Strange Ties

I never had an easy relationship with bhaiya. He never had easy relationship with anyone in the family.
I am not sure of the reason. I do not know; probably because he is 13 years elder to me. Since the time I remember he was not part of the household. I do not know why? He just drifted away. There was no connection. When I was in kindergarten bhaiya went to Kanpur to study engineering. It is not as if he did not come to Jabalpur. He did. Not often, but he did. He once came on Diwali; another time in winters. Papa used to send him one thousand and five hundred rupees every month. He never asked for more.
He was always nice to me but aloof. We never connected as brothers. He was always a man of few words who used to enjoy books more than a warm conversation. During those days he still had his school friends in Jabalpur. So whenever he came home he used to spend lot of time with them. He never took me with him, nor did I ask, though I wanted to. But he also used to get candies for me when he used to comeback. He also used to get stuff for me from Kanpur. Once he got sandals for me and glares another time. Papa once told him, “I do not understand how you manage to save money for all these gifts”. He did not even reply to this, just smiled.
Bhaiya was always the perfect son; a highly intelligent student, who never gave any trouble to Papa-Mummy unlike me. He got through JEE in the first attempt. He never had trouble with girls either. Strange! Though I caught him with a cigarette once; but he asked me not to tell to anyone, and told me it helps him study. Perhaps one of the reason I started smoking, but it never really helped me.
As he advanced in this engineering course, he couldn’t come to Jabalpur as he was involved in projects. But he used to call sometimes. Not to our house as we did not have a telephone at that time. He used to ring at Singh Uncle’s house and Mummy used to run there. I have sometimes seen Mummy weeping after speaking to him. Not sure why? I never asked. Mummy Papa once went to Kanpur. They had actually gone to Lucknow to attend a cousin’s wedding, so decided to go to Kanpur to meet him.
But I am very close to Chotu didi. Strange name for a girl I must say. But she was the youngest till I came along, and so the name. But Papa should change it to Chhoti. Didi gets angry if I call her Chhotu in front of JIjaji. She gives me menacing looks, as if she will thrash me. It is not as if she has not. Once was when I poured ink on her biology practical notebook and couldn’t convince her that it was an accident. But she still loves me.
Papa was very excited as bhaiya’s engineering course was ending. He had already asked him to prepare for civil services and he was sure he would get through if not in the first attempt then in second. I remember how he got the room on the first floor cleaned to convert it into bhaiya’s study. Papa told us when we were having dinner one day, “Once Raju becomes collector, we will live like barons. Chhotu, for you also we will get an IAS match”, and gave a disgusted look at me. I must say I had done lots to deserve it. First I barely managed to get first division in eleventh and just passing marks in Chemistry. Second, I had picked up a fight with a classmate.
But all the excitement was short-lived, as bhaiya told us even before his final exams that he had secured a scholarship for a University in Boston, US, and would be going there in a couple of months. Papa simply murmured hearing this from Mummy who had just returned from Singh Uncle’s house, “He could have at least asked me, I would not have said no”. But bhaiya did meet us before going to US. We all went to see him off at Delhi. We all wept when he was leaving, but he didn’t. I am not sure why. But he did kiss me on the forehead.
It was good that Chhotu got married in Bhopal though not to an IAS. But she was happy inspite of a nagging mom-in-law. I was happy that she was near and could come home frequently. Everything changed after bhaiya’s sudden departure. Papa became quieter than ever, Mummy used to weep a lot more and without reason. The only thing that did not change was my academic misadventures. Though I managed to clear 12th board, I couldn’t secure admission to any engineering college. Though I was not really unhappy with the situation, my admission to B.Sc. in Government Degree College, marked end to all expectations of my parents.
The finality of the detachment of bhaiya from the family was cemented when we received a letter from him just two years after he left, telling us about the job that he has got and more importantly announcing of his marriage with one Rita, who was half Punjabi, one-fourth Italian and another quarter Irish. Though he did explain to Papa in his mail that he did not tell it to him earlier as Papa would have never accepted this and that he understood his point of view. He went on to further explain though not totally Indian but Rita was still good for him. He had also sent a photo of her; she looked nice but not very feminine and definitely taller than bhaiya. Bhaiya looked intimidated by her in the photo. Papa simply put down the letter and said nothing. Mummy wept so profusely that Chhotu had to come home to console her.
By the third year of my graduation I was convinced that if I continued on this course in life, I would have to spend rest of my life in this stagnant town and the best I could hope was a clerical role at the Gun Carriage factory. But it was primarily because of lack of choice; I applied for MCA entrance and got though as there was not much competition for the course back then.  The decision to join MCA course was probably the best one that I had taken. Even though I wanted to move out of Jabalpur and my family but still I wept when I was leaving, Mummy also did, Papa remained stoic.
The only news of bhaiya that we received in those days did not come from him but from Rita Bhabhi, which also had picture of their first born. Mummy’s resolve of not speaking to bhaiya was broken seeing the picture and she would have left for US, if she knew how to. Papa remained perturbed for a day but regained his composure the next. Bhabhi had also mentioned how much she wanted to meet us and would come to India as soon as the new born was fit to travel. The letter also had their address and phone number. Mummy wrote a letter to bhabhi and asked me to post it without telling to papa. Though I wanted to point out that bhabhi probably would not be able to read Hindi but in this case language was not of much importance.
I have noticed one thing in my life that I am somewhat lucky, which means that I am lucky at least when it matters the most. Luckily I joined a course which could generate some interest in me and got through TCS in the first week of placements. I think Papa Mummy would have liked me to come back to Jabalpur, but they never said so, which made the decision of moving to Delhi all the more easy. But as luck had more in store for me, after a year into this job I was asked to move to Boston for six months. At first the implication of it did not draw on me but when it did I was confused.
But this time Papa Mummy did make it amply clear that I am not going to US. They did not want to lose another son. Papa said, “You are not going anywhere, come back, we have enough for you. We have also purchased the vacant plot at the turn for the next lane; we can construct apartments for rent on that site. I have it all planned for you”. Though I did not argue with Papa, I told Mummy that this doesn’t match my plan. Though I explained to her that mine was a short term assignment and I will be back in six months. When I left for US, Papa Mummy did not come to see me off. But Chhotu did.
It occurred to me several times to write to Bhaiya to tell him that I am in Boston but somehow I could never bring myself to write to him. I do not know what prompted me to set out for his house one evening in Boston. Was it because I had nothing to do and I was bored, was it because coincidentally I located a local bus that used to go to the same place, or something pulled me.
I presume, I chose a weekday afternoon to visit bhaiya deliberately, as I did not want to intrude on family time on a weekend. I would have turned around if I would not have had pressed the bell. I was a bit dazed as bhabhi opened the door, but meekly asked her that I have come to meet Raju. Now it was her turn to get confused, as she obviously did not recognize the name. I do not know why she asked me to step in, probably it was the snow. She was obviously waiting for me to explain but nothing came to me, as I was choked with emotions to see an enlarged photo of mine and bhaiya, hung on the side wall.


More by :  Shekhar Misra

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