CHAPTER-1: Out of Nothing
Across the reddening sky a cuckoo comes fluttering and spluttering—worn out in her own measure—and sits on the lonely bush on the peak of that hot crag. Life seems to be bustling around me, and yet at a point of dusk it all stills down and at least in my mind there ensues serenity for which I can perhaps only acknowledge serendipity. Deep in my thoughts I wonder if beauty and its diverse tones will ever conquer me full, for life has already shown me myriads of beauteous times—though they may appear ugly to the man with a fair countenance.
My father is going away and I can still feel the pain prick in my deeps. He did not even deem it right to render me hopeful with a caring goodbye such was his love. He did not die, and you need not take it so. He went away, leaving me, my elder brother and my mother alone at home. My mother said that it was necessary, that it was inevitable for a man grieved with debts of gold and silver on his head. I never questioned her more. I did not wish to grieve her fragile heart such was her love. My brother, an adolescent of fierce blood, sordidly kept on cursing him. For my part, I could only see and try to bear the pain in my mother's heart through the spasmodic twitching of her visage's contours.
"Hush!" my mother faintly said. "The world is not yours to curse."
Next day, the police raided our humble abode. There was nothing to mollify them, so that they contented themselves by throwing my mother in the lockup for two weeks. They had threatened her before me that they would beat her to death if she did not "open her mouth" and tell them where our father was. Apparently, in their language, he had "run away" rather than "gone away". There is a need to mention this here, though I have always despised the language of their world. I am happy that they did not literally carry out their threat. There were only a few red marks across the neck and back of my mother when I and my brother received her back in our cottage in our small suburb. She said they had been very kind, had taken well care of hers and had left her because they had finally acquiesced that she did not know the whereabouts of my father. She endeavored to make me believe that there had been no beating or punishments like the ones our master used to give us in our school—that was in reply to one of my innocent, childish queries.
The next day to when she was released from her illogical bondage, my mother explained to us that we must move on. What was the meaning of the phrase "to move on"? I was only a child of nine, but my brother, who was of fifteen, seemed to well comprehend the phrase and nodded to mother in his nasty, boisterous manner. Her face was red with such a flush that depicted a perfect concoction of angst, melancholy, fear and gloom. All these feelings I truly fathom only now when I am a grown up myself, for then my mind was only trying to grasp the meaning and not their feel. I feared their feel!
"What are we going to do mother?" I asked immaturely and diffidently. "Why are you packing, mother dear? Where are we going to go? To grandma, mom? Are we going to grandma?"
She sobbed a little and shook her head, and then said, "Our paths lie elsewhere, Naman."
I wondered where that was. I wondered why we were going elsewhere. I wondered what we were going to find there: father. No, I corrected my discernment. I wondered so much. The sarpanch used to say too much wondering was insalubrious and hazardous for children. I reflected his saying for a while, due to which I simply forgot what I was originally reflecting. I now have in my distant remembrance the flower-like countenance of my benign mother when she was walking on that stony path with only broken sandals for her holy feet that I touched every morning (though my brother averted it always). My elder brother had the most malicious of looks to embellish his face during our so-called migration (I learned the term from an old neighbor). The sand was scattered about almost the entire highway. We did not have to walk our ways though the way people had to do in old times and of which I have heard from tales of yore. My mother got us into a government bus to take us to Abu Road, where my uncle—the elder brother of my father—lived. At their house we stayed for a few weeks, during the period of which he was so very kind to accept the plea of my mother to let her work in his house while we were there and ate his "bread". However, it seemed to me that his kindness always shone out bright only through the medium of his grimace because my mother accepted it very heartily.
"You are so good to do it all in the absence of my wife, bhabhi," he would say kindly to my mother, and yet he had a very noticeable asperity in his voice which my mother for her obligatory part praised in such a way as if we were staying in heaven itself with him as our God.
He told us that he believed in sheer parity between his own daughter and me and my brother. His name was Dharmesh and his daughter's name was Rupa. She was of the age of my brother and a great source of admiration, friendship and peace for him in these days of chaos for our family. Uncle Dharmesh, however meek, would always try to stop them from mingling, but my brother was not to be overpowered by even the Titans. They always used to have secret meetings, many of which I remember because I always like to snoop around and sneak into their matters. My brother had developed a certain admiration for a particular friend of Rupa. She was a year younger but monstrously more beautiful than the onion-eyed Rupa and thus got a very straightforward access to their club to which even I was denied permit.
After a few weeks, I saw that my mother seemed dog-tired whenever she sang our nightly lullaby to me. It was then that she told me, "Naman, always take care of your gold and cash, but before that take care of your love and relationships; okay, my boy." I decently nodded to her with a conviction to follow every single philosophy of hers.
One day, I heard her discoursing with my uncle that she was planning to move to Mt. Abu. She told him that due to her constant enquiries and endeavors, she had received a golden chance to work in a hotel there. She explained to him that for once she could sell her ancient gold jewelry and take a lodging there on rent. Then she would be maintaining the rent by her job for the rest of her days—"till my sons grow up," she added.
Uncle Dharmesh nodded in cold assent. He let us leave his cold custody, though with a little hint of hesitation, saying that anyway our life had to go on. My mother seemed happy at her decision and aspirations.