Friday, March 27, 2009

THE LIFE OF THE PEOPLE OF GOTARU

Author’s Note: It is now 60 years that India got its political independence. Surely, there has been economic development in the country. The per capita income has gone up, child mortality has decreased and literacy percentage has increased and so on. These are but statistics bolstered by government slogans like Garibi Hatao (Poverty Alleviation), India Shining, Bharat Nirman and many more. The reality is that life has not changed much for the rural poor. Distribution of wealth in the country has been acutely uneven. Stark poverty still exists amongst millions who have neither shelter over their heads nor are they fortunate enough to have daily meal and it is a deprecating irony that in this very country there are privileged few spending millions on personal amusement and recreation.


In the sands of Great Indian Desert in the Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan, there is a small village called Gotaru. The dusty outskirts of the village now form the international boundary. The population is a mix of Bhils, Gujjars and Meenas, the backward castes among Hindus and Muslims. They are however identified by their professions such as cobblers, carpenters, masons, blacksmiths and other such trades. Lure of money has now added occupations like pimping, stealing, bootlegging and smuggling to the list. However, the most unfortunate development in the past half century has been the division of the people on religious basis, which the old men and women say didn’t exist in the pre-independence days. The divide is the gift of politicians, the modern destiny makers of the poor people.
In fact, in good old days, religion for the people of Gotaru meant following a few common rituals on the occasions of birth, marriage and death. Id, Holi and Diwali were celebrated collectively by Hindus as well as Muslims. Firewood being difficult to get, even the Hindus buried their dead. Survival in fact was the essence of life.

There is an earthen mound on the east-end of Gotaru. The mound has a cave facing east. Perhaps it was a temple since the half-buried and withered pillars have yakshas and Kinners carved on them. No one knows when the structure was constructed and by whom? The people call it mati-tillah. In the past, the cattle and children of the village soiled the place, and there never was any feud over its ownership. Instigated by politicians and religious leaders, today it has become a bone of contention between the two communities.

Hakim Sah is an old man of the village. He is one of the five panchs of the village panchayat. He doesn’t know his age.
“I may be seventy, may be eighty, may be less, I really don’t know and really come to think of it, how does it matter?” He says feebly.
Hakim Sah was a tall man with broad shoulders, which were now drooping because of age. In his young days, he had a camel and was engaged in ferrying goods. His entire life is a saga of oppression, exploitation, persecution, hunger, pettiness and crime. He has killed strangers for few silver coins and he has acted as a pimp without any compunction. But today, he is infirm and helpless, unsure of his next meal.
Pherumal is a contemporary of Hakim Sah. Both of them have spent their years in and around Gotaru. Pherumal was a blacksmith by profession. They were close friends who had shared happiness, pain, sorrow, liquor, stolen booty and prostitutes.
Pherumal is no better than Hakim Sah in terms of health and worldly possession. He lives under a perforated tarpaulin stretched between two mud walls, secured to a Neem tree on one side and a keekar bush on the other.

1942 was the year when Congress Party workers wearing white khadi had come to Gotaru. It was the year when Quit-India Movement had stormed the entire country. The party workers were carrying the tri-colour flags. There were Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in that group. All of them were shouting Inquilab. The people of Gotaru don't remember the details. They only remember that the group talked of freedom from the British rule and that they promised better life for every Indian after the white men were driven out of the country.
Hakim Sah squints when you ask him the difference in his life after the white men had left. His face gets distorted with the wrinkles. He is circumspect, perhaps flabbergasted by the relevancy of the question.
“What change? A Raja is a Raja and the Praja is Praja always. The former is born to rule and the later, to be ruled. What difference does it make whether the Raja had a white skin or brown skin? We will always remain the Praja, the servile,” he laments.

The year 1947 changed the course of the history of the Indian sub-continent. It was a difficult year for the people of Gotaru. They were told that half a mile away, from the other side of the village nullah, a new nation of Pakistan had been created. The people of Gotaru could never conceive the prudence of the decision. In fact, the Tangia, a village on the other side of the nullah with identical population composition was now part of Pakistan. Apart from poverty and hunger, which were common on either side, the people of Tangia and Gotaru were related to each other by marriage. Besides, the masons from Tangia and the carpenters and painters of Gotaru worked in both the villages and even beyond. The division of the country had curtailed their movement, making life more difficult.

Hakim Sah was once caught and severely beaten by the border police. He thereafter discontinued going to the other side of the nullah. Over the years, his body strength drained out and he could not bear the treachery of the sandy tracks.
Hakim Sah had two children, a son and a daughter. His daughter, Sabina was married to Sahnawaj, a camel rider from Tangia village. Sahnawaj unfortunately died in a clash with his own people over a land scuffle leaving behind a daughter, Sakina of two years.
Life became difficult for Sabina and her daughter. Sabina was in her early thirties and when an elderly cousin of her husband proposed to her, she married him even though her new husband had six children and two wives. Sabina was not welcomed in the new family. The senior wives of her husband often insulted her and her daughter Sakina was always last to get meals. About a year later, her husband's amorous interest in her waned and he considered Sabina to be an unnecessary additional mouth to feed. One day he took unsuspecting Sabina to Karachi and sold her off to a brothel keeper.
When Hakim Sah came to know of it, he went to Tangia and brought his grand daughter, Sakina to Gotaru.

Hakim Sah's son, Aftab didn't like his father. The dislike was mutual. Aftab disliked the look of a camel and refused to accompany Hakim Sah on his business errands. Aftab became a rebel and finally turned in to a petty thief and a bootlegger. He was caught, beaten up by the border police several times but the habit didn't die. Whenever he got some money, he spent it on liquor and prostitutes. Today, Aftab is mentally and physically diseased. Children tease him and you can see him loitering and begging in Gotaru and adjoining villages.

Pherumal too had a daughter and a son. The son joined his father when he was eleven. Working on a furnace in the blazing desert is understandably a very tiring job. Pherumal after day's work would find relief in a bottle of country liquor, which he often shared with Hakim Sah. Pherumal’s son soon adopted his father's passion for drinking and smoking and in the prime of youth he became a victim of tuberculoses. He often suffered chest pain followed by vigorous bouts of coughing. On such occasions, Pherumal would give him liquor to bear the pain. The battle didn't last long. One day when pain was acute and he was heavily intoxicated, the young lad vomited his lungs out. Life deserted him with black fluid oozing from his mouth. Pherumal's son died at the young age without any descendent.
As time passed and Pherumal got over the grief of losing his son, he became sad for not having a male descendant. Pherumal wanted to have one, at any cost. One night he entered the hut of his son's widow. The young widow resisted but failed and capitulated to Pherumal's irresistible desire to have a male descendent.
Pherumal was happy over his triumph. His wife as well as his daughter-in-law had succumbed to his desire. Everything was working to his liking, unaware that the widow but had her own plans. One day, the young widow left the village for some unknown destination. Pherumal was disappointed, not for losing his daughter-in-law but for losing all hopes of having a male descendant.

Pherumal's daughter, Kajari was married to a young man from the adjoining village, Tanot, which was a tehsil of Jaisalmer district. Kajari’s husband was in the service of Thakur Kripal Singh, the landlord of Tanot village. The Thakur owned five hundred acres of land tilled by bonded labourers. Apart from money, Thakur Kripal Singh also liked wine and women. He had more than a dozen Goli-maids in his harem to satisfy his carnal desires. Kajari was initially employed as farm labour. One day Thakur Kripal Singh saw her and he was stuck by her bewitching beauty and figure. He immediately ordered that Kajari be added to his harem as his new Goli.
It is the duty of a Goli to serve the master and to satiate his sexual desires. A Goli's husband has no right over her body and it was sacrilegious for the husband to touch or desire his wife. The Goli and her husband were however duty-bound to accept the children sired out of the companionship with the master but children from a Goli had no right over the property of their biological father.
Over a period, Kajari was pregnant and was removed from Thakur's service. To her ill luck, one evening she was seen in the company of her husband who could not resist the charm of his wife. The inevitable followed. Kajari was paraded nude in the haveli and beaten till she fainted. Thakur Kripal Singh then ordered to throw her outside his haveli.
No one ever saw Kajari's husband. The story goes that he was hacked to death by Thakur's men and pieces of his body thrown in to a dry well.
Pregnant Kajari came to her parents who refused to accept her. Living behind her parents' hut, one night she gave birth to a son. Two weeks later, Kajari kept the newly born son below the cot of her father and left Gotaru in search of a new life. Nothing was heard of her thereafter.
Pherumal reconciled with his fate and accepted his grandson from Kajari. He named the young child, Panna.

Pherumal and Hakim Sah had grown old and infirm, unable to continue their profession. Pherumal’s family inherited a little knowledge of herbs. Unable to work at the furnace, he now practised as village quack. The two friends would sit together in the evening and talk of the bygone days and their miseries. Hakim Sah would bring his hookah. They would make a small fire out of dung cakes and smoke hookah, coughing phlegm now and then. In the winter months they would sit on the mati-tillah whole day, smoking and lazing around in the sun.

II

Young Panna, the grand son of Pherumal, was extraordinarily sharp. He didn't want to be a blacksmith. When eleven, he ran away to Jaipur and got the job of a dishwasher in a road-side restaurant. A couple of years later, he was employed by a retired army officer who had turned to politics. There, Panna had the opportunity of observing sly, deceitful, lascivious and hippocratic lives of the political leaders. He was amused watching politicians changing colours faster than the legendary chameleons. It was a training ground for Panna and he learnt the art with amazing alacrity.
Panna often went to his village and gave some money and small gifts out of his savings to his grandparents. Pherumal was very proud of his grandchild.

Panna was distressed to see the pathetic living conditions of his people in Gotaru and around. He felt that the upper caste landlords were ruling the country, exploiting the vote bank of the poor and down trodden. Pherumal and Hakim Sah were worried by Panna’s views, which he propagated openly. They always advised him to lie low. “We are Praja, destined to be ruled; they are Rajas.”
“That is a deep rooted fear instilled in you by the upper castes. They are the people who have made the rituals establishing their superiority. No other society anywhere in the world has such discrimination. It is time that we revolted against social persecution,” Panna often told the young boys and girls of his community.

Panna knew that democracy was the virtue of multitude. He wanted to harness this power, which he knew rested in his people. But the response from his people was far from encouraging. Centuries of servility and impoverishes, ridden with domineering rituals to respect the upper caste had left them timid and meek.
Panna wanted his people to realise that power belonged to them if they mustered courage. He was undeterred by their diffidence. He cultivated young men and women from his community and developed a network of volunteers to take up people’s problems with the district authorities. In couple of years, Panna became a known entity in political circles and consequently an eyesore to the upper caste political leaders.

The elections for the State Assembly had been announced. Panna was busy running from one village to another with his young friends. He had gained a lot of ground, which prompted almost every candidate in the fray to take him on his side. Panna declined all such requests and sent across messages to his people wait for his word until the eve of the election.
One evening Thakur Kripal Singh who was the District Chief of a political party called him to his haveli. Panna anticipated such invitation.
. "Look, you are a Hindu. In fact, your mother was in my employment. I suppose you understand…. I mean ….. ,” Thakur Kripal Singh was feeling uneasy to explain the relationship. With a little pause, he continued, “Why don’t you join us and work for me? If you garner all Hindu votes, I will surely win and for that you will be amply rewarded,” Thakur Kripal Singh was forthright.
"Thakur Saheb, you have been winning the Tanot seat for last thirty years. Please tell me what have you done so far? People go twenty kilometres to fetch water. There is no hospital here and in the absence of roads, the patients die before they can be taken to district hospital. The school is without teachers and its building is in a dilapidated condition.”
Thakur Kripal Singh was not prepared for such outburst but he didn’t want to precipitate the situation.
“Look, I promise to bring all these facilities to the villagers. I do realize that I should have been more attentive to these problems of the people but I assure that hereafter these public demands will be my priority.”
“Thakur Saheb, I see no specific reasons in your change of heart. The fact is you have been exploiting their ignorance, miseries and poverty. And now you are playing communal card. I want to tell them that if they remain united, the power belongs to them. I want them not to be swayed by your communal propaganda. I want to tell them that irrespective of our religion, all of us belong to the oppressed caste.”
The Thakur was infuriated. It was an outright insolence. It was an insult from the man whose mother was once his Goli.
He left the meeting in a huff.
"I don't want to talk to that bastard. Keep a watch over him and find out his weaknesses. Do something to keep the son of a bitch silenced," he told his cronies.

Panna continued with his campaign relentlessly. Slowly he was getting the attention of his people. The number of people coming to hear him was increasing. Thakur Kripal Singh was getting the alarming reports from his party workers. He decided to remove the thorn once for all.
One evening Panna and couple of his friends went to Tanot to attend a marriage. The host treated Panna and his friends reverentially and served them liquor in a separate room on a lavish scale. The drinking spree came to an end with Panna and his friends vomiting blood. A couple of hours later they died writhing in pain. The police declared it a case of death caused by consuming spurious liquor and closed the case.

For Pherumal it was a stunning blow. He could never recover from it. Hakim Sah was sad for he loved Panna but he couldn’t muster courage to go to Pherumal to offer his condolences.

Thakur Kripal Singh once again won the Tanot seat. Years have passed by without anything changing for the people of Gotaru.

III

It was the month of June. Sun was at its nadir. The wells had dried. People had to go long distance to fetch water, which was highly contaminated. There was an outbreak of cholera in the region. Death stalked every home. Children were dying every other day and those alive, were worst than the dead, their famished bodies looked awful.
Thakur Kripal Singh, the MLA had no time to come to Gotaru. He was in fact busy mustering support to stake his claim to become a minister.
In Gotaru, people's strength and courage was failing. There was no succour coming from any quarter. The government dispensary was twenty miles away. The village road made by the government agencies had vanished under the sand dunes.

The villagers all went to Pherumal for he was their last hope for some treatment of the dying. Pherumal had no children left in his family after Panna had died under mysterious conditions.
"Why have you come to me? What is left of my family that I should treat your children?" He shouted in anguish but his heart told him to save the children.

Pherumal had seen children dying in last few days. After every death the village was getting re-united. Everyone went to the bereaved family irrespective of its caste and creed. Pherumal with his shaking hands was administering the herbs to the children, writhing in pain and dying.
Pherumal remembered Panna’s words, “Our strength lies in our unity. Remember, no one will come from outside to help us.”

After six decades of independence, Gotaru is still a cluster of dilapidated huts. Withering mud walls supporting tattered tarpaulins mark the landscape. Children with running noses and perennial layers of dust on their body play with chickens, goats and dogs. The school, six miles away from the village is mostly inaccessible due to scalding sand or marshy patches during rainy season. The doctors seldom remain the in the dispensary, which is twenty kilometres away from Gotaru. Men in the pursuit of livelihood cross the border and are often caught, beaten and at times maimed or even killed.

The life of the people of Gotaru still remains a tale of unmitigated miseries, poverty, neglect and oppression in modern India.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

THE SOLITARY COMPANIONS

Author's Note: Friends, HOLI the festival of Colours is nearing (10-11 March). I wish all my readers A COLOURFUL TIME WITH HAPPINESS OF ALL HUES.
This is a story of an old couple living a secluded life, a situation now becoming common even in the oriental societies. Hope you like the story. I look forward to more followers and comments.

It was the month of November but the weather had suddenly become cold for Delhi. It was a gloomy morning because of cloudy sky. Sudha had just recovered from a bout of fever but the old age ailments persisted along with perennial arthritis. A day earlier, she had taken out her woolens. For Delhi, it was rather unusual but she felt she as well as her husband needed them.
She asked Vijay Mohan her husband, a retired government servant who was still cozying in side a quilt if he wanted another cup of tea.
“Coffee,” he said not taking his eyes off from the newspaper. Reading paper in the morning was his favorite past time, rather the only past time after retirement.
Yes, passing time after retirement from a government job needs great deal of adjustment. Thirty five years with government leaves you indolent and inert. It is like an ox, suddenly set free from his burden. Suddenly, there is nothing to hurry about, no urgency and no one asking for you or shuttling around you.

It is difficult to grade how successful a government servant has been. Promotions come with years; good placements and postings by appeasement and recognition by pretences – seldom by substance. Vijay Mohan had a share of all. A middle path addict, one who always played safe - no overdrive, generally that is what most government servants come to be.
For his wife Sudha, Vijay Mohan has always been a lazy person, which was now a blessing in disguise- it helped in easy transition to the new life with fewer activities.

“Some time, I wonder how you would have lived without me. You always needed coaxing, someone to goad you. Basically, you have been a lazy man,” she had told him the previous evening.
“Not in all matters,” he had replied with a broad grin.
“You are incorrigible.”
Vijay Mohan reflected and then told her, “Tell me, didn’t you, somewhere from deep inside you, want me to be lazy? To be dependent on you, to be always running around you.”
“That is grossly unfair”
“I know it was out of love in days gone by and empathetic affection now.”
“You always like to win.”
“Of course, I do.”
She waited for a few moments and then said in a somber tone, “I never tried; in fact, I never wanted to win over you for I knew it would hurt you.”

The remark had touched him to the quick. Suddenly, it was a revelation coming to him after thirty-five years of marriage. He was shaken. He always thought her to be a simple, dedicated wife, seconded to him, heart, mind and soul with no opinion of her own. If what she said was true then he had lived under an illusion. The thought perturbed him.
Sipping coffee, he became pensive. Yes, now he remembered. Whenever there were arguments between them, she conceded. And if his judgment went wrong, she never reproached him.
“Never mind, things could have happened either way. Let’s forget about it,” she would tell him on such occasions.
“How easy it has been to fool myself and na├»ve of me to have continued with it for perpetuity,” he now pondered.

“Sudha, you make good coffee,” he said trying to get over his ugly mood.
“If that is a compliment, you repeat it too often,” Sudha tried to humour him.
“My dear, I was never parsimonious in complimenting. I have a vast reservoir of compliments not utilized to its full potential. It is like an un-utilized, idle capital,” he said with a sardonic smile.
Sudha ignored the remark.
“Now, get up you lazy bum. You have to go to the bank today.”
“Yes, I remember but give me another cup of coffee before I move out”
“No more coffee for you.”
“Half, no?”
“God, you are impossible.”
“Sudha, if that is a compliment, you repeat it too often,” he said with a broad grin.

That was the life Sudha and Vijay Mohan lived, spread over a narrow canvass. After Vijay Mohan’s retirement they were living in a small flat in South Delhi. Their daughter, Anita, and son Arun, were both married and settled. Arun had in fact, shifted to Bangalore a couple of years ago on transfer though Vijay Mohan and Sudha always suspected that Arun had managed it on the bidding of his wife to stay away from them.
Vijay Mohan had laboured hard in grooming Arun during his school days and spent his entire savings to get him an MBA seat in a reputed private institution. Sudha and Vijay Mohan were elated when Arun had qualified and was offered a position in a renowned multi national company.

Arun was now an awfully busy and ambitious like all middle level business executives. After hectic office hours, he generally had busy evenings. He liked developing contacts and partying with an eye on furtherance of his business prospects. Arun’s contact with his parents was mostly over phone or during a snap business visit to Delhi.

Their daughter, Anita lived nearby, at a walking distance. She was a teacher in a public school and her husband was an army officer who was posted most of the time on border. Vijay Mohan and Sudha took care of Anita and her son. They would often take their grandchildren to the nearby park in the evening and watch them playing. Those were the blissful moments in their life.
Anita was busier when her husband came on leave. During those days, she would leave her son with her parents. It used to be a big melee in Sudha’s place on such occasions. The children would run around, jump and shriek in the small flat, which at times irritated Arun though he never expressed his discomfiture.

Years rolled by. Arun and Anita were busy in their family matters and their children had grown up with their own circle of friends and they had no time or empathy for their grandparents. In fact, it was a painful realization for Sudha and Vijay Mohan that their grandchildren often avoided them.

A few years later Anita’s husband took voluntary retirement from the army and started a travel agency. He was not good at it and soon his entire investment was eroded. Besides, his flare for socialization left him short of money. The only option left was to wind up his business, which required clearing the outstanding liabilities. He pressurized Anita to ask for some financial help from her Anita knew that her parents had some savings in the form of term deposits. She was reluctant initially but he pressure from her husband mounted every day. She broached the subject with her mother. Vijay Mohan felt it was an outrageous suggestion but finally yielded and gave most of his savings to Anita.

It was the month of January. For a lonely old couple, days in winter are short and evenings are long and gloomy. Sudha was down with viral fever and virtually bed ridden. They could not come out for over a week.
Vijay Mohan had always been a bad attendant. He could never locate any article for he never remembered its normal place nor did he ever place a thing back at its original place, which made re-locating it a difficult and long drawn process.
“This house is in a mess,” he would shout but grin when Sudha found the item he was looking for.
“How did you manage in your office?” She once asked him.
“I had efficient people around me to take care of everything.”
“You are a thoroughly spoiled, un-redeemable gone case. But, to be honest, I am to be blamed for this.”
“Are you taking credit for looking after my needs?”
“No, I take blame for spoiling you.”
“Hope its not self complimenting?”
“No, it is rather a confession,” she said and smiled.

The doctor, attending Sudha told her to avoid exposure to cold. “Keep you woolens on. It helps in arthritis. The change in weather makes it worse,” the doctor had advised.
Vijay Mohan was nervous as was his wont. He always got perturbed by trifle issues. Of late, this tendency had increased. If laundry man did not turn up on the fixed day and the hour of the week, he would worry to no end. If Sudha didn’t return from market at the expected hour, he would get panicky with ominous thoughts haunting him.
Sudha on the other hand seldom lost her cool. She would take care of the house, the guests and all house-hold chores. Vijay on the other hand would lose his nerve if he found too many people in the house.

Vijay Mohan remembered the by-gone days as he handed over the tablets and a glass of water to Sudha. Yes, there used to be children and guests in the house, and Sudha handled matters deftly. In fact, she made things go smooth and problems overcome un-noticed. When required, she would give medicine at scheduled hour, prepare tea and snacks for the visitors and attend to rest of the house-hold without any hassle. Vijay Mohan admired his wife tacitly for these qualities.

Sudha knew Vijay Mohan’s predicament. “Why don’t you ring Anita? She can come and give you a helping hand.”
This infuriated Vijay Mohan. “You are laid down with fever for over a week now. Couldn’t she ring or send some one to find out whether we are alive or not?”
Sudha said nothing.
“It is a bloody selfish generation. I remember how you cared, days and nights for their comfort and look, today they don’t even think of us; have not even a minute for us.”
“That is the way of life. We looked after them as our children and they are doing the same for their children.”
“You mean children need not reciprocate?”
“Please give me a pain killer,” Sudha said trying to divert his thoughts.
“You spoiled them,” he said with a gruff.
“Yes, I spoiled all of you, I own it,” Sudha said managing a thin smile despite acute pain.
“There is milk in the refrigerator and there is bread and there are eggs. Make an omelet for your self,” she said trying to soften his ruffled feathers.
“What about you?”
“Give me corn-flakes with hot milk and try your skill in making coffee.”
Vijay Mohan gave her a stern look and moved to the kitchen. Sudha smiled again briefly.

Arun rang from Bombay and told him to take care when Vijay Mohan informed him of Sudha’s indisposition. It sounded a casual suggestion. Vijay Mohan was enraged. He took out a magazine and sat beside Sudha.
Then the door bell rang.
It was Anita’s son.
“Why are you sitting in the dark?” The young lad said switching on the lights. “And why didn’t you come to us?” He said looking at his grandparents and then noticing that his grandmother was lying on his bed, he continued.
“What is wrong with you, grandma?’
“Age, son, it is age.”
“Don’t talk riddles. You have not been coming to us and do you remember; you had promised to buy me a cricket bat. Next week is our school match and I must have the feel of the new bat.”
“Oh, I am sorry. You see I have been bedridden for the whole week. But I promise, I will get you one soon.”
“But I have to practice with it. Why don’t you give me the money? I will buy one my self.”
Vijay Mohan was incensed by the suggestion. Sudha cool as ever asked Vijay Mohan to give five hundred rupees from her purse to the young lad.
“Do well in the match,” she said briefly.
“I will and thank you grandma,” he said, picked up an apple from the fruit basket and ran away with the money.
Late in the evening, Anita rang up. “You should have given me a ring,” she told her father.
Vijay Mohan growled and handed the instrument to Sudha.
“Why shouldn’t it occur to them? They want others to do everything for them. Shouldn’t it worry them if they don’t hear from their old parents?”
“Vijay, take it easy. And now that she is coming to us in the evening, please stay cool.”


It was Sunday and Sudha’s birth day. Vijay Mohan always took great deal of interest in celebrating Sudha’s birth day. In the olden days, it used to be a hectic day for the family. There were phone calls and in the evening they would go out for dinner and make merry. Life then was full of mirth and joy.
That day they waited all morning, sitting close to the telephone, expecting their children to call. There was none, not even from their grandchildren. Sudha didn’t expect her son Arun to ring her for he had been often forgetting their birthday. It was always a belated greeting from him.
Sudha was sad and Vijay Mohan was anguished within but he didn’t want to spoil her day. There was whole day ahead of them and they did not know what to do.
Suddenly Vijay Mohan said, “Get ready, we will go out. We will drive to Sohna Lake.”
“You can not drive that long”
“We will hire a car. It is less than two hours drive and I remember you like the place. Let it be an exclusive picnic, birth day gift from me.”

Sun was mild and the breeze was pleasant. Vijay Mohan took a room in the motel and ordered lunch. They took the table overlooking the lake and had a quiet lunch. In the evening they came out and went to the lake and hired a boat. Sudha had brought coffee in a thermos and couple of cups.
“Additional cup of coffee, a yearly bonus for you,” she said handing him the cup.”
Vijay Mohan was moved.
“Sudha, I am very lucky to have you as my life partner. Today, I concede, life would have been terrible without you. Thank you darling for everything you did for me,” he said, overcome by emotion.
Sudha looked at him. She knew that he had been sincere to her all his life and that the words had come from his heart.
Tears welled in her eyes. She took his hands in hers and pressed them softly.

Vijay Mohan was then critical of his children.
“All our life, we strived for their happiness, tried to give them comfort even at our own cost. Shouldn’t they think of us? It is Sunday today. Anita could have come over or at least given you a ring. It is merely a sense of belonging that we look forward to.
“Vijay, you are over sensitive and that is your problem. You want everyone to be an idealist, which is a utopian situation.”
Vijay Mohan smiled. It was his typical cynical wry smile.
Sudha understood his feelings.
“You know I am often reminded of a saying –the cool far-end of a log doesn’t realize that the fire will reach it sooner or later - it is only a matter of time. What they are doing to us today, a day will come when their children will do the same to them.”
Vijay Mohan was dazed by her words. “I understand what you mean but it pains me that our children don’t realize that they have a duty towards us.”
“Look, let’s not bother. What matters is that we understand each other and make a perfect company.”

They walked along the lakeshore, hand in hand. The sun was going down, its golden arch making the lake surface aglow. The cool breeze was making fine ripples and there were little beautiful birds chirping around the green bushes.