Fram was a charismatic and intrepid man. For an octogenarian, he was as fit as a fiddle and had a lanky, muscular physique. His eyes were animated and child-like, and his innocent, sense of humor often caused rip-roaring laughter. He also had this divine, Dalai Lama-like aura that would precede his arrival at any given place.
Today was his eightieth birthday and he allowed himself a break from his daily routine. On a normal day, he woke up at four-thirty a.m. and performed a series of yogic rituals that kept the body and mind pure. He began with ‘vaman dhouti.’ This involved swallowing two liters of lukewarm, saline water and regurgitating it, cleansing the esophagus and stomach. He followed this with ‘pranayama,’ an ancient technique of breath control and then two hours of rigorous asanas.
He found his calling early and people considered him an enlightened soul. He had a sixth sense that enabled him to foresee major life events before they happened. He also had a photographic memory and was a genius with numbers. This helped him make millions in the stock market and his advisory firm had been amongst the most profitable in the country. A decade ago, had sold it for a hefty sum to a certain Mr. Agarwal who ran it to the ground in no time.
After yoga, he drank two cups of perfectly brewed Darjeeling tea while reading the morning paper in English, Hindi and Marathi. He prepared the tea himself in an ancient blue and white porcelain teapot purchased at a Sotheby’s auction on his travels to Beijing. Exactly one tablespoon of Makaibari handmade tea was added to eight ounces of hot water and three minutes and thirty seconds later, the resulting golden, black liquid was poured into a beautifully designed cup and saucer that came with the pot. The hot tea dropping into the cup made a soothing waterfall-like sound that calmed him and he was able to taste the delicate but lively, fruity flavors of the tea even before taking the first sip.
The story of the teapot is interesting. In the late Eighteenth century, the King of the Tai Hun province finally had a son after siring nine daughters. Around the same time, he had a terrible disease and was unable to father anymore children. The prince and only heir to the throne grew up, fell in love with a peasant girl and they had a baby boy. When the King found out, he was furious and ordered the peasant girl and the baby to be killed.
The prince had a loyal manservant who entered his quarters late at night on the pretext of bringing him tea and switched his own baby child with the prince’s child. After the peasant girl and the child were killed the prince saw no reason to live and legend says he died of a broken heart.
The loyal manservant brought up the little prince to be a brave and just man. One day, in the dead of night, the strapping young prince sneaked into the palace and slew the evil king, taking over his kingdom. It is believed that the manservant used Fram’s porcelain tea pot that fateful night when he saved the little prince.
Fram was a collector and most of the artefacts that decorated his home had interesting stories. His favorite pastime as a child was story time with ‘grammy.’ She was an amazing storyteller and through her stories he travelled to picturesque, faraway places, tasted the finest foods, met the most amazing people, fell in love and even discovered spirituality. He vowed to grow up and do all of these things and did just that.
After tea, he ate a large breakfast of fresh fruit, yoghurt, eggs, bacon and whole milk that he prepared himself. At exactly 9 a.m. he began trading stocks. After selling his company, he worked as an independent financial advisor and had five high-profile clients with assets worth the GDP of a small country. On most days, he made them a tidy sum of money.
At 7 p.m. on the dot, he got in his vintage Mercedes sports car and drove to his daughter, Franny’s house in the same neighborhood. After eating a light dinner and chatting with Alia and Aanya, his two teenage granddaughters, he returned home, got into bed and read himself to sleep.
He had always lived life by the book and this had served him well. He had achieved everything he wanted both materially and spiritually. Yet as he turned eighty and sat on his wooden armchair, watching the sunrise, he felt empty. He had tried to fill this void over the years but had soon realized it was beyond his control. It was an emptiness derived from loneliness and required the company of another human being.
He suddenly felt his wife, Farah’s presence and he remembered a promise he made to her twenty years ago. Farah had died at the age of sixty. She had pancreatic cancer and the disease killed her a month after she was diagnosed. This didn’t give him much time to say goodbye and after her death he immersed himself in work, spirituality and philanthropy.
She was his childhood neighbor and they used to play ‘gilli danda’ on the street outside. She was a tomboy with great hand-eye coordination resulting in her always winning. He hated her for this and refused to invite her to any of his birthday parties. She bore no such grudge and he was always invited to her parties. She came from a wealthy Parsee family and they owned a beautiful mansion in Bombay’s Nepean Sea Road. His family, on the other hand, were middle-class Parsees and they lived in a small, dilapidated apartment building next door.
When puberty struck at fourteen, his world stopped being just about numbers and facts and he began to grasp the concept of beauty. It was the day before his fifteenth birthday when it happened.
Fram, his brother Ronny, Farah and her sister, Christine were all playing carom at the mansion. It was a hot day and he had forgotten to drink water resulting in a bad case of dehydration.
Farah, who was sitting opposite him, noticed something was wrong. She immediately ran out of the room and returned a couple of minutes later with a chilled, salted, fresh lime juice. As she walked back in, he was about to faint and looked in her direction.
In this hallucinatory state, he saw a slender, angelic figure, in a summery pink and white floral dress walking towards him. She was nimble on her feet and quick as a gazelle. Her luscious, auburn tresses bounced from shoulder to shoulder as she glided towards him and she had the kindest smile he had ever seen. A warm, tingling sensation came over his entire being long before the fresh lime was placed to his lips. It was at that moment he discovered love and instantly knew this was the girl he would marry.
It took him three years of persistently chasing her before she agreed to go out with him. Their love affair began just as she left to study in London while he stayed on in Bombay. They wrote letters every week for three years and this was their only means of communication. She did have a candlestick telephone at her London apartment but calling India wasn’t possible at the time.
They soon got to know everything about each other and began planning a life together. Then one day, out of the blue, he received a tear-stained letter from her asking never to be contacted again. He couldn’t for the life of him understand what had triggered this reaction. He went over his previous letter to her a thousand times looking for something offensive. He had simply mentioned that they should settle down in Bombay as soon as he made enough money and that he wanted two children – a boy and a girl.
After that, he kept writing but received no response. Six months later, he had nearly given up when an idea struck him. Farah and her sister, Christine, were thick as thieves and they knew everything about each other. They were also constantly in touch. Christine was still in high school and was scheduled to leave for London the following year. He knew she had a weakness for sweets.
‘Grammy’ had just baked the most delicious strawberry pie for a dinner party that weekend. It was a secret recipe that was seven generations old. After lunch, during the ladies’ siesta time, he stealthily entered the kitchen and stole the pie. He ran to Christine’s next door, entered her room unannounced and carefully placed the pie a safe distance away from her.
She was busy painting her nails baby pink. She looked up, saw the pie, took a whiff and said, “Is that what I think it is?”
“If you mean Grammy’s famous strawberry pie then you are correct,” he replied with a mysterious smile.
“How did you get the whole thing? You’re only allowed one slice. Wait I don’t care. What do you want?” She asked in a business-like tone.
“Why did Farah break up with me?” he asked.
“It took you long enough. She had a bike accident when she was ten and can’t have kids. She knows you want kids. Now leave the pie and get out. I need to put on my fat pants.”
He spent the next week diligently studying the adoption system in Bombay. He wanted to have all the facts in place before he contacted Farah with a solution to their problem. A week later, as he sat down to write to her, he heard a commotion downstairs. He looked out the window to see an ambulance and a crowd of people surrounding it. He looked closely and saw Christine and her mother crying inconsolably.
A few days later Farah returned from London to mourn her father’s death. Her father had never taken much interest in his daughters but had been a generous provider. He had planned to get Farah married into a wealthy Parsee family. His untimely death had been a blessing in disguise for Fram.
Fram and Farah soon became inseparable once again and she never went back to London. He finished college, got a job with one of the biggest financial advisors in Bombay and two years later they were married. He soon made a killing for the advisory firm and saved enough money to setup shop on his own. Around the same time, they decided to adopt kids. Franny and Nadir completed their family and they lived a blissful existence for 35 years.
Fram excelled as a financial advisor and Farah was the perfect mother. She also ran the family foundation and her philanthropic work ranged from funding treatment for the differently abled and sick to setting up schools in remote villages.
They travelled the world together – saw the northern lights, trekked to Machu Picchu, experienced New England in the fall, toured Patagonia, visited the Amazon, Galápagos Island, and every other exotic destination imaginable.
They were both immensely gifted and constantly enrolled themselves in foreign language lessons. By the time they were in their forties they could speak seven languages fluently. By the time they were fifty they had crossed everything off their bucket lists and had to make new ones. They lived their lives like two synchronized swimmers, performing water ballet to Mozart’s upbeat symphony no. 35 while the rest of the world splashed about just trying to stay afloat.
On the day Farah died, she had woken up earlier than him and insisted on watching his morning yogic rituals, participating as and when she could. During breakfast, neither of them talked. He could sense an ominous energy in the air. As he put on his suit and left for office, she called out to him.
“Darling, I’ve never asked you for anything in my whole life.”
”That massive diamond on your finger might disagree with you,” he joked.
“Fram, I’m serious. I want you to promise me one thing. It’s my dying wish,” she said, clenching her jaws as she spoke.
“Stop being so dramatic. You’re not going anywhere,” he retorted angrily. As the words came out of his mouth he knew they weren’t true.
“Promise me I won’t be your last. Promise me you will move on,” she said with a steely determination.
He kept silent.
“Say it.” She raised her voice and commanded him.
“I promise. Now I have to get to work. Bye,” he responded quietly and left. That was that last time they spoke.
As he sat in his armchair, the sun emerged from behind the clouds and its yellowish, orange hue blinded him. He told himself that the tears in his eyes were from the sun’s glow but in reality he knew they had welled up because he felt Farah’s presence.
It was 7 a.m. now and he was hungry. He was to spend his eightieth birthday with Franny, her husband Jahaan and his granddaughters, Alia and Aanya. Franny had planned an elaborate lunch party at her home and in the evening he was to take his granddaughters to the movies. ‘La La Land,’ a modern-day Hollywood musical, was their movie of choice.
Normally, he would have cooked breakfast at home but he was feeling nostalgic and wanted to be around family. He had a key to Franny’s place and decided to cook a royal breakfast for the whole family. They were late risers and he would have the kitchen to himself for a couple of hours.
Twenty minutes later he stood in Franny’s kitchen and began constructing the Sunday morning breakfast menu. All four of them had voracious appetites. He decided on a menu of blueberry pancakes, cinnamon French toasts, fresh fruit and strawberry smoothies. As he opened the door to the kitchen cabinet and began taking out the ingredients for the pancake batter, he heard a key turn in the front door.
He walked over to find Alia in a short black dress and high heels, visibly inebriated and stumbling. She looked at him and flashed a warm smile. She was going through her rebellious teenage years and hated her parents; yet she absolutely adored him. They had a strong karmic bond right from when she was little and she shared everything with him.
The house had an open, rectangular kitchen with appliances against the far wall and an Italian marble countertop running parallel to it. She plonked herself on a kitchen stool at the counter and he handed her a tall, fizzy glass of water that had an antacid mixed in it.
“Are you making pancakes, ‘granpops’? I like mine with extra blueberries, soaked in chocolate sauce with a dollop of fresh cream and strawberries,” she reminded him.
“I know what you like but since you’ve been naughty no strawberries for you,” Fram said playfully.
“Rubbish!!! And make it quick! I’m famished. Less talking and more doing, old man. Hup, two, three, four…” She goaded him humorously.
“You’re in a feisty mood. How much vodka did you drink,” he asked as he whipped up the batter.
“Didn’t you get the memo? I drink only single malts now,” she responded perkily.
“You cheeky little twerp. Wasn’t it last week that I was changing your diapers?” he said chuckling.
“I’m eighteen years old and am legally allowed to raid your fancy liquor cabinet so you better guard it well.” As she said this, she suddenly remembered it was his birthday.
“Enough about me, ‘granpops,’ I have a birthday surprise for you. You remember that conversation we had when we got sloshed together on my eighteenth birthday?” she said excitedly.
He looked at her as she spoke. She was dusky with sharp features, frizzy brown hair and a tall, slender frame. She did not physically resemble Farah, yet she moved with the same grace, and her expressions and mannerisms were a carbon copy. He had always felt Farah’s soul hadn’t gone too far. Alia was conceived a month after Farah had passed and he was certain of the connection.
It had been 20 years and he had not been able to let go of Farah. She may have been dead but she hadn’t left his subconscious mind. He would often wake up in the middle of the night and find himself talking to her. It would take a few moments to realize he was dreaming and a profound sadness would suffuse his entire being. She would often visit him in his dreams and he always remembered these encounters vividly in the morning.
As these thoughts passed through his mind, Alia shot him a piercing look as if she knew exactly what he was thinking.
“You’re having dinner on Tuesday with Anny. She’s Namsy’s aunt and one of my favorite people. You two will hit it off like a house on fire. And remember you’re doing this for ‘grammy,’” she said matter of factly.
“I don’t know anything about this woman. I refuse to have dinner with some random person,” he responded while decorating her chocolate-dipped blueberry pancakes with strawberries and cream.
“She is a 65-year-old ‘Parsee’ widow. You look 65 so the age factor doesn’t matter. She is a member of ‘mensa’ and has studied economics at Oxford and business at Yale. She is the head of Morgan Stanley India and can out-trade you any day of the week. Oh! And she was runners-up in the Miss India Pageant. Yes, I know how vain you are! But, most importantly she is a genuinely good soul,” Alia said animatedly as she eagerly waited for the pancakes to be presented to her.
Six months later, Fram woke up perspiring in the middle of the night. Farah had just told him that she would be leaving for good. He reached out, touched the sleeping figure next to him and whispered, “Farah, Don’t go. Please don’t go. I need you.”
In his semi-conscious, hallucinatory state, he looked at the figure that lay next to him. Her luscious, golden-brown hair covered the side of her face while she gazed at him lovingly with her bright, blue eyes. She had the kindest smile he had ever seen. From the corner of his eye, he could see a white light emanating from the silhouette of her naked body, as if her soul were revealing itself. A warm, tingling sensation came over his entire being. He was in love and knew that this was the girl he was going to marry.