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An eldest daughter who failed to weigh the cost of pleasing her much-loved father . . .
An eldest son burdened with his father’s expectations . . .
A change in perspective wrought by a horrendous tsunami . . .
Ego, pride, anger, revenge, guilt . . .
This raw memoir of an impoverished Indian family explores the fateful decision to send the oldest son to Jamaica to work.
Short chapters with intriguing titles such as “The Temporary Wife,”
“Disagreement Over Bikinis” and “The Nude Island” help the story flow.
“The author’s emotional narration of the family dynamics that materialized while they struggled to make ends meet and the heartache of her brother’s long separation from them was both touching and insightful,” says Florence Osmund, the American author of Regarding Anna and Nineteen Hundred Days. “This was an interesting story told from the heart.”
1. A Bundle of Joy
FIRST CHAPTER 1. A Bundle of Joy I am totally in a daze, hysterical and clouded in skepticism, for I am still not sure if it was me who was responsible for what happened to Sam in the Cameroon Hills of Jamaica, West Indies. It was a moment of great joy to me. In fact, I was overwhelmed with joy that God had at last emancipated me from the guilt that had tormented me for nine long years. When I saw Sam in the airport after all that time, I was dumbfounded. Words failed me. Tears of joy welled up in my eyes. As I controlled my emotions, I told him, “It is a dream come true!” Sam smiled. I had never felt so happy in my life. Enraptured, I felt as thrilled as Edmund Hillary, who first conquered Mount Everest. And while standing there on the mountain top, reveling in my happiness, I felt the hands of Fate shove me down, destroying my mountainous happiness. I still have not recovered from that incident. And I am not sure if I ever will ! The same old guilt that had plagued me for nine years, once again, overpowered me. And this time I am sure there will be no relief, however much I try. And no amount of consolation is going to soothe my turbid mind. The guilt shall always be alive.
I am Sam’s sister. His full name is Sampath Kumar and his pet name at home is Babu. I am the eldest of my parents’ five children. I am followed by my sister and three brothers. My parents were childless for eight long years. Very often, my mother told me, “We prayed to all the Gods and visited every temple in the vicinity, not sparing even the smallest one, requesting Him to bless us with a child. And one day, God heard our prayers, and you were born to us!” I was a bundle of joy to them. When I was born, my Father was away from home in Biradilla in Madhya Pradesh. He came to see me only after eight days, and when Mother questioned him about this, he explained to her that he was too excited with the news and feared that something might happen to me, due to evil eyes (a glare believed to cause one misfortune, bad luck or injury). From that moment, his love for me increased steadily and continues to this day. Though I have reached middle age, I love and respect my parents tremendously, especially my father, for the love, care and respect he holds for me. Even with two grown children of my own, I still look forward to his advice on all matters. On the other hand, my father, who is now eighty seven years old, treats my problems as his own. If for some reason, I am perturbed over something, he is quick to become equally distressed and searches his brain to solve my problem. It has often been a matter of conflict among my siblings that Father bestows more love on me than the others. And all my life, I’ve cherished this special love he had for me, which was a matter of pride. But after what happened to Sam, I regretted the love I had for my Father that made me oblige him blindly, no matter what. Probably, it was this bond of affection which resulted in the tragedy and the guilt I hold today.
Of all my siblings, Babu was my favorite brother. The reason for this is, next to me, my father was very fond of him. Father was quite excited that his third child was a boy. He believed that a son would take care of him and the family during his old age. In those days, boys were considered an asset to the family, while girls belonged to another family. And so, when a son was born to him, my Father’s joy knew no bounds.
I saw him frequently express his exclusive love and affection to Babu. When taking him to kindergarten, he bought biscuits and chocolates for him and advised him to eat them during recess. We are pure vegetarians and my parents would not even have a cake, for it contains eggs. Babu suffered from chronic bronchitis when he was a young boy and the doctor advised Father to give him an egg regularly to improve his health. This idea troubled Father for some time, but he finally decided to feed him an egg every day. Our landlady was a non-vegetarian, so he had a talk with her and requested she give a boiled egg to Babu every day. In the evenings, when he heard his name being called, Babu would run to her house and get his egg. He would come out with a smile on his face, and we would then plague him with questions with regard to its taste, color, etc. He patiently answered our questions.
After two years, we moved to our own house. We were of the opinion that Babu’s egg-eating habit would come to an abrupt end. However, Father did not wish to stop and against my mother’s wishes, he continued the practice. He kept a separate vessel for this purpose and fed Babu an egg every day until he was eight years old. Probably, it was this display of explicit love that he showed for his first son, the future caretaker of the family, that made me start to love my brother Babu over others.
When Babu was in the third standard, he failed. After seeing the result on the notice board, I felt very disappointed. He had not come to school due to illness. I reached home with the bad news and wondered how to convey this to my family. I saw that Babu was playing happily on the swing, secured to one of the tree’s branches. As I revealed the news to my mother, I started to cry. My mother consoled me saying he would pass the next year.
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