It is almost 11 years since I left my home in distasteful circumstances with a vow never to return. It was a difficult decision and as an emotional young boy I did what I thought then was right. I had neither made any contact with my dad nor let him know my whereabouts. The passage of years did little to blunt my anger towards my old man.
By a strange twist of circumstances, I am now on my way to my village near Kumbakonam. I felt odd and at the same time somewhat tense. As the train chugged along with intermittent long whistles, I could see on either side green fields with crops nearly grown and canals of water alongside the fields and farmers diverting the flowing water into small channels to reach their fields. As memories of my village gushed through my mind, a pang of guilt arose in me.
I am the only child born to my parents in their early forties. My mother passed away when I was a young kid and it was my father who brought me up single handed refusing to marry again. He was a highly principled man and known for his short temper. After my mom’s demise, he did not mingle much with the neighbours who were all part of the clan or extended family. He became a loner seeking no help from others. His world was small and revolved around me.
All the boys and girls of the village studied in schools at Kumbakonam and usually walked to and fro except for two girls from a wealthy family who went in bullock carts. I remember even my running behind the carts on a few occasions to keep up the pace to be in time for the school. Ramu of my age who lived in the adjacent house was my best pal. Given to playing pranks, he was generally a pleasant and good guy.
I suspect he became jealous of me on two counts. I scored more marks than him and this displeased him as his dad always compared his performance with mine. The bigger reason is one day as we were running behind the bullock cart that carried the girls and it started raining, the girls called “Saranga, get into the cart before you get drenched.” Though I wished to, I did not get into the cart as Ramu was not invited and we both walked in rain. But Ramu never forgot the slight from the girls and nursed an unspoken grudge towards me.
A month later around 7pm, when I was saying prayers with my dad, Ramu’s father came in an agitated mood along with Ramu. Even before we got up from prayers, Ramu’s dad said “Anna (elder brother), Ramu tells me that Sarangan has stolen his new geometry box. It seems they were studying together in the evening at my house and the box is missing ever since. This is a petty loss to me but I wished to warn you about the boy lest it became a habit with him.”
My father turned towards me and asked” is it true? Did you steal his geometry box? I want the truth immediately.”
“No, appa. Do you think I would steal and then why would I when I have already one with me? He must have misplaced it and falsely accusing me.”
“No, uncle. We were working with the instrument box and when we had finished, I went to kitchen to drink water. When I came back, Sarangan was waiting at the front door to take leave of me. I noticed only after half hour the box that lay on the table was missing. None else had come to our house. It does not matter but my father insisted that I came along with him,” said Ramu.
When Ramu’s father and Ramu looked at me accusingly and I was blinking dazed by the turn of events, my father became wild in rage and started beating me all over crying all the time, “Have I wasted all my life on this wretch only for him to become a petty thief? I have lost all my honour this day. I neither wish to set my eyes anymore on this thief nor will I permit him stay here. “He grabbed my hand, dragged me towards the front door and pushed me out. “Never set your foot again here. You are dead as far as I am concerned, “he screamed in uncontrollable anger. That night I lay till dawn on the front porch outside with the main door shut.
Woken up from the reverie, I looked out. The train had stopped at a small station. One urchin proffered a tender coconut with straw inside. I gulped the entire content as if it would remove my bitterness to some extent. My thoughts turned towards my father though I was bitter all these years that he would rather trust Ramu and his dad than me and condemn me to be a thief. But the chance meeting with a penitent Ramu three days back at a mall in Singapore and the news from him of the happenings in the village subsequent to my running away filled me with endless remorse at my insensitive behavior towards my father.
It seemed that after I left the village, my father was crestfallen refusing to take food or even take care of himself and the lands. He was always repentant at his rash behavior towards me when he learnt that Ramu had confided to his dad that the geometry box was safe with him and was never stolen at all. Ramu’s father put the entire blame on himself for the turn of events. All their efforts to trace me were in vain. From then on, he took upon taking care of my dad as his total responsibility. Afflicted by the loss of his only son, my dad became a recluse and psychologically affected. He would it seems address all boys as Saranga and talk incoherently. For the last three years he has been acutely afflicted by Alzheimer and utters only my name.
Ramu urged me to leave for village immediately to meet my dad before his end that was expected anytime. The train now seemed to move at snail’s pace and I became restless.
I rushed in a taxi from Kumbakonam station to my house. The door was ajar. I ran inside shouting “Appa, I have come, your Sarangan. Can you recognize me? “I pleaded with tears swelling in my eyes as my father was lying on the bed.
Ramu’s father was there. He put his arms around me and comforted me saying “Please wait. Let us see whether he recognizes you. You haven’t changed much except grown bigger.”
Meanwhile my father was looking at me intently and I saw a glimmer in his eyes before he touched my cheeks to say “My Sarangan has come. My god has at last heard my prayers,”.
I hugged him tightly sobbing “Appa forgive this wretch. I was an egoistic fool and failed you when you needed me most. Please say once that you have forgiven me”.”
He stared vacantly at me showing no sign of recognition. Ramu’s father ran outside and in a few minutes a doctor was at my dad’s bedside only to say the long waiting soul had flown away. Ramu’s dad drew me towards him and let my head rest on his shoulders. He waited patiently as I cried inconsolably and comforted me saying, “Do not grieve, Saranga. Anna has finally found his peace.”