Archive for category Family

Conference Call

It’s been a couple of days since parents landed here.

A jetlagged Appa can be seen walking around the house like a zombie at times, and an over enthusiastic Amma can be found clitter-clattering around the kitchen most of the times. To avoid being disturbed, I lock myself in the study as I work from home and step out only to take little breaks every now and then.

This afternoon, at the stroke of lunch hour, I go down to get some food and promptly come back to the study with a bowl of rice. I turn on some show on Netflix on my phone and mindlessly start to devour what’s in my hands. Within seconds, I hear footsteps outside the door and Appa makes an appearance.

Even before I make eye contact with him, even before I can utter a word, even before I have a chance to pick up my phone and put the show on pause, he profusely apologizes for walking in on me during what he thinks is an official conference call, and walks out feeling utterly guilty for disturbing me.

You know what’s funny? – what he heard and assumed to be a “conference call” was nothing but a steamy / extremely passionate moment between two people in the episode.

“Conference call” it is then; the not-so-poetic but supremely funny metaphor will never fail to elicit laughter bouts in our household for eons.

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Back porch

We have a beautiful porch to the back of our home. It’s not a large area, it’s a tiny space. But sitting there, looking into the backyard filled with tall Pine trees, imparts a deep sense of peace. In fact, it is one of the main reasons behind why I chose to make this house our home instead of any other that we’d seen when we moved years almost three years ago. I still remember the excitement I felt the first time I walked in and discovered this place… it seemed magical.

Right away, I could picture myself hanging around there on a nice summer day, possibly reading a good book as the breeze graced through gently. Or just sitting there gazing into the thick woods as the spring brought back greenery all around. Or having an amusing conversation with K while sipping on a cup of coffee. Or merely taking a nap, letting the lull of the afternoon lure me into a sweet slumber. Or lazing around there while the sun blazes down, listening to the songs of the million birds that seem to be chirping outside. Before I knew it, my mind drew up myriad possibilities of how I would enjoy living here and I leaped into my world of dreams.

After moving in, the first thing that we bought was a Hammock to hang in the back porch. Both of us had pretty much fallen for that idea as soon as it had taken shape months ago. So there was no question, no debating, no waiting. We went, we bought. Then we got back home and set it up, making it one of the most beloved and sought out corners of the home.

We spend quite some time there on warm hours of the year. Weekdays mostly are out of the question, unless we make it a point to get home early and relax before hitting the bed. Otherwise, we pass time there on all those weekends that we are not traveling one place or another, doing all that I’d imagined we’d one day do in that space, and more.

Lying down on the Hammock and letting the gust of wind weave a trance is delightful in its own way. I’ve splurged hours there, in that cozy corner, reading on numerous evenings. Friends have joined us, now and then, to unwind… clicking of beer bottles as everyone settles in, crackling of the milk that boils in the kitchen getting ready for coffee or tea to be prepared, playing music to create a pleasant milieu, echoing of laughter as someone tells a joke… those walls have seen a lot of happiness being shared in various occasions.

Last year, once tickets were reserved and I eagerly awaited everyone’s arrival, I started envisioning the times they might spend in the back porch. I wanted them to bask in the glory of the porch as much as we had done so far. Perhaps they will come to appreciate this little area and use it during the day as and when they pleased. I hoped that it would give me chance to write and add chapters to the memory book that I held so dear. That space, however, went mostly unnoticed during the months of their stay.

Daylight hours were consumed indoors by completing chores or by watching tv or by going for walks on a nearby trail. And evenings and weekends we mostly traveled, leaving little time to none to spend at home. The only stint that they opened the door to the porch for was when it was an especially hot day and they saw an opportunity to use the sunlight to dry clothes. K and I pushed the idea of sitting there and relaxing every now and then, but after a few nods it was instantly forgotten.

So, one evening, as soon as we came home, K declared that we would have that night’s dinner on the porch. While the idea was met with a little resistance, we got each person to agree soon after and preparations were made. Everything was setup on the little table outside and we all gathered around, with plates in hand. It wasn’t easy to fit in so many people in that space, but it wasn’t impossible either. We adjusted, we settled and we started dinner. Conversations went on and on, as they did on most of the nights during supper. All of us were having a good time.

Suddenly, I realized I hadn’t carried the keys out with me. With colossal optimism that someone else remembered to get the keys with them, I looked at my SIL and presented my question without anyone else noticing. All that hope for nothing; it was hanging on a thin rope and the rope gave away. Before she could mouth her answer to me, her eyes, lucidly, conveyed that she doesn’t have it either. Quiet still, as to not panic the elders, we both looked at K, and let him know that we were possibly locked out of the house. While he sat there conjuring brilliant plans to get us in, I walked over to the door, again with big fat hope sitting on thin slab of glass, and tried to open it, expecting it to not resist… who knows, maybe the knob on the inside wasn’t turned to lock position before the door was closed. Alas, that effort was rather otiose.

And now everyone knew.

I tried picking the lock with a hairpin that someone had handy, which didn’t work. In those few minutes, K let me and SIL know that he left the big glass leading to the living room unlocked, and he could get in from there if it came down to that. So, now with the escape plan was now established amongst the three of us, K decided to hold on to it and not let the others know that there was a strategy in motion.

There was not as much dread as I expected, but a few of them, especially the ones who challenged the dinner plan in the first place, were now extra eager to get into the house. Points were thrown around as to what could be done – what about spare keys, wouldn’t any of your friends have one? how about calling the police, would they be able to help? well, we can easily do what police may do if we were to call them – break the glass on the door above the lock and unlock, we will be in, shall we do that? what about getting in through one of the windows, would we be able to pry it open?

We let continue the discussion into despair. How so callous of us, right? Some of them were certain K had a plan in mind and hence he was quiet and not participating in offering suggestions, while the others were sure we were doomed and would spend the night freezing outside. And it went on like this for a sometime, panic was starting to strike hard.

A few of them were so keen on charting a fail proof plan to execute soon that they missed K walking out of the porch into the backyard to enter the house through the unlocked door to the family room. And only when we saw him walk towards the porch door from inside that we all came back to normal and started to calm down.

Each second leading up to the end was well worth it, even though not every last person who had dinner with us on the porch that night may agree. It was super intense, but it was equally entertaining, at least to some of us.

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Around the dining table

Growing up, dinner time was not of much significance.

We lived in a joint family setup – with my paternal grandparents, and, sometimes, my uncle and his family – until my teens. Dinner, or any meal for that matter, was served to children first, along with maybe the men in the family, while the women, especially the daughter-in-laws, cooked and served and cleaned before they got their chance at relaxing and enjoying the food. And it was more of getting a chore completed than a pleasurable ritual of sort – we would all sit and finish the food that was on our plates, sometimes complaining, sometimes merrily, and hurry up to get it out of the way.

As I entered my teens, my parents moved us out of the joint family setup and we, the five of us, were now on our own. Still, we never ended up making a memorable tradition out of our mealtimes. If Appa were around, TV would be on, indubitably. And all of us would plop ourselves in front of the idiot box while munching on the food bites. If Appa weren’t around, Amma would have us sit in the kitchen, and it would either be us chatting away letting the food get cold or us silently chewing with only a few words exchanged here and there. Regardless, there was no habit of sorts; it’s just what suited our whims day after another, with no set norm.

Years later, I started living on my own. Now, I had roommate(s) with whom I shared an apartment. Again, in those years nothing changed much. If we were eating at the same time, roommate(s) and I would maybe sit together in front of the tv and eat the food. Else, we ate when each of us fancied and did what we wanted to do. It worked extremely well for this setting though, since we each had our own schedules and moods, so didn’t make much sense bothering others around to adhere to the same. Around and hungry at the same time? Great, we ate together. But there were no issues if it didn’t work out either.

A handful of years of living with roommate(s) gave way to me and K moving into a place that was our home. We started living together, just the two of us. We filled our space with our little quirks and customs we thought was important to us. And the only request K ever had as we started building our own traditions as a family was that whenever we had a meal together, we should make sure that the tv isn’t turned on, hence helping us concentrate on the food and eat well, and also giving us time to connect with each other without any major distractions. I happily gave in to the request; it was something I was not used to and I was looking forward to experiencing it his way.

So, ever since then, we have always made it a point to focus on the food, and each other, while having our meals; we seldom turn the tv on. And I must say, I immensely relish this time of the day. Most of the evenings, we cook after we head back home and then eat after we finish cleaning the kitchen. Most times we talk, generally about the day’s happenings. And at other times, we eat in silence. Even in that quietness, though, rings a calming melody. And all that I cherish, thanks to K.

Last year, we played hosts to a number of guests at our place for the majority of the time. My mother, K’s parents, sister, brother-in-law, cousins, aunts and uncles – all of them traveled all the way from India to spend time with the two of us. And with so many folks around, meal times became even more delightful. I am not sure if K mentioned our practice to them or if they follow it as a family as well, but right from the beginning we all started dining together. No exceptions were made.

Roars of laughter would rise as someone shares a funny anecdote. Polite arguments would arise as someone brings forth a controversial discussion. Tunes of more than one person talking at the same time would have the rest of us in splits. High-pitched voice would be heard as someone is vying for attention from another person across the table. Sentences would be spoken and repeated, for some were hard of hearing, while others (like K) sometimes followed selective hearing in an overly sincere fashion, much to the exasperation of others.

Silence, though, would only fall when someone decided to talk about a heart wrenching incident from the past. Illness. Death. Family problems. Broaching these topics was never easy but it happened from time to time. Be what it may, in those moist eyes of the person recalling the horrific episode, one could invariably spot the reflection of all the other pair of eyes around the table. Silence would break with every pair of eye expressing a million words of consolation. Silence would break with every heavy breath. Silence would break with those first words of request of change in dialogues, reverting attention to some lighthearted chatter.

Suppertime was my favorite time of the day during the eight or so months last year. Even now, months after their departure, every time I walk over to our dining room and look around, I can distinctly see the happy faces; I can close my eyes and hear the voices clearly, as if everyone were still around. And it never fails to bring a big wide smile on my face.

Needless to say, this is the one ritual that I am sure I will follow zealously for years to come.

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That moment…

…when everything else around seemed to slowly drown in the sea of ordinary, and there I was, lifted above, catching a glimpse of an emotion so pure that it’s hard to put in words.

On a hot sunny afternoon we (eight of us) take a stroll on the Brooklyn Bridge. While K leads the way, I keep to the back of the line to make sure no one gets lost. Everyone takes their time to absorb the views of the city from different spots, marveling at its grandiose, to click photos here and there, freezing those moments over and over again.

Me? I am lost in a world of my own as is the case most of the times.

The surrounding crowd of tourists stopped at every foot to capture their dazed expressions with the city in the background makes me smile. The surrounding crowd of locals, walking or cycling along, infuriated to some extent by the sightseers’ antics makes me smile. The surrounding crowd of vehicles moving inch by inch, playing music so loud, at times, making the conversations of the person next to one inaudible makes me smile.

Happy faces, tired faces; English speaking minority, non-English speaking majority; excited voices, exasperated voices; calm river underneath, frantic drivers to the side; colors aplenty. Walking amidst this chaos brings me peace, so undefinable.

Suddenly, I hear someone calling out my name. I know exactly what it is that I am being invited to do – pose for a photo with everyone except K as he more than gladly hides takes the spot behind the camera. And what do I do? Well, shockingly, not the usual. I don’t pretend never to have heard my name being hollered across the bridge; I don’t turn around to grin and then protest vehemently the need for a photo with me in it; I don’t roll my eyes or grit my teeth or cringe before walking over unwillingly to stand in front of the camera.

To my disbelief (and, possibly, the others’ too), I hop over, as if there’s a spring under my feet, without any inhibitions and take my place next to Mum (K‘s mom). I am not over thinking these two seconds, making it a trice of refreshing change. But before I can pat myself on my back for being such a good team player for once something of more importance happens.

Mum puts her hand around my shoulders and pulls me closer to her. Readily, my feet move an inch or two. She then places her palm on my cheek and draws my head close enough to have it lie on her shoulder; I gladly follow her lead. She lovingly pinches my cheek, as a mother would her child’s; my eyes – they are both beaming and tearful.

The tenderness and purity of emotions of these few seconds makes my day. This raw display of affection in the most unexpected time and way makes my smile wide. This gentleness of it all screaming of motherly love clouds my eyes. My heart skips a beat.

The photo is taken.

I wear my goggles to make sure my misty eyes go unnoticed and try to move over, but I feel a hand tightly holding mine. Mum, again. I hold hers back, savoring every bit of what is being showered on me. My mind wanders to whether it was my immediate acceptance of the invitation to be in a photograph that has made her communicate with me in this way, out of the blue. But then I quickly come back to the present – why / how does that matter? I cherish the time, for then and for ever, and move on with a heart overflowing with deep sentiments.

To anyone noticing the two of us those few seconds it may have seemed like a simple, random, insignificant, ordinary act. But to me that flash in time is / will always be monumental. I can’t put a pin on exactly why, but why should there be a need for that? I know what will stay with me indefinitely when I look back at this trip anytime in the future, near or far; I know precisely what has made an eternal mark in my mind’s eye. It’s not the reason why there’s so much love, but the fact that there is abundance of love in my life. And for that I am infinitely grateful.

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Sounds around a happy home

The sweet drumming of various utensils in the kitchen heard alongside the birds’ chirping early in the morning. The voices of people merrily sharing stories as they sit together sipping on tea or eating breakfast. The chorus of good mornings / good evenings heard as K or I walk into the living room. The phone bell ringing every now and then in the house where phone was used oh so rarely. The musical hum of laughter from someone or the other heard throughout the day. The clatter of more than a dozen pair of shoes as the invitation to embrace the evening outdoors is welcomed. The pleasant hullabaloo in the hurry to narrate the day’s happenings to us as we return home from work. The big bustle in the dining room every night as everyone settles down for dinner. The hushed sigh of relief as we all gather in the living room after finishing all the chores in the kitchen and elsewhere.

And the silent sound of love that lingers even during those wee hours of night when everyone has blissfully fallen asleep.

P.S: Mummy and Papa (K’s parents), along with their friends, and two of K’s cousins are visiting us from India. They’ve been here for about ten days now and will be around until October. A few more relatives (his sister, Aunt and Uncle) are scheduled to arrive in June. Needless to say, it’s been a full house, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying their company. 

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Weekend

This weekend felt both really long and extremely fleeting at the same time. How that could be, I don’t know.

Friday evening we were at a friend’s place when we learned that another close friend was just taken to the hospital as she was suspected to have gone into labor. They weren’t sure if it was truly contractions that she was experiencing or if it was some other uneasiness/pain that she was feeling. But once the doctor confirmed that she was indeed in active labor, all of us rushed to the hospital to be by the side of the expectant parents.

Understandably, we spent the next handful of hours in the waiting room satisfied with the brief updates about the progress every once in a while.

For a while there, I sat with the mother-to-be’s nervous mother. Holding steady her shaking hands, seeing her so worried for her daughter, feeling her affection in every word she spoke, I did all I could to try and calm her. At one point, when I asked her if she wanted to be with her daughter, she almost jumped with joy inquiring if that was a possibility. I quickly walked her to the room where P was and let her inside. In those few seconds that I held the door open for her mom to walk in, I caught a glimpse of P’s face. And in those mere seconds I read what an unbearable pain she was in.

Now, P’s father returned from dinner and he had a lot of stories and anecdotes to share about every topic under the sun. It was great getting to spend that quality time with him. The minutes passed by faster with his tales for company. He went in to check on her daughter once or twice; he ended up spending most of his time that evening/night chatting with us.

All this while K, along with our friend D, went missing. Where they actually went was to get antacids for A, but since it was late in the evening every pharmacy in the hospital was closed. Apparently, the duo walked into a closed convenient store, picked up the antacid from the pharmacy shelf, walked out hoping they could somehow find someone who will take a payment, only to be told by the security guards that the store was closed and they shouldn’t have entered it in the first place. They came back empty handed after all the drama and then drove out of the hospital to some store to finally get what was needed.

In the midst of all this, R, the father-to-be, came to inform us of the progress two or three times. His eyes mirrored the pain that P was going through. He was almost in tears as he kept repeating “She’s so strong; I don’t know how she’s doing it.” I could relate faintly to the words that he was uttering. But, at that time, all we could do to alleviate his grief was to merely tell him not to worry and assure him that it would all be over soon.

If it was over soon or not I can’t tell, but six hours later R walked into the waiting room one last time to let us all know that he is now a father of a beautiful baby girl. Weariness was washed out with those few words. Hugs were exchanged. Smile found a permanent place on our faces that night. Discussion for finding her perfect name surfaced yet again.
After P was somewhat out of that surreal experience that she’d just had, each of us took turns to see the baby. And what an adorable little one she turned out to be! I was smitten the minute I laid my eyes on that pink bundle of joy. Those little feet, the rode bud lips, those tiny palms and the long artistic fingers – she was beautiful beyond words. I still have that frame of when I first saw her etched in my memory.

Weekend was spent falling more and more in love with Peanut every time we got a glance of her. One incident of noteworthy mention is that I held the newborn baby. I was super scared, but she was weeping really bad and her mom was not available to hold her at the moment. So, I was asked to step in and after a little panicked hesitation, I agreed. I was terrified all those minutes that she was resting on my lap as I held her, yes. But it was a blissful experience at the same time. I don’t think I can do any justice trying to describe it.

So, throughout Saturday and Sunday we shuttled numerous times between the hospital and P&R’s home trying to help in any which way we could. And those trips came to an end last evening when we went there one last time to bring P and Peanut home.

That last visit to the hospital was strange and needs a special mention in itself. K and I were almost near the hospital when we heard loud sirens near the area. As we walked out of the parking lot and towards the building, a cop stopped us and inquired where we were going. We let him know the details and he asked us to walk into the building and not come out since there was as shutdown in the area. As soon as K heard those words, he rightly guessed that there’s probably a gunman on the loose somewhere. We quickly found our way to the building and were made to wait in the lobby since they were not letting anybody in or out. And while we waited there, we confirmed K’s theory that there was indeed an armed person in the campus and that the person was being actively pursued by the police. So after a bit of a wait, they announced that all was ok and that routine could resume. Thank goodness.

Anyway, back to the happy part of the weekend.

I am head over heels in love with the newest member of our circle. I am enamored by Peanut’s every move; she has a doting aunt in me who adores her to bits. I wish the new parents and their little bundle of love all the happiness and health.

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Full house

I hear a lot of noise coming from downstairs as I open the bedroom door. What’s all the hullabaloo about? I thought Amma was alone down there. The partner bid me goodbye to go to work, so he’s definitely not home now. Maybe she’s on the phone; in that case, how am I able to listen to the whole conversation? She never uses the speaker mode. Perhaps someone has called her on Skype. That must be it because only yesterday she learned some of the functions and I bet she’s already using it. Still, where’s all the different voices coming from? How many people is she talking to?

I walk down and first lay my eyes on Amma’s Uncle and Aunt. When did they get here? I wonder if they are mad at me for not chatting with them properly the last time they were on Skype with Amma. I was pre-occupied with something else when they’d called and I appeared in front of the camera once to fix some issue Amma was having. I only said hello before letting them continue their chitchat with Amma. I hope they won’t drill me about why I disappeared so quickly.

I greet them with a smile. They smile back and ask me how I am. I tell them I am fine and go into the living room to ask them further about when they got here, if they are tired after their journey, etc. It’s a pleasant surprise, their visit to my place all of a sudden. Maybe because Amma is here; she may have invited them over and forgotten to mention it to me. It’s all good, they are here and let’s hope they have a good time.

My sisters and my father are here too. What? How come no one brought any of this up when they talked to me? Appa being here is a shock, actually. I wouldn’t, even in my wildest dreams, imagine my father ever standing in my living room. What am I missing here? He seems comfortable. I wasn’t expecting the day to turn out to be anything like this when I woke up this morning. Am I dead? Is this heaven? I have so many questions, all for my mother. Where is she?

Wait a minute… this voice that I am hearing right now, who is it? It sounds so familiar, yet so alien. A lot of memories come gushing. I know who it is, there’s no mistaking in this case. Who let him in? Appa? Amma, or even my sisters, sure as hell would never open the door for him. I haven’t heard his voice in so many years. I haven’t seen him in over a decade and half. I haven’t forgotten him, even though I haven’t been in touch with him all this time. It’s strange that he should be here. It could be that this is all in my mind. But is it? I can hear him, loud and clear. He’s singing; still as good at it as he used to be way back when. Should I go see for myself if he’s indeed here?

My heart is racing, but not in the way that I would have expected it to. Where is all that pent-up rage? Where are all those hidden tears? Isn’t that what I have always imagined would burst out whenever I bumped into him next – all those tears and all that rage? Then why is it so that all I feel is numbness, and also a sort of vague calmness? Weird. Why can’t I move? With only a few more steps I will be face to face with a man who was a Superhero to me once upon a time. Within a few seconds I will look into the eyes of the man who shattered the image that I’d built of him with that ignominious deed of his. Should I go? He’s here. In my house. Of course I should go talk to him. That’s good manners, right?

I wonder what I will do when our eyes meet. Will I, at that instant, turn into the happy ten year old I once was, always bristling with the excitement in his presence? Or will I somehow become that slightly older girl that waged a silent war against the devil that she found him to be? Will I merrily reminisce our mountainous happy past? Or will I focus on the one thing that went wrong, which to date affects me in the biggest of ways? Which side will I lean towards? Should I risk finding out? Sure, why not. Whatever may come next, he deserves it. I take careful steps, one after another. And there he is.

My Chittappa*.

He’s smiling, as he moves around singing and chopping some vegetables in the kitchen. Our eyes meet. And at this point I would’ve anticipated for the waterworks begin from my end. Alas, my eyes are still dry. He grins wide. I hear him call out the same nickname that he’s always used for me, probably since I was days old. He made up special names for all of us in the family. Nobody else uses that nickname to address me. Ever. It’s always only been him. So, at least now I know for sure that it’s really my Chittappa that’s standing in front of me. Not that I had an iota of doubt before; I could never mistake his voice or his charisma for anyone else’s. ‘We’ve all been waiting for you. It’s so nice to see you after all these years’, he says. And the doorbell rings.

Suddenly I remember that it’s time for the partner’s return. The fact that Amma missed even hinting about this family gathering to me has taken me by surprise. What about the partner? He doesn’t have a clue, just as I didn’t as I walked down the stairs only a while ago. This will doubtless be an enormous revelation to him. I run and go open the door, before someone else does, so I can ease him into it.

The partner walks in, and before I can say anything, he listens to the sound variety of conversations from every nook and corner of the house, that too in a language he barely comprehends, and smiles. He sure doesn’t know who all are here, but he has a hospitable heart, and with that he puts his backpack down and enters the living area to warmly welcome everyone with his gracious smile. My mind runs wild again, with another set of million questions. Where in the world is Amma?

Is Appa still here? What should I expect from him, if at all anything? I make up my mind to keep my hopes low, as always, and let things roll in their own accord. It’s better that way. It has always been. But it’s hard, so hard, I tell you. Before I can even think of relaxing my curious mind, I get my answer, though. Thanks to Appa, he does precisely what I’d foreseen him doing. But, no matter how much I’d apparently prepared for it, it still comes as a blow. Oh well, he never disappoints, does he? His staunch stubbornness delivers every single time. Sigh.

Look who’s walking towards us as Appa is leaving. Oh my goodness, I can’t even begin to conceive what would come out of Chittappa meeting the partner. Only months ago when I’d already hit rock bottom I found a way to dig a little deeper and fall further in, as I opened up and shared with the partner the tale of why my relationship with Chittappa was strained / why it fell apart. And now he’s going to meet that man from my past. What good can ever come out of this? I hope, against all odds, that the partner’s elephant memory fails him now. Or, at best, he reacts the same way I did, freeze. And he does, or should I say he acts as if he does, as I introduce him to Chittappa. I guess he doesn’t want any unwanted drama to ensue from their first encounter. But his eyes – look at those eyes – it’s full of fury. I can tell because it’s like seeing myself in the mirror and finding all that wrath hiding there, turning red all that was white before.

Tears trickle down my cheeks, now. My ire, my melancholy – I see it all in his eyes. A burden shared, is that what kept me composed all this time? I pull him aside, hug him, and let him wipe my tears. He plants a peck on my cheek and that’s enough melt away all the pain.

From that kiss stems a happy ending.

Tell me, should this be categorized a dream or a nightmare?

*Chittappa – father’s younger brother.

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