Sahdev and Lalita came to Patna with their nine-month old daughter Jyotika in mid-July that summer. They had been thinking of a ceremony for their daughter which they considered important, like other parents. They stayed for a week in their apartment in cooperative market street, regaining their energy after a long tiring journey first from Ibb to Mumbai and then from Mumbai to Patna, to start another journey of visiting their parents, brothers, sisters, friends and some of their relatives who lived far and wide. And the onset of monsoon, the sultry weather, the frequent power cuts, and the crowd in the trains and buses created in them a sense of an unknown loss looming large before them. But their aim was to fill the gaps created by their 10-month absence with affection, support, admiration and pride of their parents and relatives. They were thinking of pulling together the familial and communal strings with their annual visits which were loosened by their absence . They were joyous of their impending meeting with their parents who were proud healthy octogenarians with lots of ups and downs in their lives. The dark tans of their skin showed that they had experienced all weathers!
Lalita and Sahdev were motherless, their marriage ceremony, unlike other people of that locality, was performed in the famous temple of goddesss Durga in the presence of their relatives. The elder sister of Lalita and one of her aunts acted like her mother but Sahdev did not have that emotional support in his family which had suffered constant weathering after the death of his mother, a kind and generous woman, a goddess on earth, as the people of that area used to refer to her. The death of a wife, in the Hindu family, makes a person a stoic, a yogi. He goes inward, with a few persons who are exceptions to this, exceptions because exceptions prove the rule, developing the habits of a meditative aloofness and bringing desires under control, living their lives alone amidst a crowded family. Thinking in this way both Lalita and Sahdev used to visit their parents’ home every year. Daughters were closer to the hearts of their fathers so Lalita was a superior gainer during these annual visits compared to Sahdev who was not able to break the silence of years.
Sahdeo and Lalita wanted the first-removal-of the-hair-from-the-head or the mundan ceremony of their daughter to be performed this year. Jyotika’s Dadi, her god grandmother or goddess grandmother, if we are permitted to frame a phrase as we say a godfather, suggested it to be performed on the Kalighat of Ganga, the ghat , the terrace of the river, that was near the temple of goddess Kali. The river Ganga did not flow very far from the cooperative market street. And Lalita liked this suggestion. She conveyed this to her octogenarian aunt, the only sister of her father and she liked this suggestion too. Sahdeo’s only sister who lived far away from Patna was very excited to hear that the ceremony would take place this year. She was worried about one of her daughter’s exam which was very near. At the same time her presence in Patna, on the day of ceremony was very important, because when the hair will be cut she was to receive the falling hair, according to tradition, in the anchal , or the front part of her sari. Her husband wanted her to attend the ceremony and he was confident that her daughters will be able to take care of themselves. Sahdeo’s sister reached Patna by a midnight train after traveling more than twenty hours. Her arrival gave a shot in the arm of the ceremony which was going to be performed the following day.
The nine-month old Jyotika, who was the centre of attraction, was a very active being, she kept herself always busy, besides she kept others busy too, particularly the one who was near her. Her face was round with a big head. Lalita was very fond of repeating some sayings, whenever people talk about the big head of Jyotika she would immediately say, “Sar bara sardaar ka aur pair bara ganwar ka.” The saying means that the head of a leader is big and the feet of a rustic are big. When Jyotika became two years and a half, while feeding her Lalita would repeat these without fail, “Jo khayega bara, bara kaur, wo paega zindagi me thaur.” The one who will eat big morsels of food, he is going to attain good position in life.” Jyotika used to repeat these too and it was also like a ceremony for Lalita to sit in her college street apartment in Yemen and make Jyotika memorize the wisdom of her tradition and culture. Jyotika memorized to her astonishment some couplets in Sanskrit and repeated them with such clarity and enthusiasm before Sahdeo when he returned back from the university that he was amazed too, at her aptitude of reception and production. She had inherited this trait from Lalita and her illustrious mother who was a well-known literary personality and who was no more.
After the first-removal-of the-hair-from-the-head ceremony of Jyotika was perfomed in Patna Sahdeo and Lalita and their daughter came back to Yemen. Jyotika’s growth of hair was not like Lalita’s. Lalita’s hair was dark, thick and long. She wanted her daughter’s hair to be like hers. One day she told Sahdeo, “ You know, when I was young, I remember my hair was shaved off a number of times.” Sahdeo looked up and wanted to guess what Lalita was to tell her the next moment after this brief introduction. Lalita sat beside him on the sofa and said, “ I want Jyotika’s hair to be saved off so that her hair could be thicker.” Sahdeo agreed to take her to a haircutting salon.
But he was afraid. He was afraid because Jyotika was very active, full of life, full of movements. He was afraid of the cuts Jyotika will have on her head while moving in the chair in the salon at the time of the shave . Without saying anything Sahdeo postponed her being taken to a salon. When Lalita asked him again about taking Jyotika to a salon for getting her hair shaved off Sahdeo told her about his apprehensions. Lalita never thought about them before from this perspective. She became worried too but she wanted Sahdeo to have a try.
On a Friday morning, after breakfast, both the father and the daughter went out. There was a salon near their apartment in the next lane. But Sahdeo wanted to take her to the one where he knew one of the workers. They reached there. The salon was crowded with people: elderly, middle-aged, children. They sat and waited for their turn. The person who was sitting in the corner started playing with Jyotika. Some others joined the fun too to avoid the boredom of waiting. The time passed so quickly! It was Jyotika’s turn. Sahdeo’s heart started beating faster. Jyotika sat in the chair and said, “ Daddy, don’t worry, I will not be hurt.” Perhaps she had heard Sahdeo and Lalita talking about her. When the young man put a white piece of cloth around her shoulders and tucked some part of it near the collar of her frock Jyotika was amused. She said, “ Daddy, see my face in the mirror. Now I’ve become Lakshmiji.” It was Jyotika’s Nani, her maternal god grandmother or goddess grandmother who had all the praise for Jyotika who used to play with her covering her head and telling her that now you are Lakshmiji, the goddess of wealth! The young man, with utmost care started shaving her head. Her soft silky hair started falling in her lap. She was amused again. She drew her father’s attention to the mirror in which she looked different with part of her head with hair and part of her head without hair. Unlike Sahdeo, her petite personality was fully under her control. Encouraged, Sahdeo also gained his composure. Lalita was waiting anxiously. When she heard their footsteps climbing the stairs, she opened the door and took Jyotika in her lap and hugged her and kissed her profusely. Now the ceremony was over without any mishap. Sahdeo took a sigh of relief.
The next day, in the evening, Lalita told Sahdeo, “My younger brother told me to tell you that now after a few days one can shave her head with a razor at home. And you will be relieved of the bother to take her to a salon. You know, her hair needs to be shaved a number of times. I remember my childhood. We used to get our heads shaved off a number of times for a better growth of hair.” She tried to convince Sahdeo.
On Thursday evening, Lalita, Sahdeo and Jyotika went for their usual walk and on the way back Sahdeo bought three new razors. On Friday morning he told Lalita to bring water in a tub in the living room. Jyotika was made to sit on her lemon-colored elephant plastic stool and the ceremony began. It was hard for Jyotika’s head to be in a bowed condition for a long time. It was a clean shave but not a clean save. Jyotika got three tiny cuts. Sahdeo was afraid of that. He asked Jyotika, “Did you get hurt? Do you feel pain?” Jyotika was not hurt. Nor did she feel pain for the cuts were very tiny, something like a hairline cut. She replied, “No plumber Daddy.” Jyotika was not a lisper. But she had a problem with the word problem!
Next Friday Sahdeo took Jyotika into the bathroom and put her elephant stool in the bathtub. Jyotika always liked to take a shower bath. She was very excited. But she was not sitting facing the shower but in the opposite direction. For convenience of cleaning the razors which got stuck with the tiny hairs he was to open the tap all the time. So he left the tap open. When he was shaving her head Jyotika was taking her both hands behind on the sly and touching the falling water. She was very happy. This ceremony continued for a number of times and then the parents thought there was no need of them. Many ceremonies will be performed, they will come and go, but Jyotika’s ceremony of innocence will go on amusing her Dadis and Nanis of the world, no matter whether her own are not in this world, her goddess grandmothers are everywhere created by God. And God loves simplicity and innocence of children more than anything else.
One Friday morning when Sahdeo was standing busy shaving suddenly he heard a voice from behind, “ Yes Daddy, shave my head, I am ready. I like it.” She was standing there with her elephant stool ready to jump into the bathtub. Because there was her playmate, the always ready chum, the champion of children, Mr. Water!
Sahdeo turned towards that sweet voice with a pleasant surprise and smiled at his own slowly disappearing timidity and encountered enormous self-confidence in the innocent beaming face of little Jyotika.