Life In Instalments
Life In Instalments14 mins 231 14 mins 231
As an annual tradition, my daughter Amoli, wife Ritika and I were back at our hometown to celebrate Diwali with my parents. 10 hours long driving has flattened me so I wanted to take some rest but as my wife was dusting the living room I went to my study to check my collection of books. There was a wedding invitation card lying unattended on my study table.
Juhi Weds Akash
The wedding date was six months old.
At evening tea I asked my father, "Dad there is a wedding invitation card in my study, you must have informed me about that..."
"Why?...I thought you must have forgotten that girl.. you are a family man... these things are disgraceful for a man in your position," replied my father and forbade further discussion.
My wife, who was busy chatting with my mother, overheard this little conversation.
"Who is Juhi, why was papa Ji so angry about her...?" inquired my wife at night after making Amoli comfortable in the bed.
"An old acquaintance of mine..." replied I with exasperation.
"Why are you so angry... I have no interest in your former girlfriends," said Ritika pretending to be indifferent, but there was a lot of curiosity in her eyes.
"Juhi Didi is an integral part of my life; I owe my present successful life to her."
"Is that so? ...you never told me about her."
"I should have told you about her...I feel that all alike the rest of the world I was also unfair to he..."
"This is a long tale of woe..."
"I'm curious to know..."
Soon I was down to memory lane telling her everything.
As my selection in a reputed Hotel Management Institute was a cause of joy for my parents, it was equally heartbreaking for them to see me back at home empty-handed, as I've left the institute in the middle of the study session. They never forced me to go back to resume my study at the institute, but there was still a big question in their minds... what shall I do now?
"What do you want to do now?" asked my father after a few days.
"I'll complete my post-graduation and prepare for competitive exams," I replied briefly.
"Not here, son… all our relatives and acquaintances know that you are doing a big course which will make you big man... we cannot tell them that you have come back... we don't want to become a laughing stock for them."
"I want to do my post-graduation in Noida, I can work there and arrange money for coaching to prepare for competitive exams," I suggested.
"This is true that this luxury of yours is not possible in my present overstretched economic conditions but we'll manage somehow, you don't need to work there, just get admission in the degree college and in any good competitive exams institute."
It was really hard to get a midterm admission in a degree college, but within 15 days I managed to get admission in Noida Degree College, with the help of a friend who was a student leader in that college. My father's long term friend Tiwari Ji managed a room for me in the suburban area of Noida, which was rather cheaper.
By the time my father and I reached Jawalapuri, the colony where that room was situated, it was already noon. The colony was totally unorganised, the houses scattered in a stretch of five km, several houses were under construction.
The house door was opened by a skinny old lady in a white sari, who after initial inquiry let us enter the half-finished house. The room which was given to me was on the first floor or on the roof of the main house in an alienated corner. A ten years old very thin boy accompanied me to the room; my father was looking for the things which could distract my studies. And the old woman was ushering him in her tragic life by saying, "Sharma Ji, it is very hard to live in this city, particularly with a widowed daughter…"
The roof was rather clean and the room's door was latched with a rusted latch.
"Open..." ordered the kid.
I tried to unlatch the badly stuck latch, after a few tries I was about to give up and looking for any help.
A chiming laugh distracted me and a girl barely 25 or 26 of age, clad in ordinary salwar kurta appeared from nowhere and said, "Bhai, it seems you haven't had your lunch today."
She unlatched the door within a few seconds and said, "Check your room. We have cleaned and got it ready for you."
Room was not very big; perhaps it had been used as a storage room. There was a divan in the corner and the rest of the room was empty.
"We had a spare divan… you can use it as long as you wish," said the girl.
Soon I was busy placing my things in the room and the girl was gone with that kid. In the meantime, my father friend Tiwariji had come with a set of decaying table and chair, which I placed near the only window of the room and spread a paper sheet over it to save my books.
"Keep it as long as you wish, hope it will be useful for your study," said Tiwari Ji looking here and there.
"Yes, uncle Ji… it will be."
Soon my father came to see the room and said, "Listen to me carefully—— the old woman is very cunning she wants to tag her widow daughter with anyone who is fool enough to fall in her trap. Her daughter is mangli and no one is ready to remarry her... hope you understood what I want to say?"
"Yes, dad I do…"
"Before doing anything foolish; just think about your elder sister and younger brother and sister whose careers I'm putting on stake because of the financial burden I have to bear because of you."
I kept quiet.
"Tiwari Ji, keep an eye on him… one wrong step and I'll engage him in my cattle feed store to do manual labour."
"Arey nahi Sharma ji, he is a sincere boy; he'll work hard to make a good career for him."
My father cast a final piercing look at me and left with Tiwari Ji."
My college time and coaching time were always colliding but I kept coaching in the first place. My coaching was in the evening so I generally come back late in the evening and cooked some junk for me for dinner. Within one week I was habituated of my present life which was like a pendulum; hanging between Noida and New Delhi, where my college and coaching were situated.
On next Sunday Amma Ji; the landlady come to meet me with a cup of tea and told me her tale of her woe. The name of the girl, who met me on the first day, was Juhi. She was Postgraduate in Chemistry and was married to a general store merchant because it was very hard to find a good match for a mangli girl. Within one year of her marriage her husband died and her in-laws blamed it on her and closed their house doors for her. Since then she has been living with her. She assured me to live like a son and tell her if I had any problem.
On that day that girl came with a tray full of food, which I refused politely.
"Kha le bahi, amma mehrbaan hai tujh pe." (Take it, brother; mom is generous on you) said the girl putting the tray on my table.
I knew I was broke but they were also not very rich to offer me food. But on her insistence, I kept the tray.
On that day evening, tea and dinner were also offered which I refused forcefully.
"Didi I cannot accept this food, please take it away and don't bring anything to me again."
"You are calling me Didi (Sister), dil se or just to trap me in your charm?" she asked with a wicked smile.
"No Didi I came here to study, I don't have time for these things."
"Widows are easy prey for young lads."
"Please go away… and take this food tray with you."
After that, she told me that I was not the only Brahmin boy whom she offered food. Her mothers accept only young Brahmin boys as tenants and send her with food to lure them in a vain hope that someone will take her with him and marry her.
"How do you handle it all?" I asked.
"Bahi, I know none will take me away to marry with him but I can be exploited so I keep my wooden sandals ready to break their heads. I've beaten and kicked out so many tenants who tried to take any advantage."
Later it was calculated that how much money I spend on my three-time food and an unwritten treaty was made that I'll add that money to my monthly rent and live there as a paying guest.
"Bhai, now concentrate on your study without worrying about the food."
And it was okay for me now.
Ashes To Ashes
"What is so special about this degree college you are studying in… there must be better colleges back at your hometown?" asked Juhi, while collecting clothes from the clothesline on the roof.
"Nothing… I'm here to attend coaching classes for the upcoming subordinate exams." I replied pretending to be lost in my books.
"I see… can I see your textbooks?"
"Why? ... what for?"
"Nothing in particular… just out of curiosity."
I showed her all my books and she went through them swiftly.
"Can I see your notes?"
I was surprised by her new avatar, but I handed over her my notes.
"These are simply college notes… have they been useful to you?"
"Not much but this is the only way I know to make notes for an exam."
"These notes should be short but apt, they should only be for you particularly… things you know should not be included. Use different colour ink to write things which are important and hard for you to remember."
"You are right, but how do you know all these things?"
"My son, she has always been a very intelligent student," said Amma Ji who came to see, what we were doing.
"Beta, she cleared preliminary and main stages of Civil Services Exam in her first attempt. She was called for an interview but ten days before her interview her husband died in a road accident. Her in-laws sent her back to us forever. Now she gives tuition to little kids and looks after me," said Amma Ji with a gloomy voice.
"Why Didi, why didn't you try to appear in the civil services exams again?" I asked looking at her surprisingly.
"When a human turns to ashes, a lot of things turn to ashes. My husband death was the end of my dreams," replied she, going out of my room with Amma Ji.
Two Of A Kind
From that day onward, my outlook towards Juhi changed. She was now a huge personality for me, a key to crack the toughest exams of India. But after that day she didn't come to give me the food plate, the little kid, Nitu was doing her duty.
After a few days procrastination, I myself went to see her. She was lost in making a chart for a kid.
"Came to show me your pity?," asked her without taking her eyes off the chart.
"What happened was God wish; we cannot understand that, why should I pity you?" I replied briefly.
"Are you sure?"
"Okay… what do you want?"
"Please help me in making general studies notes."
"Science and technology."
"This is the section of GS provide you with good marks, you need to understand it in the context of the present social and economic scenario."
And that was the beginning of the long lasting relation between two devastated people. This is another case that I never told anything about my turbulent past.
Steering The Stagnant Water
My college, coaching and study at home seemed to be on track and I was constantly appearing in one-day exams to secure a job for me. One day when I got back in the evening I saw Juhi was teaching little kids with such devotion that she didn't notice my arrival. I made two cups of tea in the electronic tea maker and offered one to her.
"Why…? why did you take the trouble of making tea? You should have told me…," said she hastily taking the cup.
"No problem… I saw you were teaching the kids… why don't you teach in a school or college?"
"I don't teach these kids for money, my father left enough money for my mother and me that we could live comfortably." She replied.
"You must think of starting a new life… I'm not the right person to advise you but you need something to do to keep this life going."
"Life is going on peacefully; my mother and I both are habitual of living in any circumstances. You need not worry about us."
"Today Amma Ji is with you…. but someday…"
"Don't talk like that, may God bless long life to my mother. It seems you are ready to beat the big exam?" said she, stopping me to say anything further.
"No Didi, I'm not ready yet," replied I avoiding her gaze.
"Please concentrate on your studies… now break your study time into forty-five minutes fragments and cover all the subjects and topics one after one," said she cutting off the conversation.
After that day, I was busier with my studies, occasionally discussing some tough topics with Juhi, who'd explain them in the easiest way.
On such a day when we were discussing a particular topic, Juhi asked, "Bhai, please let me know when December's NET JRF exams notification comes out."
I was surprised to hear it but I assured her that I'll let her know as soon as they notify. From that day onward I saw her study and making her notes for the upcoming NET JRF exam. Soon there was a notification for the NET JRF and she applied for it and went on studying hard.
She had done a lot for me so I decided to do something for her also. When I went to my coaching, I obtained some study material from NET JRF students and got it photocopied for her. In the evening I proudly presented that to her. She was surprised to see whatever I had done for her.
Next day she came to me with that study material and cost of its photocopies which I refused to accept. She had no good idea about the study material but she was thankful that I did it for her.
Next few minutes were leisure moments for both of us and while discussing something casually we laughed aloud. That very moment my father appeared from nowhere, Juhi and I were surprised to see him. She greeted him and left.
"So, it is how you are studying... do you have time for all these infatuations? Haven't you ever thought how hard it is for me to afford this luxury of yours?" …my father went on cursing me and I have nothing but to listen to him.
Next very moment he made me pack my bag and baggage, he decided to leave me under the custody of Tiwari Ji till the end of this year's study session, after that I'll have to go back to help him in our cattle feed store.
"Do you want to meet her before leaving?" he asked me.
"No.," Said I.
Amma Ji came to see us off, she was sad to see me going.
Now I was under Tiwari Ji's custody. He was a generous man; despite his short house, he did all to make me comfortable. Now I know what was in store for me but I didn't lose heart and went on studying hard and appearing in one-day exams. I was using all the techniques which were taught to me by Juhi in preparing for the exams.
In the meantime, I went to meet her but she didn't come out to meet me. Amma Ji told me that she was deeply buried in her books. After the final exam, I returned back to my hometown and started helping my father in our cattle feed store. Within three months I qualified the written exam of three exams and finally cleared the interview phase of one.
I left my home again but this time all my family was happy to see me going to a new city to do a blue-collar job. I wanted more from this life and my ultimate dream was to make it into the civil services exam, finally, I cracked state civil services exam and joined it with an impressive post.
In the rat race of my life, I never forgot the person who was responsible for all my success, Juhi Didi. After that unfortunate incident which hurt her most, I could never gather enough courage to go back to Juhi and thank her for all she had done for me.
By the time when this tale ended it was late at night. My wife was from a liberal family, it was all surprising for her.
On the morning of Diwali, I was again busy in several things and all the holidays were over sooner than I realized. And after taking leave from my family we were off to back journey to my workplace.
"We'll go back via Ghaziabad" … announced my wife soothing our restless daughter who doesn't like travelling by car at all.
"What for?" I asked surprisingly.
"We are going to meet your Juhi Didi and her husband; both of them are associate professors in different colleges of Ghaziabad and they live there as well."
"How come...? Did you…? I stammered.
"Yes I talked to her yesterday, she is very happy to know about you and she and her husband are looking forward to meeting us today."
"This is unfair… you must have told me; I'd have bought some gifts for them…"
"Don't worry… I did it for you… there are enough gifts for them in my suitcase. I just wanted to give you this surprise."
"Yes it is really a pleasant surprise," said I and turned my car towards the road which goes to Ghaziabad.