I-F Crazy Creatives
Joined: 10 April 2005
I wrote this story for the above prompt for a contest. But the story didn't get selected as the final entry for our team, so I'm posting it here. Do comment if you have the patience to go through a slightly longish story(as per my standard) and also a story which i'd have never attempted to write, had it not been for the prompt!
PS - inspired from ekta kapoor's fav. subject, a joint family!
I'm Radha, a former member of the Sharma family. I'm yet to take birth in a new body after I died an year ago. Today, I'm a nomadic soul. I am worried about my family, but my hands are tied, because as a soul I can only look at them from astral plain. I cannot glue together the pieces it has disintegrated into.
I was born in a large joint Indian family. Perhaps no one knew the modern mantra of 'hum do hamare do' (1) then. Ours was a happy family where growing up was sheer fun. The elderly were always eager to teach the young ones to be good human beings and inculcate good values in them. The children blossomed in the ample love they got.
The men of the family managed the family business. We owned various wholesale shops of cloth which supplied everything from cottons, linens, and silk to the ornate cloth pieces with zardozi(2) and lace.
The womenfolk immersed themselves in cooking, pickling, sewing and keeping the house neat and clean. However women were not stopped from working in the shop. I and my mother, however, were the only two ladies working in the shop as the others preferred the comfort of the house.
Studying in the town school and doing my graduation through correspondence, I grew up to become a beautiful girl. Wherever I went, I got glances of appreciation from men and women alike. If I saw it right, some of my cousin sisters were even jealous of me, but that didn't hamper our cordial relationships.
Being the youngest, I danced at all my cousins' weddings. Draped in finery at these festivities, several marriage proposals dropped in, but they were all put on hold until Manju, the cousin born just before me was married off.
In the meantime our family business suffered huge losses due to preference of customers for foreign cloth. However, the joint structure ensured that the family kept rooted firmly together in the darkest of the days. Manju was married over a shoe string budget, but there was no capacity to pay for the dowry(3) for my marriage. Marrying off 10 other daughters of the family and the misfortune in the business had emptied our coffers.
Not to say that some love and happiness did not come to me. Love blossomed in the difficult times too as Kishore and I stole glances as we passed one another's shop. Both the families knew of our emotions, but his family demanded a large dowry. Even if our hearts were in favor, the money wasn't. Our love could not win over the greed of Kishore's family. Every elder was perturbed, but they were helpless.
Eventually Kishore married another girl Pushpa and settled down in life. By then I was 34, way too old to marry in that era and as per the social norms in my community. Thereafter, no one ever talked about my marriage; it was as if the topic disappeared from the evening talks and. dinner time banters. I had always dreamt of being adorned in a red trousseau, but that just remained a dream. Eventually, I came to accept my fate.
The neighbors talked about me. I had become the latest piece of gossip among the womenfolk. As per them my beauty was wasted and all I could do now was cry. As per me, and maybe even my GOD-in whom I had faith-there was another road for me, waiting to be discovered. I was determined not to waste my life, for a wasted life is like a barren land which helps no one, not even itself.
When things settled down, in particular financially, a baby boom occurred. All my cousins who were married were blessed with kids, that too almost in succession. There was a constant chorus of cries of babies and laughs. Amongst all the babies, the cutest undoubtedly were Neha bhabi's(4) .
She delivered twins- a boy and a girl. She found it taxing to manage two kids; hence I was the virtual mom to Jia, while she took care of Jai, the baby boy as per the traditions of that time (I am happy that things have changed for better for the girl child). Though Neha bhabhi didn't mind my help, she was always paranoid about things like- will I steal Jia from her, did I massage Jia well, did I this, did I that…which pushed my buttons. But the calm Piscean that I am, and the Cancerian that she is, we managed not to let our friendship get spoilt; after all, it was I who played a pivotal role in her marriage with Mohan Bhaiya(5) , for she was my classmate in college.
Then there was Smita Bhabhi. It's not that the rest of us disliked her, but she was a plain misfit. Born in a stinking rich family, she was accustomed to live like a princess, marrying a Sharma brought her to reality. We were rich alright, but we didn't live like royalty. Unlike her family, we valued money. To come to the point, there was always hostility when a matter involved her.
This one time it was decided that all kids be sent to Central School(6). Smita Bhabhi insisted her Chotu be sent to a convent school. Her logic was that Chotu must learn English. Also, convent educated tag reflects high status and wealth. Despite being warned against it, Chotu was admitted to a Convent.
While Chotu learnt hymns, the rest took lessons in Sanskrit(7) shlokas(8) . Chotu felt superior and Smita's pride bloated. The mother-son duo even conversed only in English. It took one humble man to prick their pride.
It was a bright day and the kids were playing hide 'n' seek. That's when a fight brewed up. Chotu began bullying his cousins by asserting his superiority for knowing English. An old man clad in dhoti (9) who was watching the drama unfold intervened.
He explained to Chotu in superb English that, while learning English is essential, we should not forget our own languages like Hindi and Sanskrit . He added that his cousins will soon catch up and reach his mastery in English, but he will not be able to learn Sanskrit and Hindi. While Chotu shrank, the others kids were overjoyed at being defended.
Chotu went back home crying. Smita Bhabhi scolded the rest of the kids for not stopping the old man from embarrassing her child. It took several attempts on my part to assure her that the man was right in what he said! I don't know if she understood me completely, but she pretended too, which cooled down the embers of a prospective clash. Eventually, Chotu was admitted to Central School like the other kids.
After the Chotu episode ended, a new one began just like in the daily soaps. This one was a pure fight for power. Badhwar da-that's what everyone, including me called my dad-proclaimed the decision to set up a new shop. He thought it fit to let Hari, my real sister Megha's husband, manage it.
This proclamation angered the son's of the family. They wanted a Sharma to take over the new shop. For them, Hari Jha was an outsider even though he married their sister. For days, a cold-war-like-environment enveloped the house. Arguments of my father were cutting no ice with my brothers. But I knew how much my brothers loved me and I loved my sister. Finally I had to ask them that if it were not Megha's husband, but my husband what they would do. They said that in that case they'd have no objection. My father grabbed this opportunity and used this logic to end the argument in Hari's favor. No one objected.
Days turned to weeks, months and years. The men were immersed in work. They bought the essential papers home and worked through the night. The wives cribbed, but the cribs fell on deaf ears. As the children grew older, demands increased. Small disputes went on to become heated battles. As the time passed by, the elders kept departing. The peace and tranquility that existed in the house due to respect and fear of elders started waning.
My burden of reconciliation among all sorts of fights kept on increasing. But somehow the fact that I had no personal interest in the efforts that I put in to help all family members live cordially worked in the family's favor.
At the age of 50, people breathe freely for the first time in years. That's when the kids are settled, perhaps even married. Retirement is approaching and pension plans seem most lucrative. In my case however, all these family affairs were taking a silent toll on my emotional and physical health. Culmination of various circumstances resulted in I breathing the one final time at the age of 50. Merely half way to the milestone of 100, I died young.
I could not pin-point what caused me to depart young because it all happened so fast. But it could have been a result of shouldering the joint family almost single-handedly, or the lack of a spouse, or being simply tired of toiling for others while my own life took a back-seat or a combination of all these. I felt relieved, if not glad to die because at the time of death I felt tired.
The relief was short-lived. Soon after my death, Dev Bhaiya along with his wife, Smita Bhabhi and son, Chotu moved to a flat in the posh Lajpat Nagar area. They thought it was best to go the nuclear way for Chotu was losing touch with English. Dev Bhaiya continued working in our family business. Smita Bhabhi got busy in her Kitty-parties. Chotu's studies suffered and he became aloof.
Under Hari's control, the new shop suffered heavy loses. He was unable to revive it, nor pay back his dues. The sons of the family-in sort of a revenge for Badhwar Da's decision-threw him out of the house. They didn't listen to Megha's pleading, or thought about Harshita, their neice and Megha and Hari's daughter who was being treated for a hole in her heart.
Hari turned to his colleagues, but his luck was jinxed and even they turned their backs on him. Harshita's treatment was financed out of the pension which Hari's dad received every month. But it was too small an amount. By the time Hari could sought out a medical loan, Harshita's health deteriorated.
'Hari, I'm very scared. I think we'll lose Harshita,' Megha said breaking into sobs and burying her head in Hari's chest. 'First God took away Radha and now our daughter….'
'Shhhh…don't talk negative! Nothing will happen to Harshita.'
'If only Radha was here…she'd lend us some money…and we wouldn't even have been thrown out!' she said crying harder.
'Radha has done a lot for us; she's done all that she could. And if she sees you crying, it'll pain her.' Hari explained to her.
Megha stopped crying and said, 'Miss you Radha.'
A tear rolled down my eye, caressing my cheek and ended into my mouth. It tasted salty, almost like a mimicry of the saltiness the lives of Sharma's had turned into.
Despite medication, Harshita's health did not improve. Megha sang to her every night. Harshita sang too, it was only moment of happiness for her in that painful time.
She was too young to have even known what life is. My heart went out to her. It made me wonder how sour a seemingly small thing as a revenge was about to turn out to be. But miracles do happen. A deposit that I had made with a company and forgotten about matured and Megha was the nominee. The money was received just in time for Harshita to be treated.
Remember Jia, Jai, Neha Bhabhi and Mohan Bhaiya? They moved to Mumbai. Jai, all of 17, got friendly with the wrong kind of people. High on drugs, he was hardly ever in his senses. One day he came home drunk and high. Having run out of cash, he begged Jia to lend him some. On her refusal, he beat her up and locked her in the bathroom. Today Jai is toiling in some rehab centre. I do hope he takes control of his life and not let the drugs and booze rule. He was such a fine child.
Ever since that beating episode, Jia's developed a fear. One moment she's normal, while the next she breaks into screams and sobs. But she's doing better than most of her cousins. Even the fear is wearing off thanks to counselor's help. It's rare that people take the help of counselor's for the fear of being talked about, but I'm glad Mohan insisted.
Whenever I look at Jia, I'm reminded of my yesteryears. She resembles me quite a bit. She's even got boys waiting to date her, but she's focused on making a career as a Chartered Accountant. I do pray that she does find her life partner, unlike me.
I heard Jia talk in her sleep; she's got a habit of doing it. She said, 'Radha Bua(10) , where are you? Please come back, I need help! No one understands me as much as you do, not even my real mother!'
Hearing her I open my arms as if to embrace her. But Jia's asleep in her bed, and I'm far far away.
The situation at Manju's end is bad too. After moving into their own home and settling down as a nuclear family, the marital bliss turned to marital mess. Both she and Ronak, her husband fought on trivial matters. The pressure of living all by themselves was beginning to weaken their bond. While Manju found it hard to manage the house all by herself, Ronak had neither time nor the energy for his family. They decided on a divorce as the fights got out of hand. Yet, the major fight occurred after their decision to live apart. It was about the custody of their son, Karan.
Manju was blessed with motherhood quite late, 41 to be precise. Karan was only 10 when the divorce took place. When he was asked whom he'd like to live with, his answer was both, his mother and father. Though it's been a year since the divorce, Karan continues to shuttle between Dad's home and Mom's home.
In a short span of one year, Manju seems to have found another life partner, so has Ronak. Both are keen on marrying their new loves. The problem again is Karan. Earlier they were battling out his custody, while now they are trying to not get their son's custody. I can hear Manju and Ronak talk-
'Ronak, I wish Radha was here, the family needs her.'
'Oh! That'd make life so easy. She always managed to keep us all together. Maybe we'd never reach the stage of divorce.'
'Even if we did, she'd take care of Karan!'
'You're right Manju.'
That poor child, what will happen to him? Had they been living in a joint family, the divorce could have been avoided and the following troubles also. Even if the divorce had culminated, Karan would have had one fixed home. At least he'd feel secure and loved and not unwanted!
The only one's who stuck together in the ancestral home were my old aunt, Lata, whose bones creaked every time she moved; My eldest brother, Janak and his wife who had had no kids, and our faithful gardener Ramu kaka(11) .
That's how Sharma family looked. Once an example of a happy joint family, it was reduced to a four man army comprising of ageing soldiers!
I heard Janak Bhaiya telling Bhabhi that the business lacked co-ordination and was bearing the brunt of the sons going their separate ways. He also mentioned that a family from had agreed to rent the two rooms located on the first floor. That'd bring some much needed extra income to aid in hiring a cook and a maid. That way Aunt Lata and you won't be burdened.
Bhabhi replied by saying, 'Do whatever you think is best. But things will never be the same.'
'We can try to get back to the old ways.' Janak Bhaiya added.
'Hari and Neha have agreed to come back to live with us. I asked them to, because barely being able to save Harshita was the wickedest revenge. I feel sorry for having acted so childishly along with my other brothers. Perhaps giving them happiness will make me feel better.'
'Then there's something to look forward to!' Bhabhi exclaimed! She sounded happy. Hari and Neha were to shift in a week's time. Janak Bhaiya is ensuring that this time around no cracks develop in the family.
Having dedicated my entire life for my family and doing what ever best I could, I wished I could do little more. Watching the state of affairs that exist now, I feel sorry for them. But, at least some of them have realized the importance of sticking together as a family. I wonder if they'll ever get back to the old ways. They're making an attempt though. But that, only time will tell!
Now I have to detach from my family. The angels have sent a message for me. Tomorrow I will be reborn in a new body and in a new family. I won't be able to watch my family anymore. I won't even remember them. But I do hope they keep me in their hearts and my memories bring a smile on their faces.
I have no idea about the nation I'll be born in or the kind of parents I'll get. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed so as to be born in a happy family. This time around I hope my family will stick together.
1. 'We two and our two' referring to each family having only two children.
2. Heavy embroidery using golden and silver wires.
3. Huge amount of cash and other gifts given by bride's family to the groom's family at the time of marriage.
5. Elder Brother
6. School's run by Central Government in India.
7. Ancient Indian language still flourishing in India.
9. A long five yard cloth, generally in cotton worn by men folk in lieu of trousers.
10. Father's Sister
(c) preeti datar
IF’s Creative Head
Joined: 12 August 2005
Joined: 01 June 2004
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