He came home after a fortnight. It was almost Christmas. We were waiting. Waiting for him. His aura. His words. His Laughter. Travel tales rehearsed and polished many times over to entertain them. His frame in the doorway warmed the cockles of our heart. His voice reverberated in the apartment. A deep baritone, that transformed to a deliciously soft tenor when he sang lullabies…. So ja Rajkumari…
We opened his black leather briefcase to look for momentos. We could always decipher his secret code. He was a man without secrets. This time the presents were wrapped in gold leafed pink wrapper. With trembling fingers and without adult supervision, we undid the wrapping. What we saw, took our breath away. There was a high gloss kumkum red necklace with five pendants held together with tiny beads and seed pearls. The individual pieces were encrusted with gold and embellished with sparkling gems. It was exquisite. A hypnotic beauty.
When we turned it over, the other side was a brilliant turquoise. Glowing with floral designs. Befitting the Maharani of Rajasthan or Marie Antoinette’s jewelry box. Cleverly handcrafted to be worn from both sides. This one is for Mom. But there were two sweet smaller pendant chains in matt finish. One in emerald green and the other in a deep navy blue. We chose our colors and slipped them on. Our eyes sparkled like the white kundan in the jewelry. We placed the red necklace on a tray and gingerly brought it out into the living room.
He was sitting on the sofa, with his ubiquitous wide grin. Right then, the doorbell rang. Who could that be? It was his younger sister, our Baby bua. What an unexpected surprise, he said, welcoming her in. We passed the gift to our mother. She held it in her hands and admired the smooth lacquered surface. Her face brightened at the artistry. Layer upon layer upon layer of sheen was added to this, she said, to make it waterproof and durable. Mom passed it to my aunt to hold and admire the curved contours of the 5,000-year-old technique. The dusting of gold and intricately painted patterns. Now it was her turn to be bewitched by the sheer beauty of the necklace.
But he was in a conundrum. There were four girls and only three necklaces. He reached into his bag and retrieved two red and blue glass bangles. Here, you can have these, he offered self-consciously to his sister. Not having the heart to ask us to part with one of our chains. But she brusquely pushed his hand away. His eyes implored her with the humility of a brother not wanting to hurt his sister. She could have put his awkwardness to ease by accepting the peace offering. But she said: No. We tripped out of the room to admire our gifts in the looking glass. Our mother carefully put her present away in her Godrej almirah. His sister went to unpack in the guest bedroom. Soon it was dinner time.
50 years have passed since that incident, and perhaps other jewels have passed through the hands of the four girls in this story. But the one who still has the lacquered piece remembers the incident every time she wears the inexpensive but priceless necklace. There were 100,000 emotions in that moment. A father’s generosity. His eye for detail. Love of beauty. Compassion. A brother’s sheepishness at not having an equally pleasing gift for his sister. The sister’s huff at a brother who loved her. Memories of a sister claiming all gifts for herself before others came into his life. The gift of his gentle presence. A blessing of family during Christmas time. The gift of the Magi.
Today, the silk cord of the attractive choker hugs my throat just above the curved collar bones. I wear the turquoise side to rhyme with the azure of the firmament and the blue pond. I lower my ankles into the water. The sweet sound of silver bells mingles with the splash of water. I count the ripples, one by one. A thousand petal lotus blooms. My parents’ faces emerge. His face is wreathed in smiles. A beam of light filters through the frangipani trees in the patio. A single ray alights on the tip of his straight nose. I subconsciously flare my nostrils just like him.
A sweet smile forms on my mother’s lips. The moment holds magic of a Sheesh Mahal. A palace of mirrors. A woman adds kohl to her eyes and lets the dye hover over her face. For a split second, imperceptibly over her beauty spot. Then they walk away hand in hand. Love and longing mingle. A hand painted mosaic. A kaleidoscope of memories. Their love transforms into a rosary. I repeat his name with endearment. He is garlanded a million times over with fragrant flowers. I pack the necklace for my aunt. The lacquer seals the gift. #Holidays #Christmas # Gifts #Reflections #Family #Fathersanddaughters #Sisterslove #Kundanjewellery
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. Monita has published many poems, essays in national journals and in two books, “My Light Reflections” and “Flow through My Heart.” You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.