Nothing ever gets lost!
“Nothing that belongs to you can ever be taken by someone else. If lost, and it does not return to you, understand it was never yours.” Soothing words, steeped in our philosophy and lore – repeated ever so often, to comfort the pain of losing a love, money, job, business, just anything. Like most Hindu families, ours has also been brought with such stoic beliefs which, though defeatist in practical terms, have still, from time to time helped us face many setbacks in life. Perhaps because of this, or brought with lot of meditation or prayer, or by some strange sense of illogic, I live with this firm belief that nothing of mine can ever get lost. I have several instances – stolen cash, borrowed and forgotten books, lost diaries, long vanished friends, even irreplaceable undergarments – all of which come back to me in miraculous ways only to reinforce my faith – nothing of mine can ever get lost.
Not a really careless person, yet I can never be too bothered about counting change, bargaining, double locking doors, guarding against cheats, thefts – may be too trusting and naïve an attitude, as my friends often warn me, nevertheless nothing has ever occurred to change my views.
Why should I anyway, when I recall a singular incident (not without some dread, though,) when I lost a bundle of Board papers which I was checking on a train journey? It was the first time that I was entrusted with this work and at that time, I considered it a great honour in the career of a teacher. On alighting, I boarded a rickshaw along with my niece and we had between us some six or seven bags. We reached home about 8 kms. away from the station, had our dinner, chit-chatted with a neighbour and after some two hours, we settled down – my niece to watch television and I, to check papers. I couldn’t find them. They must be in this bag or the other. We emptied all of them. No luck. We reconstructed events, and finally realized that we were one bag short. Now I remembered – a blue cloth bag which had two items only – one of them being my bundle of papers.
The place where I lived was quite a remote, sleepy neighbourhood, with no quick transport to run after a rickshaw whose number even I did not note. The only hope was to wake up at midnight, a friend’s husband who kindly agreed to go with me on this wild goose chase. We thought of all possibilities – how many rickshaw drivers would have agreed to come this far at night; he must live in the neighbourhood; there were some other familiar rickshaw drivers through whom we could trace him; the watchman at the gate might have a record – we tried everything possible at that hour. No results. A hundred images of fear and shame flashed through my mind. What would my Principal say? The memos and charges that would come my way. The newspaper reports. The loss of years of reputation as a reliable teacher. Even my family and friends would say, “You deserved this lesson.” Above all, how would the Board finalise the results of those candidates? In those few moments I must have died a hundred deaths! But not without constant prayers and the powers of meditation.
The trail, without my having realized it, had brought back us to the railway station. There were only about 8/9 rickshaws at that lonely hour. A few curious drivers came up to us asking what we were looking for. And we told them. By some calculation of the train and time etc. they put their heads together and narrowed the search down to two rickshaws. One of these had closed for the day. The second, they pointed out, was just starting. They called out to him. I told him about my loss and to my great relief, he said, “Yes, there is a bag lying at the back for quite some time. I had no idea whose it was.” I clutched at my papers for life! I have also learnt my lesson – nothing like a miracle to boost one’s beliefs!!
Born 17.12.1951, family of teachers. Enjoy reading, writing, films, traveling.
‘ALL MY DAUGHTERS’
Rekha was a radiant bride at 21. Though we were very close friends through college, I was not around when her marriage was fixed. Somehow I just landed on her wedding day and attended the function. I was very happy to see her doing the ‘pheras’ with a very handsome and decent looking man. Guests were few, and I knew even fewer of them, apart from Rekha’s immediate family of three brothers and parents. I was keen to know her in-laws, the family she was going into and all that, but the wedding being a small affair I could not find out.
A few months later I went to her town, two hours away, and was happy to see her in a double-storeyed bungalow, not too lavish, but comfortable enough for the joint family of six or seven people. After the initial introductions and mandatory conversation with her mother-in-law, sisters-in-law and others, Rekha and I finally managed to move up to her own room hoping for some chit-chat and inside story of ‘how it all happened’ only to be followed by a little child about 16 or 18 months, who simply clung to Rekha. “Your niece,” I asked her, assuming the child must belong to one of her sisters-in-law. “No, mine,” said Rekha , laughing. I laughed, too, at Rekha’s joke.
Then she took out her album and to my shock, the first page carried a somewhat old photograph of her husband with another woman as his bride. The next pages carried snapshots of her own wedding. Seeing my expression – “His first wife,” she explained. “Divorcee?” “No, a widower.”
Things slowly dawned on me now – the very quiet wedding – not many guests, not even any friends we had in college. And the little girl – I now understood.
At 21, though we both came from too staid backgrounds to ever dare to fall in love, one still dreamt of eligible young life partners –‘ boys’ – not married men. I recollected all the pairing and teasing we had shared in our college days, and asked her how she had settled for this.
Her father’s business had been failing for quite some time, Rekha’s brothers were still young and studying. When a proposal from relatives came to them, this man, Harish, fitted in every way except that he had a year-old child from a previous marriage. No dowry, no demands. Not wanting to be a burden on her parents, Rekha had accepted. “What if he compares you with his first wife? How does it feel to be second?” I asked her. “Many people cautioned me about this,” she confessed “but the upside is, that having lost one wife, he cherishes me even more. Even if I have an ordinary cold and fever, he pampers me.”
The first thing Rekha did when she stepped into her marital home was ask that the child be with her. Her mother-in-law resisted,arguing that she was just a new bride and anyway a stranger to whom the child may not adjust. “Nothing doing,” Rekha was adamant, “If you want me to be here, the child will be with me.” In college, she was known as a somewhat ‘silly’ girl, a ‘duffer’ and I marvelled at this strong, mature woman she had become. “Will you tell the child?” I asked her. “No,” she said, “what is the need?”
When I met her a few years later, she had two more girls and it was heartening to see all of them bond together and Rekha scolding and loving the older child as she did her own daughters. By this time, the older daughter had even started resembling Rekha. “Does she know?” I asked Rekha when we got a private moment. “No,” she said. “Doesn’t she ask anything about the photograph in the album?” I queried. “No, she thinks it is her father’s first wife, as do my other two children.” Tears well up in my eyes as I think of this even now, after 35 years. Psychologists and counsellors advise that it is best to reveal the truth to step-children, adopted children. But Rekha in her earthy wisdom thought otherwise. All the girls are grown up and well-settled now; the step-child still does not know. Perhaps it is best this way. In her simple and natural manner, Rekha had broken all myths and stereotypes about step-moms!
– Hemlata Iyer