THE GUILT IS ALIVE
Long ago, when life began, our species survived by reacting instantly to the threats. The ancient humans who stopped to smell the roses became easy targets for predators. Today, the predators are mostly gone, but we are still so primed to pay attention to bad news and tend to ignore the good things happening around us.
Sivadoss, my father belonged to this very category. He was a grumbler and kept complaining constantly about one thing or the other. He failed to count his blessings and would rather count his problems.
He was blessed with five children, three sons and two daughters and I happen to be the eldest of them. Being his loving daughter, I would make an all out effort to solve all his problems, whatever it be. However, father would take the progress for granted and find a new cause for alarm.
After his retirement, when he was finding it difficult to make both ends meet, he took a drastic decision in his life. He wanted the eldest of his three sons Sampathkumar to go abroad for a job and support him financially. When he divulged this fact to me, I set about the task in good earnest and wished to fulfill his desire.
My brother on the other hand was a man of temper. First, he expressed his disinterest in leaving the family and second he was not willing to pay through his nose to the international recruiting agencies as bribes to get a job. With my prayers, I succeeded in changing his mind. Very soon, he also got a job offer in Jamaica. It was from an Indian, Narayanan, settled in Jamaica. He did not charge any recruitment fee and was also willing to pay for his air-tickets.
On reaching Jamaica, my brother realized that he had been duped. He was not given the promised job. He had a tiff with his boss and left the company. Suddenly he finds himself on the streets, penniless. I was gripped with an acute feeling of guilt, for it was me, who had coaxed him to accept the job and leave the country. Shocked beyond belief at the plight my brother had landed himself, I now felt that it was my responsibility to bring him back to India. The letter was the only means of communication then and with less access to phones, it took me nine long years to achieve this goal.
It was at this time when I was rejoicing at the reunion and thought that I was at last free from the guilt feelings that had been plugging me for nine long years that the tragedy struck. I was shattered and my life will never be the same again.
If only my father had not been too ambitious or dependent on his son! If only I had not taken my father’s grumblings too seriously! If only I had not clung to my vow of non-interference ! The guilt feelings continue. The guilt is alive. Only this time, there is no way that I would recover……..
A Bundle of Joy
A Bundle of Joy
I am totally in a daze and hysterical. I am clouded in skepticism, for I am still not sure whether it was me who was responsible for whatever happened to Sam in the Cameroon Hills of Jamaica, West Indies. It was actually a moment of great joy to me! I was in fact overwhelmed with joy that God had at last emancipated me from the guilt! The guilt that had been tormenting me for nine long years! When I saw Sam in the airport after nine long years, I was dumbfounded! Words failed me! Tears of joy welled up in my eyes! Controlling my emotions, I told him, “it is a dream come true! ” And Sam smiled. I had never felt so happy in my life. I was enraptured! I felt as thrilled as Edmund Hillary who conquered the Mount Everest first ! And while standing there on top, reveling in my happiness, I felt strong hands – the hands of fate – shove me down, destroying my mountainous happiness! I have not yet recovered from that accident! I never will! And the same old guilt that had been plugging me for nine long years once again overpowered me! And this time, I am sure, there is going to be no remorse however much the effort from my side ! And no amount of consolation is going to soothe my turbid mind. The guilt shall always be alive. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I am Sam’s sister. His full name is Sampath Kumar and his pet name at home is Babu. I am the eldest of the five children to my parents. I am followed by my sister and three brothers. My parents were childless for eight long years. And very often my mother would tell me, “we prayed to all the Gods and visited every temple in the vicinity, not sparing even the smallest one requesting Him to bless us with a child. And one fine day, God heard our prayers and you were born to us! ” I was the bundle of joy to them. And when I was born, my father was away from home, in Biradilla in Madhya Pradesh. He came to see me only after eight days and when mother questioned him about this, he explained to her that he was too excited with the news and feared that something might happen to me due to evil eyes! From that moment, his love for me kept increasing steadily and continues to this day. Though I have reached middle age, I love and respect my parents tremendously, especially my father, for the love, caring and respect he holds for me. Also, with two grown up children of my own, I still look forward to his advice on all matters. On the other hand, my father who is now eighty years old, treats my problems as his own. If for some reason, I am perturbed over something, he is quick to become equally distressed and starts breaking his head with regard to solving my problem. This has often been a matter of conflict among my siblings that father was bestowing more love to me than others! And all along my life, I cherished this special love he had for me and this was a matter of pride to me!
But after what happened to Sam, I regret the love I had for my father, which made me oblige him blindly, no matter what! Probably, it was this bond of affection which resulted in the tragedy and the guilt I hold today. He has been wholly responsible for whatever happened in my life!
Of all the siblings, Babu is my favourite brother. The reason for this is ; next to me, my father was much fond of him. Father was quite excited that his third child was a boy! He believed that a son would take care of him and the family, during his old age, by stepping into his shoes. For, in those days, boys were considered as an asset to the family, while girls belonged to another family. And so when a son was born to him, my father’s joy knew no bounds.
I had seen him express his exclusive love and affection to him frequently! While taking him to the kindergarten school, he would stop by and buy some biscuits and chocolates for him, and advise him to eat it during recess time. We are pure vegetarians and my parents would not even have a cake; for it has egg mixed in it. Babu suffered from Primary Complex when he was a young boy and the doctor advised father to give him an egg regularly to improve his health. This troubled father for some time but however he finally decided to feed him with an egg everyday. Our landlady was a nonvegetarian and so he had a talk with her and requested her to give a boiled egg to him everyday. In the evenings, when he heard his name being called, Babu would run into her house and have his egg. He would come out with all smiles on his face and we would then plague him with several questions with regard to its taste, colour, etc. He would then patiently answer to all our questions. After two years, we moved to our own house. We were of the opinion that this egg eating habit of his would come to an abrupt end. However, father did not wish to stop and against my mother’s wishes, he continued to do this job himself. He kept a separate vessel for this purpose and fed Babu with an egg everyday till he was eight years old. Probably, it was this kind of explicit love that he had for his first son, the future caretaker of the family, that I had started to love my brother Babu over others.
When Babu was in third standard, he failed. After seeing the result on the notice board, I felt very disappointed. He had not come to school due to illness. I reached home with the bad news, and was wondering how to convey this to my people. I saw that Babu was playing happily on the rope swing secured to one of the branches of the tree. As I revealed the news to my mother, I started to cry and my mother consoled me that he would pass the next year.
Going out for a movie
Going Out for a Movie
I had never seen my parents quarrel. With the burden of having to take care of five children, my parents in fact had no time for disputes. But quite often I would hear father’s flare-up at mother, “there is no money for that now ! Please try to understand and don’t harrass me with your enhanced commitments!” And this was a regular feature at home, whenever mother requested him to foot the monthly provision bill. There was always a hankering for money in the family. And the words “no money for that” was the most commonly used statement by my father. With single income, he was always finding it very difficult to make both the ends meet and money and only money had been the single most passion in his life!
His income was just sufficient to provide us good meals and educate us in a good school. Any other indulgence was a luxury! Like the other children in the school, we never celebrated our birthdays. I remember that many a times, father would purchase school uniforms for Diwali instead of colourful frocks or pants. And we had quietly accepted the same.
It was only after we grew up into teenagers that we started to pester father to take us for outings. We would from time to time request him to take us for a movie. This job we would assign to Babu, for we were confident that father would hear his words and fulfill his wish. And Babu had a knack of getting this task done successfully. Father was then in his middle age and suffered from arthiritis and frequently complained of cramps in his legs. He would summon each one of us to press his aching foot. While all of us obliged without any murmur, Babu would oppose him by yelling, “this is a very bad habit of yours!” He would also refuse to service him. Then, my sister or me would volunteer out of pity for father.
On Saturdays, father would have a short siesta in the afternoons. It was during this time that Babu would willingly go and sit by his side and start pressing his foot gingerly. While doing so, he would plead with father to take us all for a movie in the evening. Father would make a fuss and refuse to take us out, under one pretext or the other. But finally he would relent. However, he would not be having the money for this purpose. He would then take a small piece of paper and write out a note to the shop owner – from whom we bought all the provisions – to lend a loan of rupees twenty. He would then give the note to Babu and send him on the errand. In the meanwhile, we would be waiting anxiously. And after about ten minutes, Babu would return with a droopy face. We would all keep peering at his face to make out whether he was going to deliver some positive or negative news. He would then gloomily tell us that the shop owner had refused to help. While we still continued to stare at his face in disbelief, he would jump up high in the air, with a whoop of glee and proudly display the twenty rupees note. Filled with joy, we would all start for the movie.
An Idea to Augment Income
An Idea to Augment Income
Whenever mother fell sick, I would go out and call the doctor who lived in the next street. On seeing the doctor, I would inform him that mother was not feeling well and ask him to drop in. He would give a brief nod. He would then promptly come to our house on his bicycle after closing his clinic. After examining mother, he would give her some large pills and ask her to swallow them two at a time. My mother would pop them into her mouth immediately. In the morning, I would find her busy in the kitchen cooking and carrying on with her usual chores.
On some days, when my father was at home, after attending to mother, the doctor would sit with him and have a chat. Once, when I had gone on a similar errand to the clinic, the doors were open, but the doctor was not in. After a thorough search, I found him sitting in the adjoining tailor’s shop, learning to fasten a button to a shirt. From then on, whenever I went to call the doctor, I found him in the tailor’s shop, where he would be learning his new trade and one fine day, to my surprise, I found him at the sewing machine stitching a shirt.
During one of his visits to our house, I saw him discussing something very seriously with my father. Both of them were talking in hushed tones, and so in spite of lingering around them, I could not even get the gist of it. However, I learnt about it the next day, from my mother. She told me that father was getting a loan of Rs. 800 from his office to purchase any household gadget and he was planning to buy a sewing machine. Though a civil engineer working in a government organization, my father could never make both ends meet and there was always an acute shortage of money at home. He had always wished to do some sort of business to augment his income. He had made many an attempt to do some construction jobs privately, but my mother was against it, as it required his staying away from home. She advised him to take care of the children and be satisfied with what God had given. When the doctor told him that he had learnt tailoring and that he could stitch blouses for the ladies, my father was ready to offer him help by purchasing a sewing machine. He also advised him to carry out his part-time job from our house itself and a memorandum of understanding was reached between them that they would share the earnings equally.
On the day the sewing machine arrived, a small crowd had gathered, curious to know what we were up to. My mother explained it all to them. After this, many of our neighbours also started attending tailoring classes regularly. We children were not allowed to touch the sewing machine and hence waited eagerly for the doctor to come, so that we could have a glimpse of the machine, when the doctor worked on it.
The summer vacations were coming to an end and it was time for school to reopen. This year, father bought material for the uniforms for all my brothers and they were very thrilled. The next day, our doctor arrived sharp at 11 a. m. We stopped our games abruptly and surrounded the doctor to watch him operate the new sewing machine and stitch the half pants and shirts for my brothers. He took out the sheet on which he had noted down the measurements and cut the navy blue cloth dexterously. My mother reminded him from the kitchen about father’s advice that the uniforms should be made a little loose – for children grow very fast and they should be able to wear it at least for another two years. The doctor laboured over the job, cutting and stitching the uniforms and one fine day it was ready. He waited for my father to return from office. On his arrival, he handed over the uniforms which he had so painstakingly sewed. My father was very anxious that my brothers try them out immediately. He summoned my brothers one by one and asked them to wear them. Babu , with joy writ large on his face, tried on his new outfit very carefully so as not to soil it, while the rest of us stood at a distance watching the reaction on my father’s face. On seeing my brother in his new uniforms, it was with great difficulty that we were able to muffle our laughter. The pants were so loose that my brother could have easily inserted both legs through one side of the pant itself. It was the same with my other two brothers’ uniforms as well. The doctor knew that he had committed a blunder but he concealed it by telling us that father had wanted the uniforms to be stitched very loose. However, he assured father that he could alter them suitably. This he did in great earnest, several times, until the pants acquired a distinctive shape. My brothers were reluctant to wear the Bermuda shorts to school and their trauma was relieved when father finally told them to use it at home and promised to have another pair tailored with the help of a proper tailor.
But the doctor did not give up. He attended tailoring classes and practiced on our sewing machine everyday. One day, he did not turn up and after a few months, we heard that the doctor had got a job in a garment factory that exported their goods. The sewing machine remained in our house for quite a few years gathering dust and grime. However much my father tried to convince my mother to learn tailoring, she would not budge, telling him that she had no time for it. One fine day, father sold the sewing machine to his friend for half the rate and we children were happy about the extra space we gained at home.