Chapter 1: Jamna of Sarbhon
Bhikhu got up a bit late today. It had started drizzling early in the night and he had to make a dash into his house, gathering the untidy bedding with him. Jamana baa watched him scurry into the house “ Dikraa , dry your hair first; you may catch cold”
“No Maa it was just a drizzle” Bhikhu, never got upset his mother but he chose not to heed to his mother’s advice this time and tried to bury his head in the rolled out bed once again.
Jamana Baa, widowed recently, was a picture of quiet strength, her shaved head covered with the pallu of her red sari, her intense eyes hid her pain of losing her husband Morar too early in her life. Soon after she was married off to the handsome Morar, the label of ‘Aazad” stuck with her personality. Never to take any non-sense from anyone, not even Morar, She acquired a sort of notoriety in the quaint Kasba of Sarbhon. Why, she declined to be a simple, demure wife, at the beck and call of all elders.
She detested the call for ahinsa (nonviolent resistance) of the new breed of leader called Gandhi – “You are not going to get the freedom on a platter this way – you have to fight for your freedom” she would say.
She sang bhajans in her mellifluous voice in the early hours of the morning, grinding wheat grains.
Losing her first son at birth dealt a mortal blow. Then the second child, a girl, died of meningitis. She was distraught. Morar comforted her like a true loving husband. So the third one, Naaran, was precious. Elders advised Morar and Jamana to rename him Bhikhu, the one who was begged off from Gods, and leaning on close relatives, to buy clothes for him. A sort of fooling the Gods to say that he was not their son, “look we are not nurturing him. Please do not take him away because we are doomed to misfortune”
Jamna went about her morning chores with enthusiasm. After a quick bath, She folded her hands to the little temple of Thakorjee and then to the garlanded photo of Morar next to it.
“How are you Jamna? Count on me; I am at your service for anything you need” The aged widower Nathukaka was, as usual, was at the door. Jamna shot a nasty look at him, “nope“ and he turned away. “Shameless character “ Jamna mumbled.
Jamna got ready to face the day and face her own reflection in the palm sized mirror – it was same – the lovable symmetrical face sans the vermillion dot and the shaved head. The red pallu on the head gave the face a glow of a burning red brick. She hated the term ‘Ganga Swaroop’ (Pure like the eternally pure River the Ganga) ahead of her name. Was Ganga maiyaa a widow?
Bhikhu got up “Maa can I skip the school today?”
“No dikraa, you must not miss the school ever. You have to study well and become a big lawyer like your mama Dayaljee. Come on quick, have your bath, I will keep you hot rotla with baigan bhaatthaa on it – the way you like it”
Bhikhu knew. It was useless to disobey Maa. Her sense of discipline was unchallenged. Bhikhu got steeped into the same – He was a topper in the class.
Sport was something that he was not good at. Even here, Maa insisted that he went out to play the games that other boys played. Once Bhikhu injured his leg and his friends brought him home in a makeshift stretcher. Maa was calmness personified, nonchalantly applying the homemade paste of haldi (turmeric) and other ingredients, tied the wound up with a piece of clean cloth. “You will be all right tomorrow to go to school” She declared with a finality in her voice to the little Bhikhu wreathing in pain. ”Be strong, “ she added smiling at him.
But Bhikhu always fell short of her expectations. He was slightly built, easily getting cowed down to slightest pressure by his peers.
Was he still mourning the loss of his father? Maa would rather not give up. She was certain Bhikhu would be strong one day, just like her.
5 years later….
Jamna was on cloud 9 that day. Her Bhikhu came first in the school in the matriculate examination. Bhikhu was now a young boy with a ready smile. He was still a wiry thin boy but the mustache that he had grown gave him the looks of an imposing personality.
He was still not very good at conversation, unable to impress others with arguments. To Jamna his distinction marks in Science and Mathematics did not mean much.
“To be a good solicitor like my Dayalbhai he has to be good at conversation.” She reasoned
“What is the use of science and mathematics if one cannot put forward an argument to score a point?”
She had worked hard tilling the little piece of land with the help of some labourers acquainted with Morar. The land produced rice that barely allowed her to go on with the expenses. She had no savings to send Bhikhu to College at Navsari. All the big boys of rich farmers of Sarbhon studied at a famous college at Navsari.
“I am not going to pray to Thakorji for ensuring Bhikhu’s college education. “ the eternal fighter Jamna would not even beg the Gods for favours. “Work hard and the results would follow” she would advise anyone who had ears. God was there for your peace of mind not for seeking favours.
The shameless Nathukaka had mellowed with passing years but would occasionally hint at paying for the college education of her Bhikhu.
“He is a man of bad character, stay away from him” Poor Bhikhu had no idea about the designs of Nathukaka. He continued to respect him to the annoyance of Jamna.
That day the special postman brought a telegram for her. The sight of the postman with the telegram sent shivers down the spine of local villagers.
Bhikhu read the telegram with whatever his halting English would permit.
It was from her solicitor brother Dayalji from Mumbai breaking the news of the untimely death of his second son Ranjit. The first one Amrat was at least 9 years senior to Ranjit.
“Oh my God. What could have consumed the life of that poor little boy Ranjit? “ She started weeping.
Bhikhu wore a puzzled look. He had played with Ranjit when Motamama’s family spent a few days last summer.
“We must go and console Motamama” opined Bhikhu like a young man who had suddenly grown up to take important decisions.
Jamna was aghast and confused. Yes, she too wanted to go and console her brother but traveling all the way to a strange city was too intimidating. Could she trust Bhikhu now?
Dayalji lived in a spacious mansion at Malabar Hills where rich people lived. Jamna liked her Bhabhi who happened to be a distant cousin of Morar. Such closeness between sisters in law was an exception.
“We must go but Bhikhu, would you know how to travel that far to the megacity called Bombay?”
“Yes, Maa I think I know. But do you have the money? Shall we ask Nathukaka?”
“No, never. Don’t ever think of that.” Jamna scolded the poor boy.
The postman who was watching the mother-son duo debate suddenly came to their rescue.
“My cousin is traveling to Bombay tomorrow and he can help you reach Dayalji’s mansion
So the problem of finding someone familiar with the city was sorted out.
“Thank you bhai. May Thaokorji shower his blessings on you”
After the postman left Jamna went inside a dark room, opened an old metal bag with the key that she wore around her waist and brought out Rupees fifty-four that she had saved for some occasion.
“Here, Bhikhu, come on, start the preparations for our travel to Bombay with this cousin of the postman.”
The whole village of Sarbhon was agog with amusement and excitement that a widow like Jamna dares to visit Bombay to console her brother.
“Wow, no one has taken such a bold step ever in Sarbhon. She is truly ‘azaad’ (Independent- not caring about what others think about her or her actions)”
“Arey Jamna, take some food and water along”
“Hey, I know all that. Stop advising me” Jamna would retort.
Bhikhu packed a little cotton bag with his stuff that included the report card of matriculate exam – he was so proud of that. Jamna quickly got down to repair the shirt that Bhikhu would wear on way to Bombay. “He should look like a matriculate and the nephew of the great Solicitor Dayalji” Her pride had no limits.
She had arranged for her old friend Kashi to come and stay in the house during their sojourn away. Nobody keeps the house locked in the village and besides, she will have to milk the buffalo every day.
Kashi too was a widow and lived with her married son and daughter-in-law. As usual, it created endless tensions between her and her daughter-in-law in the house. “At least she will get some respite from the tension” Jamna reasoned.
The village pundit was called the next morning to chant some mantras to ensure a safe journey. Jamna gave a generous packet of rice and some fruits to the pundit in return.
“Kashi, make yourself comfortable – it is your own house, understand? Don’t forget to milk the buffalo and lock the door at night securely.” Jamna ordered like a matron would. Everyone in the village was used to such orders from Jamna – the ‘azad’ woman of Sarbhon. Nothing would upset her to disturb her sense of composure. Some men would even try to shield their women folks from such azad woman.
After all, God has made women differently for their role in raising the family. Men are meant to order and women to follow, Period.
Next day Jamna and her boy were ready to board the state transport bus sharp at 11 AM to transport them to the Navsari railway station to board the ‘local’ train – ‘we can’t afford the rail fare of the fast train, Bhikhu’
Bhikhu comes of Age
The Bus depot, not far from Jamna’s house, looked different today. She used to look at everyone going to the bus station from her verandah every day and wondered when her turn will come. Her eyes were looking at a mysteriously transformed bus depot today now that they were going to take off on a bus, themselves.
When Bhikhu was very young, he would ask “We come here only to receive and see relatives off. When will WE board a bus?”
She even treated herself with a cup of tea from one of the vendors, against her conscience. One is allowed the luxury of indulging in minor pleasures, occasionally. Bhikhu just looked on, like an obedient son.
The bus rolled in, the passengers waiting at the depot rushed to the bus in a heap. It was the turn of the matured Bhikhu to hold his mother’s hand and lead her into the bus.
“Maaji, where the hell are you going?” Asked an acquaintance
“Why? Can’t I board the bus with my Bhikhu? We are going to Bombay, you know, to console my solicitor Dayalji bhai over the death of his second son” Jamna shot back with pride. Bhiku nodded his head.
Bhikhu, seated next to her, looked around for Ravji, the brother of the postman.
“Maa, Ravji kaka is nowhere to be seen,” Bhikhu said, nervously
“Doesn’t matter Dikra, you are here – to hell with others” The Azad woman quipped stressing the ‘you’
The bus driver honked one final time to alert the passengers around; the conductor irritatingly muttered some profanity – no one seemed to be boarding the bus anymore
“Drive on, you silly man” he let out a stream of more swear words and motioned the driver to move, ringing the bell.
The bus, or the “Motor’ in the local lingo, roared and emerged out in a menacing fashion from the bus depot. The driver, with a scarf around his sweaty neck, emboldened by the conductor, pressed the accelerator, making the crowd run helter-skelter.
The bus had barely made its way out of the depot when Bhikhu saw Ravji, running towards the moving bus from the front side, waving the bus to halt.
The bus came to a halt abruptly, for huffing and puffing Ravji to get in.
The conductor frowned “ Why the hell you can’t you people learn to be in time?” and banged the door close, in a huff, as soon as Ravji got inside.
Ravji gave an impish smile “ Arey, Why are you so worked up, Bhai? These things happen. God is great”
He surveyed the group of passengers and let out a soft cry on noticing Jamna Maa and Bhikhu.
“Arey, very good you boarded the bus. I was worried” and promptly took a seat next to the acquaintance of Jamna, behind the mother-son duo, nodding to him for no apparent reason.
Jamna turned and Regally acknowledged his presence and resumed viewing the scene from her window.
Bhikhu, seeing his mother’s faint and no-nonsense reaction sat motionless, with no clue on what to say.
The bus rolled on, halting at each village, small or big, and taking more passengers on. Some festooned bullock carts carrying a wedding party passed by, taking some passengers by surprise. “ What a time to organize a wedding? So hot and humid?”
The acquaintance of Jamna lurched forward and asked: “ Do you know which family it was in the wedding party?”
Jamna did not react.
Not to be disheartened at the cold response, he continued “ But Jamni, your brother is a big solicitor in Bombay, so why don’t you seek financial help from him? What a rogue brother you have who turns his head away from a poor sister”
Jamna lost her composure. “ Hey, you stop meddling in my affairs, understand? I never seek help – not even from God – as you guys do. I am going to see him out of a sense of duty towards him in his hour of tragedy, and not to complain to him about my needs. Now shut up and let me enjoy the journey in peace”
The guy was dumbstruck. He settled back in his seat with a wry smile on his face. Ravji too took the hint and vowed not to provoke the widow further.
The bus trundled on. The sign of the village of Gandeva – Jamna’s ancestral village where she grew up – flashed by. Jamna perked up and asked Bhikhu to ready himself to the view of Gandeva.
“That is your Dayalji mama’s village, Bhikhu. I grew up here as a young girl until I was married off” the eyes of the woman swelled up with tears.
“Look at the outskirts of Gandeva, see that board ? That is where I had once escaped to avoid being thrashed by my father for picking up a physical fight with a boy 2 years senior to me” Jamna reminisced the past scene in front of her eyes.
“I wore just a ghaaghra-choli without an odhani!”
Then the neighbour saw me and caught me;
“Arey Jamni, why the hell are you here, so far from your home and with a glum face? What happened? Does your father know? Come, come, let me escort you back to your home. They all would be worried”
“You know, Bhikhu, I was a tomboy here. I used to light up firecrackers in my bare hands and climb the trees like no other boy” Her pride was visible on her face.
Bhikhu, and the other two, eaves-dropping from the back seat, were in the awe of the woman.
He didn’t say a word.
“Bhikhu, are you hungry, Dikra” The mother asked her prized son with all the love that only a doting mother can.
“No no, I am a big, grown-up boy now. Don’t worry about me” The Azad woman’s tale of courage had finally rubbed off on him
Jamna smiled approvingly. The other two looked at each other and decided that silence was the best virtue.
Navsari Railway station:
Nothing of great significance occurred on way to the Navsari railway station.
Bhikhu, the big and grown-up man, took the cash from the courage woman and walked with a deliberate gait to the ticket window and bought two tickets to Bombay Central that had “Teesra Darjaa Maamulee” prominently displayed on the ticket.
The British English of translation of the word ‘Third-class ordinary’ to ‘Teesra Darjaa mamulee’ was a further sign of degradation of the status of being mamulee – of Indians in general.
Jamna insisted that Bhikhu had a cup of tea on the railway platform before boarding the ‘local’ train. The transformed young man enjoyed the new status of being a ‘grown-up’ man, declined and joined his maa to wait for the train as if he owned the station.
Ravji appeared from nowhere “Maaji, Don’t you worry. I am with you”
Bhikhu held Maa’s hand and asked Ravji to assist in getting onto the train.
CHAPTER 4: THE TRAIN TO BOMBAY
If the bus journey to Navsari Railway station epitomized the metamorphosis of Bhikhu into a confident young man, ready to take on the world, the ensuing rail journey had more of the adventures to make him bloom into the unwelcoming brazen and cheeky world. The somewhat cocky Jamna maa reveled in the transformation, hiding her fears of what lay in store for him.
The guy Ravji, the reluctant chaperone designated to put the duo at ease, was unsure of novel ways to demonstrate that he cared.
He took his assigned job very seriously to the discomfort of his other co-passengers. His frequent getting up from his seat to check on the comforts of his protege annoyed them.
“What makes you get up frequently and make way through this maze of other passengers lining the passage?”
“Have a heart guys, they are my relatives and traveling for the first time by rail”
“Then request those next to your relatives to exchange your seat with you, huh!”
The thought of sitting close to the aggressive Jamna was unnerving.
“Arey, it is just a matter of few hours, Bhai”
Sure enough, He thought he heard some commotion in the next bunch of seats in the direction of where Jamna and Bhikhu were seated.
“Waah, is this railway your property? Why don’t you close the window securely? The fine particles of unburnt coal are causing nuisance here. My son Bhikhu has been rubbing his eyes ever since we boarded.”
“Check your language, bahen. The window doesn’t close at all. I have been trying to close it for quite some time now. Besides, I find it very suffocating here so the window shall remain open.”
It was an irony of sorts that the hostility levels towards the passengers who boarded the compartment were always high. Jamna maa and Bhikhu had managed to get reasonably comfortable seats for themselves, fighting their way through the maze. Jamna had, in fact, found a cotton bag on the window seat, that customarily signified that the seat was already occupied and that the guy had gone out onto the platform to buy some snacks.
“This won’t do. This is my seat”
“Who gave you the right to keep your seat reserved in this fashion?” Jamna at her aggressive best
“Look bahen. I woke up early and managed to get this seat with great difficulty. Here you come along and simply disregard the cotton bag and occupy my seat without a trace of apology. I need fresh air, get it?” The guy was not be cowed down
“Hey hey hey. Who are you to talk to a lady like that? Hold yourself. You do what you want” and promptly sat close to the cotton bag thereby shifting the guy away from the window
Enter Ravji – ‘Arey Bhai why the hell you are picking up a verbal spat? After all, it is a matter of a few hours. Just relax and enjoy the journey”
The guy shot a glance at the lovely face of Jamna whose pallu had come off from her curvy face.
“Ok Ok. It is Ok. Where are you going anyway?
That is how the initial hostility always turned into the inevitable query. They exchanged the minute details of the purpose of their journey that would be an anathema in other developed parts of the world.
Everyone in the chamber now looked forward to the round of similar exchange at the next station.
Many a time, the co-passengers became great friends during the journey together and even invited each other to their hometowns, exchanging the addresses and contact details!
“Whenever you are in Surat, just tell the bus conductor or anyone else for that matter – “where does Ranchhod live?” and you are sure to find my home!” Ranchhod then looked around to make sure everyone know that he lived in a popular pole of Surat and that there was a sweet shop just directly below his place named “Mahadeva Mitahai Center”
To the uninitiated, there were at least 10 different sweet shops with the same name around Surat.
“Just ask anyone” was the all-pervading catchphrase.
The rest of the journey turned out to be an exercise in total cooperation. An elderly couple from Kathiawad took out bundles of meticulously wrapped theplas from their huge tin boxes and offered to everyone. If someone declined the couple would genuinely look offended. There was this scramble to pay off the tea vendor from the rest of the passengers.
The train chugged on.
“Get ready now for the ‘Vasai Khadi” (Creek); keep the coins ready for offering to the deity” The sweet voice of some lady alerted everyone.
It was customary to throw some loose change of coins into the Vasai Creek – to appease the deity and probably to thank at the same time for bringing them to the end of the journey as the train neared Bombay.
Jamna maa followed the process to the hilt, untying a packet of coins worn around her torso and asked Bhikhu to the ritual along with others, folding her hands and chanting some prayer that no one could hear in the noisy train that rattled through on the old bridge.
Traveling by the old fashioned long-distance train pulled by the steam engine was fun. It gave a much-needed change of a kick to the humdrum existence of hoi polloi, buying unwanted toys for their children, mint from popular stations like Vasai or Palghar, listening to the bhajans rendered by traveling beggars. Often a blind man ( or posing as a blind man) with an out-stretch hand duly supported by his very young daughter who would be belching out well-known bhajans at the top of their voice. No matter how crowded the compartment was everyone would make way for the movement of beggars, traders without complaint. This was the fate of ‘third-class maamulee ‘ hoi polloi that had learned to enjoy little pleasures as they went along. All happy in their own way, managing the uncertainties of their fate.
Arrival at Bombay Central:
The local train finally steamed into the humongous Bombay Central station. Bhikhu just couldn’t help gawking at the size of the station with all the neon lights flickering around.
Jamna too was overawed but didn’t show it on her face. Ravji got down from the train and helped them to alight safely as well. He shooed off a coolie running with the slowing train “Go away, man. We will manage our baggage”
The undeterred Coolie hopped on to the compartment to look for passengers who would need assistance.
The crowds, the fancy shops within the premises of the station, the open restaurant were just too apparent to ignore. Bhikhu was hungry but just did not speak up – after all he had become a man now.
How will they go to Malabar Hill?
Ravji smiled and led them to the gate where a uniformed man approached them and tried to snatch the bags from Jamna and Bhikhu.
“Arey arey, who are you? Why are you snatching our bags? Thief?” Jamna maa challenged the man while Bhikhu tried to snatch the bags back into his hand
“Arey, mataji. Maaf karo mane (please excuse me) Sir had told me to look out for a woman in blazing red saree with her son in tow and you must be Jamna bahen.”
Ravji had a broad smile on his face.
“Jamna ben my brother – the postman- had sent a telegram about your arrival in Bombay! This uniformed man is Dayal Saheb’s personal driver. Now get into the car and I will get going”
Jamna – Bhikhu just couldn’t believe the royal reception arranged by Dayaljee the Solicitor. They were overawed at the large, fancy car whose door was kept open by the smiling driver.
“Joyo Maaaro Bhai ( Did you see my gracious brother Dayal – the big solicitor? How much he respects me “ Jamna and Bhikhu got into the car while Ravji watched in bemusement through the car window.
‘Ae aavje Bhai. Thakorjee taaru bhalu kare” (May God be upon you)
The super-smooth car journey to Malabar hill was fascinating enough. They watched in amazement the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea, the paved road leading up to the Malabar hill.
At the Dayal mansion, his wife – Jamna’s bhabhi – let go a long sob and cried over the shoulders of Jamna. Jamna caressed the back of her bhabhi while Bhikhu stood in amazement at the huge mansion in front of him
“Chaal, bhabhi have rahee jaa (Now, please calm down) How is Dayal Bhai? and Amrat?” Jamna comforted her as they went into the mansion.
“They have barely gotten over the tragedy, Jamna. Yesterday was the condolences prayer meeting where big industrialists of Bombay had assembled to offer their condolences.” Bhabhi, with tears in her eyes, went on
“Your brother has gone to meet some people in town will be here soon. Come, refresh yourself. Arey, Bhikhu, you really have become a big boy now? Good, Good. Come in beta”
It took a while for them to get adjusted to the royal setting of the mansion.
CHAPTER 5: Bhikhu the protégé of Dayaljee Solicitor?
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.
Savita looked at her husband, not knowing how to react. Jamna was the elder sister. He wish was cast in rock. Savita wished the Solicitor could throw his weight around and convince Jamna bahen to live with them. Despite the innumerable characters milling around in the mansion Savita felt lonely. Jamna’s company would be perfect if she stayed back.
Dayalji tilted his head backward and stared at the ceiling for some time. Whenever he did that Savita knew he was in deep thought.
After what appeared to be a long pause, the solicitor woke up “ Look Savita, it is my desire as well motiben’s that Bhikhu excels in his studies and becomes a proud member of the family worthy of our distinguished family. Anavils have always worked hard to find their place in the sun. So it is better Bhikhu learns to adjust to the alien surroundings all by himself without the distraction – if I may use the word – of his mother constantly looking after him. Let Motiben go and live her life with the people known to her all her life. We will take care of Bhikhu” He got up and walked up to Jamna and held her hand lovingly.
“Thakorji tamaru bhalu kare, Bhaay” Jamna’s eyes welled up.
Savita too joined her husband in patting her sister in law.
Bhikhu, watching the scene from the corner of adjoining room slowly but firmly walked up to Jamna and sat on a low stool to reassure his Maa.
Jamna had decided to leave the very next day. Dayalji had made all arrangement for someone to accompany her all the way to Sarbhon.
She was a proud and a stern woman, almost a manly nature not to exhibit her emotions too openly. After the demise of her husband Bhikhu was the only other person in her life and now it was she who had decided to leave him here. If her heart was broken she did not show any signs.
“I truly hope Bhikhu fills the void created by Ranjit’s untimely departure.” Jamna blessed them and slowly got into the car as Bhikhu waved goodbye. He looked so vulnerable even now – Jamna thought but the burning desire to see him grow into a fine solicitor kept her emotions in check.
Bhikhu watched the car turn at the corner and entered the mansion with a big resolve. He knew his Maa would manage herself very well – the strong woman that she had been.
Jamna, the strong woman, stepped into her house in Sarbhon and wept in that little dark room where no one would see her tears.