The year was 1945. The World War II was on the brink of a end, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were completely destroyed, people of all race and castes had lost their loved ones, gloom and apathy surrounded the world. Unaware of all such condition, there was a 5 year old boy merrily playing in the backyard of his house with his friends. Rukmini sat in the verandah husking the last of the leftover grains, while Tatoba was away on the farm toiling for the yield.
Tatoba lived with his wife Rukminibai and a son Kanu in a little village by the name of Sastur, which currently is in the Osmanabad district of Maharashtra, India. Kanu’s real name was Khandoba but he preferred calling himself Kanu. Because Tatoba had a family to feed, he saw his days consumed by hard work. Every day, he labored from dawn to sundown, in the Zamindar’s field, plowing it and turning the soil. At any given moment you could spot him in his field, bent at the waist, back as curved as the bow, all day. Since the day he had fallen off the tree, he often had those concussions in middle of the day, but he preferred to ignore them. His hands were always callused, and they often bled, and every night sleep stole him away no sooner than his cheek met the pillow.
Life in Sastur was hard for all its inhabitants. There were other, more fortunate villages to the west, in the valleys, and rivers that ran with cold, clear water. But Sastur was a desolate place, with barren land with a never ending drought. The wind was hot, and blew dust in the eyes. Finding water was a daily struggle because the village wells, even the deep ones, often ran low. Yes, there was a river, but the villagers had to endure a half-day walk to reach it, and even then its waters flowed muddy all year round. Now, after ten years of drought, the river too ran shallow. People in Sastur worked twice as hard to erk out half the living.
Still, Rukmini counted herself among the fortunate because she had a husband like Tatoba and a family that she cherished above all things. She loved her husband and never raised a question for her needs. She was from a well to do family, but she adjusted her life in whatever Tatoba could provide for her. She valued his counsel and found genuine pleasure in his companionship. But the most beloved thing in the planet for them was their son Kanu. Kanu charmed anyone who met him with his childish laughter. He was also one of those boys so bursting with energy that he drained others of theirs. When Tatoba came home after a long day’s work, Kanu would run from the house face-first into his father’s belly.
But Rukmini’s days of happiness soon came to an end.
It happened on that day, when neighbor Manya came running to tell the news that shook the ground below her feet. Tatoba while ploughing on the field had died on the farm. The sunstroke took away the life out of his all wrecked body. He was avoiding the call of body fatigue, as he surely couldn’t afford to visit a Vaidya or a city doctor when he was trying make the ends meet at home.
I guess you know what happened after that dreaded knock on the door. Upon hearing the news, Rukmini let anagonized cry escape from her lips, and had fainted cold. She wept like a child with terror. Kanu didn’t realize what was amiss, where was his Baba and there stood Rukmini, eyes squeezed shut, tears leaking from both, she locked herself behind the door, as Kanu pounded his small fists on it, crying for her to let him in.
There followed a thirteen-day mourning period. Every day, neighbors cooked meals for them and kept vigil with them. Rukmini could hardly bring herself to say so much as a word of thanks. She sat in a corner, weeping, streams of tears pouring from both eyes as though she meant to end the village’s streak of droughts with them.
One day Rukmini woke up and realized she has a son to look after. Finding no solace in the house of her husband, she decided to move back to her home where her brothers and their families stayed.
Kanu’s maternal home was in Yewta, a village which lies in today’s Beed district of Maharashtra, India. Rukmini’s father had passed away few years back and her eldest brother Pandurang Patil was now head of the family. He lived there with his wife Tarabai and his two sons, alongwith Rukmini’s other two elder brothers Sadashiv and Ramdas and their families.
Rukmini was the youngest and most beloved of all siblings. Before her marriage, she was treated like a princess and was fed with all her wishes. Her sister in laws never allowed her to help them in the kitchen, or in any other house work.
But for Pandurang, Rukmini was the apple of his eye. Once when they were kids, Pandurang even sold off his only shoes just to buy the toy, for which Rukmini had cried in front of her father last night. Pandurang wished he could love her as he had his own mother. Mother, who had bled to death giving birth to Rukmini three and a half years earlier when Pandurang was nine. Mother, whose face was all but lost to him now. He was the one raising her. Even though he was still a child himself. When Rukmini was an infant, it was he she had awakened at night with her squeaks and mutters, he who had walked and bounced her in the dark. He had changed her soiled diapers. He had been the one to give Rukmini her baths. The care had fallen on Pandurang, but he didn’t mind at all. He did it gladly. He loved the fact that he was the one to help with her first step, to gasp at her first uttered word.
But the scenario had changed now. She wasn’t the star of their eyes now. She was a widow. A burden. Patil’s had an important place in the society, and so they had to abide by the rules made by them. Pandurang was now Panduseth and had a sort of terrorizing effect on the locality. No one dared to cross him, or get in his way. Even when he sat in their expansive verandah, women couldn’t walk over without their sari’s end on their head.
Rukmini was undermined by everyone in their home. She couldn’t go out, she could not even visit the temple or walk in front of the guests. She was as good as the corner worn out rug in the house. She did all the work given to her, cleaned the soiled clothes, washed the utensils, cleaned the house, toiled day and night. Her sister-in laws now ill-treated her, called her names, abused her, but she took it all for her son.
As for Pandurang, he felt helpless. He loved his sister the same but he had to stand to the fact that she was a widow now. He used to propogate the religious pseudonyms in the village which basically took a stand against the widow empowerment. Little had he known that fate would bring him the same dire consequences! He cried, when he heard the news, he cried every single day when he saw that look in his sister’s aghast eyes.
But Rukmini never complained. She loved Kanu dearly as he was the world for her. She sacrificed all her happiness so that he could smile. Whenever he cried, she would take his head on his lap and console him. She would tell him stories, tell him things about his father, and secretly bring sweets for him from the kitchen. There was nothing in the world that could take away her love for Kanu.
Kanu was 10 now, and unlike his cousins, he didn’t go to the nearby school. He either did odd jobs given to him by his uncles or helped his mother in her work. Neither did his cousins play with him, nor did anybody around the vicinity considered him any good. He wandered around watching the marketplace, played near the well in a solace, and chased dragonflies in the garden. At a tender age of 10, he was scolded, beaten up by his uncles and aunts like a menial servant, and he had already decided to move away someday and earn a life of respect.
On that inevitable day, few days after Kanu had turned 11, there was a whole swarm of guests in the home for the Ganpati festival. There was chaos everywhere and the house jeered with enthusiasm. Rukmini couldn’t get out of her room or be in front of the god. Kanu was told to carry the bucket of hot water near the well for one of the guest’s bath, when he tripped and the scorching hot water fell on the guest’s thigh. Watching this from behind, Rukmini’s other elder brother, Sadashiv, raged out and squeezed his ear tightly. He took Kanu’s tiny hands and dipped it in the hot water to show him how it feels. Kanu screamed at top of his voice and let out a loud cry. His tender mind of 11, filled with anger, ordered him, and suddenly, with the same hands, he picked up the bucket and threw it on Sadashiv. Sadashiv danced out like a man on fire and fell into the well. People started gathering, and watching this, he pushed them around and ran out of the house. He kept running, and didn’t stop till he had crossed the village borders.
Unaware of all this, Rukmini was inside her room sleeping all day. When she got the news, she started crying out loud, and asked for her boy. After she got no attention or any mercy from any of the members of the house, she dared to do which nobody in the locality would had dreamt of. In midst of the Holy Ganpati festival, she stepped out of the house. Barefooted; she roamed all the night in middle of the processions, searching for Kanu. She called him, screamed out loud, begged before others if they had seen him. Next day, thinking that he would return home soon, she went back to the house.
But he never returned. Kanu was what the reason why she was living. Bringing him back, was what she desired the most, with every fiber of her being. She had pictured thousands of dreams, to hold Kanu back in her arms, kiss his cheek and feel the softness of his small hands in her own. Many days passed, Rukmini sat everyday at the edge of the family’s backyard, looking out and hoping to see Kanu. With each passing day, her hopes for his return diminished.
Her health kept deteriorating, and she hardly ate anything given to her. And on that fateful day of summer, Rukmini passed away. She took away with her all the dreams of reuniting with her son, and the wishes she held dearly in her heart.
Kanu did come back after ten years, but after not finding his mother, he left away quietly. He couldn’t bring himself to the fact that he wasn’t there, when she needed him the most.
As for the Patil’s, after Rukmini’s death, the family came crashing down. Pandurang was shattered, and opted himself out of the family business. Sadashiv and Ramdas, demanded partition in the property, and tenants came in the house. It was like Patil family’s roots were uprooted. People still believe, Rukmini’s death had been like a curse on the house and nobody lived happily in that house again. Pandurang still lived there, and wondered for rest of his life, that what he could have done or how could he had amended his mistakes.
Well I guess, what goes around, does come back around.
© mandar k