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|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
She is no more among us. It is almost twenty years now that she left for her heavenly abode at the ripe age of about ninety-six. With my own advancing age and considerable worldly knowledge and experience, I am yet to come across with a woman around of her nature, acumen, temperament and mental strength.
She was my grandmother who was married to my grandfather, a big Jamindar, at fairly young age of about nineteen years. My grandfather had a large family with three brothers and two sisters, he being the eldest of five siblings. To live with and manage a large combined family was a challenge in itself needing a lot of patience, understanding and tolerance. With the passage of time, they had three sons, and when the third son was born, she had merely completed twenty-six years of age. Unfortunately, the grandfather died at a rather early age due a serious illness and henceforth she was the one who had to actually undertake the mantle of the upbringing and care of the entire family.
Considering human values and ethics, I would say Grandma was a rare combination of virtues and good qualities. She was very beautiful, kind, suave and forgiving. After our grandpa’s death, she being eldest took over the charge of the big family both inside and outside of the house. It had been only few years since independence and the country was undergoing upheaval and several changes on social, economic and political fronts though in some pockets British legacy was still prevailing. With the abolition of Jamindary system, a major chunk of our land holdings had gone to cultivators. She had to fight even court cases to retain a reasonable part of the agriculture land for the sustenance of the family apart from the other challenges like her sons receive proper education and exposure necessary to survive in the new order.
Needless to mention, Grandma bore all these challenges and responsibilities meticulously and successfully. To that extent, she was nick-named 'a lady with iron will' by her kin and subjects. She was well known for her strong will power, courage and determination while dealing with odds. She was fair and transparent with everybody and loved to do justice to everyone around. I still recall from my childhood how people at the village with a populace of almost two thousand, family disputes, quarrelsome couples, fighting neighbors and people at large use to come to her to settle their disputes and issues - kind of trust and faith they had in her that she will always stand for what is right and just.
In spite of all this, Grandma was a devoted and wonderful mother and grandmother for her own family members. In a large family, a person is bound to have inclination towards few compared to others as such an equal treatment is virtually impossible because of varying nature, temperament and needs of individuals. Notwithstanding such compulsion and leanings, I don’t recall during her lifetime even a single instance when her kin had any resentment or difference of opinion arising out of any of her actions or decisions. Such was her acceptance and control at large.
I don’t know as to why and how it occurred but over a period Grandma developed a distinct and discernible preference and liking for me among grandchildren on emotional front. She remained like a friend, philosopher and guide for me till she lived. She often used to confide things with me which ordinarily she would prefer not to talk or share with any other family member including her own sons. She used to tell me that I am very much like her in several personality traits and attributes. In a way I was certainly different from my younger brother and six other cousins in being less competitive, rather serene, sober, compassionate and peaceful compared to other brothers and sisters in the family who will seldom pick up any quarrels at home or outsides. Besides in studies too, I was faring better than the rest with a lot of extra-curricular activities and diversions including sports and games.
Grandma was highly independent in nature and her decisions. Totally away from any greed, she was against running after money though she accepted it as a need in life. She used to often say that we should spend five to ten percent of our earnings on charitable causes with so much poverty and deprivation around. I recall from childhood, those days agricultural produce were low due to traditional methods of cultivation, absence of advanced seeds and farm equipment, chemical manure and irrigation facilities. Small farmers and farm laborer were not able to produce or earn sufficient grains required for their livelihood round the year. It was common and usual sight every off and on that a poor and needy person would come to our house and narrate his or her family plight, at times having not eaten proper food for days altogether. I always noticed that Grandma would liberally contribute food grains, clothes, and even money, to help them on such occasions.
Gradually when her health started deteriorating due to advancing old age, she promptly transferred her fortune among three sons and their families. As was her conviction and resolve, a part of her wealth was also given to a few poor and needy who had traditionally served our family on one or other count. It was her foresight that she also retained a small portion of immovable and movable property with her sake as she did not want to be totally dependent on any of her sons. She argued that this will serve her needs during life, allow her free hand in case she ever desires to help any needy person outside family and after her death, of course, the property would be equally shared by her sons.
At times, Grandma loved to live her own moments of solitude. She was very emotionally attached to an old metallic box which she always kept in her personal custody in her private cupboard. She did not allow anybody to even touch that box during her life time. Family members, and even close relatives, were very curious and even suspicious at times, as to what is hidden inside the box. Ordinarily, no one would dare to ask Grandma about the contents of her box so they kept on deriving inferences based on their hunches and assumptions. Some would say the box sure contains some priceless jewels most probably diamonds, after all she hailed from a royal family. Others thought that the box may have some ornaments or gold coins which Grandma has saved perhaps for rainy days. Some non-believers even suggested this may simply be a trick on her part with nothing of worth inside that Grandma is playing simply to ensure her importance and worth in the old age.
Temperamentally, Grandma was a religious and God fearing lady. She would spend a good part of her routine in puja and recitation of ancient scriptures and books - Ramayana being her favorite. Ordinarily, she was a contented and cheerful woman with usual interest in worldly matters and well-being of her kin and subjects. But occasionally, she would turn restless and retreat to her inner self. On such occasions, she would tend to become reclusive, detached and absorbed with a sort of absent mindedness in her solitude. At times, she would recover in a day or so but there were occasions when the spell might last longer for days. Most of the family members on such occasions would take this as a routine event assuming that she was in the usual blues of the old age. Perhaps I was the only one who by intuition perceived that this had something to do with her old little box. On such occasions, I would pay more attention and care to ensure her comfort and privacy.
Notwithstanding her kin’s curiosity and inquisitiveness, she never divulged with anyone regarding the contents of the box. It was her strict instruction in later years that after her death, nobody should try to open her box and that it should be given to the fire along with her body remains in her funeral pyre. Many family members found her command and wish too strange and whimsical but they didn’t raise any objection or query to this during her life time.
Thanks to the idiosyncrasies and goddamn curiosities of Grandma’s kin, or probably greed if I call it, they did not honor her command and wish. Consequently, the box was hurriedly opened in the presence of sundry and all after her death. To their disappointment, it didn’t contain any treasure as anticipated and suspected by many family members and close relatives. All that it contained was a few childhood artifacts, a wrinkled pink handkerchief embroidered ‘K’ and a few worn out affectionate letters addressed to some ’K’ which, obviously, were never dispatched to the addressee. Everyone simply laughed, ridiculed and turned away. No one even bothered to have a second look at the contents or expressing any intent for the disposal or retention of the box.
It was only me who remained anxious and concerned for Grandma’s treasure trove. I gathered things to put it again in the box and retained it in my personal custody. My nagging anxiety, and of course a natural curiosity, prompted me to endeavor to find out the truth from her childhood past that, when discovered, left me gloomy and sad for her for a long period.
Grandma belonged to a small princely state in the erstwhile United Province of India under British Raaj. Her royal parents had given her the name Devyani, quite appropriate and commensurate with her angelic aura, beauty and grace ever since her childhood. Her only sibling Harshvardhan Rathore, an elder brother, was about ten years older than her age. Despite the same parentage and brought up, their personalities were a sharp contrast. While Devyani was docile, kind-hearted, tolerant and affectionate, Harshvardhan was quite aggressive, arrogant, obstinate and often merciless. While dealing with common subjects in the state, her heart would cry with compassion and care for poor and needy while her elder brother would tend to hate and rubbish them.
Those days educational facilities were not so prevalent and elite people would not prefer to send their wards to study among commoners. Many Rajput elite families, Devyani’s royal parents were no exception, didn’t like the idea of their children, particularly daughters, get exposure among common folks so they would not send them to educational facilities meant for general public. Some even believed that a formal or higher education was not at all necessary for girls. It was good enough if they are able to read religious books and scriptures and write letters et cetera as they were not required to work for earning livelihood. So Devyani’s father had arranged a private teacher – a poor and needy Brahmin, Pandit Devdutt Shastri, nicknamed Panditji, at his mansion for her elementary education. Panditji was a widower, living single, with a son one or two years older than Devyani’s age. His wife had expired while giving birth to their only son. Subsequently, fearing that a stepmother may not give requisite love and care to his son, Panditji decided not to marry again. He had named him Krishna Kant but affectionately used to call him as Kishna.
As there was no one at home to take care of Kishna, Panditji would always take him along while coming for Devyani’s lessons. As such there was no other child of Devyani’s age at their mansion, her parents never objected to Kishna coming or mixing with their daughter. After Devyani’s lessons were over, two will play together for hours with her toys and other games, the most favorite being the hide and seek game. Devyani’s mother would liberally give food and clothes to Kishna on such occasions. Despite hailing from a poor family, Krishna was well behaved and intelligent as also fast to learn things.
With so much glamour and comfort at Devyani’s mansion, Kishna would sometimes feel envious. On such occasions, he used to tell Devyani that he would go to school to get education so that one day he also become rich and famous like her father. Devyani would simply laugh and mimic him but somewhere in her heart, she liked the idea of Kishna too growing wealthy and famous.
Kishna’s father was too poor to afford the cost of sending him away for higher education. So on Devyani’s repeated request and insistence, her father accepted his liability and agreed to send him to city for higher education on his expense. Krishna Kant completed his higher secondary education and after doing a diploma in civil engineering, he got a civil overseer’s job in a canal project undertaken by the British government. This canal was passing through her father’s estate territory and Krishna was, incidentally, posted in the same area.
Those days hunting was considered a common and popular pastime sports among elite class and high ranking government officials and Devyani’s father too had a keen interest in this. Unfortunately, he met an accident during one such hunting expedition when he fell from the back of his horse. His head injury incurred in the far away forest area was quite serious and he died before he could be brought to city hospital to provide with necessary medical assistance. Now the reigns of the state was in the hands of his son and successor Harshvardhan, who had become far more arrogant and ruthless with the transfer of wealth and power in his hands.
It had been almost twelve years ever since Kishna had gone away for studies in the childhood. From the erstwhile naughty and talkative child, Devyani had transformed into a serene, composed and beautiful young lady. Despite such a long gap, she always fostered her childhood memories with Kishna as her childhood friend and soul mate. He remained as a sole object of her affection and imagination. She always remembered him and often wondered if she would ever meet him again. Occasionally, she would write letters to him not knowing where and how to post so that it reach him. She had learnt embroidery from her mother as a pastime interest and one day taking out a piece of pink silken cloth from her mother’s box, she made out a handkerchief with flowers embroidered at borders and a prominent ‘K’ in the middle. She nurtured a wish to gift it to Kishna whenever they happen to meet again.
Krishna Kant, a young and handsome man now, was extremely grateful to Devyani for he knew well that but for her compassion, kindness and support, he could have never achieved his education and success in life. He too eagerly missed his childhood angel friend. So within days of his posting in the area, he made a bid to visit Devyani’s mansion to express his gratitude to his Godparents besides meeting his childhood friend.
Erstwhile mansion had changed a lot under the patronage and ownership of the new ruler. Commensurate with his nature and temperament, Harshvardhan didn’t receive him well and casually told him that his parents had helped him in childhood out of sheer sympathy and pity. He turned him away making it clear that he didn’t like the idea of Krishna Kant visiting their mansion again in future to meet house ladies or any other business without seeking prior permission from him. When the episode came to Devyani’s knowledge, she protested with her elder brother who, however, prevailed with his adamant ways. After her father’s death, her mother too didn’t have much voice and strength in matters in which Harshvardhan was personally interested or involved.
Krishna Kant never forgot the kindness and support he received from the mansion and was too eager to meet Devyani and her mother at least once to express his gratitude. So he made another attempt to meet them during the absence of Harshvardhan. This time he succeeded and was received well in the mansion. Devyani was so happy and thrilled to see him again. This paved his way for more visits, whenever Harshvardhan was away, and on one occasion he took out Devyani, with her mother’s permission, to visit his canal project site. By now, both of them knew that the childhood friendship and camaraderie had never faded and had actually transformed into a deep love, affection and consideration.
Such things don’t remain a secret for long. Harshvardhan had a few henchmen, strongly committed and loyal to him whom he had hired to effectively and ruthlessly run the state matters. One of them informed him about Devyani’s venture to the canal site. Knowing that Krishna Kant has not paid due heed and regard to his earlier warning, he became furious with anger, hatred and vengeful rage. Besides, it was beyond his imagination and tolerance that his own sister, in sheer disregard to their royal descent, would ever mix or befriend a common man.
To cut a long story short, in the subsequent ugly turn of events, Harshvardhan’s trusted henchmen effectively handled the situation to his expectation. After that fateful day, Krishna Kant simply disappeared from that area without leaving behind any clue or trail about his whereabouts. Different people had different stories, planted or true, but one such story was that later in the same night his henchmen actually dragged him from his house; he was brutally beaten and killed, and his mutilated body was disposed off in a drain in the nearby dense forest, where people were usually scared to go even during day time on the belief that it was haunted by ghosts. Needless to mention, apart from the pain and misery Devyani alias Grandma had consequent to this tragic event, she also lived lifelong with the guilt that she was responsible for her childhood companion Kishna's nemesis.
It has been many years now. The old rusted box with Grandma’s treasure trove lies deeply buried in my bungalow’s backyard. I could not muster enough courage to destroy it by fire or any other means. Grandma's tragic saga and memories still keep haunting me. Her saga also reminds me of an old adage ‘the true love is one that dies untold’.
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