Family

26 Feb

CHAPTER ONE

J

emina gave one final push and out came the baby. It had been a long labour, lasting all of 12 hours. The midwife had been very efficient. The baby, a radiant and beautiful bundle was the first offspring of Jemina and Radji. For Radji the happiness at the arrival of this bundle of joy would have been complete if it had been a male. Being as poor as he and his young wife were, he wondered how he would raise her dowry when the time came. But what she lacked in being a boy she made up for by her resplendent beauty.

He had married his wife for the great love they had for each other from when they were children. She had a very poor background—just like him—and so had almost nothing to offer at their marriage. What he had brought he had greatly cherished. It was a diamond ring worth several thousand rupees, an heirloom of her family’s for generations. It was not a dowry per se; she had worn it during their very modest wedding ceremony. Considering the financial state of her family it was quite surprising to find the family possessed such an heirloom.

Many of his friends could not understand him. Many families with considerable wealth had indicated interest in performing bariksha in his home but he had been firm in his decision not to look at any other than Jemina, and despite their poor living conditions, he had not regretted his decision to marry the love of his life.

In keeping with the tradition he had not been allowed into the “labour room”, which actually happened to be Jemina’s mother’s bedroom. They had decided that she return to her babul ka ghar to have her first baby after a complication developed some weeks ago. It had saved them a lot of expenses since going to the hospital would have cost them a small fortune.

He offered a silent prayer of thanks to Vishnu, one of the three main gods in the Hindu religion known as “The Preserver” because of his many Avatars.

The only nagging problem that loomed now was the naam karan as the naming ceremony was called. It was usually an elaborate affair and he wondered how he would raise enough money for the ceremony. The good thing was he had about a year before it would be considered too late to have it for their daughter, and he was sure he would give her a befitting naam karan.

The mid-wife came out to meet him, all smiles, and declared to him that both mother and child were doing all right.

‘Can I see them?’ he asked anxiously.

The mid-wife smiled at him. ‘No’, she said understandingly. ‘But you could in a couple of hours. Mother and baby must be cleaned up first’. With that she withdrew into the delivery cum labour room.

Radji watched the mid-wife disappear behind the curtains his thoughts far away. He had to inform his parents about the safe arrival of the baby. They had been quite anxious too, these last few weeks, when Jemina’s pregnancy suddenly became problematic. His mother had offered to come and take care of her but Sunita, Jemina’s mother, had insisted on her rights as mother of the bride and brought Jemina into her home until the delivery.

Since he had a couple of hours to kill, Radji decided to go visit his parents and give them the news.

His family lived in Ayodhya, Mumbai Northern India about an hour’s bus ride from his in-laws. The cold December breeze hit him square on the face as he stepped out of his in-laws poor but cozy home.

He got on board a bus headed to Ayodhya. In his preoccupied state he did not notice the headlines on the newspaper stand. The atmosphere in the bus was charged. Many of those in the bus, mostly male, wore angry faces. This was lost on Radji whose thoughts centered on how he was going to provide for his increased family now that his daughter had arrived.

His first inkling that something was amiss was when he smelt smoke in the air. They were nearing Ayodhya and there was a riot going on.

Radji disembarked the bus as quickly as possible. It was imperative that he find shelter from the angry mob. It was also highly important that he find his mother as-soon-as-possible.

Radji was at a loss as to the reason for the riot, but he soon found out.

There were two rioting factions—the Vishva Hindu Parashad was at loggerheads with the Muslims. This disagreement had lasted about two decades. The dispute was over the spot the Muslims had built the Babri Misjid—a mosque. The Hindus believed the spot to be the birthplace of Rama. They demanded the Muslims remove the structure even more so as the structure had become dilapidated due to lack of use. Since the Hindus believed the matter was being continually ignored by the government and other authorities, they had decided to take the law into their own hands and demolish the mosque.

As Radji tried to find shelter he wondered how many tragedies the year was serving up for them. Just seven months ago over two hundred had died following the drinking of illegally brewed liquor. The same incident had left about six hundred receiving treatment at the hospital and now this.

He was skeptical about finding his mother at home. His mother was an outspoken member of the VHP, so was he if you come to think of it, but he had been so busy lately he was not following the goings-on around him.

He made it safely to his parents’ home. The atmosphere was sombre.  He could tell from the expression on the faces around him that tragic news awaited him.

His uncle Veejay came over to meet him and take him to the inner room. There lying on the bed were both his parents. Seeing their lifeless forms left him devastated. Veejay explained to him how his parents had been a party to the on-going riot. He further advised him to leave as soon as possible.

‘I can’t leave my parents without burying them’ he protested.

‘It is important you do that’ Veejay insisted. ‘We are here. We make sure everything is okay. That is what family is for.’

‘I won’t be at my parents’ burial?’ Radji could not contemplate that. ‘I am sorry I cannot accept that.’

‘You have to accept it. Remember your wife has a problem pregnancy. You have to be around for her’ Veejay pointed out.

Mention of his wife reminded him of why he had come to see his parents in the first place.

‘Jemina…’

‘Is there any problem with Jemina?’

‘No’ Radji replied with tears in his eyes. ‘I have a baby uncle Veejay. Jemina had a baby girl.’

Veejay held him in a tender embrace.

‘Congratulations, my nephew. Congratulations.’ Then holding him away, ‘Do you see why you should not risk hanging around for this burial? It is important you go away now.’

Veejay went to a desk by his parents’ desk and brought out two tickets.

‘Your father meant to give this to Jemina and you. He wishes you move to the United States.’

Radji collected the tickets, a puzzled expression on his face.

‘Yes Radji. That was your father’s last wish for you.’

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