I used to live in an interior village in the direction of the south from our village, which is isolated; scary and dark at sunset times and prior to Lord of the Rising Sun.
I belong to that community whose ancestors suffered the price of extreme discrimination. My elders narrated the pain they experienced as they had to announce their presence before passing by people of other communities. I cannot perceive in my mind that kind of a social setting. I am happy that I live in the present age.
However, I realized quite surprisingly the reason why our village is actually segregated in terms of geographically location; settlements of people inhabiting the huts were of different social strata; as I grew up I was instructed not to draw water from a well or a particular tap; I was not to enter houses through the front door of some people; when I go to school I was seated with kids I did not wish to and when I asked my teacher to seat me next to the kid I liked, I was refused without rhyme or reason!
Our hutment is separated from the rest of the communities. With no public taps for running water, we walked down to the lake each day to wash clothes and carry back water.
I was a three year old when my mother fell seriously ill. And I am told that my father, brother and sisters as well as our relatives were relieved when she died, for she suffered till her last breath.
My father is a dumb person, not that he can’t hear or speak, but he is lazy, too idiotic to talk sense, never worked for he lived off the earnings of our joint family.
As my siblings grew to be of marriageable ages, arranged marriages being the norm, they were given into families closely related to each other. I am the last in our family, and for many years we were just three of us, my father, my Chikkamma and I. Dull with continuous smoking and worthless, my father never cared who came in or out of our home. He slept most of his time. My Chikkamma went to work. I was left to do the house work, cook, wash clothes collect water from the distant stream which I enjoyed in the company of friends both boys and girls in our village.
I matured. As is the custom in our community, my style of dress changed. The change indicated that I matured and was ready for marriage.
On our way to and fro to the lake for water, we passed a group of people from a community higher than us on the social ladder. We would greet each other with small pleasantries. My eyes always fell on a boy, the best looking among them all, who looked to be a leader. We exchanged glances for quite a few months.
It so happened one day that I was way behind the rest of our group, for I had to return to pick up washed clothes I left behind. And here was I confronted with him face to face.
We talked, exchanged information and left. This wantonly happened over time.
He began to walk me half the way to my destination. On the way we would sit and talk behind the ruined walls of an old temple. Every time we planned to meet, we carried small eats for each other. We played intimate games; we laughed, chuckled, shied away and would long to meet each other the next time.
We took advantage my father’s plight and furthered our relationship a little into the socially unacceptable plane. He would stealthily find his way in while Chikkamma was away.
Once I fathomed out change in my physicality I knew I had to handle it myself. For, by now he moved into the city to find work and had not kept in touch the family or me, for over four months.
At first I intended to search for him, but where? With eagle eyes all around me I decided not to.
Now what? I had pocket money enough to take a ride on a bus. In the bus a Nurse who worked in a Nursing Home several villages away from ours got talking to me. Knowing my dilemma she took me to the doctor who confirmed my medical condition.
I did not have the heart to return home. The doctor and Nurse offered to nurture me through the phase I was in.
That night lying in bed, a new comfort, an ambience so novel from home, led me to a state of introspection. Had I been given in holy matrimony my presence would have been a joy not only to family but the whole village. With inappropriate guidance from an elder at home, for I am sure had my mother been alive, I will not have seeped into the soup I am in now.
I began to like the people, place and patterns of life in this remote Nursing Home surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. The distant horizons of the rising and setting sun seemed so close easy to reach out to, but imagined implications if I reached out to, so also if my Chikkamma gets a whiff of my slip-up and where I am staying, she will burn me alive! Oh! What a temper! And what language!! For a puny looking female like her! I dread her!
Patients liked my little assistance I gave them, be it any part of the day or night. I got to learn more about peoples’ illness, watch the medical community attend on each one with such humility, that I began to dress neat like them, walk like one of the doctors, and wished to the bottom of my being I had the prospect to study and be “Doctor Amma” as they referred to the lady doctor.
I thought distance in an interior village setting is the best place to hide. But when one has family as well as the whole village community concerned about welfare of its members, someone will look out for the one who has gone missing. Not only that my family will reach out to look for me. By now the whole village knows I am missing, and I am sure, my dear father, disabled as he is, wonders why he can’t see me around our home! Poor Appa! I wish I could have been a more responsible daughter. For he will need me look after him as he grows older. I hope I can wriggle out of this mess in a more acceptable form morally and spiritually; and be by his side very soon! Looks in his eyes pierce me to death every time I looked deep into his eyes.
Word of mouth is an excellent means of communication. It does take long to yield results, and does so with expectation for the best. At times however, one wished it took more time. Just as in my case.
One beautiful morning, while I sat on the terrace of the Home, gazing in stupor at the wondrous spray of colors in the sky, my attention was drawn to two silhouettes walking towards the Home. My gaze returned back to the sky and in reflex action my attention re-focused on the approaching two. Wet fear overtook me as I watched my Chikkamma approach. From her swaying strides I pictured her facial expression, imagine a giggle dipped in sugary wrath and waiting in baited breath in dunk me in! Oh! I was not prepared.
In swift chain reaction I ran to my belongings, rummaged for my little cash and sheepishly sallied out from the rear. Fortunately, the path was a short cut to the main road, an auto waited for the lady to get in and I got in too, much to the surprise of this well dressed lady. She looked me in my eyes and realized inherent fear was swathing through me. She held my trembling hands and directed the auto to her destination.
After a long time I felt warmth in my heart. The length of the one hour journey had me prepare for questions. I kept eyeing her ever so often, she looked so calm and cool. I too felt at ease.
We got off and she led me into her cozy home, clean and simple. She rolled out a mat. She sat me down, went into the kitchen, and fetched a drink of water for us both.
She sent me to wash my hands and feet while she set plates and food for us. Eat! Don’t shy away. You must not have had anything this morning I guess. She looked at me and I nodded my head. Her pleasant quiet silent way with me unnerved me. I felt like a drop of rain encased in a ball of floating cloud finding ways for release, yet its coolant held me.
She was so kind, so gentle, so loving. With an open heart my story unraveled. She listened.
Are you on medicine? She asked. No, I said. Why don’t you rest for now, we shall meet with my doctor in the evening. I felt afraid to walk out of her home lest someone recognize me!
She looked at me for an answer and then asked, something worrying you?
The liar I have been, truth blurted out. I am afraid! I said. She came close to me, her right hand around me, ‘trust me’ I am here to protect you, she said, and drew me closer.
Five months later my cute baby boy gave out his first cry announcing a safe arrival.
My mentor and I, just we two, knew my life story. And wished it remain so.
Destiny is one thing one can never avoid, so it dawned on me.
Two months and he was a bubbly happy baby. Smooth sailing was he, slept well, fed well and played well.
One evening my mentor asked me, won’t it be a good idea for little Mohith to also be nurtured by his father?
My heart skipped a beat; I looked for a sip of water, lowered my head, and wondered, how did Amma read me? Look up she said. I rolled over to where she sat, hugged and cried with joy!
She set out on her journey of finding his father! What a gem of a person she was!
Two months into her journey we were married. My husband worked in the city. It was so easy from there on to lead a normal family life. Anonymity in city life is a joy.
I completed school final through the Open School. Continued to pursue my studies and now am a full fledged teacher in a school where my Mentor works. My husband continues to progress in his line of work
We all live together. With generosity of this kind lady my father too lives with us. Such a joy to see him play with his grandchild!
Amma retired. One evening she said tomorrow I will share with you my life story. I pondered over her story for a long time, for relatives never visited her nor did she travel anywhere without one of us.
We waited in earnest for this joy to unravel.
At the crack of dawn, we usually wake up to the calls of the quail and sounds of washed utensils placed in appropriate place. We heard the quail but not her humming. My baby was asleep and my husband had woken up and exercising.
We both looked for her in the kitchen and in the yard. Her humming of the morning bhajan was also not heard. The gate was still unlocked. Quite restive about the quietness, we tapped on her bedroom door, which went unanswered. We opened the door to find her still. Her body was cold. She silently there well prepared for her last breath.
May her soul rest in peace!