A son’s Life
He was the fourth born, after three sisters. His eldest sister was born three years after his parents got married and her name was chosen with great care and in consultation with various stakeholders. Finally she was anointed Prajwala, a relatively uncommon name. It meant ‘bright’ in Sanskrit. Two years later another sister made her appearance. This time the celebrations were decidedly muted and she was named Lakshmi without any fanfare. His parents took another three years to gather their courage and tried various pujas but alas, all their efforts were in vain and his third sister was sent into their disbelieving arms. For years she was just called Babli and chose her own name when she was admitted to school. She told the Principal that her name was Ankita and that was it. Ankita was her playmate neighbour.
He was perhaps their last attempt to have a son in the family. He was born another three years after Ankita, due to a forceful intervention by his aunt Sheila, who convinced his parents to visit a seer. A religious ceremony was organised and his parents promised to feed 11 brahmins if they begot a son. Praise be to the lord, it worked!
His grandmother later told him at least a hundred times about the joyous welcome his mother had when she came back from the hospital with him in her arms. His aunt Sheila was also waiting at the door of their house, and beamed with joy when his mother put him in her arms. There is photographic evidence of this occasion. He was then laid into the ‘almost new’ cradle by his aunt who got the privilege of rocking him first, by virtue of being indirectly responsible for bringing him into this world. His three sisters anxiously peered into the cradle. There is photographic evidence of that too. The holy books were consulted, the seer was also consulted, and finally he got a name the world would call him by. He was named Rajeshwar. He hated that name.
Rajeshwar was pampered. He was like a prince and his parents shielded him and protected him from evil eyes. His wish was their command even if they had to stretch the family budget to accommodate it. Meanwhile his sisters were growing up on dresses handed down to Prajwala by Rajeshwar’s relatives and then downwards with timely stitches, nip and tucks at the adroit hands of his mother. Rajeshwar always had new clothes when he overgrew the old ones.
Rajeshwar could do no wrong. His sisters were admonished even if it was he who broke something in the kitchen. They were at fault if he did not eat his meals. Prajwala was supposed to rock him and sing a lullaby if he did not sleep in time. Rajeshwar’s indigestion was because Lakshmi forgot to take him out for a walk in the park.
Time flew. Rajeshwar was admitted into an English medium school by shifting Ankita and Lakshmi into a Government school. Prajwala by that time was in 12th grade and soon moved to a college. Her fees were subsidised by the Government under some scheme to educate girls. Three years later she was married into a middle class family in another city. Rajeshwar’s father encashed some of his fixed deposits to solemnise the event. Another instalment of fixed deposits was used to marry the second sister and his father had to dip into his provident fund for Ankita’s marriage.
Now Rajeshwar was the anchor of all the hopes harboured by his parents. He struggled through school and his father was beginning to get a little disillusioned. He constantly nagged him to study and get better marks. He was now not so sure that Rajeshwar would become a doctor. The size and cost of his birthday gifts had gradually diminished. Many times his requests for a new item were denied outright or deferred after his mother’s intervention. The stress and pressure to perform was getting on his nerves but he could not share it with anyone. Rajeshwar scored 55 percent in the crucial board exams. For the first time in his life, he was actually shouted at by both parents. Utensils were banged in the kitchen while his father ranted. When he paused, his mother emerged from the kitchen and started. There would be a small lull when his tears flowed. Mother also joined him in crying and his father would utter some saying to the effect of it being too late and walk out. It would start all over again at the dining table.
This continued for two weeks till they both ran out of steam. But he was denied movies for six months thereafter. Meanwhile, he could secure admission only in the arts stream in the Bhanwaridevi College of Arts and Science, finally putting a question mark on all the dreams his parents had about his bright and illustrious career in medicine or administrative services.
Rajeshwar graduated with 59 percent marks and his parents tried to save face by saying that he had almost got first division. Rajeshwar decided to do post-graduation in Philosophy because a majority of his ‘no good’ friends were doing the same. His father retired as Assistant Postmaster, Jhalawar Head Post Office, the same year. He proudly showed the wristwatch presented to him by his colleagues and left it unsaid that Rajeshwar will maybe not amount to much and would probably never get such a gift.
Rajeshwar’s present was bleak with the constant undercurrents of dead hopes. They were now struggling financially and emotionally. His mother cried often. His father sat in his armchair and gazed vacantly into the horizon. Rajeshwar yearned for the escape offered by college and looked forward to leaving the dreariness of home and spend a few hours of joy with his college mates. But this was short lived and next year he was sitting at home scanning the newspaper for jobs after completing his studies. His father perked up a little and would circle advertised jobs which he felt were suitable for Rajeshwar. He started out with great hope and wrote several competitive examinations, spending good money on the fees and guide books. His mother proudly told their neighbours that he was applying for this or that vacancy. The whole family anxiously waited for the results and looked out for the postman to bring glad tidings. But that was not to be.
Rajeshwar then scaled down his aspirations from officer level jobs to clerical cadre but that also proved elusive. His father cursed, and became increasingly caustic about Rajeshwar being a burden on the household. His mother intensified her prayers and visited many seers. His sisters offered soothing words but not much else. All the relatives to whom they reached out only gave empty promises. His parents were getting sick of the shallow sympathies extended by their neighbours, especially those whose children had been fortunate enough to secure a job. His father avoided meeting his friends now. Rajeshwar was bewildered as to how he had turned from a hero of his home into a villain, in a span of just a few years.
He wished he could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. Stop exactly at the point when he was enjoying all the adulation. The exact time when he was carefree and pampered as a child. But now he carried the weight of years of sacrifices on his shoulders.
“I am not that strong. I did not ask to be made into a star. Then why am I being blamed for failing to please? Are not my parents equally to blame for having unrealistic expectations from me? Did I offer any guarantees that I would be able to encash the cheque of their expectations?”. These were dark thoughts that troubled him.
Rajeshwar saw his parents eagerly waiting for him when he returned home one day, after yet another failed attempt at landing a job. He was astonished to see this pleasant change, the cause of which revealed itself immediately. He was to travel to the city where his maternal uncle lived. He had written to his parents about some jobs in the municipality and was reasonably sure of swinging it his way. As the post had arrived late, he was to proceed without delay and catch the morning train. The interviews were scheduled after two days.
His mother got up early and her prayers that day were longer than usual. Rajeshwar found his father cheerful at breakfast with renewed hope kindling in his heart. Rajeshwar was secretly dreading this unfounded optimism and tried to moderate it by talking about fate and God’s will. His mother would not listen and chirped endlessly about how times were going to change soon, thanks to the many petitions she had filed every day in the court of the almighty. His father beamed as if success was a foregone conclusion. Both agreed that they will not say a word to their neighbours till he came back with the appointment letter. A spoon of sweetened curd was placed in his mouth as he got ready to leave the house and conquer the world. Rajeshwar bent and touched his parents’ feet and boarded the cycle rickshaw waiting outside. His father helped him with the bag containing his one good shirt and trousers and the only pair of formal shoes, recently polished by him while Rajeshwar was having his bath. He insisted on accompanying Rajeshwar to the railway station.
The train was overcrowded but that was no deterrent. Rajeshwar managed to enter a coach and his father handed him the bag over the heads of all the people trying to get in. He kept waving to Rajeshwar as the train chugged away.
Rajeshwar reached his destination late in the evening after a highly uncomfortable journey, standing the whole way near the toilet. His uncle’s son was waiting for him and took him to their home. On the way, he did not fail to mention how he was able to get a job immediately after he completed his studies. His uncle and aunt welcomed him but Rajeshwar did not see any genuineness in their affection. They also narrated with pride their son’s success in life as a clerk with a ”prominent lawyer of the town”. In the process, they questioned Rajeshwar’s choice in academics and everyone concurred that law would have been a better option. After all their son was sitting right there as a shining example.
Next morning Rajeshwar joined a large crowd milling about in the grounds of the recruitment centre. His uncle had a friend who knew someone who knew someone in the municipality. Rajeshwar was thus able to jump the queue over the many others not so fortunate, but still behind many others who had a greater influence. His uncle kept encouraging him. After all, there were quite a few vacancies of peon open here. He patted Rajeshwar and left to open his small grocery shop.
Rajeshwar had his interview towards the end of the day where he was slyly asked how much he could pay for the job. The interview ended abruptly when he started narrating his family’s situation. Rajeshwar was near tears when he came out, in his good shirt and trousers and formal shoes which were scuffed up in the jostling crowd. He reached his uncle’s home and narrated the day’s events. He did not get any sympathy as they lectured him about the ways of the world. Rajeshwar declined dinner and made his lonely way to catch his night train back. He went by foot to save the rickshaw money.
The moon was shining bright as he climbed the stairs of the railway bridge. He did not wish to board the train to home. “I will not be able to face my parents and see their faces fall yet again”, he sobbed.
Rajeshwar paused and looked down. The railway tracks twinkled in the moonlight and he walked down with a heavy tread and a heavier heart. A dozing clerk sat at the ticket counter.
Rajeshwar pushed in a Rs. 100 note through the counter window.
“Where to?”,asked the clerk.
“Anywhere except Jhalawar.”