[‘A Festival of Relationships’ (‘પરિચયપર્વ’) is a bouquet of introductory pen-portraits. The book is an anthology of short characterizations of great personalities, close relatives and friends, distilled from subtle observations of their lives made by the author.]
To name my relationship with this individual, she is my elder sister. Her name is Kunjalata Anjaria, the only daughter of my father’s sister. I came to know that our fathers were different only when her father passed away. I was seven years old then. That realization was shocking indeed!
The reason for her intense intimacy with her younger sister was the fact that she had spent her childhood with my grandmother [my father’s mother and her mother’s mother]. She had lost her mother at an age of two-and-a-half years. Her childhood commenced under the shelter of her widowed grandmother and her uncle [mother’s brother]. Her widower father’s stream of silent love kept flowing in the background. Even this so-called happiness of hers would last only until she turned nine, when the cruel hand of death took away her grandmother. Her second major support was now no more. She was now to seek a fresh shelter – at her uncle’s place (father’s brother).
My father also married during that period. My mother’s first footsteps in our home were in the role of an aunt to my sister [wife of mother’s brother]. The aunt- niece relationship, oft-discussed and much-maligned in our society and folklore, was to flourish on an altogether different note here. My mother’s strong bond with my father extended to my father’s favorite, and it was retained until her own death.
Please note that we are looking back 60+ years in history. Child marriages were quite common and my sister had had no other support. The family decided to marry her at the tender age of fourteen. So, her life was now tied to that of a scion of a family with a good name and position in society. A light now beamed on her life, the glow of which I have observed from a distance, in the form of still memories preserved in a bunch of letters written by her husband, then studying at Jamia Milia University, tucked away in her closed box. Would I ever dare to look at those letters! Her blissful married life of just 13 years expanded with the birth of two priceless gems of children. But, her husband’s cancer engulfed my sister’s life between 14 to 27 years in its fold.
Once again the solitary journey commenced. Her companions were: a resolute father – a student of Maharshi Arvind during his teaching years; a strong uncle [mother’s brother]; an affectionate aunt [wife of her mother’s brother] and two loving elder brothers. She had to struggle through the rough sea of life with only these rafts for support. What hardships a widow in a period 45+years in the past had to live through! A black-out of one year, life literally written off! You are left alone to cope with your loneliness. Only those who can ‘see’ the silent sobs hidden behind the veil can really imagine the anguish. This suffering is absolutely personal, with no one to share it – to find answers to unanswered questions that could be read in the eyes of an eight-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter, and to encounter numerous [social and economic] problems!
However, the flower of my sister’s life kept blossoming and spreading its fragrance in the midst of these storms of life, on the strength of her inner sensitivity. The broad-minded father supported her in continuing her studies, disregarding any ‘ism’. He made her go through a teachers’ training course, known as B.T. in those days, to enable her to stand on her own. He accompanied her wherever she had to go in pursuit of these studies. What other economic benefits would this elder member of a middle-class Nagar family have? He had a paltry pension income which he would hand over in totality to her, with the complete consent of his elder sons. The sister and her family were totally subsumed in the brothers’ own large families! The brothers’ homes would resound with joyful voices of children of the brothers and the sister during the summer vacations, and everyone would forget who was a child of whom.
Years later, the sister having done well financially, when she returned the whole of her father’s pension amount to her elder brother in the form of a cheque of Rs. 6,000, it became extremely difficult for the large-hearted brother, despite living in middle-class circumstances, to accept it! These were sweet dilemmas and difficult tests arising from the extraordinary values inculcated by the teacher-father of ordinary means!
No sooner could she stand on her own financially, than she initiated her independent life in a one-and-a-half room house. These days – with a meager salary, children’s’ education, six hours on the job – could pass only with help from a caring mother-in-law, a lively neighborhood and the warmth of an old, affectionate housemaid who did the housework for several years. She underwent a lot of internal and external struggle to ensure that the bright career of the children was not impaired by the adversities of her present life. The virtue of detachment, inherited from her father, helped her in not getting infatuated with the success of her distinctive children. Her bright daughter was a student at the very school where she was a teacher. And yet, the staff, always praising the daughter, would know only much later that their favorite student was the daughter of their senior colleague!
Financial conditions were tight even when the son had to go away for higher education. But his enlightened professors could see the boy’s mettle and readily supported him. He had to share the burden of domestic chores of the houses of his relatives where he stayed during the period of his higher education. Once the son was fed up of this tiring routine and wrote a complaining letter to the mother, to which she replied with advice to take such difficulties in his stride, and with a stern warning not to write to her with such complaints again! As the young daughter of sixteen was to leave for higher studies, the first time away from home and from a lone mother, as her eyes moistened with tears of the sorrow of parting, the mother is known to have said: “What’s this? Such softness while you are going to pursue studies? If that’s what you want to do, get down from the bus!”
I have not seen my sister’s happiness wither through her untimely widowhood, tight finances or the vagaries of social life. Her equally caring behavior towards all her students made her attractive to them. Her presence was always most sought after in the staff room. Many of her colleagues gratefully remember her help in finding solutions to their knotty personal problems. Her capability to reach beyond herself, in spite of her own adverse circumstances, was always a matter of surprise to all. She used to be the life of the neighborhood as well. Only she could comprehend my loneliness at my father’s demise, when I was five. She would take me along to her home every night. There, I would be surrounded with children of all ages. Her mother-in-law would serve me my favorite dishes. At night, the Shiva Mahimna Stotra would be recited. Everyone would be made fun of, we would play games, and I would be recharged to the brim.
At the foundation of all this was the nest of love she had built with all. There was shelter for everyone there – a shelter offered by someone who was herself without shelter!
Circumstances continued to change and my sister’s effort bore fruit, transforming the adversities of life into pleasures. She traveled across the nation and the world with her son, who was scaling one peak of success after another. Life’s happiness, so-called, was now hers. The sense of duty and love of the son, the daughter and the daughter-in-law was exemplary. But instead of resting on her laurels, her feet remained rooted to the ground – with the help of that detachment of hers. When I see my sister, now eighty-six, stand erect, I wonder whence she got her life-affirming nature, what juices enriched the soil on which this tree grew? From a sister who wrote letters in her pearl-like handwriting, was the first to wish on every family member’s birthday, had a treasure trove of interesting talk that could not end for nights together, I do not recall hearing a single memory of those lonely nights and exhausting days. When, as she was recuperating from a recent major surgery and from a painful illness of five years, I saw pleasure win over pain in her beaming face, I could not help but ask her: “How have you been able to bear all of this pain?”. She was momentarily lost in the past, and then replied, “I am contented today. My grandmother [her mother’s mother and my father’s mother] used to say when I was a child, ’This girl will be able to endure all pain. She will never be unhappy.’ I think I have been able to live up to her faith, with God’s grace. I have never formed strong likes or dislikes. I can quickly decipher ways to be at peace under all circumstances.
My sister has played several roles in our lives: mother to her children; sister-in law; my sister; loving teacher to her students; house-owner to someone and neighbor to others – but all roles have been enacted with equal all-encompassing élan.
When someone asks me today, alluding to the above, “Is Kunjalataben your sister?” and in response to my affirmative reply, I see on their faces the feeling that I have received a better bargain from nature, this relationship of mine seems like a festival of life to me.
[Pages: 197; Price Rs.80/-, Publisher: Gurjar Prakashan, Opp. Ratanapole Junction, Gandhi Road, Ahmedabad 380001; Phone: +91-79 22144663; E-mail: email@example.com]
URL to article: http://www.readgujarati.com/2011/08/04/hodi-tejtarape/
- Translated by: Ashok Vaishnav
- Edited by: Tadatmya Vaishnav <firstname.lastname@example.org>