Dayal Mansion, close to the famous Banganga tank was an old one -storey building built by a British General in the early 1900s. It had tiled roofs at the top and heavy doors to each of the innumerable rooms.
The bathrooms were big enough to accommodate half a dozen guests – Bhikhu thought. “What do they do in the big bathrooms anyway? “
The ground floor had marble floorings that Bhikhu had never seen before. The supply of water, directly from the taps intrigued him.
Amrat, the older and the only surviving son of Dayal mama had a spacious room all to himself. He always remained deep in his studies – or so it seemed. Like Bhikhu he too was a reserved boy so in a way they were to get along well.
In the late evening hours, the mansion suddenly came alive. The battalion of servants ran hither thither to ensure that the house was in an absolute order for Dayaljee whose driver honked in advance as soon the huge Desoto car turned the nearest corner into the mansion.
Everyone, alert and tense in the house, was ready to hurry up and cater to the slightest wish of their master.
Jamna had dozed off in a fancy bed. Bhikhu stood there in the large veranda, biting his nails nervously.
The behemoth Desoto car halted in the porch, the driver expertly shot out of his seat, came around and opened the back door of the car with a flourish for the master.
The scene had all the elements of the grand reception to a King except perhaps for the 21 Gun salute.
Dayaljee Solicitor, dressed in his immaculate dark blue suit and a matching tie, stepped out of the car regally, his pipe dangling from his mouth carelessly and a facial expression fit for the satrap of a kingdom. He had prematurely grey hair that was neatly combed.
He stepped in the entrance hall with a servant in the tow with his leather suitcase, smiled and waited.
“Where is Jamnaben?”
“Please have a seat, solicitor saheb, they just arrived an hour ago and resting. I will wake her up …” His wife, Bhikhu’s mami, Savita, addressed him as ‘Solicitor Saheb’
“No no, let her relax. I will meet her as soon as I freshen up. Send a cup of tea right away” the solicitor was business-like even at home.
A couple of servants waiting to serve, ran towards the kitchen while Savita took his coat and gave it to another servant.
She loved doing it; out of respect for the self-made man.
The living room was a humongous and to an extent, a filthy show of wealth. Several masterpieces of European painters proudly hung on the ornate walls. However, the one photograph that hung near the entrance to the study room of the solicitor was the most striking. It showed the temple of Anaval, with the Ambika river flowing past and the tree-lined entrance to the temple.
Anaval – the most sacred temple of the deity Mahadev that Anavils worshipped. While the Anavil Brahmins community to which Dayaljee belonged was spread across the region in South Gujarat between Surat and Vapi; Anaval near Gandeva – Dayaljee’s ancestral village – was the most sacred – as sacred as Kashi (Benaras) was to all Hindus in general. The temple was a part of many a legends/folklores mainly elaborating on the rise of Anavils from the days of Lord Ram’s visit to the jungle of Dangs, all the way to the battles and skirmishes with the local Bhil community, residing in the hills, that often invaded the Anavil villages in the plains.
Jamna woke up from her short slumber disturbed by all the commotion around, got up and made her way to Savita’s room.
‘Arey Bhabhi, looks like Bhaay is here. Where is he?”
Savita smiled “ Yes, Jamna bahen, he just arrived a few minutes ago and will be with you as soon he freshens up.
“Bhikhu beta, wash your face and comb your hair. See Motamama will be with us soon”
Bhikhu followed his Maa’s command like an obedient child; quickly did all that Maa had advised and reappeared like a chastised pupil.
The driver of Dayaljee appeared very briefly to ask Savita if he could go home.
“Yes, please. Solicitor saheb may not go out now. You may leave the car keys with Ramjee the caretaker and go”
Dayaljee strode into Savita’s room with a cup of tea in his hand.
“Arey Jamnaben, you are here! We are so happy to see you.” Pointing to Bhikhu “.. And this is my dear nephew Bhikhu! Hello son. Seeing you I almost feel my Ranjit is here with me” Dayaljee, the powerful solicitor wiped his moist eyes unabashedly.
Dayaljee bowed slightly to his sister Jamna who promptly blessed him by touching his head lovingly.
Bhikhu followed suit by touching his Uncle’s feet.
Dayaljee held Bhikhu’s head in his hands and kept staring at him with awe. ‘You are a big boy now, aren’t you?”
“Hey Savita did these people have something to eat. They must be hungry”
“Jamnaben dozed off on reaching here so I did not disturb her. Here comes the Tea and some homemade snacks”
“Let us all go to the dining table “ Dayaljee led everyone to the ornate dining table with hand-carved chairs positioned around.
“Bhaay, Thakorjee has been so unkind to you and Savita Bhabhi….” Jamna re-opened the wounds
“Savita has been disconsolate; but I have been able to absorb the shock, having immersed myself in work.”
“I know Bhaay and that is why I am here to be with her for some time.”
“So nice of you Motiben. Do not be in a hurry to go home”
“Bhikhu and I have to go back by next Poonam,( Full Moon Night). You know, Kashi cannot manage the milking of buffalo for very long, She has her own house to manage.”
“And what about Bhikhu? Oh I forgot! He cleared the matriculate exam. They tell me he is very bright in studies!”
“Arey Bhikhu go and get your report card for Motamama. You know he stood first in the village. You must bless him to become a solicitor like you”
“Wow,” Dayaljee couldn’t hide his surprise looking at Bhikhu’s report card; “ he is so good at Mathematics and Science – he is more suited to become a big scientist!”“What is that, Bhaay? I do not know what you are talking about. Why not a big solicitor like you?” Jamna was a bit disappointed at his advice
“Arey Motiben, I wish Amrat had such good grades in Science and Mathematics like Bhikhu. The job of a solicitor is not good, having to get into all sorts of legal tangles with unknown people whose background we don’t even know”
“Ok here is a deal. Let Bhikhu stay back here to live with us and I will educate him in whatever he wants to pursue. Ok?”
“But what will I do all by myself in that house, Bhaay ?” the idea of leaving Bhikhu even with her own brother was scary – exhibiting the insecurity of a widow for the first time
‘Arey Jamnaben why don’t you too stay here with us?” Savita had a ready solution
“Naa re baapaa naa. I can allow my son to build his career here but me? No way. I can’t leave MY house” Jamna wiped her mouth with the pallu of her saree.
Jamna let her son Bhikhu stay back and study hard to become a Solicitor. No one knew what exactly lay in store for Bhikhu. It was hard for Jamna to go back to a lonely life once again but being a determined woman she cast her doubts and fears aside and left for her home in Sarbhon soon with an acquaintance of Dayaljee.
How Bhikhu coped with the pressures of a big city like Bombay, his studies and a strange kind of loneliness, away from his roots – we will know in a new series of stories later.