The Return of Amrit - A short story - ZorbaBooks

The Return of Amrit – A short story


A Short Story



Alok Rai was an ‘old school’ businessman who owned a furniture workshop. A.R. Sofa Repair Centre –I. The nondescript shop had a board high above covered in dust with some letters missing. It read as


On the extreme left side of the board was painted a sofa. It must have been bright and shiny once. Now it looked in need of repair itself. Three phone numbers written on the right side, so typical of small businesses, subtly announced the shop’s success. The two entries to the shop were almost invisible, piled as they were with furnitures of all shapes and sizes. The road outside was an extended part of the shop with stacks of fitments strewn around. If one were passing by, chances were that Alok Rai and his assistants would be seen comfortably seated on a three-legged chair or a springless sofa. 

To run a lucrative business, Alok Rai had to keep strict control over the purses. His staff of young men hailed from poor families. It was widely known, though never acknowledged, that Alok Rai paid the ‘internees’, as he called them, in kind rather than cash. In return for their work he fed and housed them. There was talk of stipend, but it was challenge to extract it from the boss.

Such was the successful business of Alok Rai. 

 A.R. Sofa Repair Centre was popular with many neighbouring households. Alok Rai, you see, had perfected the art of selling. He was humble, with just the right level of congeniality. He would be all ears to customers, would tut-tut, sympathise, and promise immediate action. Swift measures to correct the erring fixtures was taken. It was no wonder, he managed to stay one up to his challengers.



Thanks to his financial acumen, Alok Rai was soon the proud owner of another shop, just an hour’s drive from his ‘Headquarters’. That outlet was managed by his nephew who, once his apprentice, had seen a meteoric rise. Patrimonial ties mattered, after all.

This shop, called A.R. Sofa Repair Centre-II was a copy of the first. For Alok Rai uniformity was the key to a group’s prosperity. And he was the successful head of a business group. 

Alok Rai’s wife was Lata. Once an unassuming village girl, she had swiftly picked up the nuances of the business. She had soon transformed into a shrewd business guide to her husband.  

Together, they were building the business and raising a family. Two girls, Sona and Mahi, and a boy Amrit completed the household. Sona and Mahi were now reaching teenage. Amrit at three years was the baby of the house. The precious boy of the family.


Alok Rai dreamt big for Amrit. Nothing less than an English medium school would do for the little star. “Our Amrit will become a big officer”, he would dreamily tell Lata. “This back-breaking job is not his destiny.”

 Lata, though, an astute business adviser was a careless parent. Village culture was deeply embedded in her. And in her village, children grew up on their own. Mothers worked in fields, managed shops. Sometimes placing their cot under a tree they rested, or watched television under the cool breeze of a fan. The elder children took care of the siblings. This was an unsaid, silent tradition that had passed down generations.

On several occasions Lata had been chastised by her husband. “Sona’s mother”, he would berate, “this is a city. Change yourself. Be more alert regarding the children.”

Lata would listen quietly, but lack focus.

On several occasions, the younger children had been found far away from home. Once, a neighbour came across Amrit walking aimlessly, as only a lost child would, at the bus stand. Frightening, indeed.  

One day tragedy struck.



The family visited a local fair. In the midst of all the humdrum, the food stalls, the Ferris wheel and the carousel, the magic show and puppet dance, little Amrit got lost.

As it happens in such a situation, the parents took some time to comprehend the situation. But, as the intensity of the crisis unfolded, dark clouds of worry swept Alok Rai. Lata fainted, came about, her howls of grief becoming more impassioned with every passing minute, and then fainted again.

Empathetic passersby joined in the hunt for Amrit. The premise was checked and rechecked. Alok Rai moved dazed from one booth to another as the realisation slowly set in.

It was all to no avail. The little child had disappeared. With a sense of foreboding, Alok Rai lodged a formal complaint at the police station. The sickening feeling in the depth of his heart was constantly nudging him. His life, it seemed, was over.

A fun afternoon had turned into a calamity.

As hours flew by, darkness quietly enveloped the city. As if to fight it back, electric lights illuminated the streets. Tiny twinkles of light emanating from homes gave the impression that all was well.

In the Rai household, however, a shadow of gloom hung all around. Neighbours, relatives, friends, all sat quietly in different corners of the house. Each thinking of the family’s misfortune, speaking only in hushed tones.

Tired and dusty, Alok Rai and the accompanying men returned home a little after midnight. They had gone around the city, checked all nooks and corners, the bus stand, shopping areas, railway station. Now they were returning disappointed.

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Alok Rai left no stone unturned. A desperate man, he turned to shamans and sadhus. Astrologers predicted the absent child’s future. Police station visits were only seconded by those to temples. Pilgrimages were conducted, poor families supported. Pamphlets and leaflets with Amrit’s smiling face were pasted on walls, pillars, and poles all across the city. “Have you seen this boy?” it questioned the readers. “Big reward for a clue. No questions asked.”

Lata abandoned hope. Life had become a burden. She would drag herself to the day’s end. Her face, pale and withdrawn soon hardened. She could not make herself look into another child’s face, especially a boy child. Her heart would clinch and she would question, albeit, silently, ‘Why Amrit? Why not he?’ Sona and Mahi were ignored, as if they were to be blamed.  Bearing the brunt of their mother’s moodiness, the girls matured overnight.

 Alok Rai, however, did not relent. “I cannot give up”, he would repeatedly say. “If I do, that would be the end.” He continued searching as if in a frenzy. To no avail, though. A.R. Sofa Repair Centre – I and II, once his pride, were now neglected. Shut most of the time, they soon lost both the customers and the ‘internees’.

“Alok bhai”, said the Physics teacher at the girls’ school one day, “why don’t you try the social media.” Alok Rai looked up puzzled. Of course, he was in sync with the technology of the day. But to use the medium for this purpose was a revelation.

That night he tossed and turned contemplating the teacher’s advise.  Lata sensed his disturbance. She showed no interest.

The next morning, he called his nephew over. Together they prepared a plea with Amrit’s photo and a reward of Rs.2 lakh. Right from the police, to friends, to friends’ friends and relatives’ relatives, all posted the appeal.

 And then, the wait began.

Alok Rai would  wake up with excited anticipation. Some news will come about today, he would tell himself in expectation. And then go to bed every night, mentally exhausted and defeated. But the morning would bring hope again.

Thus the cycle continued.

Almost two years passed. Amrit would soon be five. But no celebration was in the offing.




Early one morning, loud knocks woke up the family. Seeing two policemen on the door, Alok Rai’s heart jumped to his throat. His lips suddenly dried. ‘Dear Lord’, he muttered to himself ‘Let Amrit be anywhere, but let him be alive.’

“Alok bhai”, the senior of the two said simply, “we have received a reply.”

A breakthrough had been achieved.

Seventy kilometers away in a small hamlet, a social media enthusiast had read the post. Why, the man wondered, was the child looking familiar? As he went to work towards the railway line that morning, the lingering thought troubled him. Such was his nature. Mysteries, unanswered questions baffled him. He liked all pieces of the puzzle to fit in.

 And then, in a flash, he connected. 

Returning from work that evening, he deliberately slowed his pace while crossing a house. No one was in sight. ‘Am I sure?’ he questioned himself. Something told him he was.

While preparing a simple meal of rice and vegetables, he pondered over his next step. If he had miscalculated, he would have to pay heavily. If he ignored the matter, he would still pay heavily.

The food tasted bland. But he forgave himself. The eagerness for tomorrow overlooked everything else. A decision had been reached.

That night, he slept uneasily. At dawn, he jumped out of his cot, bathed, dressed, and walked to the police station. Hesitating to enter, he stood outside the gate for a long time. He did not trust the police. They were no one’s friends. With great trepidation, finally, he stepped inside. It was going to be the greatest work the humble railroad worker had ever done.

The rest, as they say, is history. A police party raided the house. They found a cobbler, his wife, and a young boy. The cobbler wailed, ‘he’s my son, saheb’. The wife nervously stood by tying and untying her saree’s end. The boy stood beside her, one moment frightened, the next in tears.

Things now moved very fast. Within hours Alok Rai had reached the hamlet. He did not bring Lata along. She would burst into hysterics. And what if the boy was not Amrit? It would be all so futile. Sona, fast becoming her father’s confidante, accompanied. They brought along little Amrit’s photographs.

The much-anticipated meeting took place in the police station. Amrit looked frightened. His father was in prison. The only world he remembered was crumbling.

The photographs were studied and the boy compared. Alok Rai refused a DNA test. His instinct told him the mislaid son was back.



That was more than a year ago. The wheels of time moved at their slow, steady pace.  Life seemed to have begun afresh for the Rai family. In reality, the threads were now more interwoven and complicated.  Lata lived daily in mortal fear of losing her Amrit again. A.R. Sofa Repair Centre – I and II reopened. But many of the customers had taken flight.

And what about Amrit?

Well, he’s not sure which his home is and who his parents are. Too young to understand, but too old to forget, he lives in a perplexed state of confusion. To all guests who come visiting, he only says one thing, “I want to go home.”





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gitanjali khanduri