Priceless - A short Story
Chandrakant was sitting idle looking at a blank wall in his lavish apartment. It was a landmark in the Park Lane Area of Central London. Apart from being a businessman, he was known for his collection of artefacts and curios and was popular for his collections. One of the rooms of his apartment was maintained exclusively for his collections. They were the only things that kept company with him over the last few days. Chandrakant's servants had already left. He could not afford to pay them anymore. His flourishing family enterprise came to a grinding halt due to which his personal reputation was in tatters.
He was focused on something else. A paper was lying over an old Indian painting in front of him ready to fly but was bound by a paperweight. Chandrakant envisions the paper flying free, aimlessly, without any, attachments. It was a letter from his estranged wife Isa.
He remembered the day he proposed Isa. Though based in London, his parents were conservative. As they hailed from India, they wanted a life partner for Chandrakant based in India. Isa hailed from a British family. Given a choice between Isa or his parents, Chandrakant chose Isa. He took over her ailing father’s family enterprise. Her father Sam passed away within a few days of their beautiful wedding. Isa missed her father very much. Chandrakant loved Isa very much and she found comfort in him. A year after her father's death, Isa got pregnant. She delivered a baby boy and they named him Sam as per Isa’s wishes. Chandrakant’s increasing obsession with the business goals, however was driving a wedge between him and Isa. Isa wanted more of his attention for her and Sam. He thought she was getting adamant and Isa found him indifferent.
Isa left their abode of love and took little Sam along with her to a rented house. He felt it worthless to convince her anymore. Isa got occupied and work for a consultancy firm and their son Sam was the only communication link between them. Sam was allowed to meet Chandrakant two days in a week alongwith a letter. Their egos prevented them from talking to each other. They communicated through letters. Playful ignorant Sam very much enjoyed this and would either scribble over the letter or tear it away.
His success in the financial world masked the deep fissures in his personal life but not for long. Over the years luck slowly deserted Chandrakant despite his hard work. The growing influence of the Chinese markets and strategical mistakes on his part abruptly halted his booming enterprise, and he suddenly became bankrupt. His legal advisors and team of consultants were busy preparing an exit plan for him. Chandrakant announced an auction of the artefacts collected by him over the years. It was a painful decision for him. The Arts world were to visit his home for inspection of the items on auction. He missed Isa deeply and needed her attention. He wrote a letter and gave it to little Sam.
“I was not there when you needed me. Today, I am in need of you, will you be there for me!.”
He was not sure of a reply from Isa, but was surprised to find a prompt reply. This time, Sam did not come to the house but the letter was delivered by Sam's caretaker alone alongwith the old Indian painting, which broke his spirits. He could not gather much courage to read what was written in the letter. The painting was a gift given by him to Isa from India during the days they were in love with each other. Even when she separated from him, she had kept the painting with her which consoled him. Why was she returning the painting now?
He remembered his visit to India soon after his marriage to Isa. Isa was pregnant and could not accompany him. His business meetings were scheduled in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. He took a walk down the Hotel Oberoi leaving his car behind. Centrally located in Mumbai's business district, close to South Mumbai's shopping and entertainment areas, the Oberoi offered luxury and convenience but he felt secluded.
He wanted to walk around and breathe some free air. It was night time around 10 pm. The street dogs were barking around. He wandered aimlessly and reached Flora Fountain along the deserted footpath. Flora Fountain, is an ornamentally and exquisitely sculpted architectural heritage monument in the heart of South Mumbai, Mumbai, India. Built in 1864, it is a fusion of water, architecture and sculpture, and depicts the Roman goddess Flora. He was busy on the phone. Isa was talking to him. Anyone would mistake him to be a College going teenager as he gazed around merrily talking endlessly on his cellphone. Mumbai may be a buzzing commercial capital but the streets around Flora Fountain towards the famous Gateway of India wears a deserted look after 8 pm.
Chandrakant found this unusual but loved the serenity. When he looked past the Fountain, he saw a few makeshift hutments. Little children were running around naked. A young man was sitting over a pavement, painting something.
He was scantily dressed and was shivering in the Mumbai winter. He was very much unlike the others around him. His jittery fingers were moving the brush over the canvas. He was very good at his craft and Chandrakant could sense it. He thought of helping the painter as he did not seem to be well.
Chandrakant touched his shoulder. His body was too chill.
"Are you alright?"
That man was taken aback by his query and replied,
"Are you a tourist? Where are you from?"
"London..." Chandrakant answered in one word and kept watching the painting.
The painter looked at Chandrakant for a while and laughed wildly. "Do I look mad? You don't look like a foreigner. " Chandrakant's roots were Indian and did not look like someone fom London.
Chandrakant had a quick smile."Ya, my Dad was from India."
Chandrakant kept looking at the other paintings kept aside.
He found this man to be special
Chandrakant took out his cell phone and called his driver, Jitu
He instructed Jitu to take a blanket from his bag and started giving him directions to come where he stood.
He turned towards the painter.
"What's your name"
"Bhola?" Bhola had a quick laugh. "Doesn't it sound like a name?"
"Never came across such a name. Where do you stay Bhola?"
Bhola again laughed. "You are already standing inside my house without permission" Chandrakant laughed back. "You have quite a big house. Don't the Police shoo you away?"
"The Police do come. Others pay them money to be here. I don't"
"Why? Are you something special", Chandrakant mocked.
"No, They saw me drawing. I promptly sketched an image of one of them. Since then they tell me to draw sketches and they pay me" Bhola laughed heartily.
It was filled with the innocence of a child.
"Do you want me to draw your sketch?" Bhola asked.
Chandrakant was about to say something when his driver came to where they were.
"You should not be standing over here, Sir. This place is not good. It's India not London " His driver interrupted
Chandrakant smiled at him.
"Where is the blanket, Jitu?"
“He gave the blanket to Chand who turned back to Bhola.
"Take this blanket. You don't seem well. Keep yourself warm."
Bhola acknowledged gratefully and draped the blanket around himself. He took out one painting .
"Take this with you to London "
Chandrakant promptly took out his purse.
Bhola stopped him. "You were kind enough to give me this cozy blanket. I have nothing other than this painting to give you. I will be happy if my painting reaches London. " Chandrakant smiled at Bhola.
He had collected artefacts as a hobby from around the world but felt this painting stood out to be something rare and special.
Chandrakant insisted on giving money to Bhola.
Bhola humbly refused. Chandrakant was deeply touched by Bhola's gratitude.
He wanted to hug him and wanted to know more about him.
Again Jitu interrupted as it was getting late and he had to catch early morning flight to London.
Isa had come to greet him at the London airport. "What have you bought for me from India?" She was bubbling with enthusiasm like a kid. He loved Isa for her innocence. He was so busy that he could not buy anything for Isa. He hesitantly took out this painting.
She jumped with joy and kissed him.
"Looks marvellous. How much was it, dear? "
"Priceless" he replied
"What. . .?"
"Ya, this painting is priceless like your kiss."
They hugged each other and he kissed her.
A knock on the door brought Chandrakant to the present.
The members from the Arts World had come up for inspection of the artefacts for auction.
Their gaze fell fell upon the painting
"Can we take this for Auction Sir" they asked
They took the paperweight away to have a better look
The letter flew and fell below his feet.
He took it and read It's contents
" Like this painting, you are priceless. Waiting for your call"
His eyes lit up.
He immediately took his phone and called Isa.
He could hear Isa sobbing at the other end and realized how wrong was he in understanding Isa. No words were expressed for a few seconds. They communicated through heart. He soon realized Isa was also in touch with his parents who were now settled in India.
Sam noticed the inspection team shift the painting and got annoyed.
He did not even switch off the phone
" You can't touch that painting. It's priceless."
They tried in vain convincing him that the painting will fetch a hefty price.
They were interrupted by a knock on the door.
Isa had come with Sam
Sam went running towards him and he took him up in arms
Before he could say anything to Isa, she held her finger in his lips gesturing him to keep quiet.
"You just take care of Sam. I will handle the rest." said Isa flashing a warm smile.
She negotiated with the auction team and fixed the date of auction.
He felt proud of Isa. For him, life was always about making cut throat choices.
Given a choice between his parents and Isa, he chose Isa.
Given a choice between his business goals and Isa, he chose his business.
Isa made him realize that life was much more than that, and also called for compromises.
Meanwhile the auction was making news around London due to the painting. Though the other artefacts were of equally good value, the painting fetched an unbelievable $10,50,000 and was the talk of the town. Chandrakant was surrounded by a posse of journalists, who were posing him queries about the origin of the painting. He grinned and told that it was a gift from a renowned Indian painter and was priceless. A new chapter of his life was about to begin.
He and Isa were soon to go to India and restart their life with his parents. As they were waiting at the airport and were enjoying Sam’s funny pranks, Isa hugged him again and kissed him.
“Kiss me again,” he said “It’s priceless.”
Suresh M Iyer