Friday, October 23, 2009


Author’s note: This story reflects my anguish over the division of society on caste basis by the political leaders in India for their personal gains.

Ramanna did not know his origin. It never occurred to him that a day will come when he would need to know it desperately. He vaguely remembers his early childhood days. His mother was tall, slim and fair working in the house of the Dharmakarta of the temple in the small town of Srirampuram.

They say his mother was a poor young girl from a nearby village when she was taken in to temple service by the Dharmakarta who was a widower but liked to be in the company of a young woman. Resultantly, when two years later a child was about to be born to the young woman, the Dharmakarta married her to one of the temple workers. There were gossips all around but no one dare speak against Dharmakarta. And no one spoke against Dharmakarta when few months later, the servant suddenly disappeared from the temple.
Young Ramanna grew oblivious of his origin and of the history surrounding him. At the age of seven, his duty was to rear the two cows of the temple and their calves. The cows had their names and so had the calves. Nandi, the black calf was Ramanna’s favourite. Ramanna was a happy lad in their company.

To get up in the morning, drink a glass of porridge which some times his mother gave him stealthily; clean the cow shed; take bath in the pond; eat whatever was available out of the leftover from the kitchen and then to take out the cows and the calves for grazing until late in the afternoon was a set routine which Ramanna enjoyed since the time his memory could take him back.

For Ramanna, there were no demands on life and every thing was in order. Sometimes, he used to mock at the children who were burdened with the load of books and trudged towards the school but in his heart he wished his mother could also send him to the school.

Days passed. Ramanna and his mother were still in the service of the Dharmakarta. One evening, he was told by one of the temple servants that his mother had died suddenly. Ramanna didn’t know the cause; in fact no one knew the exact cause. A story however went around that she was forced to abort a child. Ramanna was only eight then.

Ramanna missed his mother and often wept for her. There was no one to care for him. He missed her more when he felt hungry. He remembered how she always produced something for him to munch whenever he coaxed her. After her death, things had become very difficult. Though he never neglected his work, he used to get abuses from everyone in the house.

On many occasions he was not even called for the meals along with other servants. Ramanna felt very dejected and he would talk of his grief and cry over the hump of his pet calf Nandi who was now a fully grown bull.

Ramanna eventually decided to quit the temple service. He knew the thought was fraught with severe punishment. He had to keep it a closely guarded secret. He shared the secret only with Nandi with tears running down his cheeks and left his village one night walking in an unknown direction.

In Ramanna walked for three nights, hiding during the day time behind haystacks and bushes. On the fourth day break, Ramanna reached Vishakhapatnam. Luckily for him he was spotted by a mason who took him in his employment on half the salary. Young Ramanna soon became adept in the skill of brick-laying, white washing and painting.

Over the years, Ramanna grew in to a tall, well built young man, fair like his mother. He was over twenty now. All these years there was not a single day when he didn’t remember Srirampuram, his mother and his favourite bull Nandi.

Times were changing around Ramanna. People talked of rights and privileges based on caste basis. Ramanna could never understand anything of the matter. He worked earnestly during the day time and in the evening spent most of his time in the small temple near his work place.
“Isn’t it fair that everyone gets equal opportunity to work and earn his livelihood? Why should there be any social or economic discrimination on the basis of origin of birth, he would often argue within himself.”

The urge to see his birth place drove him one day to Srirampuram. The township had changed; it was acutely congested with concrete structures all over. The cowherd that he had reared with passion had died. There were no friends left in the neighbourhood. All boys that he could remember were out to some town or the other in search of jobs. Ramanna was unaware of the twelve year’s exile he had served on himself. He was sorry to have come to Srirampuram. He decided to return the next day.

In the evening, he went to the temple to attend the evening prayers. As he was entering the temple he came across the Dharmakarta talking to the temple servants. Ramanna could notice Dharmakarta’s faded impact. He had grown old and lost much of his acerbic tongue that Ramanna remembered. Ramanna then saw him coming towards him.
"Namaskaram Aiyya!” Ramanna said with folded hands.
"Ah! You are Ramanna, right?”
“Yes sir.”
How come you remembered this place after so many years?”
Ramanna kept quiet.
Dharmakarta then sitting on the upper railing of the parapet wall asked Ramanna, "I believe you are planning to go back".
"Yes sir. There is nothing in this village for me", said Ramanna in a choking voice.

"Why do you think so? It is your lust for money that has given birth to such feeling. Don't you have any duty towards your birth place? Don't you remember your mother serving the temple all her life? Didn't I look after her? And what is this I hear? Is it true that you are working as a mason?"
Ramanna still kept quiet.
“Who is there after me to look after the temple? I may have been severe but didn’t I trust you like my own child?” The old man continued. He was now trembling with rage. Age was not in his favour. His wife had died early; his daughter was married off and his son had settled in the USA. The Dharmakarta was indeed an isolated old man.

Ramanna couldn’t make out the purport of the outburst. He felt sorry for the old man and he thought he had a duty towards the old man and towards the temple. The words of Dharmakarta were therefore catalytic in his returning to his old world. Yes; he thought he could do some service to the temple which was withering from all sides. He thought to repair the temple with his own hands and paint it fresh. And then there was old Dharmakarta to look after.

Ramanna stayed back. He was happy once again in his new life in the old world.

Ramanna married and had a daughter and a son. He married off his daughter when she was eleven and put his son in the town school.

When Dharmakarta died, his son could not come for the cremation. “Perform all the rites on my behalf since you were no less than his son. Since my family has decided to settle down here, I will transfer all land and property to you name whenever I come to Srirampuram,” he told Ramanna over the long distance call.
Ramanna tilled the temple land for his survival and used the temple offerings strictly for its upkeep.

Things but took an unexpected ugly turn for Ramanna. Dharmakarta’s daughter staked a claim over the property and filed a suit in the court blaming Ramanna to have usurped her father’s property. Ramanna could not bear the allegation made against him and quit the service of the Dharmakarta family and the temple. What a reward after his mother and for that matter he himself had served the Dharmakarta family and the temple for so many years? But there was no animus in his heart against anyone. He used his skills to make a small house for his family and started practicing as multipurpose artisan.

Ramanna was no longer young now though he was strong and healthy despite his fifty years. He still worked hard and he served the temple with same enthusiasm and dedication.

Ramanna’s son Saraswathi Chandran was very bright. Ramanna had named his son after his mother whose name was Saraswathi. Young Sara was doing very well and Ramanna was proud of his son and he was proud when people called him for his services and praised his craftsmanship.

Sara didn't belie the hopes of his father. He secured high marks in the examination and wanted to join an engineering college. Ramanna was diffident because of his weak financial position. He would have been much happier if his son had taken a job to help him in his old age.

Sara was a determined lad. He consulted his teachers who advised him to get a backward class birth certificate, which would qualify him for a scholarship to take him through.
"Try it out. Everyone knows that your father is a mason."

Sara was pragmatic, unlike his father. He made an application duly attested by dozen of his neighbours and submitted it to the Town Munsif Office. He was sure of getting the required certificate.

Day after day, young Sara went to the Munsif’s Office but there were no signs of his getting the desired certificate. He met every functionary in that office pleading them to help him out. He reminded them of the work his father had done in their houses on several occasions and promised them of the future help as well.

There appeared a ray of hope when an official from Munsif’s office told him that the certificate will be given to him after verification by the Munsif himself. Sara was delighted for everyone in knew the fact. Sara was the son of Ramanna, the mason.

"Yes, Yes. You are the son of Ramanna, the son of a mason. But what is the origin of Ramanna?" the Munsif asked Sara.
How could Sara reply to such a question?

It was therefore for Ramanna to establish his origin. Whose son was he? He knew his mother's name only and that he lived in the house of the Dharmakarta. Whose son was he? He could say nothing?

"We know your mother was in the employment of Dharmakarta and no one knows the whereabouts of your father. How is it that you were till recently tilling Dharmakarta’s land? Why did Dharmakarta ask you to stay back in Srirampuram after you had settled in Vishakhapatnam?
Ramanna had no answers to these questions.
The Munsif continued, “You picked up the skills of a mason which is not enough proof that you belong to the caste of masons. On the contrary there is enough evidence to link you to the Dharmakarta family. I am afraid, under such circumstances your son cannot be given the backward class birth certificate," announced the Munsif.

Young Sara was crestfallen. No one has seen him after Munsif’s fateful verdict.
Old Ramanna is remorseful but hopes his son will return one day to Srirampuram as a successful man based on his own merit sans the divisive birth certificate.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


An hour’s drive from Rishikesh, up stream of River Ganga, there is a small hamlet called Vyaasi. There are about a dozen small shops and two shabby tea vendors cum food joints in Vyaasi. The road has been widened at this point to facilitate parking of buses, vans, jeeps and cars carrying the pilgrims to and fro Kedarnath and Badrinath, the two holiest shrines of Hindus. The two tea vendors are busy the whole day serving hot, strongly brewed extra sweetened tea. The drivers’ fraternity enjoys the brew immensely and so would you provided you left your hygiene sensitivity behind and you are not a diabetic.
There is a track cutting across the road at Vyaasi. Its southern end going to Vyaas Ghaat, the bathing joint on the river bank and the upper end climbing up hill goes to an ashram popularly known as Vyaasi Ashram.
Vyaasi gets its name after the philosopher sage Vyaas, the author of the epic, Mahabharata and the eighteen Puraans, the Hindu mythology scriptures. It is believed that Vyaas lived in a cave here and thus the place got its name, Vyaasi. A cave exists but there is no archeological proof of it being the study room of sage Vyaas.
A point is worth mentioning here. Hindu mythology is too complex and confounding to inquisitive western mind and the basic reason for the same could be that it does not provide material proofs. That the men could walk on water or float in air; that there were celestial bodies crossing over from one planet to another; that a mere sprinkle of water could bless or annihilate a dynasty etc. are unresolved enigmas of Hindu mythology. Yet equally enigmatic is the fact that countless skeptical and truth seekers head east and particularly to these lesser known pockets of oriental mysteries.
From Vyaasi, climbing the track for nearly an hour, you reach the Vyaasi ashram. The ashram is not more than a mile from Vyaasi but the climb is stiff. There is a small temple in the center of the ashram. It is a Shiva temple.
Early in the morning as the sun comes out in the east, the snow on the far off Himalayan ranges glitters and in the foreground, the deodar and fir trees with their rich green coat sway with the morning breeze. Sitting by the side of the small Shiva temple, with low din of the river Ganga in the background, the audio visual spectacle is phenomenally beautiful. To the believers, it is simply divine.

A group of mendicants live in the ashram. In the hut on the right corner, which is a little bigger than the rest, lives an elderly person, they call him Swamiji. He is a man of large build, very fair, his head shaven and his forehead having three horizontal sandal paste lines, the typical identity of Shiva devotees.

One of the morning buses from Rishikesh delivers a bundle of newspapers to the tea vendors for the ashram since Swamiji is an avid reader. Swamiji is also fond of music. He has a music system and a sizeable collection of CDs. Swamiji makes it a point to bring new CDs whenever he goes to Rishikesh or any other place. These CDs are not restricted to Hindu hymns/ prayers only. Swamiji likes Jazz and Beatles equally. Besides personal taste, Swamiji has to cater for the large number of his followers coming from the West.

No one in the ashram knows what exactly the background of Swamiji was or of the visitors coming to the ashram, some of them come regularly every year. The only thing known for sure is that Swamiji was Henry Blackwell before he took to oriental spiritualism. Some unconfirmed sources say that he was the CEO of a stock brokering firm and his personal assets had touched the billion mark. His physique but suggests that he might have been an athlete or a marine commando. Story goes that he left his business and donated all his possession to a charity after his wife divorced him and married his junior partner and that he was pained when his son who he loved dearly refused to stay with him. But all these are unconfirmed stories. The known fact is that Henry Blackwell in his second incarnation as Swamiji had came to India about thirty years ago and settled in this ashram.

“I am convinced of one thing; that money can’t buy you peace,” he often tells his followers.

The temple is visited by the local populace on Mondays, the day of Lord Shiva. Between the months of July and August, when Shravan, the Hindu month dedicated to Lord Shiva generally falls, the number of visitors to the ashram goes high.
On the first Monday of the month of Shravan, the natives are bewildered and in fact, enamoured to see a white man carrying a brass pitcher of Ganga water on his head bare foot from the Vyaas Ghaat to the temple. The day has now become a local festival; the locals call it Paani Mela- the festival of (Ganga) Water Offering (to Shiva).
Local drummers and couple of bag pipers with couple of flag bearers walk in front of Swamiji. Behind him are thousands of believers carrying head load of water pots. The Swamiji performs the abhisek- that is chanting of mantras and pouring the water over the Shiv-Linga in side the small temple. The Swamiji then offers prayers and comes out, greeted by large crowd and the drummers. The ritual is then followed by rest the people.

The poverty stricken natives are overwhelmed to be present at the temple to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva through the Swamiji. They are the people of this land of Shiva with their tattered, darned clothes, sweat stained dark- generally black cap and some of them suffering from eczema because of poor hygiene.

The Swamiji says he has no desire or ambition. “We have to forgo all desires. Follow Buddha, the Tathagat, who surpassed grief over worldly losses and happiness over worldly gains.”

The poor natives too have no ambition; they are too humble to have any. They come there to propitiate Lord Shiva for safe return of their dear ones who mostly are in the armed forces, facing enemy bullets or the bullets of insurgents, Naxalites and Maoists. Or, it may be that one of their dear ones is terminally sick and they have come to pray for his recovery in the absence of any medical help. The brutal fact is that they come there with wishful wishing, which prepares them for the worst.

There is a retired school teacher, Satya Prasad who is not an inmate of the ashram but he is there almost every day. He was teaching English in a high school before his retirement. Both his sons did well in school and college and have migrated to bigger towns; in fact one of them is a medical practioner in the USA. After the death of his wife, Satya Prasad is living alone in his village, which is about three miles from the ashram. But he comes daily with a packet of dry lunch and some chutney. He is friendly with Swamiji because he can converse with Swamiji in English and he is proud of it.
Swamiji and Satya Prasad talk often on the purpose of life. Swamiji talks of emancipation, of moksha - the liberation of soul, weaning away your self from material desires.
“Concentrate on the divine cosmic power, the parmatma, leave everything unto Him.”
Satya Prasad yawns and often scratches his body parts. He has sees his folks in the villages where illiteracy, penury, sorcery, witch craft and jealously are the common traits. Satya Prasad believes getting two meals a day is the best definition of moksha.
“Swamiji, are you sincerely convinced that preaching spirituality will redeem these folks and they will have a better life?” He once asked Swamiji.
Swamiji was irritated. “You talk like an unbeliever, an agnostic.

Swamiji tries to explain from the scriptures quoting the verses from Gita and Bhagwat to Satya Prasad without much success. Swamiji preaches equanimity of mind, which he says will bring feeling of equality amongst all human beings and eradicate jealously. Satya Prasad often demurs - he wants it to be translated in to the lives of his people.
“Give them education, give them means of livelihood and that will take care of all other maladies,” Satya Prasad wants to impress upon Swamiji.
“Satya Prasad, it will take you time to understand His ways. We are too ignorant to judge Him and His will. I pray that the realization comes to you soon.” The matter rests there to start afresh on some other day.

Swamiji takes his morning tea that he makes himself in his electric kettle and thereafter he comes to river bed for daily ablutions and then goes into the thicket of the forest where he has made a small hut in woods for meditation.
Late in the evening Swamiji listens to the news. Some of the inmates join him when it is the Hindi bulletin. Mostly, Swamiji listens to BBC or CNN. Swamiji says it is our duty to be aware of what is happening around us without getting involved in it.

No one knows why Henry Blackwell had selected and opted to stay in such a remote place. He says he liked the locale, the view, the serenity, the quietude of the place.

"Can I stay here for a few days?" Henry Blackwell putting on an orange dhoti and a white kurta and with clean shaved head had asked one of the inmates when he had come to the ashram. There were only two sadhus staying in a single hut those days.
"Why not? It is all yours. We will be rather delighted to be in your company. Please share what ever is given by the Lord."
"Blessed be this land and blessed be you both," Henry Black had told them.

That was the beginning of Henry Blackwell’s new life. He himself does not remember when he was rechristened as Swamiji. It has been a long journey.
Swamiji propagates the doctrine of peace, love and Vedic knowledge. For his devotees, he is the ocean of knowledge and fountain of love and piety, divinity itself personified.


Swamiji was away on one of his visits to Rishikesh and due to return in the evening. It was late afternoon when a group of visitors came to the ashram and wanting to see him. Swamiji’s reference was enough for the inmates to welcome anyone in the ashram.
Soon the visitors started making enquiries about the personal life of Swamiji, which upset the inmates. There were too many uncomfortable questions.
"Does he listen to radio? Does he get letters from foreign countries? Any visitors, other than local pilgrims?"

The ashramites, ardent devotees of the Swamiji were
irritated by now.
"So many of his followers come here from abroad and
stay with us for weeks, some of them even for months," one of them mustered courage to respond.
“What business do you have to ask such questions? You certainly do not look Swamiji’s friends?" Another inmate questioned the propriety of the team.

"We are from Police, Central Bureau of Investigation. We have orders to enquire in to the conduct of your Swamiji and search the ashram."

That rattled all the inmates and the onlookers.

"You said he goes to forest hut every day for three to four hours," one of the officers asked.
"What does he do there?
“He goes there for meditation."
“That is non sense. He has been fooling around all these years," said one of the police officers.

"Look, this man, feigning as Swamiji has been charged of murder. He is a fugitive, hiding from American law for last thirty years.”
The inmates were shocked. They couldn’t believe that their god man was a in fact a Satan.
“We respected him and in fact worshipped him,” they broke down.

When Swamiji arrived from Rishikesh by the late evening bus, he was apprehended at Vyaasi and taken to his ashram for further interrogation.

Next morning, as the Swamiji was being escorted to the district headquarters, he saw Satya Prasad on his way to the ashram to spend his day with him.
“I want to talk to this man for a few minutes,” Swamiji requested the senior police officer.
“It has to be in my presence,” The officer told him.
“Yes, of course,” Swamiji replied.

“Satya Prasad, my past has caught up with me. I have been arraigned for my involvement in the murder of my wife’s lover in Florida where I lived before coming to this place. It is true that I wanted to evade the law by remaining in this remote place in the garb of a sadhu. But this ashram became a place of learning for me. Here, I have come to peace with myself. Now I have no fears to face the law.”
Satya Prasad was baffled and so were others present there. No one could ever imagine what Swamiji had confessed.
“Satya Prasad, I have transferred all my money and property in your name for the benefit of the locals. I know you are the best judge of their needs. You know the best way of their emancipation.

Years have passed since Swamiji was taken away by the police. They say he was convicted and sentenced for life. Satya Prasad is no more. There but now remains Swami Henry Blackwell Polytechnic School in the idyllic vicinity of the Vyaas Ashram imparting modern education to the native children.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Young Sudha was lanky, edgy and always defensive, perhaps because life had treated her harshly from the very beginning. Even when her friends played with dolls and shared ecstasies of fairy tales, she had to look after her maimed father, her ailing mother besides her young sibling.

Years back, her father, Mahesh Chandran, a railway employee was discharged on the ground of disability after he met with an accident, losing his right leg and right hand. As compensation, he received a pair of steel crutches and a commendation letter. Mahesh Chandran also received fifty thousand rupees and a paltry pension, which was the only income of the family.

Mahesh Chandran had become a near recluse. Many times he thought of committing suicide. In fact, once he thought of poisoning his wife and himself but his heart went out to young Sudha and his toddler son Anandan.
“What a cursed life you have given me? What sins did I commit to deserve it?” He often grunted while limping past the ‘Meenakshi’ temple near his colony. Mahesh Chandran never entered the temple after he met with the accident. Not that he had turned atheist but a feeling had seeped deep inside him that God existed only for the rich and affluent, those who could propitiate him with elaborate pujas and offerings. Mahesh Chandran hated the sight of huge load of flowers and expensive garlands offered by the devotees to the goddess. He believed God or for that matter Goddess had no time for a poor, mutilated creature like him.
When his wife died after a prolonged illness, Mahesh Chandran was anything but distressed. He felt, he was relieved of the mental agony and his wife of the physical pain she has been suffering for half a decade.
Anandan at that time was five and Sudha merely eleven years old. The young girl was burdened with the responsibilities of looking after her disabled father and the young sibling.

Mahesh Chandran was sore at everything around him. He felt cheated and robbed of the joys of life. He often pitied his young daughter and cursed himself over his helplessness to be of any help to her.

Sudha was developing as a gritty girl with load of family burden on her slender shoulders. Anandan, on the other hand was growing in body, mind and aspirations.

It was indeed Sudha’s machine like efficiency needed to run the traumatized household. Morning breakfast, meals for the day and dinner for night, all came to her mind like a programmed computer. And then there were several sub-routines like helping her brother to get ready, check his books and put all assorted items in his school bag – arranging nearly everything while her father looked on helplessly. And then she would switch-over to a school going lass, taking her breakfast on a run to her school.

Sudha’s teachers had a soft corner for her. In fact, all of them were amazed at her relentless determination and immitigable energy to find time and strength for everything she was expected to do.
Sudha passed her matriculation examination with good marks and this time perhaps lady luck was favourably disposed for soon she got a job in a private firm. It brought a smile on Mahesh Chandran’s face after very many years of anguish and acrimony.

The financial condition and the social status of the family improved with Sudha getting a job. She now engaged a part-time help to assist her in the daily chores of the house-hold. Mahesh Chandran was now less acerbic and at times shared jokes with young Anandan who was in the final year of his secondary examination. Anandan had developed into a fine young lad to whom Sudha was intuitively a mother. He addressed all his problems to her and Sudha helped and supported him to the best of her capacity.

Mahesh Chandran could never muster courage to assert like a father to Sudha. He had succumbed to his helplessness and to her relentless spirit. Sometimes, he talked to her of his dreams for Anandan but never talked about her future even though he knew she had reached the marriageable age. Mahesh Chandran was scared to broach the topic.

In her office, Sudha soon earned a place; her superiors appreciated her work and efficiency apart from her willingness to lend a helping hand to her colleagues.
Madhavan Kutty, one of Sudha’s senior colleagues was absolutely floored by her qualities. He would watch her from a distance but developed cold feet to talk to her on personal matters. Sudha too liked Madhavan but purely on professionally plane even though she could feel that Madhavan wanted to come close to her.
One evening when the two were delayed while working on an urgent project, Madhavan Kutty asked Sudha if he could drop her at her place. Sudha agreed with initial diffidence though she appreciated the gesture. That was the beginning of their friendship. Soon they became good friends.

Sudha one evening invited Madhavan Kutty to her place to introduce him to her brother and father.
The meeting was like pairing of the mismatch. Mahesh Chandran had the sixth sense to understand that there was something going on between the two. He was uncomfortable and sulking while Madhavan Kutty failed to continue any string of conversation with his host. He had to fall back upon Anandan every time he tried to talk to Mahesh Chandran. The meeting ended abruptly after the tea was over.
“What if Sudha decides to marry this guy and go away? What would happen of him and Anandan? Mahesh Chandran was restless and could not sleep that night.
“Sudha, please don’t take a hasty decision; please wait until Anandan completes his graduation,” he pleaded with his daughter.

Sudha knew Anandan needed over two years from then on to complete his graduation and that Madhavan would not wait that long. Her gut feeling came to be true. Madhavan’s parents were pressuring him since his two younger brothers were waiting to get married and leave for the Gulf with their spouses. Besides, the old parents didn’t approve of breaking the queue.
Mahesh Chandran was quite relieved to see Madhavan’s marriage invitation card. He insisted that Sudha and Anandan attend the marriage. For Sudha, it was a heart break. She had come to love Madhavan but reduced to a silent witness of her first love taking a bride before her eyes.
Her relief and her solace lay in Madhavan Kutty soon changing the job. She didn’t have to face him every day.

Soon Sudha was back to her routine. Anandan was in the final year of graduation and had fallen in love with one of his classmates. The girl belonged to a rich, opulent family. Anandan was young and pragmatic and was able to convince his father to let him marry.
“I want to marry her before any one else claims her hands. She is very rich and beautiful and there are far too many suitors wooing her,” he told his father. Mahesh Chandran approved the plan tacitly though he knew Sudha was losing the years.
One day Anandan told his father and Sudha that he was getting married the next Monday and that his father-in-law had gifted him a flat and that he was taking his bride straight to the new house. Sudha was shocked and hurt; she was taken by surprise but she didn’t want to be a spoilsport in her brother’s happiness.

The marriage was a big show, everything being arranged by Anandan’s father-in-law. Mahesh Chandran was happy that Anandan had married a rich girl but he didn’t like his son going away from him. He but realized that Anandan would not listen to him any more.
After Anandan’s going away, it was left to Sudha to take care of her father who was now having an indifferent health.

Meanwhile, there was another development. Really, Sudha had nothing to do with it but she could not stay away from it either.
Ram Chandran, one of Mahesh Chandra’s relatives lost his wife leaving behind a son of three years. Ramchandran had no one else to fall back upon other than Mahesh Chandran who reluctantly agreed that the child could be dropped at his place after the school in the afternoon and stay there till his father picked him on way back from his office.

Sudha had sympathy and then affection for the child. She would leave a lunch packet for the young child despite Mahesh Chandran’s rambling demur. On the days the school was closed, Ramchandran came to Sudha’s place in the morning to leave the child there. On such occasions, they would go to their offices together. Slowly, their meetings developed into mutual liking.
Mahesh Chandran developed creeps whenever he saw them together, talking or smiling at each other. One evening he saw them in each others’ arms and kissing passionately. Mahesh Chandran’s blood boiled. He wanted to tear his hair and shriek but surprising he did neither of the two. The fear of being left alone was rising alarmingly in his mind.

“Who will look after me when Sudha gets married?” The apprehension tormented him and he became hostile towards the child and Ramchandran. One evening when Ramchandran had came to take his son, Mahesh Chandran asked him to sit down.
“I want to talk to you,” he said asking him to take a chair.
“You and your son are parasites, a bad omen for my family and I don’t want its evil effects on me or my family member,” he said without naming Sudha.
Ramchandran was at his wits end. He had never anticipated his uncle using such foul and offensive language for him.
“Listen, looking after your child can not be a life time liability for me or for my daughter. So, make your own arrangements at the soonest possible,” Mahesh Chandran shouted and limped off from the room.

After a week, Ramchandran stopped coming to Mahesh Chandran’s place. Sudha guessed something must have transpired between Ramchandran and her father and it was not difficult for her to guess what that could have been.

As the years passed and grey hair appeared around her temples, there were no suitors for Sudha’s hand. In fact, she had left the idea of getting marriage for she was nearing forty even though she was slim and agile belying her age.


A new boss had Hariharan joined Sudha’s office. He was middle age, baldy and with a little paunch. The story went that he was a divorcee.
Hariharan was jovial, somewhat garrulous and believed in taking life as it came. He was affable and shared jokes even with rookies. At times, he pulled Sudha’s leg for her work addiction and her disinclination to join his gossip group.

One day Hariharan went to Sudha’s cabin unannounced and took a chair beside her. Sudha was flabbergasted by the surprise visit.
“Sir, you could have called me to your chamber.”
“No. I wanted to talk to you on a personal note. Sudha, you generally avoid me…… perhaps consider me an unreliable person…. talking nonsense and possibly a flirt, a women chaser.”
Sudha was not prepared for such an outburst.
“No sir, not at all sir….. please don’t think that way …….. it is because I don’t get time from my work ……. believe me sir…. please sir……,” she managed to say.
Hariharan looked in to her eyes and said, “You too believe me. I don’t want to harm or hurt any one in any way.”
Pausing a little, he then added, “I am a lonely person. My wife left me twenty years ago. My only son has settled in the States. After leaving the office I have quiet, dreary evenings. I can’t sleep properly. So when I am in the office, I compensate for it. Believe me, I don’t intend to impress or influence any one. I act boisterous simply to avoid getting crazy.”
Sudha believed his words and after some reservations, the ice broke between them and she started liking Hariharan. In fact, they became friends.

Sudha took Hariharan to her place couple of times. Mahesh Chandran didn’t like him. He felt Hariharan was pompous and crafty; an unreliable man and therefore an evil company for ladies and for Sudha in particular.
To Mahesh Chandran’s discomfort, Sudha over the period got closer to Hariharan. She found him a soul-mate and they often spent their evenings together.
“Avoid that leech,” Mahesh Chandran warned Sudha many times. Sudha listened but did not react.

A couple of months later Mahesh Chandran was taken ill and admitted in a hospital. Sudha divided her time between home, office and hospital. She went to the hospital every morning with tiffin and took dinner for him in the evening. Mahesh Chandran sulked whenever Hariharan accompanied Sudha to the hospital and did not fail to register his disapproval over his presence in some way or the other.
“He is ugly looking and far too senior to you in age. You deserve a much better groom,” he often counseled Sudha.

Hariharan was very accommodating and sincerely helpful. Unfortunately, their companionship became a matter of gossip. Lewd graffiti filled the bath room walls and elevator doors. Rumours were afloat that they were sleeping together after Mahesh Chandran’s hospitalization and they noticed their colleagues avoiding them.
One evening Hariharan and Sudha discussed the situation and decided to get married. However, in view of Mahesh Chandran’s hospitalization, they wanted to make it a brief ceremony in the Meenakshi temple on a Sunday morning.

It was Saturday evening. Sudha got a call from the hospital to come over immediately. She rushed there and met the doctors attending her father and returned home after necessary consultation.

Following morning Sudha was married to Hariharan in the presence of the temple priest and a few friends. It was a brief ceremony, the thin attendance being attributed to the hospitalization of Sudha’s father.
After the marriage ritual was over, Hariharan suggested that they go to the hospital to seek the blessing of the ailing parent.
“Yes, we should.” Sudha whispered.

As Hariharan turned to take the stairs to the medical ward on the first floor, Sudha stopped him.
“He is no more in the ward. We have to go to the mortuary.”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Acknowledgement from Author:

Dear Friends

Nothing is more satisfying than the feeling that some of you read my stories and in fact send me your comments regularly.

One of my learned readers from Washington wrote last week that my stories remind him of the maestro of Hindi short stories, Prem Chand. With all humility, I must say that I feel elated.

Another reader from East Timor has sent me the following comments after I blogged my last story, ‘Different Strokes’.

“Your Malawian story brought back pleasant memories of Africa. The beauty of the country, the poverty that a large majority of them have to endure and yet the generosity of the people has been brought out most eloquently in Different Strokes. There are so many like Herbert in Africa. People who willingly take over children who lose their parents to AIDs without any complaint and treat them like their own children. I actually find Africans far more generous in this regard than Indians. I like your observation on undercooked fish and chicken!! They like their meat a little rare though not as rare as many of the angrezs!!”

Please do read the stories, feel them and send me a line.

Best Regards


Thursday, July 23, 2009


We were driving north of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, along the west shore of the Lake Malawi to the town of Mzuzu. I was then working in Lilongwe as a doctor in a rural health project. Though I had been in the country for over six months, it was my first visit to Mzuzu.
It was the month of March. Rain was pouring in, now and then like proverbial cats and dogs. At times, the visibility was so poor that we could not make out whether the approaching vehicle was a car or a truck and jumping over the pot holes repeatedly was a painful reminder of my chronic backache.
There were two reasons for me to go to Mzuzu under such circumstances. I had not seen the town of Mzuzu, which was famous for its beautiful forest reserves and wealth of wild life. Secondly, there was a marriage in Herbert’s village. Herbert was keen that I attended the marriage and frankly, so was I.

A large number of Malawis in the north are Christian by faith. The Church however has acted pragmatically, causing least dislocation in their personal lives. It has allowed the natives to follow their animist traits, customs and rituals including long drinking sprees. A Malawian marriage ceremony is a lively soiree over eating and drinking till the stocks last.

Herbert was in his forties but looked more than his age because of his irrepressible desire and capacity to consume alcohol at any hour of the day along with smoking cheap cigarettes. Excessive drinking had made him obese and lethargic. Besides, Herbert was garrulous, often to the point of irritation. His endless chattering at times tested my patience save that my ears were sufficiently trained to accept only what was relevant to the work.
“Herbert, God forbid if you were ever caught in side a building on fire, you will never reach to safety. First, you will start rambling and secondly, you are awfully lethargic,” I remember to have told him once to his dislike.
“Sir, you don’t know, I was in my school football eleven and that too the centre forward. Now, at my age, I don’t have to run around to prove my agility but if a situation demands, I can surprise many like you.”
“You mean you can still play good football?” I egged him.
“That is for the kids now, I can prove it in many other ways,” he said with a mischievous grin.
By then I knew adultery and fornication were the forte of Malawian males. Most of them spent weekends in the bars and the nights with the bar girls, that is if you had enough ‘Kwacha’ - money in your pocket. In fact, I used to find it extremely difficult to sit by the side of Herbert on Mondays when he used to come to the office straight from his weekend revelry. He used to be in crumpled clothes and stinking. Let me add here, Herbert was no exception.

Herbert, I had learnt was the son of a village chief from Mzuzu district. He had seen the authority of his father over his people and imbibed it by instinct. Even though he was a driver, he liked to order around and get the work done from a distance and he would be in the front row to claim credit for a job completed.
The worst of Herbert was his habit of pinching money. I had to take good deal of care to protect my money from him. He would buy grocery for me at double or triple the rates. I had however reconciled to the situation for I knew he was the only driver of the project and I had to bear with him so long as I wanted to work in Malawi.

Passing through the small hamlets, I was pained to see awfully dismal living conditions of the people. One could see men and women with tattered clothes; semi nude, bare foot children playing in the squalor all over. Most of the villagers live in circular huts with mud plastered wall under thatched roofs. They neither have electricity nor water supply and yet they didn’t complain. Malawians are easygoing, complacent people, satisfied with two meals of Nsima, a paste made out of maize flour. Everyone prays for rains during the months of November and December to have a good maize crop. That is the common fate of the rural masses living in the small, beautiful country of Malawi often called as tourists’ paradise.

Malawi derives her name from the word "maravi" which means glowing reflection. The name has been derived from an exalting view of the morning sunrays falling on the lake surface and setting it aglow. The British ruled the country until 1964, which really meant a hold over a large tract of land and its rich flora and fauna. They cultivated tobacco and indentured poor Malawians as labour to the copper and gold mines in Zimbabwe and South Africa. The colonial rulers knew, they didn't have to develop any infrastructure in the country to meet their commercial targets. In fact, it served their purpose best to keep the people illiterate and impoverished.
During the forty five years of independence, various governments have come and gone in Malawi, doing precious little except borrowing from UN bodies, developed countries and donor agencies. The life in the villages where eighty percent of the population lives is simply pathetic.

We reached Mzuzu by eight in the evening. Herbert took me to the forest lodge where a room was booked for me. The lodge was on a rock ledge with the valley spreading towards the foothills of the mountain ranges in the west.
I was tired after eight hours’ rigour. I took a quick shower, had my dinner and went to sleep for I wanted to see the sunrise over the Lake Malawi. I told the watchman to wake me up at five and to make it doubly sure, I put an alarm on my mobile phone. Having come so far, I didn't want to take any chances.

I woke up before my mobile tinkled and switched on the small electric kettle that I generally carry. While sipping my coffee, I put on my T-shirt and half pants and ran out of the guest house barefoot to the rock-ledge just hundred yards away.
As the sunrays surfed over the silken spread of the Lake Malawi, it looked as if the entire lake was aflame. The ripples on the lake surface were breaking in to kaleidoscopic patterns of colours. It was simply amazing, just out of this world. What grandeur of natural bounty! I then realised the meaning of the name, Malawi.
I was sitting motionless, watching intently the noble gift of the nature. Fine cool breeze was caressing and comforting my body and soul. It seemed as if I had reached the pinnacle of peace and comfort leaving behind all travails of life. I had forgotten the wretchedness of the world that we live in.

I was still in my world of romanticism until the watchman brought me back with an apology for not waking me up and wanting to know my choice of breakfast. I told him to leave me alone. For me, those moments were preciously divine and the least I wanted was any distraction in my romancing with the nature.
Herbert’s village was three miles away from the lodge. He was to come and pick me around eleven. The marriage was to take place in the small village chapel.
There was foul smell as we neared the village. Pigs, dogs and ducks were running around and children squatting over the kuchha track leading to a spring, the only source of water. Flies and mosquitoes swarmed as we traversed across the village. No research was required to know why there were large number of cases of hepatitis, cholera and malaria in the country. The inhuman, pathetic plight of Malawian villages is in fact, a slur on the face of civilized societies and donor agencies not tired of tom-toming their contribution in improving the life of the unfortunate natives.

Drinking had started before we reached Herbert’s place. Everyone in the village had come out with his and her best outfit. It was a sunny day and the bright gaudy colours of their dresses were sparkling. The drummers were active and people were dancing around the place earmarked for this purpose. Mindless of the miseries that etched their day to day life, it was gaiety personified that day in that small hamlet in Mzuzu.
Herbert was coming to me off and on and asking whether I was comfortable and enjoying the ceremony. I assured him that I was enjoying every moment of it and that he should not bother.
The marriage party had arrived. The bridegroom was a youngish boy. I was shocked to see his emaciated body and the pronounced limp in his right leg.
On arrival, the bridegroom's side has to give the promised dowry to bride's parents. It had been agreed that the bridegroom’s family will give two goats, five chickens and hundred Kwachas as dowry to bride’s parents. Things until then had gone to everyone's liking.

But now there was an altercation.
Cynthia, the bride was pregnant and the bridegroom was refusing to accept the child as his and claimed that another young man of Herbert’s village was also courting Cynthia and that, though he was still willing to marry Cynthia, he couldn’t pay the full dowry.

The matter was brought before Herbert who by then was in no better condition than the rest after hours of sustained drinking. Some one brought a wooden chair and fitted Herbert in to it with quite an effort.

"Sir, I would like to marry Cynthia but my financial position is very weak. I can not afford to pay the dowry in full," the bridegroom pleaded before Herbert, now acting as the village chief.
"Did you sleep with any other man?" The chief asked Cynthia.
Cynthia apparently was a no-nonsense girl.
"Sir, this man is a speaking the truth. He used to take me to the school after it closed and there his cousin, the school teacher often waited for us. We used to drink before and then make love but that was with mutual consent."
The chief was apparently serious and for the first time I saw Herbert speak solemnly.
"We can not prove the antecedents of the case since the other man is absconding. The fact before us is that this girl is pregnant and the child may come out any time,” Herbert spoke in his typical loud voice.
Then pausing a little he turned to the bridegroom, “You say you want to take this girl as your wife. If so, it is your responsibility to arrange for the dowry. And for that, whether you borrow, beg or steal, it is your problem.”
Everyone lauded the judgement. The bride’s father was simply elated. The bridegroom was visibly depressed.

“Sir, I told you my predicament. I am an orphan and I have no land. I want to marry Cynthia but I need time to arrange the dowry.”
The bride’s father protested to the suggestion. “I wouldn’t allow you to marry my daughter unless you arrange the dowry in full,” he shouted.
The celebrations’ had come to a stand still. The drummers had slumped to ground.

I was a silent spectator. Whose child was in Cynthia's womb? I thought of DNA tests and then laughed within myself. My mind was reeling under these arguments when I saw Herbert pushing the chair and coming out of it and addressing his people.
"I am concerned about the future of this young couple. I don't want this young man to be buried under debt. Debt is like leprosy. Once you get afflicted, it rarely leaves you. I don’t want that to happen to this poor man. I will therefore pay the entire dowry to bride’s father.”

I was startled by Herbert’s announcement and so were the rest. I knew Herbert cheating on small purchases he made for me or for the office. This was a big amount by Malawian standards.
"Wasn’t he the petty, slimy dishonest man I knew?” I was querying to my self again and again but was unable to decide.

The matter having been resolved, the marriage proceedings continued with more eating and drinking. I took leave and as I was taking to the wheels, Herbert came forward and said, “Sir, there will be no dinner in the guest house. The cook is here...I... will bring your dinner in the evening."

Herbert came in the evening with his son. He had brought roasted chicken and fish. Herbert was quite drunk and he had brought a bottle of local brew with him.
"I know you don't like country brew but please try this. It doesn’t stink and gives better kick than whiskey.”
He then shouted for his son and gave him long winding instructions and then he turned towards me, “Sir, I tell you one thing…. every person acts good so long you keep on kicking his arse. Give him a free rope and he is a spoiled man."
I felt inconvenient for I knew I was mild with men working with me and I found it difficult to be curt or harsh. Herbert on the other hand expected men to give him respect. I had often seen him ordering the rest of the staff, including those, senior to him.

We were sitting outside under the clear blue sky. The fried chicken and fish was undercooked but eatable. Suddenly, I asked Herbert, “Wouldn’t you need money to give dowry on your son’s marriage? I mean, weren’t you over magnanimous?”

Herbert took a long sip from his glass and told me, “Sir, God willing, I will be able to arrange the dowry for my son’s marriage whenever required. But did you see the plight of the man, the bridegroom yesterday? He is awfully poor and a cripple. No one even employs him on fields. Who will give him loan? Where can he ever find money to have a wife?”

I was astounded to find a different person before me. And as I kept looking at him, the inimitable mischievous smile was back on his face.

Next day, as I drove back through the beautiful valley, Herbert's words were ringing in to my ears.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


This is a story from a small town of Paori in the hill district of Garhwal, now a part of state of Uttarakhand in India.
Ram Prasad Mamgain was a primary school teacher in Paori. He had a daughter Shristi. Ram Prasad’s wife suffered from tuberculosis. He had often seen his wife coughing and panting for breadth. He would rush to her with a glass of water and medicine on such occasions and try to keep Shristi away from her. Ram Prasad had kept his wife in a separate room with a separate set of utensils. That was the custom those days; the victims of tuberculosis were kept in isolation. No one even talked to them.
Ram Prasad served his wife with rare devotion till the end came. He was then forty-five and Shristi was merely eleven. Ram Prasad Mamgain didn’t remarry even though in his community, men elder to him would have done so. He perhaps had an apprehension that he might have caught the disease from his wife. He was therefore worried for Shristi. She was a bright student and Ram Prasad after long pleading and cajoling was able to shift her to his brother’s place in Lucknow.
“I am sending you away because I want you to concentrate on your studies. Your mother wanted you to be a doctor and I want her dream to come true. Don’t worry about me for I have lived my life and I too want nothing more in my life than to see you as a doctor. I will be sending money to your uncle every month. Your uncle has agreed to the arrangement.”
Young Shristi listened to her father pensively. Her heart ached to leave her father alone.
Ram Prasad continued after taking a long breadth.
“You will have the company of your cousin. He is your age; reads in an English school. I have asked your uncle to get you admitted in the same school.”

Shristi was studious by nature and her father’s words rang in her ears every now and then. She did very well in her school examination and qualified the entrance examination for a course in medicine.
For Ram Prasad, it was the happiest day of his life when Shristi qualified as a doctor. There were not many doctors from their community. In any case, Shristi was the first lady doctor from her community. For Ram Prasad and his folks, it was a big occasion and even though Ram Prasad had never touched liquor in his life, he allowed it to be served in a lavish scale. Ram Prasad him self had to be carried to his room.

A couple of months later Shristi was appointed as a medical officer at Dehradun District Hospital. Ram Prasad had retired by this time and shifted to his village. His fears had come true. He too had been afflicted by tuberculosis. The village people had ostracized him. They neither went to him nor did they allow him to enter their homes.
Shristi went to her village immediately after assuming the charge of her new job and was aghast to see her father. She insisted that he accompanied her.
“I will treat you, it is a curable disease or else I will consider all my efforts to become a doctor have gone waste,” she told Ram Prasad.
Shristi was an enthusiastic young doctor, always encouraging her patients, bearing a smile even when going was tough. She treated her father with dedication and in a year’s time Ram Prasad was nearly cured. Shristi was delighted to see her father up and on his feet.

Shristi was twenty-seven and Ram Prasad was now keen to get her married. “I may not live long. I want to see you married and settled before I leave,” he often told Shristi. Shristi gave her consent.

“I have only one child and she is a doctor. I want an equally qualified boy from a well to do family and make sure, their stars match perfectly,” he told the family priest.

The search for a suitable bridegroom ended with Arvind, the only son of Kula Nand Dimri, a well-established businessman in Kotdwar. Arvind was never a good student, his interest in books waned as he gained access to his father’s money. After several attempts he graduated in the lowest grade. Kula Nand asked him to join the family business.
The family priest was elated on his find.
“Ram Prasad, this is the best match you could get for your daughter. I have studied their horoscopes. Their stars match perfectly. Your daughter will have a long and prosperous happy married life.”
Ram Prasad was happy with the priest who wanted to impress his client further. “The boy belongs to a rich and renowned family of Kotdwar. They have a palatial house and several servants. Shristi will live like a queen.”
Ram Prasad was quizzed for he had lived all his life in Paori and around. “Which family are you talking about?” He asked the priest.
The priest was waiting for the question. He gave a long drag on the cigarette and pausing a little he said, “It is the Dimri family, the richest family of Kotdwar town.”
Ram Prasad knew the Dimri family and that the family was quite rich though it didn’t enjoy the best of reputation.
Ram Prasad wanted to be doubly sure. He knew the family priest was garrulous and a little dicey. For a few chips from Kula Nand, the priest could be exaggerating.
Ram Prasad made copies of the two horoscopes and took them to another priest and he was quite relieved and happy when the other priest also confirmed matching of the stars assuring a harmonious happy married life for his daughter Shristi.

Kula Nand Dimri had acquired an ostentatious life style. He had started as a menial servant in the house of the District Forest Officer posted at Kotdwar when he had come out of his village thirty years ago. Kula Nand but had a sharp mind and knew how to keep his bosses in good humour. Over the years, he had travelled a long way. He was now the wholesale timber merchant of the district, owned two trucks, a passenger bus and his house, Dimri-Mahal was the prominent landmark of the Kotdwar town.
Kula Nand was happy that his son was getting married to a doctor. He knew Ram Prasad Mamgain was a poorly paid teacher and that nothing could be expected from him in dowry. Kula Nand, a shrewd person had his own plan. He wanted Shristi to resign her government job and start private practice. To succeed in his plan he had greased the priest’s palm sufficiently.
The marriage was only a week away. Knowing Ram Prasad’s financial position, Kula Nand took on him self the responsibility of making all arrangements. Things were moving well but Ram Prasad’s mind was at unease. He remembered his father’s words some thirty years ago. “The priests are a greedy lot. They can lie to any extent to make their clients happy.”
Ram Prasad left for Rishikesh telling his people that he wanted to get the blessing of his ‘Guruji’ before solemnising his daughter’s marriage. “I will be back tomorrow evening, he told his younger brother.
Ram Prasad got the two horoscopes examined afresh for the third time and when his ‘Guruji’ confirmed that it was a perfect matching of stars, Ram Prasad was greatly relieved. He returned to Paori a happily assured person.
The marriage was a grand show. People from the small hill town of Paori were suitably impressed. Ram Prasad was quite happy and so was Kula Nand.
The happiness but dissipated much quicker than any one of them would have imagined. Shristi refused to resign her job.
“You work for a paltry sum. I want to make a nursing home in Kotdwar and you will see money pouring in,” her father-in-law impressed upon her.
Shristi didn’t like the idea and Ram Prasad was in a dilemma for he knew Shristi was proud of her job.
“I have hardly any experience and a nursing home needs specialised treatment. Let me work for a few years and gain some experience. We can take up this project a little later,” Shristi tried to persuade her father-in-law.
“Don’t bother, I will hire good experienced specialists, you only have to count the money,” Kula Nand laughed, pleased with his own sense of humour.

Counting money was not the ambition of Shristi’s life. She resisted the move and joined her duty a week later at Dehradun, annoying her father-in-law. A week later Arvind joined her at Dehradun.

Arvind was up set at the very look of the government quarter allotted to Shristi. The door and window panels were cracked and the paint had faded. On the walls, at several places, bricks were showing as the plaster had peeled off. There were cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and ochre patches of rain marks dotted the wall surface. There was a pungent odour inside the house.
Shristi was pleasantly surprised to see Arvind. She knew Arvind was accustomed to better living conditions. She was apologetic about the state of the quarter but promised to get it done up soon.
“Arvind, I am so busy with my work and father is too old to do anything. Any way, I promise to take care at the soonest possible.”
Arvind didn’t respond. Next day he engaged two hands and got the house cleaned up. In the evening when Shristi returned from her office, she was pleasantly surprised to see the house spruced up.
“Arvind, you must have worked the whole day. It looks different. I will now get the repairs done and get it painted.”
Arvind simply nodded. “You must be tired, let’s go out for dinner,” he suggested. Shristi hesitated for she had to cook for her father.
“Please give me a little time. Let me cook something for father and I have to give him an injection.”
“Ah! That will take the whole evening,” Arvind was put off. Trying hard to keep his temper he asked her, “Why do you strain so much? I mean, why you aren’t amenable to my father’s suggestion. Surely, it would make life comfortable.”
“Arvind, try to understand. As a professional, I look for job satisfaction rather than comfort or money for that matter. I would be reduced to a manager in the nursing home, counting money and that is not my vision of life.”
“What’s wrong in that? Aren’t you doing the job for money?”
“Arvind there is difference in what I am doing here and what you are suggesting.”
“It’s plain bullshit. You are not doing a social service. In the ultimate analysis it is money that matters.”
“I wish I could make you understand,” Shristi said, throwing her hands in exasperation. The evening was ruined.

Arvind noticed Ram Prasad often coughing and spitting phlegm. He had a suspicion. The idea of living with a TB patient petrified him.
“What disease is your father suffering from?” He asked Shristi one evening. Shristi looked at Arvind and replied, “He had tuberculosis but he is nearly cured of it.”
Arvind was shocked and shaken.
“What? Your father has TB? No one told us… that priest is a bastard… and you must have known it earlier. Oh God! What a fate, married in a family afflicted by TB?”
“Arvind, please cool down. It is true, my father was suffering from TB but he is nearly cured. I am personally looking after him. I assure you, no harm will come to you.”
“Shut up you liar. I now realise why you rejected my father’s offer. I cannot stay here even for a day; I am leaving by the morning bus.”
The altercation between the couple upset Ram Prasad terribly.
“Son, I will leave for village tomorrow. In any case I don’t have many years left and I can’t see your life ruined for my sake.”
“You are a bigger liar, a crook and a bloody cheat. I am sure even your daughter has TB and soon I too will have it.”
Ram Prasad squatted on the ground before his son in law. “Son, there is nothing wrong with Shristi. After all she is a doctor. Please don’t go away. I will leave early in the morning.”
“You are going nowhere,” It was Shristi who was quite agitated by now. Then turning towards Arvind she said, “I am damned if I abandon my old and ailing father, the one who gave his sweat and blood to bring me to this position.”
Ram Prasad was still on the floor. “Child, my happiness rests on yours. I know you love me but …please let me go… and… if you still try to stop me, I will jump in front of a train.”
Shristi was stunned but resolute. “You will not go simply because someone cannot bear your presence. It is my decision, jumping in front of a train will be yours.”
Arvind was enraged. He rushed out of the house and went to a telephone booth to call his father.
Kula Nand Dimri heard his son and paused. “Arvind, I don’t think you should leave your wife in a hurry. May be Ram Prasad leaves the place……, I think he will do it for he loves his daughter immensely.”
Kula Nand’s words offended Arvind.
“She was your choice, I would have been happier with an ordinary woman. I cannot risk my life and in any case we are incompatible altogether. She has no place for me in her life… it is insulting …...” Arvind broke down.
“Your ego is higher than the Himalayas, not good for a woman,” Arvind said to Shristi before leaving.
Shristi was hurt. “How could you be so inhuman? Would you have done the same thing if it were your father?” She asked Arvind who stammered some expletives and left the place.

That was the beginning of the parting. “May be, I was too strict with him,” she often thought and yet she was not convinced that she should have thrown out her father. She wanted to write to Arvind and apologise but she could not, something always held her back.
Her miseries increased when Ram Prasad who was quite saddened over the events in his daughter’s life passed away in his sleep. And Shristi then found that she was carrying. She wrote to Arvind and pleaded to start afresh.
“Now that my father is no more, we can start afresh. I am willing to leave the job if that makes you happier,” she wrote.
The reply was very brief, merely a few words of condolences. Shristi wrote again and this time she told him that she was going to be the mother of his child. There was no reply from Arvind.

Shristi wrote to Arvind after a son was born to her. Several letters that she wrote thereafter to Arvind remained unanswered and then one day she received a legal notice of divorce. The charge was adultery. Arvind had disowned the child.
Shristi was shocked. She didn’t contest even though she knew she could prove in the court of law that it was Arvind’s child. The court granted ex-parte divorce.

Shristi named her son, Ram Prakash in memory of her father. When Ram Prakash was five, she put him in a hostel and opted for field duties. “I need some extra money for my son’s education,” she told her senior.
“Is this the solution to the problem?”
“What else?”
“You could make new beginning; you have a long life ahead of you.”
“Perhaps there are too many evil stars barring happiness enter my life.”
“That is nonsense, you should make an attempt.”
“Thank you doctor but the passage of time has not been able to heal my wounds. They are still raw and soar.”

Shristi missed her father and her son. One reminded her of her past and the other raised the hope for future. In the evening after the hard trekking in the treacherous sun when she returned to her place, she felt a vacuum in her life. There was none with whom she could share her sorrows. She knew many of her colleagues were waiting for her to fall prey to their lust. Every one believed that a divorcee was easily accessible.

Depression was mounting in her life. She took to drinking. She would bring the liquor quietly and drink to get over her loneliness. It was only a matter of time that everyone in the department came to know of it.
Shristi knew that Arvind had remarried. It was a coincidence that she had received the invite from an old college friend who was marrying Arvind. She sent her a message congratulating her.
“I would have loved to attend your marriage. I am sure you understand my predicament.”
“It was a mis-match,” she had often heard her colleagues say till they forgot her and her story.

That was twenty-three years ago. Ram Prakash grew in hostel and Shristi spent most of her life in the field.

Ram Prakash is a matured young man, and an engineer now with a decent job. He knows the tormented life his mother has lived and her addiction to alcohol.
“No more field work hereafter,” he said to his mother after getting the job. “We will stay together and that will help you get over the problem,” he added.
Shristi was happy that the ill-luck dogging her life had stayed away from her son. She often remembered her past and felt gloomy.
“Was it my fault or Arvind’s or was it destiny? Perhaps we should have tried to understand each other more rationally, tried to accommodate each other. Perhaps…” She could never conclude.

“Ma, do you have my horoscope?” Ram Prakash asked her one evening.
Shristi gave her son a searching look.
“Nirmala’s folks are insisting that our stars must match before they gave their consent.”
Shristi knew Nirmala was Ram Prakash’s girl friend for couple of years.

She looked up and touching him over his shoulder she said, “Son, I don’t have your horoscope but marry Nirmala if you love her. My father too insisted that our stars matched and matched perfectly …… and you know my life.”

Ram Prakash felt sad for his mother.

Shristi resumed after taking a deep breadth, “Son, it is important that you understand each other. Take my word; it takes more than matching of stars for a marriage to succeed.”

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Anand Sharma wasn’t young though he looked young in his mid forties. He had come to Tokyo to attend a six week course on mass communication. It was his first visit to Japan and being a strict vegetarian, he was quite uncomfortable. There was hardly any meal without meat or fish. In fact, most of the preparations served to him in the hotel or in the Japanese Institute of Mass Communication had strong fish odour. He lasted on fruits, cheese sandwiches and salads during the first week and then finally compromised on eating egg preparations.
Generally, the faculty spoke Japanese but the students, mostly from Asian countries spoke English, which was interpreted by the two interpreters engaged by the Institute.
Yuko Suzuki was one of the two interpreters. She was tall and slim and had her education in USA, where her father had practiced medicine for a long time. She was more popular amongst the trainees for her lively, affable nature. The trainee officers felt more at ease in approaching her for their day to day problems.

Anand too liked Yuko and she respected him for his age, knowledge and experience, perhaps in that order. She was however impressed after she had interpreted his speech and a small poem he had composed when the trainee group had called on the Mayor of Hiroshima.
“You write well and speak very well. Your poem, ‘An Ode to Japanese Farmers’ is very touching. I don’t know whether I did justice in interpreting it,” Yuko had told him at the close of the function.
His speech and the poem were published in the local papers next day, with his photograph with the Mayor. Yuko had brought a copy of the newspaper. She gave it to him with a big hug.
“I am so happy for you. Your speech has been received very well and the poem particularly has been acclaimed in a big way. They say you are a genius.”
Anand recalled that he had butterflies in his stomach when he approached the dais to speak on behalf of the trainee group, which was customary. He had noticed a big smile and thumb-up from Yuko while walking to the dais.

Yuko had come to know of Anand’s eating habits and tried to help him to tide over the problem particularly during field visits, which were far too many.

It was the third week of their training. They were being taken to Osaka for three days. It was a hectic schedule requiring frequently quick movements from one site to another. Though instructions about individual food habits had been passed on to the host restaurants in advance, communication gaps still remained making life difficult for Anand.
Anand was awfully surprised when at the close of first day’s programme, Yuko came to his room and handed him a sufficiently large packet of sandwiches with different recipes and cake pieces.
“It will take care of you to some extent. You can supplement it with some thing from the table.”
Anand didn’t know what to say. He mumbled thanks as she left the room.

For reasons best known to the genealogists, people from Indian sub-continent are generally emotional. They are moved by small favours and upset over trivial matters.
Anand was floored by the gesture. Was it a special gesture from Yuko? Why should she have taken the trouble of bringing food packet all the way? Is there anything to it?
He knew it was being crazy. He had two loving sons and a dutiful wife waiting for him back home. It was incredible that an introvert of his like should have fallen in love in a strange country with a girl half his age.

Yuko lived in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. She had lost her mother in the early childhood and her father, had not remarried. Her elder brother lived in Osaka with his wife. Yuko loved her father immensely and that was the reason that she had been desisting marriage suggestions.

It was Sunday. Anand requested Yuko if she could accompany him to Tokyo Disney Land. Yuko’ father had gone to his son over the week-end. She was free and agreed instantly.
They had a very pleasant day at TDL. Anand was floating over the ninth cloud in the company of his young companion. Anand was now sure that he had developed a liking for Yuko and he longed to be in her company.
Was it infatuation? Was it love? He was not sure. Was it misinterpretation of her charming smile, her pleasant nature and her caring concern? Was it platonic attraction or was it purely physical? He was not sure of that too. He had however told her of his life, his family, of his sons and his job.

Following that visit to TDL, Anand had a restless night. He was enthralled, rather captivated by Yuko’s charm. He kept on thinking of some excuses to be close to her. Next morning he invited her for coffee after the classes.

Yuko was equally fascinated by her new friend. She was aware of his short stay and his family background and yet she felt comfortable in his company. Anand took her to a coffee shop. They talked of religion, politics and of economy, occasionally pecking at personal matters. After the coffee, he escorted her up to her place and left with an invitation to meet at her again the next evening. He was thrilled that this time the invitation was from Yuko at her place.

Anand saw her standing at the balcony. The flowers and a small gift he had brought made her very happy.
“Please come in and take your seat. I will join you soon,” she said before going in to the inner room.

Yuko came out in a pink gown. She had let loose her long hair. Anand was awed by her presence. Her perfume and her curvaceous body were enticing him, stretching his imagination to no end.
She served him a couple of cake pieces, pastries and sandwiches along with coffee. They talked on almost every subject that crossed their minds but in his inner thoughts, her proximity was drawing him crazy.
It was late evening. Yuko offered him to stay back for dinner. He accepted. She took out a bottle of saki from the cupboard.
He knew he was getting bold if not insane after couple of Saki. He held her hands in his and looked at her speechlessly and then he held her in his arms and kissed passionately. Yuko responded. It was a perfect harmony of feelings and desire bringing their hearts and bodies into a blissful fusion.

They met a few more times and every time Anand would vow to avoid being physical and he would fail every time. A brief smile, a friendly handshake and her body aroma would lead him to the temptation. The attraction was too intense to remain platonic.
Days were passing rapidly. Anand was getting panicky as the day of his departure neared. He wanted to spend most of the evenings with Yuko.

She had come to see him off at the airport. Her silent gaze tore his heart. Holding her hands, he promised telephone calls, letters and possibly a visit in future.

“Please do not promise anything,” she whispered. “Unfulfilled promises hurt you more. I want you to stay true to yourself. That is what matters. My love will be with you always. Take care,” she whispered.
Anand pressed her hands and went inside the terminal melting into the crowd.

Time acquires additional wings, sometimes two, sometimes four and at times many more. Conversely, its wings are clipped or crippled, making it drag painfully slow. Ironically, the two contrasting phenomena could be happening concurrently. There is but one simple denominator. If you are standing on the right side of life, good time flies faster. If unfortunately you are on the wrong side, difficult time has its wings inflicted.
Anand was on the right side of life, he was having a good time. After joining his family, he had made a casual reference of his friendship with a Japanese girl to his wife; it meant nothing more to her and he was swarmed by the events in his own world. For Yuko, who was treading on the wrong side of life, the time had its wings clipped.

Anand sent her a letter along with a family photograph. It was prosaic composition, and he knew it. In fact, he was very cautious in choosing his words. Apparently, he had written the letter without any urgency for it was written six weeks after his return.

On that single day Yuko received two communications. The first was the medical report from her father’s clinic and the second was the letter from Anand. The first conveyed the existence of a life with in her and the second was the lifeless letter from an erstwhile friend.
The medical report had not shocked her nor did Anand’s letter cause her any aversion or ill feeling. She felt no malaise towards him. Perhaps she had anticipated things to take turn that way. The doctor-father wanted her to be relieved of the burden, which Yuko politely but firmly refused. “It is my responsibility and I will bear it alone,” she told her father.

Yuko named her son, Akira, which meant brightness.

Time gained some wings for Yuko too. She now helped her father in his clinic. Akira was a bright student. He was eleven years old now. He was slim and tall with dark hair that often reminded Yuko of her past.

Akira was a serious lad much beyond his age. He had come to know the whole story from his grandfather. He never talked of it with his mother though his young mind was agitated whenever he saw his mother sitting quietly in the balcony, looking intently at the sun dissolving slowly into the western horizon.

Akira had completed his school and he was to choose a profession. His grandfather wanted him to be a doctor so that he could take over the clinic after him.
“No,” was the brief but firm answer from Yuko.
“I want him to do Business Administration.”
Pain seared through young Akira’s heart. This woman refuses to think beyond a worthless man who non-existingly existed for her.
“I don’t like business and businessmen,” he shouted.
“You are going to be a successful business executive,” she said in her cool and impassionate voice.
“Be a businessman and go and find out that scoundrel,” Akira shouted in a rage.
“I will do that. Yes I will do that but I will kill that devil with this very knife,” he fumed waving the knife he had picked up from the table.
Yuko was shocked. She could not speak. She was gasping for breath. Tears appeared in her eyes.
It had taken sixteen long years for her to cry and the tears won’t stop. She broke down completely.
Akira was moved. He never wanted to hurt his mother.
“I know you loved him but I don’t know why you still love him and so dearly.”
“Son, we don’t know what compulsions he might be having. For me, it is enough that you are the precious gift of our love. He doesn’t know anything about you. All I want is to have him share this happiness,” she said holding his head against her bosoms.

Akira was appointed a junior manger in a multinational company. He was doing well and his company had asked him to go on a business promotion tour. Akira had opted for India.
Yuko was pleasantly surprised. She saw her wish coming true.
Before bidding farewell to Akira, she said, “Take this my son,” and handed him an old photograph she had preserved so dearly. It was her picture with Anand. Akira had never seen that photograph and he had never seen his mother as cheerful like in the photograph. Akira wished he could bring back those moments in his mother’s life. She also gave him Anand’s business card to help in locating Anand. She had been preserving that card, Anand had given her eighteen years ago.

Akira went to Anand’s office and asked for him. Anand was now amongst the top brass of the company. It was not difficult to locate him but what could a young boy from Japan say about his relation with a man who had been to Japan nearly two decades ago.
“I have a gift for him from one of his friends from Japan. I would like to see him at his residence,” he told Anand’s Secretary who obliged smilingly. The young man must have brought a precious gift for the boss for promoting his business interest, she thought.

Anand had grayed completely but held straight and tall. His wife was no more. Both his sons were living separately.
It was late evening. Anand was sitting in the lawn reading a book. A cup and pot of tea lay on the small table beside him.

There was storm raging inside Akira. His mouth was dry and his voice, a mere shriek.
“Excuse me Sir. You are Mr. Anand?”
Anand looked up. In front of him was a young boy perhaps from far-east.
“Yes. Yes, I am Anand. Please do come in.”

This man oblivious of his sin is not worth any respect, Akira thought. Walking straight towards Anand, Akira extended his hand. Anand offered him a chair lying next.
“Please be seated, and tell me what can I do for you?” Anand then asked his servant to get some tea and snacks for the young man.

“I am Akira. Coming from Shinjuku district of Tokyo,” Akira said.
“Nice meeting you. I had been to Tokyo once and I remember that area.”
“Yes, I know you had been to Tokyo. And do you still remember Dr. Shibata of Shinjuku district?” Akira asked him.
Suddenly, dark clouds appeared before Anand’s eyes. He became pensive, colour fading from his face. He paused and then said, “Yes. I remember Dr. Shibata. He lived in the yellow building next to the children park. I remember, he lived with his daughter; very nice people.”
“The yellow building and the Children Park are no more. A tall sky-scrapper has replaced them.”
“Oh!” Anand sighed.
All these years, whenever Anand remembered his stay in Tokyo, he identified it with the small park, the yellow building next to it and the people living in it.
“You know Dr. Shibata and his family? How is he? Must have grown old,” Anand asked Akira.
“I am grandson of Dr. Shibata,” Akira said icily.
“What a pleasant surprise! I am really happy to see you. I remember now. Your father lived in Osaka. I never met him though. I knew Dr. Shibata and your aunt only.” Anand tried to compose himself.
“Dr. Shibata is no more and I am Yuko’s son though she never married. She is still alive. I don’t know why but she is still alive,” Akira whispered staring at Anand.
Those looks had questions, anguish, contempt, grief and pity.
Anand was shaken. His voice quivered. “Oh God! You are the son of Yuko? Son of Yuko! Oh God!”

An era had passed. Was it two decades? Was it a millennium? All he had done was to write an innocuous letter and forgotten the past conveniently. Suddenly he remembered Yuko’s words.
“Please do not promise anything. Just try to be true to yourself.”

He had been untrue to himself and to Yuko who loved him so dearly and to whom he had many so many promises. Guilt and shame had wrecked his conscience.
“Please stay with me to night,” he told Akira before entering the house.

It was a quiet dinner. Anand had still not recovered from the shock. After dinner, they sat in the living room with coffee. Anand was fidgeting with a magazine and Akira was glancing through a newspaper. Both of them were choking with emotions. There was a lot to be said and a lot to be heard. But words were failing both of them.

Anand then took Akira’s hands in his and asked, “How is your mother?” And after a long pause he said, “I have sunk so low that perhaps my voice may not reach you. You know …… you are.....” and he could speak no more.
“Yes, I know father. I know everything,” Akira said and kissed Anand’s hands with his quivering lips.

“My mother knows that this moment I am with you. It was her only wish that I come here and see you. She has no other wish in life. In fact, she has been living for this moment. She may now die peacefully.”
“Please don’t say that, please …… ” Anand cried.

After a while Anand took Akira to the adjoining room.
“Go to sleep my son,” Anand said after a while and sat on a chair near Akira’s bed. He was looking at Akira and revisiting his past. His fingers were caressing the soft hair of his son as he remembered the moments he had spent with Yuko.
Suddenly Akira sat on the bed.
“Father, please give me your passport tomorrow. Next week, we are flying to Tokyo to see my mother,” he said gleefully.

Monday, April 27, 2009


She was a Hindu Brahmin girl who had married, in fact eloped with her one time class mate, Parwej Qureshi, a Muslim boy. Nothing was considered a bigger stigma for a Brahmin family than the fact that its young daughter had married a Muslim boy. Had they been caught within the village borders, her father, Ram Kripal Mishra, an army sergeant would have had no second thought in shooting them down to salvage his family honour.
Ram Kripal Mishra commanded great respect amongst his people by virtue of his large landed property and rank of Subedar in the army. He liked to be addressed as Panditji though it was a strange coincidence that like Parwej’s father, Ram Kripal Mishra too was a carpenter by trade in the Corps of Engineers of the Indian army. Notwithstanding Ram Kripal’s carpentry trade in the army, Parwej Qureshi, a teacher in a school was not acceptable to the Mishra family as its son-in-law basically.

It was about twenty five years ago that Sumita and Parwej were in the same school and in the same class in a small town of Kalka in the foothills of Shivalik ranges. Parwej’s father had a small carpentry shop under a tin shed on the road side while Ram Kripal Mishra was posted in the Movement Control Unit of the Army at Kalka Railway Station.
Parwej was a handsome and intelligent lad. Sumita had developed a liking for him, though she was too cagey to express her feelings to Parwej or any of her friends.
Those days in a small town school in India, there were separate rows for girls in the class rooms and if playgrounds existed, boys played around and girls clustered at one end watching them. Sumita watched only one person, her eyes followed Parwej, whatever he did and wherever he went. Her feelings for Parwej, her desire to be near him was getting intense by the day though she was conscious of the deep community divide.

Ram Kripal Mishra had completed more than three years at Kalka. He was due for posting to a different station. The change was expected any time. In fact, his tenure had been extended on his request to let him stay at Kalka until his daughter had taken her secondary examination. Sumita knew it and the very thought upset her. The fact that it would take her away from Parwej pained her. Her heart cried but she had none to share her pain for she was too scared to give words to her feelings.

“My father has been posted to Udhampur,” one evening she mustered courage and told Parwej while returning from the school.
Parwej looked at her; he was baffled but said nothing.
“We will be shifting to our village near Karnal after the examinations are over.”
The developments were too sudden to unsettle even the cagey young man.
“You never mentioned it earlier.”
“I wanted to… but I was not sure whether you would be interested.”

That was true. Parwej had never tried to come close to her even though he had not failed to notice her looking at him attentively and doing small odd favours to him.
The impact of impending separation on the adolescent minds was reverberating.
“Sumita, I know you have been very nice and caring and believe me I always wanted to talk to you … somehow I could never pick up courage. You see, your folks would have never approved of it,” he said, his voice faltering.
“I don’t know if we will meet in future…. I will always remember you,” Sumita whispered.
Parwej was dumbfounded; he didn’t know what to say. They looked at each other silently.
“Parwej, will you reply if I write to you?” She was desperate but bold, wanting to be in touch with him.
“Yes I will, I promise….”
Sumita was overwhelmed. “Thank you Parwej. Please give me your address.”
Parwej paused for a while and said, “Sumita you know there is an insuperable religious barrier between us. Even though I could guess your feelings towards me, I deliberately behaved indifferently. At times, it was difficult and I cursed myself for it. But I wanted to avoid putting you to discomfiture of any kind.”
“Parwej, I am happy you feel that way. Perhaps, sometimes words are not required if the feelings are sincere. Thank you, thank you very much,” she said.
Parwej saw the tears rolling down her cheeks. They stood there frozen looking at each other. Parwej then took her hand in to his and pressed it softly.
The sun behind them was going below the skyline as they took the separate lanes for their homes.

For the rest of the week they tried to steal few minutes off and on exchanging some inane words expressing their feelings but apprehensive of spelling them. They both knew that the Mishra family would never approve of their marriage. In fact, both of them were aware that even a mention of it might cost them their lives.

On the first day of the final examination, Parwej came to Sumita and gave her a fountain pen. “It is a small gift from me. I wish this pen brings you good luck in the exams,” Parwej told her.
“Thank you. I know you will do very well. God bless you,” she said and then added after a little pause, “I will preserve this pen to the end of my life.”
Parwej saw her holding the gift between her palms and kissing it passionately.

Five years. They could not meet but they kept their promises. Sumita wrote to him as when she could manage stealthily and she had asked Parwej to write to her at the address of her trusted friend. Their friendship during this period blossomed steadily even though they were physically separated.

Sumita’s parents didn’t want her to continue her studies further.
“Matriculation is enough for you. You should now develop sewing, embroidery and culinary skills, which is what your in-laws would expect from you,” her father had told her. Her mother and the rest of the Mishra family had endorsed the view.
Parwej during this period had completed his graduation and soon thereafter got a job of a teacher in a private school. Sumita’s father who by this time had retired from service was looking for a suitable match for Sumita from his caste.
Sumita wrote to Parwej of her father’s plan. “Let’s meet early before it is too late,” she urged him.
“You know, your parents will never agree to our alliance. We have to take our own decision. Now it is for you to decide. I promise to be loyal to you all my life,” Parwej wrote to her adding that he will come to her village on hearing from her.

Sumita knew their move was dangerous but she wanted to see Parwej. The desire was intense relegating all diffidence to the side line.

“Come by the last bus on coming Sunday and when you get down, you would see an ochre building on the right. It is the village school. I will be waiting for you in the backyard.”

They met with the ferocity of hungry, starved lovers. The fire that was dormant all those years burst uncontrollably making them oblivious to all fear and apprehension. Their souls, minds and bodies had fused like molten lead losing the sense of any other existence beyond theirs.
When they returned to the physical world, they were unable to converse. They were breathing heavily and words would not come out. There were hundreds of big and small matters that Parwej wanted to tell Sumita and she wanted to tell Parwej. They had forgotten everything.
“I must leave now but tell me where will you stay tonight?” Sumita asked Parwej, setting her dress in order.
“I will walk back to the railway station and sleep on the platform.”
“Railway station is ten kilometers from here,” she said, worried.
“That is not the problem or the issue. What is important is that you have to make up your mind. If you are willing, we can leave the village right now and get married.”
“Please give me some time to think over,” Sumita said holding his hand and kissing it.
“Sumita, I can do nothing more than waiting. You know my mother had died young and my father has no time for me, he is busy with his new family. Please remember, I will be always by your sie whenever you want..”

As they were coming out of the school gate, to their utter horror, the watchman of the school appeared from nowhere. He knew Sumita quite well and was surprised to see her in the company of a young man at that odd hour. He gave them a searching look.
“He is a distant relative of ours. I brought him here to show the school,” Sumita said walking past the glaring eyes of the watchman who smiled maliciously at the uncalled for information.

“Parwej, we are in serious trouble. In couple of hours, the whole village will know of my inexplicable presence at this isolated place at this hour and that too with a stranger.”
Parwej didn’t know what to say.
“Parwej, please run away as fast as you can, take lift from any vehicle going to the railway station and catch the first train to your place,” Sumita pleaded with Parwej who refused to leave her alone.
“Parwej, there is but one justice in this part of the world. That you, from a different community have been seen in the company of a Brahmin girl is reason enough to kill you and kill me. It will be a humiliating, insulting brutal death. Please run away … I will face whatever the fate has ordained for me.”
“It is our fate and we will face it together. I am not leaving you alone,” Parwej said holding her hand firmly.

The lovers finally decided to run away from the imminent danger vowing to face the world together. They had a streak of luck. A Petrol tanker gave them a lift up to railway station. They took the first train leaving the station and reached Rampur next evening, the place of Parwej’s work.

The school watchman lost no time in spreading the news of young couple found in the school courtyard. Soon the Mishra household was on fire. The women howled in side the four walls as men ran in every direction to catch the culprits.
Next morning, everyone of the village knew of the humiliating episode. In the afternoon there was a village panchayat and justice was remitted instantaneously. The errant couple was condemned to death by hanging publicly. The Mishra family was admonished and fined for not keeping a watch over their daughter. The penalty collected from them was given to a search party to trace the couple.

It was the most humiliating day in the life of Pandit Ram Kripal Mishra. He wished his daughter and her lover were caught and brought before him; he would have hacked them to pieces and burnt them.
Away from the Mishra household in a small dingy lane in Rampur, Parwej married Sumita in the presence of a Maulavi and a few of his friends.


Sumita missed her folks. She wrote a few letters to her father seeking his pardon. There was but no reply. Two years later they had a son. They named him Arif. Arif’s birth brought her happiness in half a measure for her parents were not there to share her happiness.
Sumita’s string of woes was not over for it was for sometime that Parwej had felt pain in his abdomen. He often missed his work. One evening when the pain was unbearable, Sumita took him to a hospital. The doctors after few tests told her that Parwej was having cancer and advised her to take him to a bigger town.
Sumita had no money. She wrote once again to her father and her brothers. “Parwej is dying for want of treatment. I need you at this moment. Please help me, come to my rescue.”
The reply from her father was brisk.
“For me, you died the day you brought shame to the family. We have already performed your shradh ceremony (performed for the deceased relations) and we all went to Hardwar for a bath in holy Ganga to absolve ourselves of the sins committed by you.. You don’t exist for us any more and sooner the better if the man you are living with also dies.”

It was a long painful wait and she waited helplessly, watching Parwej grimace with pain and vomit blood, life oozing out of him and then one day Parwej died leaving her alone with a small child of three years.

Sumita decided to leave Rampur and move to Delhi for she wanted to get lost in the anonymity of the big city. There was only one thought in her mind.
“I will do anything and everything to bring up this child, give him good education and make him a worthy citizen like his father.”

Her first day in Delhi was horrible. For the whole day she went from house to house asking for a job.
In big cities people are suspicious and apprehensive. Carrying her child from one place to another, she was tired and her legs were aching. She was exasperated, didn’t know where to pass the night for she knew she may be picked up by the police or the vagabonds and she dreaded both the prospects.
She purchased a loaf of bread and entered a nullah on the side of a road, which lead to a depressed ground and then to a cemetery. She saw a hand pump and sat there and then took out the loaf of bread, which she shared with her son. She drank water from the hand pump and poured some in her son’s mouth.
It was dark and she could listen to the whizzing of the mosquitoes and echoing toad calls. She put her child on the ground next to her and rested against a tombstone. The fear of ghosts, which haunted her all her life had suddenly disappeared from her mind.

Next morning she collected her meager belongings and holding her son in her arms she went around the colonies seeking a job. For three days she went from door to door pleading for a job.
No one would trust her.
There was no money left with her. She had not been able to feed her son for two days. She then decided to beg. Her heart cried when she got two stale chapattis and left over vegetable.

“What would my father do if he were to see me begging and eating the leftover, filthy food,” the thought suddenly crossed her mind and then putting a morsel in her son’s mouth she smiled wryly.

That night she could not sleep. She remembered Parwej and she remembered her father and her mother who once loved her dearly. The night passed as she watched her son blissfully sleeping close to her chest.

Next morning she walked towards the slums along the nullah looking for some idle space. The sun was hot and she felt very weak. She could not walk any more and sat down near a garbage dump. The stink was unbearable but her legs were failing. Looking at her pale, listless son, at times she thought he was dead and then she would feel his pulse and place her hands over his nostrils. Fatigue and hunger finally took the toll, her eyes were hazy, her head reeled and she lost consciousness.

“You have fever and your child is also in very bad condition. Take some water,” she heard an old man and noticed that she was inside a small thatched hut.

Sumita hesitated.
The old man looked at Sumita and stretching a helping hand he said, “I will stay with the neighbours. You can stay here until you find some alternative shelter.”

Sumita was startled by the offer from an unknown person. She was amazed further to see everyone in that slum keen to help her. No one asked her past, her religion or her caste. It was selfless, spontaneous help for a fellow being. The old man on learning that she was an educated woman arranged a job for her in a private clinic. The neighbours helped her raise a hut.

It began with cleaning of floors and other menial jobs. Sumita was not disheartened; she took it in a proper stride. Over the years, she was given better jobs and finally made an office attendant. She had put Arif in a school. As he grew, young Arif watched his mother toiling for his bright future.
“You must work hard to uphold the name of your father,” Sumita often told Arif who even as a young child was determined to do so. He did very well in the school, qualified for a scholarship followed by a career in medicine.

It was nearly twenty years ago that Sumita had come to that slum colony. Arif was now a doctor and had taken up a job in the same clinic where his mother was now the Office Supervisor.
Sumita often remembered her past and she remembered her parents and her days with Parwej. For all these years she had been isolated from her folks physically though mentally she could not help.

One evening some one brought an old man to the clinic. He had fallen from a bus while getting off. He was seriously wounded and bleeding profusely.
The nurse on duty came running to Sumita and told her that there was an accident case and that the patient was sinking and that she should inform the police since it was a medico-legal case.
“Take him to OT. I will call Dr. Arif,” Sumita told the nurse as she picked up the phone to call the doctor.

That night and the following day, the patient was in the ICU after an operation. Sumita did not leave him even for a second despite the nurses telling her to take some rest. Dr. Arif noticed it and guessed that the patient was someone his mother knew and was perhaps close to her.
The patient was old, very weak and anaemic. Dr. Arif felt that he needs blood transfusion immediately. He was amused to learn that the blood group of the old man’s and that of his own was the same. Since no donor was available and the matching blood was not available in the clinic, he offered to donate his blood for the patient.

When the patient came to his senses he asked for water.
Sumita picked a glass of water and brought it to his lips. After a couple of sips, the patient opened his eyes. It was Pandit Ram Kripal Mishra looking at his daughter, Sumita.

Ram Kripal Singh was in a very weak condition. Sumita had told about him to her son. Dr. Arif and Sumita were taking care of him personally. Slowly he gained health and was now in a position to walk around.

“Sumita, my child, I know I have been harsh to you. You see, I could not have defied the panchayat.”
He paused for a little and then added, “Later, I didn’t help you when you asked for it since I could not reconcile to the fact that you, a Brahmin girl had married a Muslim. You see, there are social norms and traditions, which we must uphold lest there was a social anarchy ……. hope you understand.”
“Father, lets not talk of bygone days. Perhaps God willed it that way. I am happy that I was of some service to you.”

Ram Kripal Mishra wanted Sumita to accompany him to his village. “People have forgotten the episode and your mother is no more. Besides, here you are living a lonely life.”
Sumita declined the offer politely.
Ram Kripal Mishra was unhappy at his daughter’s decision. He was now keen to return to his village. He told Sumita, “But for you and that young doctor, I would have not survived. He is a highly skilled doctor. Besides, his blood is running in my veins. I will remain obliged to him forever.”
Sumita remained quiet.
Ram Kripal continued, he was quite enthused, “The doctor is very handsome ………. looks like a scion of a royal family…….. Do you know anything about his family?” He was inquisitive.
Sumita looked at the emaciated old man and then said in a low voice, “He is Dr. Arif Qureshi, the son of my ostracized Muslim husband.”