Synopsis : This is the story of my father who was an extraordinary person and so was my mother who lead an exemplary life of devotion and piety. We can all learn from such persons how to live a life with honesty and dignity even if they remain poor.
A life worth living
Source : Family photo of the British medal
He was a young boy sitting and studying his lessons with his brothers around a kerosene lamp in the mud house in a rural obscure village that had no electricity, no paved roads, no running water, no decent shops and full of uneducated and superstitious village folks.
Outside it was pitch dark with wind howling through the bamboo clumps and making mournful sound. The pitiful howls of jackals could be heard that reminded one how remote the village was from any civilization. He did not mind and concentrated on his lessons.
His father relaxed in his cushion on the mud floor which was dry and clean and kept an indolent eye on his children and no one had any inkling what was coming next.
The disaster struck so suddenly that it left the kids speechless and they froze not knowing what to do but their father knew. A big and extremely poisonous king cobra had struck his thigh while chasing a mouse that it missed and struck his thigh instead. The poison took immediate effect but he managed to say “Thank God it was not my kids that the snake struck. Please bring me outside where I can feel the cool air” and he expired. There were no doctors and no hospital, no transport even if there was one and it was late at night so there was no help. King cobra did not give much time to people.
His wife rushed in and saw what had happened and fainted. Others came and found the body in its last throes of agony but they all watched helplessly and could do nothing. The snake had disappeared.
His elder brother who lived far away was sent a telegram but it took him several days to come the country being so vast but he came as was his duty to take care of the funeral and help the family although he did not know how yet.
It was in late 1800s when the country was ruled by the British. Soon the question came up about what to do with the kids now because their mother was an uneducated village woman who did not know anything and depended on her husband to run their small farm.
He was a very honest man who had run a farm and managed it for a widow who was illiterate to boot as most women in those days were and asked him to deduct his modest salary each month from the farm income. But her son who grew up spoiled and with gambling debts in the big city one day said the amount he deducted was illegal as there was no legal document to do so. It was all verbal so now he demanded 5000 rupees which was like a fortune in those days.
This honest man was heartbroken and protested but could do nothing as the old widow had died in the interim so there was no one to support his claim that it was his salary that he took each month. It failed to convince the young man so he found himself in dire straits. He sold some of his farm land to pay off this huge amount but it was not enough. The sheer injustice of it is enough to tear one’s heart apart.
Now he was dead of snake bite leaving behind his seven sons and a huge debt so the future looked dark. His elder brother now was a Godsend who came and decided to place the kids in foster care where they would be given free board and education.
So one day the young boy carried his small bag and walked on the rice paddy dikes for miles to reach his foster home leaving his home, his siblings and mother for an unknown future. He was so young and fearful. He was also sad.
No one could know what was going through his young mind because it was all so sudden. He did not know who the foster parent was and what he was like. He did not know anything about his future but he was to soon find out. His foster home was run by a priest so the young boy had to help him anyway he could. When the priest got paid with a sack of rice for his services, it was the young boy who carried the heavy sack on his frail shoulders balancing himself gingerly on the rice paddy dikes.
When the priest got a basket of vegetable or other things, the young boy carried that as well. The room and board was very modest but he stayed as he had no choice and concentrated on his studies. He was a smart kid and was good with numbers. He was sent to a local school where he was the smartest in his class and one day graduated from high school with a gold medal. He was perhaps 16 years of age by now.
This gold medal and his innocence got him a job with the British officers who saw in him a bright boy with very good potential so the young boy who had never left his rural surroundings and had never boarded a train was now set on a lifelong and exciting journey that took him to distant parts of the great country. For the first time he saw how vast the country was and how diverse the people were. Everything was new to him, the food, the languages and the clothes people wore but he was smart and learned quickly to cope.
He was now an accountant but had to pass tough exams to become one and served the British well wherever they sent him. Sometimes it was the South and other times in the far west in what is now Pakistan. He never forgot to send home some money. He also sent his younger brothers to school and paid for their expenses.
Then one day a co worker said to him that there is a beautiful girl who is perhaps 13 years old and from a very good family so he should now consider marriage. He was perhaps 22 year old now so he got married and sent his bride who was just a child to his village because he could not keep her with him where he was. He was living in tents in Waziristan which is a mountainous and primitive area even today.
The young bride who was the apple of her parent’s eyes and who had grown up in a city now was making a journey in the company of total strangers who had promised to bring her to the remote and primitive village somewhere in the east. So with fear and trepidation she followed because she trusted her husband whom she only met briefly during the marriage who was now her life partner. She was also very shy so could not tell the strangers that she needed to go to pee somewhere so suffered the pain silently. It was all very traumatic for a girl so young. The boat that brought her to the village glided to a stop late in the evening so she stepped off and followed more strange people who showed her the way with kerosene lamps. How traumatic it must have been for a little girl !
Her husband through the arranged marriage lived somewhere west of the country she did not know exactly where but was sure that someday he will bring her there when the time was right.
That he did. They lived in many parts of India and raised their growing family as best as they could. Their children were all born in different cities as they moved around so much.
The young man one day was called by his British officer who proudly presented him a silver medal minted in London with his name inscribed on the rim and said the British government gave this extraordinary medal to him in recognition of his loyal and sterling service to the empire. The photo of this medal is shown above.
But he was a humble man and never showed the medal to his children. He loved to play a musical instrument called Esraj but his children never saw him play. He had many talents but never talked about them.
Times passed swiftly for him and his family. The kids were growing up so he demanded and got a transfer to a bigger city where the kids could go to proper school and perhaps college later on. His daughters got married one by one and left the family. He now longed to go back to his native village where he wanted to retire but his relatives would have none of it. They were making windfall profits from his share of the farm that would stop if he retired in the village so they opposed. This is the real sibling relationship no one talks about.
So heartbroken he then built a decent home in the city. His wife sold her gold ornaments to pay for the land and some costs but finally she had her own home and she was proud of it. Together they raised the family and sent the kids to school and later college.
They were the ideal couple who seldom quarreled, seldom spoke harsh words, seldom spanked their kids and always taught them good values, honesty, hard work and tolerance to all faiths. They were the kindest and most loving couple one could imagine. People respected his integrity and fair treatment of others. They were the most generous and hospitable people one could find.
But the fate had a very different plan for him. One day he was diagnosed with cancer which he ignored at first but it got worse and had to be operated. He suffered the pain silently along with his loving wife. She stood in crowded buses for hours to bring him food everyday because the hospital food was so bad. No one gave her a seat in the bus so she suffered silently and never complained such was her lifelong devotion to her husband who needed her now.
The operation was not successful so he died a few months later at home and in terrible pain. No one could do anything but watch tearfully as he took his last breath. His wife lived on to an old age and a life of saint but finally one day she too breathed her last thus ending a long life of trials and challenges, adventure and tragedies, a life full of travel and uncertainties, a life full of joys as well as sorrows. They were my parents. I miss them terribly.
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