!! how I missed him.
“Do you still race at school?”. He asked me once. I lowered my eyes.
“My poor boy!!!”. He said as he gently moved his fingers on my cheek.
We met like this for 4 years till father decided to send me to USA for further studies. Daddu came to meet me at the airport. He was very happy. Father moved away as he saw him coming. He told me that he will be back in 10 minutes. Daddu kissed me at the forehead.
“When will I see you again?”. He asked. I embraced him and started weeping like a child.
“Do you remember the Pandora’s box?”. He asked.
“Yes. But I don’t want to see whats inside. My life is dark enough without opening it…and I was not able to keep my promise.”
“You will see it someday. And don’t worry about the promise. Some things are not meant to be.”
* * *
I was in USA for the next 12 years. After completing my engineering I got a job in a good multinational company there. I fell in love with Audrey. She was half French & half English. We married against father’s wishes but I was not bothered. Soon we were blessed with a baby boy. All through this happy phase of my life, I was constantly in touch with Daddu. I tried to persuade him to come and stay with me but he always laughed at the idea. I came down to India every year with my family to meet him. He was growing old and fragile and I was worried for him. He was not ready to leave the old age home.
“This is my home. Don’t ask me to start life afreash at this stage, I don’t have the courage”. He said whenever I tried to bring up the topic of his coming with us.
Then one day, while working in office, I got a call from his Old age home. He had died peacefully in his sleep and had left a key for me.
* * *
As I pulled out the paper cuttings from the box, I saw photographs of Daddu when he was young. Daddu running on tracks, winning medals, smiling, waving hands, laughing. As I tried to look for more clippings in the box something metallic hit my fingers. I pulled out a handful of medals from inside. There were medals won in major National events and even Asian games. I could not believe what I was exposed to. Somehow the pieces of the puzzles of my last 30 years of existence were falling in place. At the bottom of the box was a letter. Daddu has scribbled a few lines for me.
Your father never forgave me for following my dream and neither did your grandma. Running was my passion but it was not enough to live a luxurious life. I gave it up but somehow it was too late.
I never wanted you to see all this, as it would have fuelled your father’s anger. That’s why I called it a Pandora’s box. I was tempted to show it to you many times, when I saw that you had the same fire, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t let your life end up like mine. I couldn’t pass my curse to you.
Don’t burden your heart with too much thoughts. You are wise, successful and happy and that is all that matters.
Always be happy my child.
I will always love you.