Prema lost her doting husband to the riots that had followed partition. There were no goodbyes or teary farewells. All she received was the tragic news and some of his clothes, weeks later when her husband’s older brother reunited with them in the refugee camp at Kingsway camp in Delhi. She froze in a stone like trance as her tears just refused to flow.
With two kids, a four and a two year old in tow, there just wasn’t time for mourning. Everyone around them was struggling but her brothers-in-law assured her that they will shoulder the responsibility of the bereaved young family.
As she collected herself, she knew that her primary education would not help her much. She had always had a flair for sewing and embroidery. When someone in the camp mentioned about a training school in Jalandhar, she saw a window of hope. Before she knew she was on a bus to see the place and when she saw it she knew it will be her emancipation.
There were practical issues to worry about but her husband’s family assured her that the fees would be managed and her younger brother-in-law offered to take care of the kids. It was a stretch for everyone but they rallied, on a prayer and hope. For a family that was steeped in luxury, the year-long course tested everyone’s patience and courage. To save money, Prema didn’t make a single trip to see her children. Letters were her only solace but it pained her to think that her kids didn’t have that either.
Finally, the day came, when she stepped down the bus with her certificate and she was greeted with cheers from the entire family. Her kids just wouldn’t keep still with all that excitement which became even more palpable as they came closer. The kids took her hands in theirs and pulled her towards the garage. “Ma, there’s a surprise for you in the garage, come quickly.” She humored them, expecting banners and a feast. But what she saw left her speechless. There in the garage of the home that the government had allotted to the family, were half a dozen sewing machines and the banner behind them read ‘Prema Silai Kendra’ (Prema’s Sewing Classes).
Before she could find her voice back, her brother-in-law broke her reverie, “Bhabhi, they are second hand but in running condition. With the compensation that came from the government, this is all we could manage. Some nearby girls are awaiting your arrival, so they can start their classes. Most are refugees like us whose families want to see them stand on their own two feet. Once it picks up, you can replace with new machines.”
By now Prema’s body was racking with sobs and the tears flowed. Tears of grief had finally found their way through joy.