One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time.
- Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet
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AREN’T WE A FAMILY?
Sarita at 26 sat staring at her father’s photograph that she kept within her wardrobe. She felt nostalgic about the days that she had spent with him as a little girl; she was vaguely aware that her father had done something that had upset her mother and that they had a few quarrels regarding ‘some’ incident which she could not fully understand. But as a girl she was fond of her father and was also aware that she was an adopted girl and was not biologically related to them; but the love and affection that she received from them was something that she cherished till today. It was sad that her father was no more.
The phone rang. “Hello, she said.”
I am Veda. Remember me?”
“Veda, how can I ever forget you? Where are you?” Sarita was excited
“I was wondering whether I should come home. Would you mind?”
“Come Veda, why do you ask?”
“Sarita, you know my mother’s relationship with your father. I also feel that your mother resents me.
“I have nothing against you. She may have her own feelings of resentment and hurt; but that is not your fault.” Please do come.”
“Do you know that Ranjan has left for USA? He has completed his CA and is working for an American Firm now” –Veda said very casually.
“Yes. Ranjan. The name rang a bell. Yes I do remember him. We were good friends in college.
“Okay, I’ll try and be there in the next hour.” – said Veda
“I feel a little uncomfortable when your Mom is around. Is she there?” – Veda said a bit hesitantly.
“No Come” –she said and disconnected.
“Who were you speaking to?” asked Laxmi as she came in to her room..
“Veda.” – Sarita said without any hesitation.
“I’ll be at Jadav Mall till 6.00 PM from now. Hope you will dispose her before I am home.” Said Laxmi and left with a handbag.
“What a mess this world is.” thought Sarita. Adults commit blunders and children have to bear the brunt. She was well aware that she herself was an adopted child and all of her foster parents’ relatives were aware of it. She was adopted when she very young. She was given all the love she needed from her foster parents and she had no qualms about anything. Though they did not share her blood with them they never at any time treated her differently. They loved her like their own child. But, Veda was her father’s own daughter through Mallika. At least she had the privilege of sharing her father’s blood. It means that father was not sterile. It was Laxmi, her mother ` who could not conceive. Is that why she resents Veda? How could Veda be blamed for her birth?
“How did you come Veda?” – asked Sarita
“I came in my car.”
“Oh, that’s nice. You own a car? How are you and what are you doing now?”
“I completed my MBA and I am a corporate Head of a company. I wish our father was alive. He would have been proud of me. It is sad that your Mom still does not accept me as a part of her family.”
“Let’s not talk about that. Now, to tell you about myself; I am not as intelligent as you. I do not know my genes. May be I am the first generation learner. God knows! I just got through my commerce degree with difficulty. I am hunting for a job. Everyone looks at my marks and I get rejected.”- There was sadness in her voice
“Don’t be so pessimistic, Sarita, by the way will you work for our company? It is Sky High Financial Services. It is a subsidiary of Universal Jumbo Ltd. It provides financial services through technology to customers and is known for “thinking out of the box”. It has alliance with Romano Financial of USA. I may be able to recommend you for a lower rung job in our office. Interested?” asked Veda.
Sarita was partly listening and partly in her own world. If she was the ‘real daughter’ of Venkateswar and Laxmi she would have also inherited some intelligence from them. Her thoughts wandered. She had never been an A or even B grade student; and she had just passed her degree in commerce.
“Are you interested in working with Sky High Financial Services?” – She repeated.
“Yes. That would be nice. My academic record is not all that good. How will you recommend me?” – Sarita asked.
It was lunch time. She did not realize that she was talking to Veda for nearly one hour.
“Veda, have lunch with me.” – She said with warmth in her voice.
“No Sarita, your mother may be here any minute. She may not like it.” – Veda said.
“Mom said she will be back only at six in the evening,”
“But still, can’t we have lunch somewhere outside?” – Veda looked at Sarita’s face with hesitation.
Sarita called her mother and told her about her lunch program. “Let us go out for a while. I have a lot of catching up with you.” – Sarita said as she went into the room to get dressed. Veda sat and looked at the photograph of her father. She had no resentment towards him or Laxmi. She thought of her mother Mallika who bore the brunt of being an unwed mother. She admired Venkateshwar for all that he did for her taking full responsibility in educating her and seeing her in a good job. There was no point in thinking negatively about his having had an affair with her mother and being responsible for her birth.
Ranjan who was a distant relative of Mallika was partly responsible for Sarita’s adoption into that family. Rajan’s parents were in Tumukur and had their own house and agricultural lands. They did all they could to see that Ranjan got proper education in a city. While he was in school all the teachers who taught him were quick to recognize his intelligence and willingness to learn. When he was ready to go to college, his School Head managed to sponsor him to a good College. Soon after his graduation he earned a scholarship for himself for his post-graduate studies and when he went as an intern to a Financial Company, the CEO Mr Nazim Jamal, gave him all the help required to earn excellent certificates and saw to it that he got into a big financial company as a Junior Manager. He worked hard and soon became the Head of his Department. He came across Veda in the same Financial Company where he was working as a Charted Accountant. Veda was a fresher and an assistant to another auditor and it was Ranjan who took great interest in Veda’s job. He also realized that she was her distant cousin through her mother Malllika. They became good friends and by and by he came to know all about her.
Veda drove Sarita to a good food joint and they enjoyed their lunch talking about all and sundry. Sarita made a mention of Ranjan more than twice asking her about his work, his place of stay, his future plans and finally made a mention that it was a long time since she saw him and would be happy to meet him if he came to India sometime. “When is he likely to come?” –Sarita asked.
Veda knew that Sarita was fond of Ranjan. “Why shouldn’t you contact him by e-mail? I have his email ID. I’ll give it to you.” – She said as she took out her diary and gave her his mail ID.
“I wonder whether he would like it.” – Said Sarita with hesitation
“Why not Sarita?” He has been good friend to you. I hardly contact him though he is supposed to be related to me. I have nothing much to say to him. You have been in the same college and you will have more things to say to each other.” – She said.
Veda dropped Sarita home and did not get down from the car as she knew that Laxmi would be back and would not want her in. Sarita could read Veda’s mind and she did not insist on her coming in. She got down and waved while she left.
Veda was good looking and had a svelte figure. She resembled her mother Mallika who was beautiful. Being an adopted daughter, Sarita was neither like Laxmi nor Venkateswar, but she could be described as being charming with a warm smile and dimpled cheeks. They were in good terms with each other... She had argued with her mother several times that she was not doing the right thing by not accepting Veda as a part of the family... She was tired of telling her that she should be fonder of Veda than her as she had her father’s blood. What wrong did she do?
That night while Sarita was lying down in bed all sorts of thoughts about our tradition and culture came up before her. She was thinking of our great epics like the Ramayana, Mahabharatha and other stories where many children were born out of wedlock. Sri Rama’s wife Sita was a foundling. Dasaratha found a child while he was plowing the field. He brought her up as his own and Sita is now almost God. All the Pandava brothers were born to different fathers while the mother was the same. Don’t we eulogize the Pandavas? Arjuna had more than one legitimate wife and had children from them. Do we scoff at him? All our temple sculptures show two women on either side of the main God and don’t we worship them? Some of the temples are abound with sculptures which could be called preposterous. Do we have anything to say about it? – Sarita went to sleep wrapped in these thoughts. When she got up in the morning she felt very disturbed. She had not slept well that night. Thoughts came pouring in.
“What is family and what is family relationship?” – She said to herself. Here we are just four of us, mother, me and Veda and Ranjan. The main elders Venkat and Mallika were no more. Should we not bond as one family? Each one is related to each other and each one is on her or his own. Is this called a family? Our closeness cannot be called closeness of a family because of many reasons. But don’t we belong to a family? Mallika has a sister. She is in Ajmer; married with children. Has she ever tried to contact any of us? No. Sarita knew the answer. “Indian family relationships seemed false” – she mused. Just because of the accidental birth of Veda to her foster father everyone seemed uptight. She could not figure out who was at fault. Though she was an adopted daughter, everyone welcomed her in the families of both her parents but no one seemed to be in favor of being in touch with Veda. It was unfair. Our own epics always eulogized children born to parents out of wedlock. Even taking for granted that they were all concocted stories, they did have some lessons to be learnt. Temporary infatuations, illicit relationships, illegitimate births, bigamy; everything was accepted and there was no stigma attached to any of them. way of life but think that all that we are doing is right We are experts in giving titles like illegitimate child, illicit relationship, born out of wedlock, he/she does know who her father is.. etc.” – Sarita brushed her teeth and was ready for the morning coffee.
It was the August of that year and when she received a call from Veda’s company to attend an interview, she was taken aback. She had not even applied for a job and a voice told her that she was expected to meet Mr. Venugopal, the Manager of a branch of Sky High financial Services the next day at 10.00 AM. “Sure, I’ll be there.” was all that she could say. “Should she call Veda and ask her for details?” – She thought. She even picked up her mobile; but on second thoughts, she just left it at that. “She would not even tell her mother.” – She would just go with her certificates and see what was in store for her.
She did not sleep well that night. She tossed and turned. She got up the next morning; and felt rather vague about everything that was happening around her. The person who had called had given her the address of the Branch Office. She had her breakfast with her mom silently. “You don’t look very well, Sarita. Is something bothering you?” – Asked her mother Laxmi.
“Nothing mom, I didn’t sleep well last night. I have a slight headache. By the way, I have an appointment with a company today at 10.00. I shall be going. Some sort of an interview. I’ll try my luck.” – She said nonchalantly.
Sarita got ready to leave home, “All the best Sarita.” Was all that Laxmi said as she left.
“Thanks mom” – Said Sarita and left home.
The interview went off well and Sarita was given an appointment order on the spot. “You need to assist our Senior Accountant Mr. Sastry. Meet him tomorrow with all your credentials, he will brief on your job. You will be paid Rs.15,000/- as a starting salary and you can work up on the ladder with your talents and hard work. I am satisfied with your knowledge of the work and your ambitions.– Mr.Sastry had said when she left.
There was jig in her steps as she reached home and hugged her mother. “I made it. I got it. I will be an Assistant Accountant working for Mr Sastry at Sky High Financial Company. It is branch of the main office where ……..
“Veda works there. Isn’t it?” – Asked Laxmi.
“Yes” – Said Sarita expecting some negative remark from her mom; but she said nothing.
Instead she said “Wish you a good career.” – Sarita felt relieved.
Sarita did well in her job, took up some training, did an internship with a senior and became the section head in her Office very soon. Veda had left for USA on an assignment and was expected only after six months. She had told Sarita to visit her mother sometimes as she would be alone and liked her. She was playing with this idea for sometime now. Mallika was a very nice person and Sarita’s association with Mallika was really very cordial and friendly. ‘What if Venkateswar had a relationship with her?” – It mattered very little to her. After all, he was her foster father and not a biological one. He was only her guardian during her childhood and when he died, all she knew was that she had lost a fond father. She was just about 11 when he died and she had almost forgotten him.
Six months passed and Sarita came to love her job. Now it was almost time for Veda’s return from abroad. Sarita was eagerly waiting for her arrival. They had been in touch through e-mail and she knew what she was doing and when she would return.
Sarita received a call from Veda about her return from USA giving her the date and time of her arrival. Sarita was quite excited! ‘Mom Veda is coming back from USA next Friday. I am going to the airport to receive her.” – Sarita was delighted.
She gets a car from her company and she knows her way. Why should you go? – said Lakxmi.
“No, I want to go. She has been responsible for my job and career and I want to give her that importance. I will go whether you like it or not.” – Said Sarita vehemently and left.
She took a day off on the Friday when Veda would be arriving and went to the airport to meet her. Sarita was taken aback when she saw Ranjan with Veda. Both of them walked past the airport lounge after the security check. Her eyebrows went up and she greeted both of them with a “Hello and welcome home”. “How come Ranjan is also back? You never mentioned about it. Why?” – Sarita asked Veda while Sarita got into her company car. I am going straight to the office with Ranjan. I can drop you home.
“No, I’ll go on my own. Not to worry.” – Said Sarita as she did not want to accompany her along with Ranjan.
“Okay Sarita. I have some formalities to complete at my company. We’ll meet again sometime soon. I have something very interesting to tell you. I will go with Ranjan. Will you also come? – asked Veda.
“Interesting?” – Sarita’s eye-brows went up.
Sarita and Veda decided to meet at a particular restaurant on one of the Sundays. “Mom, I am visiting Veda today.” – Said Sarita the next Sunday. “That is your decision. Veda is very important to you isn’t it? Do what you like.” – Laxmi said without any emotion.
While lunching with Veda in a posh restaurant, Sarita felt even more close to her. She liked to order the food that she liked and Veda said she would like to order the same. Both of them spoke of many things and when suddenly Veda dropped a question out of the blue it made Sarita tizzy!
“There is a proposal of marriage for you.” - Veda said without any emotion.
Sarita was taken aback.
“Whose proposal is this?” she made bold to ask.
“Ranjan’s. He has come back from USA only because he has found a good job in Bombay. Are you prepared to leave your mom here in Banglore and settle down in Bombay? He had made arrangements for purchasing a flat in Bombay even while he was in USA. Now, the flat is ready and his parents are prodding him to get married. His parents do not want him to live alone in Bombay and they are not prepared to give up their own house in their own town in Tumkur. He has suggested your name and his parents have told me let you know. You are free to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Let me know when we meet again. We are anxious about your reaction.
It took some time for Sarita to get over this sudden blow. There was no doubt that she liked Ranjan and he had been a good friend to her when he was in India. But this proposal came as a surprise! “Veda, give me some time to think about it. I have to get back to mother and give you an answer.” – She said.
“I wonder whether your mother will like this idea. She has never liked to associate herself with any of our relatives.”- Said Veda.
“Forget it for now, Veda. I’ll get back to you.” – Sarita said in a firm voice.
“It took a long time for Sarita to take a decision. Before telling her mother, she had to decide for herself whether she would want to marry Ranjan. She was thinking about him the whole night; but slept well.
Next morning while having coffee with her mother, she casually told her that she was ready for marriage and wanted to know whether Laxmi had any boy in mind for her.
“Me? Who am I to decide Sarita? You have made your life yourself and you have moved well with society. You have to decide whom you want to marry. How can I find anyone for you? All our community people know that you are an adopted daughter. People also know that you had a father who had an affair with another woman. It is very difficult for me to find a groom for you.” she said in a rather disappointing tone.
“Good. Will you accept the boy I choose for myself?” Sarita asked in a rather happy tone.
“Have you already chosen?” Lakxmi asked in surprise.
”Yes mom, Ranjan has proposed to me through Veda. I like Ranjan and you also know him. Should I accept it? If I do, I will not be in Bangalore. I will have to move to Bombay. Is that okay with you? She put in a complex question.
Laxmi did not seem unhappy.. The thought of finding a groom for Sarita had been troubling her for some time. The news of Sarita deciding her own future gladdened her heart. She did not say a word. “She is now a grown up girl. I should not be interfering with her plans.” – She thought
“Okay dear Sarita, I am glad you have found a partner. I don’t mind living alone. I am used to it now as you are always away from home.” – She said laughing.
The next day Ranjan called up Sarita and said that he would visit her and her mother the coming Sunday with his parents at her house.
When Laxmi came to know of Saruta’s guests’ program, she was secretly elated as she had been worried of the status of the daughter and the affair of her husband would be humiliating to her if she went about looking for a boy for her daughter in her own circles..
Though she never said a word, she made preparations for welcoming them with hidden excitement.
Ranjan and his parents arrived as scheduled the next day evening along with Veda.
It was Ranjan who started the conversation. He addressed Sarita and said. “Sarita, this is just a proposal. I am proposing to you and I would like to get married to you provided you also have the inclination. The decision is left to you. I am not forcing it on you. The suggestion was made by Veda in USA and when I thought about all the nice days we spent in college, I felt that you had taken a liking for me. I may be wrong. I am saying all this in the presence of everyone here; I hope it does not embarrass you. I’ll give you some time to think about it. You can consult your mother. Think about it and then let me know when you really want to say “Yes” or “No”. The choice is yours. I have taken a liking to you and I have a good job and a nice future in India itself. I will not be going back to USA. If you feel it is okay with you, you could let me know. I am prepared to take ‘No” for an answer.” – Ranjan finished.
Sarita did not know where to look. She looked at her mother, his parents, Veda and then at Ranjan and put her head down for a while. Her mind was in turmoil. She was in fact elated at the proposal which she did not want to show.
After a while Sarita put up her head and said, “Ranjan, shall we meet at some place tomorrow? I will be ready with an answer. It should be after office hours. I cannot take another day off.”
“That’s perfectly alright. Why some place? WE will meet here at your house, not any other place at 6.30 PM. Is that okay with you Laxmi aunty, is that alright?” – He asked looking at Lakshmi anxiously.
“Perfect, Ranjan.” – said Laxmi with tears in her eyes. She hugged Veda and apologized for her indifference towards her.
‘Aren’t we all one family now?” – asked Ranjan.
“Yes Ranjan I now have an extended family”. Said Laxmi as she served them some sweets, snacks and coffee and spoke to Ranjan’s parents politely and said that she was very happy with this proposal.
Ranjan Looked at Sarita.
”Sure, I’ll be here.” – Sarita smiled. It was a real happy smile. They all shook hands with each other. All of them got back to the car. Ranjan dropped Veda at her house and took her parents back to Tumkur where they lived.
Ranjan and Sarita got married after 15 days in Bangalore with the consent of Laxmi and Ranjan’s parents of course all them felt like a family. It was a simple registered marriage. The best part of the whole thing was that Laxmi was the happiest of the lot. The family got together for a photograph and their relationship became more close and strong after this wedding. Laxmi, Veda, Sarita and Ranjan were very in happy terms with each other and soon Sarita gave a resignation and joined Ranjan in Bombay. Laxmi hugged both Ranjan and Sarita and bade them farewell at the airport.