May 14, 1954
Mr. Raju, fondly called as Raju Mama in the little township around the temple, was a middle-aged man then, when the last of his offsprings was born. His wife was due to deliver the baby any moment. Raju Mama, his other children, and a few other relatives and neighbours had gathered at the small porch. As the children played running around the pillars at the portico, Raju Mama paced across the veranda, tension building up inside him every minute.
“She must be in a lot of pain. I wish she delivers soon,” said he, with his face betraying a little of the anxiety inside him.
Some of those waiting with him nodded grimly. Those curt nods and pursed lips only seemed to add to his nervousness. His face turned graver as he heard shuffling footsteps through the small window, opening into a tiny room inside.
The man with the stern demeanour and gruff voice.
The strict and angry Raju Mama.
The terribly short-tempered but amazing Maths tutor in the township.
And so on were the innumerable monikers that were bestowed by the men, women, and children of the small neighbourhood.
But, that evening let them all have a peek at the real person hiding behind the tough facade that he sported often.
His wife, fondly referred to as Sundari Mami among the women in the area, was a sweetheart. She was one of those typical housewives of the past. She catered to everyone’s needs at home more happily and willingly and raised the children, while Raju Mama managed the finances of the household. He was the sole breadwinner of a family of seven. That evening saw a new addition to the family, a little baby boy!
The baby’s first cry resounded through the walls, almost piercing them, as they reached the ears of Raju Mama at the veranda. A slight smile crossed his face and he threw a small prayer skyward. He thanked the Almighty for protecting his wife and his little son. Despite continual warnings from the midwives and the doctor on his wife being too weak to continue through the gestation for the full term, she had determinedly wanted to, stating that termination of pregnancy could be deemed equivalent to killing a life. She was a kind woman who would shudder to hurt anyone, let alone be the reason for destruction. She blatantly refused to abort her unborn child in the womb.
She stood by her decision and how!
The announcement from the midwife through the window that it was a baby boy lit up the dusky twilight outside as the father and the siblings revelled in everyone’s wishes.
And, that was the day I fell in love with that baby, the last of the siblings and the last of the children of Raju Mama and Sundari Mami, at his first cry and at his first glug. I found myself silently thanking his mother for her decision.
It was love at first sight for me, a special feeling that I shared only with him, although I have seen the other children take birth and grow up there on my lap. The feeling was inexplicable, as though we had a deep connection from aeons before.
I did find out why much later,
When he became the reason behind the second lease of life that I was blessed with!
A second chance to live!
Another chance to see another generation!
I was quite grateful thinking of that evening, many years later. Although I was put into all kinds of trials and ordinances through the years to get resurrected to have my second shot at life, I always felt proud of the way I turned out to be.
Let me tell you my story in chronological order by fast-forwarding my life decade by decade, right from the time Chinna was born.
Yes, Chinna was and is the pet name or a sweet moniker of the baby boy that was born that evening. The couple’s last child. I don’t really remember his exact name since that was how he was called by everyone in that township. Possibly, his education and work records would have had his real name that I never got to know of.
Nevertheless, isn’t it such a lovable name? Though people tended to confuse the name for a girl!
By the way, I would like to mention that I did come into existence almost 15 years before my little hero was born. But, this story revolves around the theme of my second chance or second life and therefore I take the liberty to begin the story of my existence from the moment the character behind it was born.
The first ten years of my life with Chinna running around were complete bliss. Being the youngest among four daughters and two sons of Raju Mama, one would expect that he would have gained all the attention of the family members, pampering him and showering him with love, while he was growing.
But, that was quite not the scenario. He was never the most loved one. The one who gained all the glory and love was the elder son, the fifth born after four daughters in the family. That did hurt me often.
But, whatever was the case with the other members, I loved the boy thoroughly and unconditionally. My entire being would go on talking about the shrewd and smart boy for hours together. And, the best part was that my affection was reciprocated by him in many ways and means. He took care of me like his own. He believed that I too had a life and I need to be cherished and loved like those that I sheltered.
I knew he was special but his display of affection did multiply our bond manifold.
My heart would go out to him when he was at the receiving end of his strict and angry father. The father in Mr. Raju often disappeared and the Maths teacher sometimes took an upper hand if his children hadn’t performed well in their tests.
I can almost hear the teacher-pupil conversation even today.
“Is the answer right? Do you think you have solved the problem correctly?” asked Raju Mama menacingly, trying to bite back the anger that was waiting to be unleashed.
“I think, yes,” replied Chinna very casually.
The foot-long wooden scale broke, unable to withstand the force of the slap. The boy stood still with silent tears welling up in his eyes.
“Redo the entire set and bring it back to me by tonight,” Raju Mama screamed and walked away with a huff.
Sundari Mami, who witnessed what happened in the hallway from a shadowy corner, came running to examine her son’s wound. A gash had appeared which trickled out blood. She treated it as quickly as she could while the boy was shivering from head to toe out of repressed anger. She tried to console him and advised him not to take it to his heart.
Oh and by the way, did I mention that this extreme emotion of anger runs in the genes of Mr. Raju’s family?
The two sons, especially.
Although known for their intimate brotherly relationship, each of them individually and to each other would give a strong competition in a Degrees of Anger Contest to their father. Believe me when I say that I have seen the worst of anger engulfing a beautiful relationship in its vicious flames.
With that piece of information about the abhorrent characteristic, I move on to a day, 6 years later, when I was immersed in a sea of grief.
I was painted grey with grief and sorrow all over me. Chinna was crying nonstop beside the lifeless form of his mother, the demure and quiet woman on whom he could fall back for support any time.
It was hard to digest the fact that he had to cope with a loss of such magnitude when he was barely sixteen. I cried along with him.
It took him more than a year to overcome the grief of a lost parent. So did I. She used to be the light that dispelled the darkness of my core. With her gone, the other family members fell into a monotonous routine without life in it, until Time helped them all to cope with the loss.
The last of Mr. Raju’s children and my favourite had been sent off to the city when he was 20. The stern disciplinarian that he was, his father wanted his son to find his place in the world. He wanted Chinna to make a living for himself after he earned a degree.
But that day, that year, when Chinna arrived home holding his bag, I couldn’t face him. Mr. Raju had breathed his last the previous evening and all of his children and their families had rushed to the scene. Once again, I was plunged into the ocean of grief all over. Without the voice of the master of the household, echoing through my insides, I experienced a deafening silence. With the last of my rightful owners leaving my abode for a haven way above, I felt glum and lifeless. I could see Chinna breaking down and my heart went out to him.
Life was not the same after that day, that year.
I was shut!
Gloom loomed over me and darkness crept onto my walls.
I was wailing for attention but none heard me.
I felt sorrier for myself with every passing day.
I used to be filled with love, light, laughter, and the clamour of life echoing through me.
But it was not so anymore. I sobbed at my plight every day.
I wished and prayed for a miracle to happen.
My wait seemed like forever. One after the other, the children of Raju Mama kept visiting me to check my condition and take a part of me away to adorn their homes.
I felt like being plundered through my heart and soul when each of my precious belongings changed ownership and shifted to a different pair of hands.
I watched helplessly.
I tried to address them to take pity on me and help me gain my normal life again.
But no, none of them heard or responded to my pleas.
That day arrived. The face I wanted to see and the voice I wanted to hear walked into my heart and looked around.
I felt ecstatic to see Chinna.
“This is the place I was born and brought up,” said Chinna to a woman beside him. She should be his wife or so I guessed. In all the glee and happiness that was running through me to have got to see a familiar and favourite face, I missed seeing the little kid holding her mother’s hands.
Oh my! She looked exactly like Chinna – that nose, those ears, that chin, and that jawline. She looked like a cute replica of Chinna.
I was overwhelmed with joy.
He showed off the place to his wife and I could hear them talking about some property dispute. I listened on and how I wished I had not.
Apparently, the two sons of Mr. Raju, Chinna and his brother, who had indeed been considered as the epitome of brotherly affection as long as I have seen them, had been involved in a dispute over the house they were nourished in and brought up.
I was shocked beyond sanity. I wished all of it to be untrue.
Siblings could fight over petty things and reunite. But no, definitely not over their ancestral house.
Their ancestral house which cared for them like its own.
Their ancestral house – Yes, it’s me!
I could hear my walls wail in grief. Through my tears, I saw Chinna and his family leaving me and locking my main door.
A few bricks fell into the hallway. A part of me crumbled. A wreck was imminent.
Chinna visited again with his brother. I could hear the pomp and show of the temple festivities in full swing. It was that time of the year when the little township was lit up for a fortnight. All one could hear were the continuous sounds of percussion instruments trying to compete with one another on producing the maximum volume.
When the world outside was full of life, I could see Chinna’s brother arguing with him with such fervour over his share of property that I wanted to speak aloud to remind them of their past.
I couldn’t. Only I could hear my cries. I could only see anger flaring up in the conversation between the brothers, threatening to dissolve the relationship they shared. The wretched characteristic that had been passed over generations.
A wall of mine tumbled down and fell with a thud on the floor.
I was facing an impending destruction due to the emotional turmoil that I was facing.
Chinna’s brother suddenly appeared one day along with a stranger and they were talking money.
I grabbed a gist of their conversation. The dispute over me had been settled or so I gathered.
I was put on sale to a third party. I would no more be the cherished house of Mr. Raju and his family. That thought made me numb.
How could humans not experience any kind of attachment to the house they were born, brought up, nurtured, and loved in? Was I simply brick and mortar that one could easily sell off to make money?
Was that all?
It indeed was, according to his brother.
I wondered who would be my new owner once Chinna also decided to sell off his share.
Another echo rebounded through my walls as another handful of bricks fell onto my floor.
My heart was getting crushed under the weight of the insensitiveness around.
My backyard was cordoned off. A fence was laid and the land was being cleared for some construction of a building. I could guess that that area had been sold off, although unsure as to which of the brothers did it.
What if it had been Chinna? My heart sank at the thought.
I tried to piece myself together and remained the same. Just the same old greying and crumbling walls that held memories of the past decades that were teeming with life.
I could hear that year’s temple festivities high on tempo. But, it did nothing to soothe my pain of neglect to a state of nonchalance. I had become the home of a few reptiles and amphibians by then, having been vacant for many years.
I heard my main door creak open and Chinna entered and so did one of his sisters. I tried to smile.
“You are mine! I don’t have the heart to give you off to anyone as you hold a treasure trove of memories,” he announced to no one in particular but I could perfectly understand that he was addressing me, though I stood inanimate to his eyes. I could feel his joy in his voice. He didn’t want to disown me. I knew he wouldn’t. He would definitely go to any lengths to make me his.
I knew it right since his birth. That evening, during one of the hottest summers.
My joy knew no bounds.
A decade passed since the time I heard those beautiful words from Chinna. He did return to check on me off and on.
I had been trying with all my might to keep myself intact. Though left untouched for decades together by then, I wanted to survive through this mess just for the sake of Chinna.
I heard him once talking to his sister about arranging finances to kick start work soon.
My wait did end one day.
I could hear jarring noises of heavy machinery just outside. As I tried to shake myself off the dust and rumbles that I had gotten used to, a sweeping run over my walls completely shovelled my remains to a corner. I mingled with dust and earth. I reeked of filth. But, my soul remained unharmed.
As I tried to breathe and take in the scene in front of me, my saviour arrived with another man holding a map.
“Let this front space be left for a little portico and let the house begin from this part of the land,” Chinna announced and marked the part from where the construction had to begin.
That was when I completely understood why I had developed such a deep connection with that man right from the time he was born. He was indeed planning to breathe life into my very soul and raise a similar structure at exactly where I had been stood earlier.
I couldn’t be more grateful for having been given a second shot at life and to house happiness and laughter once more.
I smelt and felt great. The incense sticks emanating fragrant fumes from every direction made me feel fresh. I was indeed fresh and new.
New walls, new pillars, and even a new tiled floor.
A refreshing new life was bestowed upon me.
It was the day of a new beginning. The house-warming ceremony was happening at the centre of my abode, and all I could see was Chinna and his wrinkles on his face.
That man accomplished what I prayed for.
I can only whisper right now, as the two little kids, the two naughty grandchildren of Chinna have finally settled down for the night. Oh my! I have never seen a pair of naughtiest kids ever.
They seem to turn the house..ahem…well…me…upside down.
Chinna’s children have come down to this humble abode for a vacation and I am all set to enjoy my time with this next generation of Raju Mama’s clan!
Oh well, I can almost see him smile at me and his great-grandchildren from the skies!
Mama and Mami – (Tamil) used often to refer to an old and respected couple in the society.
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