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Like A Moth To A Flame

But instead of flying into the flames, the moths rose on top and formed a face. It was Netra’s face,a voice whispered 'I'll always be there'.


Mira finally plucked up the courage to pick up the phone and ask her mother to make the most difficult choice of her life. Choose between her husband and her daughter. Mira is aware of the consequences but is also sure that it’s either now or never.

She hasn’t spoken to her mother in a week. The usual calling schedule is twice a day. Hina answers the phone. Mira is surprised to hear the usual softness in her mother’s voice. The softness that no trouble, no time or terror managed to steal away. Trying to hide the shakiness in her own voice, Mira starts talking.

“Maa, are you alone? Is Baba around?”, asks Mira

“No no. He is not”, says Hina, in her unwavering polite voice.

“I have to tell you something very important”, says Mira.

“Come home and tell me”, says Hina in a way that makes Mira want to run home.

…Rubal told me how the new office is keeping you busy”, Hina continues but Mira interrupts her and says, “It’s time you leave him and start staying with me. It’s either him or me, Maa. And if it’s him then I must break all ties with you.”

The answer wasn’t going to be in her favour thought Mira as she tried to rescue her heart from drowning in a black hole of bleakness.

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“It’s you…”, comes the answer from Hina

“…it will always be you”


A year and a half old, little Mira was running around in the kitchen. Even in the middle of a busy prep to cook lunch for the daughter who was in front of her and the daughter slumbering inside her belly, Mira’s mother gave in to Mira’s naughty summons. Chasing Mira was her favourite thing.

She caught Mira by her tiny waist, gave her a peck as she giggled like a tiny fountain and went back to light the stove but before she could comprehend, everything around her was on fire. She had left the stove on by mistake. Mira was too close to the end of her saree that was blazing in flames. Putting Mira in a safe place was the only thing on her mind. She picked her up and put her on top of the wooden almirah, screaming louder for help. It was a big Army quarter and the kitchen was in the back of the house. The time spent saving Mira was the only time that could have saved her from getting burnt. Writhing in pain, she fell on the nylon cot bed, the strings of which melted and entered her skin. More than 80% of her body was burnt and damaged. The baby inside, dead. Mira’s father reached the hospital, picked Mira up and wept, unsure about everything.

Standing next to the glass covering that guarded the wounds against infections, Mira looked at her mother’s burnt body and understood more than what a child her age possibly could.

She was constantly kept around to help her mother find the will to live. It may have even worked too as she often asked the nurses for magazines and newspapers even though she could barely hold them. And on the seventh day, Netra’s body defeated her spirit. One-and-a-half-year-old Mira was motherless for life. Or was she?


Mira likes her new office. Associate Creative Director – a position she’d truly earned. The juniors were all great and they made the office more welcoming than it already was. It is funny how with every new beginning in Mira’s life, comes the end of something too. She shook her head to keep such thoughts at bay. Cursed herself for being so mindboggling-ly cynical and focused on some social media posts for the Food business she and her husband started a couple of months back. A business, impossible without Hina’s extraordinary recipes. She was happy that her mother said yes. Yes, to living with her. The new job and her mother living with her. Mira couldn’t be happier.


Mira was sitting on her bed, looking out the window. Her favourite pastime. She liked the new Army quarter. The sound of Azaan at 5 every evening, oddly calming. She couldn’t believe it had already been 2 weeks since she moved to Srinagar.

Today was a big day. At 8, she was practising a word that usually is the first word to come out of a child’s mouth. ‘Mummy’, ‘Maa’ or ‘Mom’. It can’t be Mom because it’s only used in those movies she watched sometimes. She had to pick one. Her father had given her the task to do so.

Mira was taken to her grandparents’ place after Netra’s death. The parents had lost their child and the child had lost her parent. It was the most natural union. However, what Mira did not understand is why her father left her at a time when she needed him most. Soon she understood that what looked like a natural arrangement was a selfish decision taken by her father who did not want Mira to come in the way of a possible clean-slated, new life.

She doesn’t remember her first word but she can never forget those eyes. Eyes that belonged to her mama’s best friend. Eyes that looked at Mira like she was something to eat. He would often take Mira home and do things that still shake Mira up in her sleep.

Mira’s favourite however was her Masi. Mira’s go-to person. The person who loved her elder sister more than anything. She naturally had a soft corner for Mira. She was the only person in the family who made sure that Mira’s father visited her at least once a year if not more. She would often take little Mira out to Bata’r More, a place where she could have phuchkas and mishti paans.

Mira confided in her and told her about the man who does strange things to her. Masi cried and hugged Mira as tightly as she could and decided to take the most difficult decision of her life. To marry Mira’s father. She knew her sister wanted better for her daughter and she was the only person who could make that happen. Bipul, the man she was in a long-term relationship stood helpless & cheated as she informed him of her decision and walked away without shedding a single tear. Mira was her future and she was Mira’s.

“Maa” decided Mira, a little embarrassed, a little elated and with a little misbelief.


Mira discussed the plan with her mother, a few times over. Acting quick was most important. She didn’t want Hina to change her mind. It was to happen on the morning after Diwali. The plan was to pick her up before the father woke up. Rubal was waiting outside in the car. Hina took a deep breath as she turned around to take a last look at the house and wiped the tears that came out like water through broken floodgates. Rubal’s face lit up when he saw Mira smiling and behind her his mother-in-law, walking towards the car. He knew what they were doing is right. He was finally going to live with an elder in the house. Something he yearned so much after his mother asked him to leave the house. The faint sound of some firecrackers at a distance garnished with the first ray of sunlight lit Mira’s world on fire.


Mira was waiting outside the maternity ward. She loved the Army Hospital food. Today she didn’t get any as her mother was in labour. Life was moving too fast. An 8-year-old Mira had already forgotten her old home. She had a mother, her father and anytime that day she would have a little sister.

With bated breath, she waited. She knew how tough were the last few months for her mother. The in-laws would often visit and forget that it’s she who needed care and not them. Mira hated them for eating everything that her father would bring for her mother. Mira pushed those thoughts away and focused on praying to God for a healthy baby.

She was born. Mira’s own. Her Achilles heels. Her pride. Something changed in Mira forever. The first-time Mira looked at that face, she knew there wasn’t anything else she would love more or feel more protective about. She was pretty. She was a warm, tiny, pink, ball of flesh. She was Mira’s little sister. Mira’s life was complete. Mira was home.

The cold days in Kashmir were getting even colder. The Bukhari(fireplace) at home was burning day and night. Something else had changed too. Parents who married only a year ago, and looked ideal to her were not the same anymore. Two days after Mira’s sister was born, a young man and woman visited their home. Mira was to leave her room and sleep in her parent’s room because her room was given to the guests. Mira was glad because she would be closer to the baby but knew something wasn’t quite right. She would often eavesdrop, hoping to find what they have been hiding from her. Mira could hardly believe her ears when she heard that the woman who came home was in fact her father’s new wife. Someone who he married in Delhi while Mira’s mother was pregnant in Kashmir.

Mira’s dream home was a dream after all. Her home was broken. Again. Mira knew that the right thing to do for her mother was to walk out on her father. Instead, she asked her devar(brother-in-law), her husband’s youngest brother, Indro to marry the woman and save her home. The young man accompanying the woman was her brother who had come to make sure her sister gets justice. Mira’s father got a transfer and they left the city to move to Kolkata but the ghost of her last days in Kashmir never really left her. Mira’s father blamed her and Hina for ruining his life. But surprisingly got a little too emotionally attached to the baby, his younger daughter, Madhavi.


Mira took her mother out. Spoke to her about how it is time for her mother to embrace her independence. Hina comes from a time and place that do not understand a woman’s life without her husband but the times they live in now allow that and much more. Mira and her mother planned to take the business ahead together and thought of launching spices that would be branded with her mother’s name. Mira and Rubal were facing their worst year. Thrown out of his house followed by shutting down of the company he worked for, left them exhausted and despondent. Having Hina around was the sense of balance that Mira and Rubal desperately needed.

Mira’s mother was confident and determined. Now that she was with them, their life was her responsibility. Mira had cancelled the tickets right before she made the phone call to her mother. Hina made Mira book the tickets to Goa again and told her how she would watch over the food outlet and the house. After all, it was only a matter of five days. It was their wedding anniversary and Rubal’s birthday, in the same week. And after a very long time, Mira smiled like a little girl. She opened her laptop and booked the tickets with happiness spreading in her body like it were some plague.


Mira was having a hard time believing what she had just heard. She had studied hard, real hard to crack the AIEEE entrance exam. And now that she finally got into the college she wanted, her father decided to move to Delhi. Hina and the father were fighting again. So much that Hina had lost her voice. For Mira, it was like reliving her last days in Kashmir.

Mira always covered Madhavi’s ears with her hands or a pair of headphones when the parents fought or the father said fowl things to her mother. He would come home drunk, abuse her, even beat her badly. Sometimes Mira would take the beating for Hina. Mira wanted to kill the man. He made sure Hina never made friends or even went out of the house. Mira and Hina grew even closer. She understood her mother’s pain and understood the need to keep herself, Madhavi, away from all the chaos and focus on getting an education. He kept having affairs and Hina kept ignoring them. She was living for her daughters. She turned to her family for help but except for Mira’s grandfather, no one else was ready to give shelter to Hina and her daughters. Mira went to school and came back home, straight. Never hung out with friends or spent time on boys the thought of what’s the worst thing that could be happening at home scared her to death. Her father was violent who often said how Netra’s death wasn’t an accident, it was he who killed her. Mira’s blood would boil but Hina would always calm her down. She knew she had to stand on her own feet and get her mother out of this man’s shadow. He would spit in Mira’s food and keep her awake every night before her board exams but Mira was far away from giving up. Only today was difficult. Today she was appalled beyond control. She had worked hard all these years only to achieve this and her father was taking that away as well. Mira looked at Hina and knew she didn’t have a choice.

It was the day before Holi. The beautiful Holika in the neighbour’s courtyard was burning and with it, Mira’s dreams.

It was in Delhi that she met Rubal for the first time. And not a day goes by when she doesn’t thank God for sending him to her. Rubal was the man who held her hand and promised her peace when most couples around them only wanted happiness. Mira feared marriage but did not even blink before saying yes to Rubal on a pretty winter afternoon after 8 years of loving him, madly.


Been three years since they’ve been married, and Mira can’t believe how every day she can’t help but fall deeper in love with him. Rubal takes care of her, respects her, treats her like a child every now and then. This Goa trip was probably the happiest day of her life. She knew her mother was waiting for her back home. When she goes back she’s going to make the logo for the spices they plan to sell together. Rubal loved their cellphone-less time at the beach. On the fifth evening of the trip, Mira decided to take a quick look at her work mail and convinced Rubal that she won’t take long. Rubal smiled and told her how he was really enjoying the bonfire. Mira failed to understand his amusement. After all, it was 30-degree Celsius outside. However, Mira would never miss an opportunity to see Rubal laugh and enjoy his time like a little boy. He deserved that more than anyone else. That’s why she brought her attention to the laptop but got distracted by the fleet of tabs open on chrome that reminded Mira of how much Madhavi hated that. She would always take Mira’s laptop to clean the tabs and windows open on them. Even thinking about it made Mira laugh a little because she almost wanted Madhavi to do it for her this time as well. Mira landed on her favourite tab – News Updates. She opened it and read the first that caught her eye. News of a flight that had crashed near Ahmedabad. She kept reading on, there was a list. A list with names of people who died in it. Mira’s head swarmed for a bit. She suddenly realized why this news had wedged her attention. She started reading the names on the list, frantically. The names were popping out to her like giant billboard headlines. Her head went bonkers with dizzy & blurry images of what was in front of her. And then her finger found the name she knew she was looking for, the dizziness stopped, and her eyes focused on it for just two seconds before they welled up with what seemed like tears of a lifetime. It was the name of her father. A name that she never thought had the potential to invoke a reaction such as this in her. Was she happy, was she sad? Was she blaming herself for what had just happened? Did she make a mistake by asking Hina to leave him alone in the last few days he had, remaining on earth? She wept, wept and wept thinking what will be Hina’s reaction when she will call her from her holiday to deliver a piece of news like this. Mira lost her father but why wasn’t she as numb about it as she thought she would be? Was she suddenly feeling orphan just the way she felt as a child?

Mira took a few seconds to catch her breath and then stared at the fire in front of her. Almost like a dream, Mira could see a fleet of moths circling the fire. Hundreds of them. Buzzing, fluttering, looking at the fire like that’s what they were born for. The flames looked like they wanted to hold the moths in their blazing arms. But instead of flying into the flames, the moths rose on top and formed a face. It was Netra’s face. Their soft buzzing along with the crackling of the firewood slowly turned into Netra’s voice A voice that softly said, “I will always be there”. Mira’s eyes welled up and started searching for Rubal and when they found his smiling, innocent face, Mira suddenly remembered that she was too late for her period this month.


About the Author

Moumita Pal

I am a copywriter, currently working as an Creative Director in a multinational Ad Agency in Gurgaon, NCR. I get my inspiration from Modernist poets like Edgar Lee Master, Carl Sanburg & Frost. Tagore, Ray and read more...

1 Posts | 265 Views

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