Children born in paradise

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Many years ago while sitting thousands of kilometers away and quite unaware of the ground reality in Jammu and Kashmir, I came across this famous quote by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir “Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast” (“If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here”). There is no denying the fact that these words were instrumental in arousing my curiosity for this place. The visuals of Dal lake with floating houseboats, snow clad Himalayas, the breathtaking glaciers, gardens neatly manicured with chinar trees, the mighty Jhelem gushing through the valley and beautiful people showcasing their unique culture, made such an enchanting panorama in my mind that at times I used to feel envious of those blessed people who lived there. But ironically, little did I know that a place as serene as a paradise had long been infected with deadly viruses such as insurgency and terrorism. When, how and why this blessing became a curse is a point to introspect for all of us as humans. Jahangir’s Kashmir resembled a beautiful damsel blushing in hues of red aptly mirroring the chinar leaves of autumn. Whereas the Kashmir that we have seen in recent times is a reflection of a helpless vagrant. Though she is still smitten in crimson, but unfortunately with blood oozing out from her burned and bruised self. As an aftermath of prolonged armed conflict, the place which should have been cheerful and vibrant with constant footfalls of tourists has now become deserted and forlorn. The sad truth about this fiasco is that fear, distrust, uncertainty and gloom has crept in the society… hindering its survival and growth. As a result of growing up in a conflict zone the children are subjected to constant trauma such as anxiety of separation and death. We also get to hear a lot about mental health issues that has cropped up in the region. Unfortunately, the youngsters are the worst affected in the whole process as they are robbed off their innocence far too early in their lives something that no child should be deprived off. As children have a tendency to imitate what they perceive from the world around them it becomes all the more difficult for them to avoid getting influenced by untoward incidents that take place around them. Moreover, the day to day discussions of these impressionable minds are also quite different unlike the children growing up in a more peaceful place. With schools being closed due to curfew every now and then and minimal constructive engagement some of these kids indulge in meaningless discussions and activities.

Interestingly, a place doesn’t determine the talent quotient of its inhabitants instead it decides how equipped it is to nurture their talent and help them evolve. God bestows upon each of his creations the power to excel but how do we utilize that power is up to our free will. However, amidst heart wrenching stories of youth being swayed by radical thinking and thereby engaging in anti-social activities in Jammu and Kashmir, we also hear about individuals who have made their mark in spite of all odds. For instance, the phenomenal story of child prodigy Tajamul Islam winning world kick boxing championship for India or the achievements of television sensations like Shaheer Sheikh and Hina Khan. Or, for that matter the success story of Athar Amir-ul-Shafi Khan, an officer in Indian Administrative Service, acts as a silver lining on an otherwise dark and gloomy cloud. Thinking about  Athar’s journey… from Anantnag to Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi and from there to Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy for Administration, Mussoorie has been exemplary. Similarly, other known and unknown faces from the region have also dared to defy all odds and dream differently. Their success depicts the true nature of the human race, i.e. a strong instinct to survive in the face of elimination. Perhaps, we are designed in such a way that we are in a constant pursuit of opportunities that would take us to a better situation than the existing one. After all, nobody wants to remain stuck in a deep and dark den eternally, therefore we tend to get attracted to even a small flickering light that we find because it could be a sign of a possible way out to a brighter future ahead. In such cases, the parent’s role becomes all the more significant as they anchor the puzzled child to take a detour while tactfully avoiding the roadblocks so that their children are able to reach their destination. No doubt, these known or unknown achievers pose as a role model for many… as the youngsters watch every move that they make and get inspired to follow the trails that these idols lay along the way.

There could have been another name in the above list of achievers – Zaira Wasim. The way she thumped her way with her remarkably flawless acting skill into mainstream hindi cinema is simply mind blowing. But quite recently, she gave a jolt to the whole nation by announcing to quit cinema. Who could have imagined that the gifted girl who made the whole country awestruck with each outing at the box office would make such a decision. For many of us who live far away from the shambles that Jammu and Kashmir deals with, it resembles a maze full of Rashomon effect, where one could easily get disillusioned and lost because at every juncture it presents a different version of the same story. I often wonder, what could have been the real reason behind her exit or rather what made her to crack-up? No doubt, the entertainment industry comes with its own share of stress and pressure which could possibly pose as a huge burden on a young shoulder. Besides, time and again she has also been subjected to extra scrutiny and grinding than what was called-for. Right from the beginning of her stint in cinema there have been instances where separatists did not take things that she did or the people that she met in a good light. Therefore, Zaira had to endure their constant verbal lashing. During those days, it was hard for me to comprehend her fearful, apologetic and calculated behavior. But gradually, I realized how difficult life must have been for her and numerous children like her who grow up in the backyard of terror. Let’s not forget that years of living in fear and being oppressed takes a huge toll on the psyche of an individual. 

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Even Though, I genuinely wish Zaira is able to deal with her inner turmoil and figure out the real purpose of her life so that she lives a contented life but deep within… I still can’t lose hope that someday she might realize the fact that she has been gifted with a wonderful talent by the almighty which should not go in vain. I still can’t understand how a profession can become a hindrance to one’s faith and religion (as stated by her before quitting acting)? Personally, I feel one can serve God by performing one’s occupational duties well. Haven’t we heard of artists being closer to God? By being part of meaningful projects she could have been closer to the creator as well and his creations. But presuming her decision was governed by external factors, for instance if she was scared of becoming an outcast in the eyes of fundamentalists and society or perhaps a threat to her family’s life then it is a matter of concern. In that case it would be shameful for all of us as that would mean that  we have failed in protecting the interests of our children. This reminds me of an African saying, “It takes an entire village to raise a child.” The society as a whole has a responsibility to take care of and protect the children. Interestingly, a society not just comprises of only ordinary people from all walks of life instead it also includes politicians, fundamentalists and separatist alike. These people possess within themselves the power to influence people. And unfortunately, this could be a colossal problem for any society as its so-called stalwarts fail to understand that due to their squabbling over fringy and petty matters the development of innocent souls get hampered. Moreover, living in such a melancholic environment affects the mental well being of the people. In the past we have witnessed incidents where children and young adults were mobilized to participate in stone pelting activity or take up arms. I wonder if the people who instigate the youth to indulge in such things encourage their own children to participate in them? Or, do they conveniently play with the fate of others children while tactfully shielding their own progeny with security cover? It is so pathetic to see the inability in refraining from double standards, by the same people who holds a responsible position in the society. 

In the present scenario with Jammu and Kashmir becoming a union territory of India, I hope it brings dawn of a new era in this region. While the world has its eyes glued on this part of the country, it is up to all of us to show maturity and sensitivity in handling this issue. And gradually, help it to re-discover and prepare itself to come face to face with Jahangir’s idea of ‘heaven on earth’. No doubt, as of now it might be limping or rather clawing back to normalcy but with proper vision, support and patience from all quarters it could stand on its feet and this could be a turning point for the residents of Jammu and Kashmir and for the whole country. The real achievement for us would be when Kashmiri society regains its vigor and come into the mainstream. This could happen when their youth get to enjoy equal opportunities just like their peers from other parts of the country. Moreover, when there is none with vested interest to manipulate their sentiments and beliefs, that is when they would march towards a brighter future without having an iota of fear or doubt . After all, just like every child on earth they too are entitled to feel happy, free, secured and most importantly… to dream.

– By Aradhana Basu Das

Break free from the shackles

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As memories of my past experience with Sanskrit are still fresh in my mind, advertisements regarding crash courses offered in different languages often made me  wonder how can someone learn a language in such a short span. As ironic as it may sound in spite of having Sanskrit as a third language at the school (for four years) this could not make me to construct even simple sentences, let alone speak the language fluently. However, as days went by instead of having a regret for not being able to learn this ancient Indian language the question of its utility in modern times often came to my mind. But as fate took its course, I landed up in an introductory session for spoken Sanskrit classes which was conducted in our society by Samskrita Bharati. It’s a non profit organization which has been working relentlessly towards reviving Sanskrit to its past glory. They conduct ten days capsule classes for two-hours duration for basic Sanskrit conversational skill and that too without charging anything from students. They have designed an unique and effective method of teaching this ancient language which is also known as ‘Deva Bhasha’. Though I wasn’t expecting to continue beyond a session, to my surprise our ever smiling and energetic teacher Deepika presented before us an unconventional approach of teaching by using toys, chart papers, gestures. She had created an interactive and inclusive environment compared to what we were introduced at the school. That day I realized that Sanskrit is not tough but the curriculum that were designed for schools in India were faulty. I was also astonished to find out about few of the striking benefits of speaking in Sanskrit. For instance, Sanskrit improves and expands the brain, our tongue muscles are fully utilized while we speak in this language and of course it is one of the most structured and computer friendly languages the world has known so far.

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Sometime during those ten days I got to know about Panini, who is considered as father of linguistics, a great Sanskrit philologist, a revered grammarian from ancient India. So, on coming back home that day I tried collecting more information about Panini. While digging deep into his life I came across a very interesting story. Though, I don’t know about its authenticity but found it extremely inspiring. Thus thought of sharing.

In around 500-600 BC, there lived a great scholar by the name of Pani near the bank of river Indus. Pani and his wife Dakshi were blessed with a son known as Panini. Panini was an active, little boy and was loved by his parents very dearly. One day, an old friend of Pani who also happened to be a great scholar, an astrologer and a palmist had payed him a visit. He enjoyed great hospitality at Pani’s place. Just after lunch while both the friends were relaxing, Pani’s scholarly friend he noticed little Panini. Obediently, Panini sat near him and showed him his palm on being asked to do so. While he took time and meticulously studied the lines of Panini’s palm, Pani watched the whole process patiently. Pani noticed that slowly his learned friend’s face which looked joyful initially had started to embody grave concern. He asked his friend what was bothering him. The scholarly man looked at Pani with great sympathy in his eyes and said, “Oh my dear friend! Ultimately, we are all puppets in the hands of fate. On one hand you have acquired so much knowledge that people come seeking your advice from places far and wide but on the other hand your son is destined remain illiterate all his life.”

“I don’t doubt your knowledge but could you please check one more time?”, Pani requested while still in shock.

The friend looked at horror stricken Pani and softly assured him in a comforting voice, “I have checked several times but the line of education could not be found. It is certain for him to remain illiterate.” Pani closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

All this while Panini was listening to their conversation very carefully and very politely requested the learned man, “ Could you please let me know where exactly the line of education would have been had it been there on my palm?”

Pani and his friend looked sympathetically at the little boy. The latter showed Panini the area on palm where the line of education should have been. Panini quickly ran out of the room leaving both the men bewildered. After sometime he came back and put his palm forward saying, “Now that I have a line right there on my palm… will I become a scholar when I grow up?”

Both the men were shocked to see Panini’s palm, for it was oozing with blood. The conversation between both the men had made such an impact on little Panini’s mind that he had etched a line with a stone on his palm, the line run down his palm at the same place where the line of education should have been there. This act of Panini left both the wise men absolutely speechless.

But somewhere down the line as a father Pani could not accept this as absolute truth. As days went by Pani witnessed unquenchable desire to acquire knowledge in his young son. That’s when he took the responsibility upon himself to teach young Panini all that he could. Moreover, in order to get more knowledge Pani used to meditate on Lord Shiva. Interestingly, it is believed that Panini is the one who has formulated Sanskrit morphology, syntax and semantics in 3959 sutras called Ashtadhyayi, the foundation of the grammatical branch of Vedanga. His verses influenced many scholars of that time to engage in bhashyas (commentaries).

Here was a man who defied and scripted the course of his own destiny with dedication and hard work. Moreover, Pani’s role as a father is exemplary as he was able to break free from the shackles of fear, self pity and doubt and identified the spark in little Panini thus supported him all along. The father and son duo must have channelized their energy and enjoyed the whole process of evolving rather than dwelling too much on the uncertainties of future. I wonder how much Panini could have achieved had his father not believed in his abilities. This story serves as an important lesson for me, not just as an individual but also as a parent. As I understand that raising a child could be rough sailing at times. We have to accept that our children don’t come into our lives served in a silver platter. Instead they come tagged with their own set of abilities as well as challenges. It is up to us to tab their potential and channelize their energy towards that which they are good at. So that they too can act to their full potential and write the script of their life their way.

– By Aradhana Basu Das

The lifeline – lost and found

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It was late in the evening when Nitin came out of the lab, after spending hours analyzing samples that were collected during excavation. He was in an upbeat mood, eager to share his excitement with the team as the outcome of analysis was positive. Nitin is an archeologist who is working in an international project, consisting of specialists from interdisciplinary fields. They are studying the actual cause of decline of Indus valley civilization. While he hurried towards the Jeep, his phone started vibrating. He slipped his hand into the side pocket of his jeans to take the phone out. It was a call from his father Mahesh.

Nitin called out, “Hello, Papa”.

“How are you, Nitin?”, Mahesh inquired.

“I’m Good”, Nitin replied, but sensed something amiss. “What has happened? You don’t sound okay”.

“Yeah… actually from sometime now, your grandfather has not been keeping well. No matter how much he was cajoled to come and stay with us, he showed reluctance to do so. You see, a persistent cough that has taken a shape of pneumonia”, Mahesh informed.

“Okay, so now…”, Nitin said pensively.

“Even though he was taking medicines… but grandma had called up to inform us that he has been experiencing breathlessness from a week.” Mahesh was interrupted by Nitin. “What? breathlessness…”

“Yes, hearing which, we rushed to Simariya. After a brief stay at a hospital he is back to home now”, Mahesh added.

“How is he… now?”, Nitin asked.

“He is recovering slowly”, Mahesh became silent.

Nitin asked in desperation, unable to bear the silence, “Is there anything that you are hiding from me?”

“Well… he wants to meet you, spend a few days with you. Can you make that possible, Nitin?” Mahesh asked with hesitation.

“No Papa, I can’t come now. I mean…”, Nitin said immediately.

Mahesh could sense that his son was getting disturbed by this conversation. As a result he quickly said,“That’s okay son, I can understand that you have work commitments”.

And then he changed the topic and asked, “How is your work going on?”

“Good, it is at a critical juncture. You could expect to hear from us anytime soon”, Nitin said.

“Oh! That’s wonderful”, Mahesh exclaimed.

“Papa, I can’t miss this opportunity. I have been waiting for this moment for years”, Nitin said with a tinge of guilt in his voice.

“Don’t think about it much and remain focused. Grandpa would understand”, Mahesh said. “Give him a call sometime, he’ll feel better”, he suggested.

“Sure, I will…”, Nitin replied.

After this conversation, Nitin drove to the place where the whole team was put up.That night the whole team had their dinner amidst discussions on the day’s development and next plan of action and speculations. In the archaeological world, the actual cause of decline of this civilization has always been regarded as a final frontier. Something at this scale have never been done before. They were all charged up as they could see a possibility of a landmark discovery, something for which they have been working hard for almost five years now.

After dinner, everyone dispersed to their respective rooms, except for Nitin. While he was walking through the corridor, he could feel the cold breeze, caressing and ruffling him. As if to compel him to linger there before calling it a night. Watching the spectacular star studded sky, he was reminded of a childhood memory. Every summer vacation during his visits to grandparent’s home, on hot summer nights they would sleep on the terrace. While laying on separate charpoys, watching millions of stars twinkling in the sky, feeling the breeze blowing from the Ganges, they would talk for hours before slowly falling asleep. He felt nostalgic, a strange familiarity in this ambience. But ironically, for him this moment was far from peaceful as he felt a tempest within him.

Meanwhile, Akshay, a fellow archeologist and a good friend of Nitin saw him from his window. Wondering what was Nitin doing there on a cold desert night, he proceeded towards him. Nitin was too engrossed in his thought processes and hence couldn’t feel his presence.

“Hey buddy! All good?” Akshay asked, almost startling him.

“Oh, hi Akshay”, He responded.

“ I… I hope everything is okay?”, Akshay asked with hesitation.

Nitin forced himself to smile and said, “Yeah”.

Akshay looked at Nitin, he seemed to be in deep thought and somewhat disturbed.

After a bit of silence, Nitin spoke out, “My grandfather is not keeping well”.

“Oh! ”, Akshay exclaimed. With curiosity in his eyes he watched Nitin quietly, expecting more to come.

“He is interested to meet me”, Nitin said.

“I see”, Akshay sighed. After a pause.

“All my fond childhood memories are with my grandparents and not with my parents. My parents used to be busy with their patients… they hardly had any time left for us. Papa was busy building his career. But on the contrary, my grandfather had different priorities in life. After graduating from medical college, my grandfather chose to go back to his native place and serve his people as their was a dearth of doctors there. He led a very simple and peaceful life there.” Nitin said.

“Where do they live? You had mentioned once, but I forgot”, Akshay inquired.

“Simariya, a peaceful village in Bihar near the banks of river Ganges”, Nitin said.

“I am trying to imagine… it must have been wonderful”, Akshay said smiling.

“Yeah, those moments were so beautiful. I vividly remember… those early morning walks down the river bank, sitting there comfortably for hours, watching the sunrise, the breeze forming ripples in the water, small boats sailing and their oars making rhythmic sounds in the water, men and women taking a dip in the holy Ganges.”

“Hmm, enchanting!”, Akshay exclaimed.

“Yes, we used to discuss about historical events, ancient Indian history during those moments. I was introduced to Harappan culture, Maurya, Vijayanagara, Mughal and Maratha empires long before I had studied about them at the school”, Nitin said.

“Oh, so he introduced you to these things!” Akshay exclaimed.

“Yes, you could say so. I still remember my first visit to the ruins of Nalanda University with him. I was about ten at that time. That visit changed my life for ever. Both of us had got engrossed in those ruins. Luckily, during that time we happened to meet a couple of field archaeologists working at the site. And I had said to my grandfather, “This is what I want to become when I grow up”. With belief and pride he told me,“Whatever you wish”.

“And… what was his equation with his other grandchildren?”, Akshay asked inquisitively.

“I have always been very special to him. Maybe because with me he could experience grandparenthood in a true sense. We lived in Patna, a few hours drive from him. But others lived in distant places. As a result he didn’t get to spend much time with them”, Nitin sighed and silently drifted into his thoughts.

Now, slowly things were falling in place for Akshay. He could make out what was bothering Nitin so much. He understood that his friend’s emotions were playing a tug of war, trying to pull him on either sides. On one side, thoughts of his grandpa’s ill health, the fact that he wanted to meet him so badly was pulling Nitin and on the other hand his impending project was rendering him helpless. “What can he do, his hands are tied up…”, Akshay thought to himself.

For five years they had toiled hard, confronting challenges at every front and finally they seem to have arrived at a conclusive position where they were about to realign the history of one of the oldest ancient civilizations of the world – The Indus valley civilization. Initially, coordinating with different agencies in order to raise funds was an uphill task. Thereafter, bringing on board scientists from various interdisciplinary fields such as archeology, mathematics, geology and geomorphology and then working in a perfect synchrony with each other for these many  years. This, off course, needed a single-minded approach from the entire crew and a lot of sacrifices at every front. They had erratic work schedules. For instance, during hot summer months, they would work from dawn till lunch in order to avoid extreme heat. Sometimes, they would work at the site for twelve days at a stretch and then take a break of about three days or maybe spend time at the lab analysing things for couple of days.

With the help of advanced technology, they were able to achieve that which their counterparts of yesteryears could not. By combining satellite pictures with topographic data, maps of landforms built by Indus and neighboring rivers were prepared. Which were then drilled and dug manually. Samples that were collected from these trenches were studied to determine the source of sediments there. As a result the researchers were able to form a chronology of the landscape changes in the area.

For the next sixteen days, they worked day and night. For most of them, these were the moments they had always dreamt of living. They were able to conclude that the actual reason for decline of Indus valley civilization was not the Aryan invasion as was assumed by earlier scholars but a shift in the course of rivers and natural disasters like drought and floods.  They also found evidence of a mighty river that no longer exists. The fall in the average rainfall lead to the increase in aridity. As a result, agriculture, upon which most of the trades were dependent also declined. The people gradually shifted to other places, abandoning what is known as an epitome of an advanced early civilization.

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As from time to time the findings were being published in different journals, a lot of hype had been created around this. The press across the world had its eyes glued, keeping a close watch at the proceedings there. After the mission got accomplished, interviews and press conferences were conducted. Their achievements were hailed far and wide as they had made history.

During one such press conference, Jayanthi – a geologist, was asked by one of the reporters, “How did you choose such an unconventional profession such as geology?”

Hearing this question, Nitin felt a strange tug at his heart. He thought to himself, “It was not easy for me, without grandpa’s support…”

Nitin recalled the moment when he had called up his grandfather to tell him that he had a heated argument with his parents. Coming from a state which is obsessed with more orthodox professions like medical, engineering and administrative services and also being a son of cardiologists, it was not easy for Nitin to choose a road not taken much. Mahesh, Nitin’s father dreamt of sending him to a medical school so that Nitin could hold the reins of their nursing home, but the son wanted to study history. It was astonishing to see how within a few hours of phone call grandfather was by Nitin’s side.

When Nitin had thanked him for coming, his grandfather had said, “I will always be there for you, as long as you need me.”

And when Mahesh had asked with apprehension, “So, what might be his future if he goes for subjects like history?”

To this Nitin’s grandfather gave a pat on Nitin’s back and looked at him confidently and said, “Remember one thing, there is always vacancy at the top. It is up to you, whatever path you wish to choose. But don’t forget to put your heart and soul to excel in the chosen field.”

As time passed, he became extremely busy in his life. As a result, the frequent phone calls to his grandparents had drastically reduced. Especially during his doctoral research, while he was shuttling between Mesopotamia and Indus Valley regions, studying similarities between the ancient civilizations that evolved in these places. It is not that they meant nothing to him any more. But his priorities had changed a bit.

He was brought back to the present when he heard his name being called repeatedly.

“I am sorry, I didn’t hear you. Could you please repeat the question?”, He blurted out to the reporter.

The reporter repeated his question again, “Do you feel the society faced regression after whatever happened?”

“Yeah… of course. For almost a century, Indus valley civilization has been a subject of muse for many a scholars, since it was the oldest urban civilization in the world. It had a well developed trade system, cities, metallurgy, sewerage system, script and many other achievements. But still, this urban society witnessed slow regression when they had to deal with the changing climate. For instance, when from urban settlers living in big cities they became rural settlers in many small villages, they no longer needed large granaries as they had to cater only to the needs of smaller units. Trade relations with Mesopotamia and Egypt which they once had, stopped completely. There could be a possibility that they no longer needed to write in their new life, as a result the script was completely forgotten”, Nitin said.

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Cristina, a Romanian geomorphologist was asked by another reporter, “Is this situation a thing of a past or can we face similar problems in future?”

“Yes, there could be a possibility of a similar situation in future too. One thing we can’t forget is that we are still dependent on rivers, they are our lifeline. Even today, we can see them changing their course, decrease in their flow. The perennial rivers in many places are becoming seasonal and also flood like situation is seen during the monsoons. This gradual change is even more dangerous than a sudden event. A sudden change gives us a jolt compelling us to act immediately but a gradual change takes a lot of time to manifest an impact so it is late by the time we start taking it seriously. Agriculture based economy thrived on the fertile soils of Indus and its tributaries but over a period of time the same land got converted into a desert”, Cristina answered.

Soon after the conference Nitin called up his grandfather, “Hello grandpa! How are you?”

“Nitin, I am fine. I saw you on the television and also your father has read a newspaper article for me. It was about your achievements in this project”, Grandfather said with a childlike excitement.

“I am sorry”, Nitin said.

“Sorry, but why?” grandfather asked in a surprised tone.

“Whenever I needed you, you have always been there for me. But I couldn’t reciprocate the same. I couldn’t rush to your side immediately after hearing about your health”, he said.

“No, Nitin. Please don’t feel sorry for anything. I didn’t feel bad, my child”.

“Thank you, grandpa”, Nitin said almost choked.

“For what? It is you who have made us all proud”, grandfather said.

After composing himself, Nitin said, “You have been a great support. I couldn’t have reached here without you.Thank you for loving me unconditionally and having faith in me”. After a pause, Nitin added “I am coming home to see you.”

to be continued…

– By Aradhana Basu Das