My father, Joshi guruji as he was known, had chosen to be different. He had opted to be a teacher in a village school and not follow the family profession of being a purohit. His ideal was Sane Guruji. However, his training in the Vedas and Sanskrit as a language was impeccable and hence even when there was any puja at the school, he would conduct it with proficiency. I was the eldest child and my brother Makarand was about four years my junior. My mother was content at being a homemaker: she taught me many feminine skills like sewing, cooking, even making papads and pickles.
Due to my father’s dedication to his work, he had earned a lot of goodwill among the residents of the village and also of nearby villagers. Officials from the zilla level would come for inspection and tell others how the school was perfectly run. From the primary level, my father had brought it to the seventh grade and he too had been elevated to the rank of a ‘headmaster’.
The only exciting times in the village those days were the festival times. During the month of Shravan, there were many festivities followed by the Ganapati, Navaratri and Diwali. Since television was not there, these festivals were the main source of entertainment for us. All the delicacies were prepared at home. Barring a chaiwala who kept a small stock of biscuits, there was no restaurant. The need for one was never felt as eating out was nowhere in people’s dreams also. ‘Baba’ as we called our father was keen that I pass my matriculation at least. He had made arrangements with a school in the district to allow me to appear through it and he would tutor me at home after the seventh grade. Mother used to grumble saying that after all the trouble, I would still be judged by culinary skills and not academic achievement. Baba had a way of just keeping quiet over such statements and continue to do what he wanted. Matriculation meant the eleventh grade. Those years of studying at home were really memorable as father would return from school and straightaway ask me to sit before him to study. Then late in the night he would give me homework which he expected me to finish during the day. Early in the morning, he would make me recite poems. It was a regimen that had no break till I went though the board exam with flying colours. Baba was relieved. Makarand was also next in line.
Two years after my matriculation, Baba got me married to a young man called Madhav Sardeshpande from Indore. The family had some landed property and was well to do. They had income from rents of their shops and also had dealerships in some engineering goods like pumps, etc. At that time, Brahmin boys rarely went into business. I was from a modest middle-class family but soon adjusted to the city life as well as a large house and a retinue of servants. God gifted us with two lovely children: daughter Girija and son Ameya. I went to visit my parents every two years but Makarand came to Indore for bhaubeej every Diwali. Life was good. Makarand who had graduated had found a job in Nashik and had taken our parents with him. The village property was sold and father was content with the meager pension that he received from the state government. A few marriage proposals had started coming in for Makarand and he had chosen a girl who worked in a local private firm. But he kept his annual date with me for bhaubeej. Each year, he bought a sari and a blouse piece for me and mother as usual sent bags of homemade pharal specially anarsa which I really relished. Makarand had become a father and he and his wife took care of the old parents in the best way possible.
It was Diwali time when we at Indore had prepared all the sweetmeats. Makarand would come-he never informed .it was taken for granted that he would reach on bhaubeej day and stay overnight and then leave the next day. There was a nip in the air and the days were short. Madhav had surprised me by getting me a diamond pendant-something that I had never imagined I would own in my lifetime! On bhaubeej day, I had made besan laddoos as that was what Makarand really enjoyed eating. “Somehow tai, you have mastered the art of making besan laddoos. I don’t eat anywhere else except at your place because I want to remember the unique taste of pure ghee, raisins and almonds. Wah!” Makarand would tell me and I would pack at least a dozen for him to take back home. It was past six in the evening and there was no sign of Makarand-.neither a phone call nor a message from his office branch in Indore. I was keenly waiting when Madhav and his parents walked a few plots away to meet the doctor couple who had redone their bungalow. I sat in the front verandah waiting anxiously for my only brother.
I heard the gate open and I saw Makarand walking slowly. I got up and went towards the front door. As usual he touched my feet and said. “Tai, sorry I kept you waiting. The bus had a flat and then I took a ride in a tempo-rickshaw and somehow made it here. My whole body is aches and pains,” he spoke in a tired voice. “Never mind,” I comforted, “Would you like a cup of hot tea first?” He shook his head. “Actually, I was away from Nashik and as work delayed me I decided to come here directly. God! Am I tired! But your sari is at home. I’ll arrange to send it across. And in all this change of transport my little bag is lost so now I am without any spare clothes! Can you beat it?” he laughed aloud.
“Don’t you worry. It is more important that you made it today. I was getting worried. I will bring a fresh towel and a set of pyjama kurta from Madhav for you. Tomorrow, we can go to the market and buy a few clothes for you,” I assured him. I told him that I had kept the aarti plate ready and that I should finish the ritual soon. He asked for the towel - murmuring something about how dusty the roads were. Pushing his right hand in the pocket, he took out his handkerchief, dusted it and dropped it on the floor outside the bathroom door. He then went into the washroom and opened the tap and closed the door. I got the aarti ready and also kept the clothes on the rack outside the bathroom.