Many-Splendoured Love/Blessings

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1. Blessings

From the beginning of the week there seemed to be a lot of excitement in the house. This time the Fourth of July Independence Day was falling on a Saturday. So lots of fun every way, Ujaas felt. He said to Lauren, “Mom, It would be so nice if this was so every year. An official Holiday on Friday, and Fourth July celebration on Saturday. We could keep awake till late at night, and could watch the fireworks from California late at night every year.”

Noura was asking impatiently every day, “Oh Mom, When will it be Saturday?” Little Tej ran around following his elder brother and sister, and went singing “Saturday, Saturday”.

Kunji.bahen asked Lauren, “Why are these older two gone crazy this year?”

Lauren said, “ This time Chirag has told them that he will also come along. When would the children have this chance to go on a picnic with their Dad? And seeing Ujaas and Noura so excited, Tej is also dancing happily. I had taken them to see the firework two years ago, but Tej would not remember that.”

Then she continued saying, “Amma”; - along with the children she also called Kunji.bahen Amma - “Invite about three of your friends. You will have company, and those seniors will enjoy the spectacle also.”

“But Lauren, every one will not fit in the car”, Kunji.bahen said.

“Amma, we will take two cars. The children will go crazy to be going with their dad by themselves. I have talked to Chirag about this.”

Kunji.bahen chuckled in her mind, thinking that it was her turn to go crazy now, like the kids. She opened the diary to call her senior friends. First was, and she said ‘yes’ as soon she heard about the invitation. Then she said to Kunji.bahen, “I would really love to go with you, and if you agree I would call Shanta.bahen. She does not get out much, so if we invite her, she will feel good.”

“Oh Sure, do ask her. Then let me know, so that I know if to ask anybody else or not. If it is three of us, then that is fine. We will have time to talk. Right?”

Lauren started making all arrangements from Saturday morning. For the picnic she made sandwiches for the kids, and baked Brownies that they liked. Cut some salad for herself and Chirag. Took out cheese and crackers. Made sure there were enough apples and grapes to take along. Kunji.bahen tried to help, but Lauren said, “Amma, there is nothing to be done. I will also come and sit with you soon.”

About forteen years ago Chirag informed Kunji.bahen and Navin.bhai that he was going to marry a girl named Lauren, from Argentina. That had shocked the parents. Both had lamented that their only son did such a thing, after all. But when Chirag came to visit them along with Lauren, they liked her as soon as they saw her. Tall, slim, dark hair, smiling eyes, and she had worn the ‘salvar-kurta’ outfit. She had not forgotten to do a ‘bindi’ on her forehead either. Who could have taught her to do that?, Kunji.bahen had wondered.

But on her wrists there were very simple bangles. Following Kunji.bahen’s eyes Chirag had said, “We could not find gold bangles in our Raleigh city.”

Lauren bent down and touched both parents’ feet, and said “Je Shiri kishna”. Instantly Navin.bhai had said, “Many blessings, my child.” Kunji.bahen quickly went in her room and brought a pair of gold and diamond bangles that she kept for her own every day wear. She asked Lauren, “Will they fit you?” Lauren reached for her hand and said, in Gujarati, “ Ma, they will surely fit me. They are very pretty bangles.”

Seeing the wide open mouths of his parents in astonishment, Chirag said, laughing, “Ma, Lauren is a linguist. Before we met she was already learning Hindi. Now she has started learning Gujarati. She does not speak a lot yet, but understands almost everything.”

Chirag had brough all the necessary papers with him. Before he and Lauren left to go back, he applied for the parents to visit America. Lauren had said, “Ma, Pappa.ji, we will be waiting for your visit.”

Then, on the way to America, Kunji.bahen and Navin.bhai met Chirag and Lauren in France, and travelled in Europe for a few days with them. During the months in between, Lauren had learnt to say “Jai Shree Krishna” correctly. Also, in France, Germany, Spain her knowledge of those languages was very useful - especially in ordering food for them all. She herself was a vegetarian for many years.

This time, of seeing Europe, and that too with the son and daughter-in-law, was extremely valuable for the elders. In America, after reaching Raleigh and seeing the beautiful house in the quiet suburb, that first night Navin.bhai could not help saying, “Vaah, Chirag, this is like a five-star hotel.” Chirag had replied, “Pappa, You will see, it is more comfortable than a five-star hotel.”

How true it was, what the son had said, Kunji.bahen was now thinking. In all these years, whenever they came to visit, both Chirag and Lauren had made certain that there was no inconvenience. After Navin.bhai passed away, Chirag had called the mother over to stay with him, and then he had started pursuading Kunji.bahen to get a Green Card.

“I still have valid visiting visa, my dear. We will see about the Card later”, she had said. Slowly she had come to know a few people in the Gujarati Association, and at times she would join in their activities also. But still, she could not think of staying in America all the time.

This was going to be the first time for her to get a chance to see the public celebration of July the Fourth - the Independence Day of America. In late afternoon Ujaas and Noura left with their father. Little Tej was not prepared to go without Amma. In the second car Lauren took Kunji.bahen and Tej to pick up and Shanta.bahen. All of them got together in the Park as decided.

In a clean space, Lauren spread the dhurries she had brough along, and arranged all the snacks in the center. “Amma, there is a surprise for you and both aunties”, Chirag said, and took out Rani Food boxes of Samosa, Kachori, Khaman, Khari Poori. “I hope you will like them”, he said.

Both the aunties said in unison, “ So many snacks? There was no need to take so much trouble, Son.” Lauren said, “There is still one more surprise for us all. I have also brought hot tea in the thurmos.” burst out saying, “ Oh, wonderful.”

Everyone had snacks and took either tea or juice. After a while Chirag and Lauren went with the children to walk, and run, and play in the Park. Tej was still reluctant to leave Amma. He was coaxed to go, with difficulty! said, “Kunji.bahen, that little one wanted to take you along with him.”

“Yes, it is true. He is so attached to me. Even my Chirag may not have given me so much affection”, Kunji.bahen said.

Wiping the sudden moisture from her eyes, Shanta.bahen said, “ These must be the Blessings carried forth from last Birth, Bahen. In this age, not just from the grand-children, even from one’s own son and daughter-in-law one can not expect or hope for anything. But Bahen, your family is totally different.”

As it became a little dark, the first swoosh was heard. The elder two kids shouted, “Look up, Look up, Dad. Fireowrk has started.”

For next forty minutes or so, everyone - small and grown up alike - looked up to the sky and kept looking with all attention. This was not just some sparkles going up. This was thousands of shiny little rockets, put together deftly and artistically, that were shooting up high and were then getting separated, creating countless different designs. From one round came out more rounds, a stretch of light turned into a flower-shape, and hundreds of stars twinkled all arund. The sky lit up in so many colours - red, green, blue, golden, silvery.

Every spectator was boundlessly happy. “ The country’s Independence Day is celebrated in such a fabulous way here, isn’t it? And that too all over, everywhere.”, Kunji.ben said to her senior friends.

“ We got such a rare opportunity to see something so beautiful.”, said and Shanta.bahen. Both went on thanking Lauren repeatedly. In their lives they had not seen anything like this before, both of them said.

After this Kunji.bahen became introspective. Three or four days later she told Chirag that she wanted to talk to him when he had time. Seeing Chirag’s face shadowed by worry, she hurried to explain, “ Oh, there is nothing to worry about. I just want to talk to you about some thoughts I have.”

That night, after finishing dinner and their homework, the kids went up to their rooms, and Chirag and Lauren came to Kunji.bahen. Both their faces were still lined with worry. “There is really nothing to worry about”, Kunji.bahen assured them.

Letting them sit near her, she started explaining, “Look Son, I have been thinking that I want to be of help. Not to many people at once, may be, but I can help two or three people at a time. That night we all went to the park together, had a happy time, and both the aunties also felt very good. But then, on Monday morning called. She told me some things about Shanta.bahen’s life.

I had seen tears springing up in her eyes, but I had not known any details about her life. Her husband died here, in America, almost two years ago. After that she is left all alone. No one in the house talks to her even for two minutes a day. Not her son, nor the grand-children. She rarely gets to go out of the house. She does not have money to go to India, and she is not able to ask her son for it either. She is living a totally helpless life. Ever since I heard all this, I am feeling very sad.”

Kunji.bahen continued, “ There must be so many such aunties here. Even when both parents are alive, some sons and daughters-in-law neglect them, insult them. In one case, it has been said that they took the parents to the Shopping Mall, told them to sit and wait at some place inside the Mall; ‘We will be back’ they said, and never came back.”

Right away Chirag said in a loud voice, “No, Such a thing can never happen.”

“This is really true, Chirag. This story had come in the local newspaper here too.”

Kunji.bahen further said, “I have decided that I want to be of help to such helpless people. There are old-people’s homes in India now, and for destitute women there are organizations like Vikas Gruh and Vanita Ashram also now; but for Indian women - our elder sisters and aunties - who have widowed and become old here in America, there is nothing.

I am thinking that we have a big house there, in India; your father has left a good arrangement for money too. Every winter I can take two or three such aunties there, let them stay, take them on a short trip nearby, if possible. They can get a relief from the cold season for a while. And I am prepared to spend for their tickets also, in case someone needs it.”

“Oh Amma”, Lauren said, hugging Kunji.bahen. Chirag got off the sofa and sat by her feet. “ Oh Ma, you - Ma--”, he could not say anything more.

“I want to ask both of you, my son, that you would not mind if the house and the money are used for such work, would you?”

“Oh Ma, what are you saying? Everything is yours, of course.”

“Yes, Amma,” Lauren said, “ Be assured. Not just from there, everything that is here is also just yours.”

“But Ma, have you thought about everything?”

“Yes, Chirag, I am thinking that according to the aunties’ hobby and talent, we can arrange for teachers to teach painting, knitting, embroidery, devotional singing etc. In return, some of the aunties can teach a little reading and writing, and even speaking English, to the girls in the neighbourhood. Both sides will benefit. More over, it seems to me that if someone like Shanta.bahen can stay there much longer, we can provide these activities for the whole year.”

“All this is good,” Chirag said, “But we have to think especially about the responsibility. If an aunty falls sick, then what? If someone’s family-member makes an objection, then what? How long can one aunty stay? Or is it that only some aunties should be given this help? etc. All these matters need to be given attention. You just want to help selflessly. It should never happen, that instead, you are blamed or harrassed.”

“ No, my son, I am not going to do anything without suggestions and advice from both of you.”

Lauren said assuringly, “It is just the beginning of July yet. There is a lot of time before winter. During this time we will keep discussing about all the necessary aspects. But Amma, to assist in your project, I will surely come there for a while.”

Hurriedly Chirag said, “Then I will also come.”

Kunji.bhen said, lightly, “ Oh, let the rooms stay available for those who need this help, OK Kids! ”

Ujaas had made a paper-plane for Tej. In the morning he was running around in the house flying this plane in his little hands. At one point he went close to Kunji.bahen, and with exaggerated sweetness said, “Amma, you and me, in this plane, zzzzz and up up and away.”