Many-Splendoured Love/Many-Splendoured Love

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Many-Splendoured Love

Many times, Nayanaben would sit still in the house, holding her head in her hands, or at times, she would mutter, “This is a horrific Demon. When he has devoured me only then will he be satisfied.” And when the migraine pain became unbearable she would hit her head with her hands. Suku.bhai would get up quickly and stop her gently. He would put her head on his shoulder and plead, “ Enough, Nayanu. Please stop. I can not see this. Try to bear with it a little.”

Some days, when she was feeling better, after the daily pooja and prayers, she would complain to her god, “You let our ordinary lives go astray like this, Lalji.bawa. You left no peace at all in our hearts.” She would wipe the tears that welled up in her eyes with the end of her sari, as she went towards the kitchen.

Their daughter Ruchira was studying in a college near by. She stayed at home for the first two years, but now she was renting a flat with two friends. One of them was Hispanic, and the other was African-American. Nayana.ben was disappointed after meeting them. She had told Ruchira, “You couldn’t find any nice Indian girls to stay with? You found only these ugly, coloured ones?”

Immediately Ruchira had scolded her, “How can such words come out of your mouth, Ma? You do know, that we have to use words like Brown and Black for them, right, Nayanu? And what are we after all? For the White people here we are also dark and ugly, did you ever think of that?”

She was still studying, and it did not seem that she was in contact with any one particular boy. Because of this Nayana.ben was not nervous about her, but she had already started to look for a nice girl for her Raja. Whenever she and Suku.bhai went to any programme at the Gujarati Association, Nayana.ben’s eyes would start roaming around over young women and on nice-looking parents also. If at times she was able to drag Raja along, he would mingle with other young men and women there, but he never seemed to like any girl there at all.

Suku.bhai would say, “Don’t be in such a hurry. The boy is smart. When the time comes, he will find the right girl for himself.” Nayana.ben would think, “Yes, that is true. The one who has to marry should like her. We just have to be supportive.” At last Raja came and told them that he likes one girl, and he wants to marry her.

Breathlessly Nayana.ben asked him so many questions - Who is she? Where is she from? How does she look? Where does she work? What is her name? When are we to meet with her mother and father?

“Nayanu, slow down. Take a breath. Listen, her parents do not live here. And her name is Sophia.” Just hearing the name Nayana.ben got startled. Still she asked, “Sophia? Such a name is being used by Indians now?” “I don’t know if it is used or not, Ma, but Sophia is not Indian.”

Nayana.ben was quiet then, but when Raja said that Sophia is from Senegal, she lost her descretion. “African? That means ugly-black like a demon? That means my grand-children will be big-broad nosed, big-thick lipped, rough-round entangled haired? I would never be able to love such kids, nor treat them as mine.”

Raja sill tried one more time to bring her around. “Nayanu, At least meet Sophia once. You will definitely like her. She is just like us.” “What do you mean just like us? How can she be like us? How is that possible? Who knows what blood she has inherited from generations?”

Then she started saying to the stunned Raja, like she was coaxing a child, “ Arre, you are my special son Rajaram. Just you wait and see, I will find a very special, fair-skinned beautiful girl, like Sita, for you. In the mean time, if you want, you can go out with that one, have fun. That is what everyone does here, right?”

“No, Nayanu, I would not be able to do that. I love Sophia. She is the only one that is good for me. I am going to marry only her, and ---”

“Do you know, in America how hard your father and I worked to raise you?, to educate you? We did not indulge in anything, did not spend for ourselves.We went on saving, cutting corners, so that we could give anything that you and your sister wanted. For you we have had so many hopes, do you realize that? We hoped that when we are old you and your nice wife would take care of us. Now when that time has come, you ---”

Stopping to catch her breath, and trying to hold the tears back, Nayana.ben said, “If you go against mine - meaning our - permission, and marry this one, I am telling you right now that I will not see your face again. And think of me as dead.”

“What are you saying, Nayanu?”, Suku.bhai said in a raised voice. Nayana.ben stopped speaking, but she went into the other room and banged the door shut. Raja left the house. Suku.bhai could not prevail upon either one.

After marrying Sophia in a simple court-ceremony Raja had informed the parents by phone first, and then had come home, with Sophia, to pay respect to them. The main door was locked. Rather than welcoming the ugly-black daughter-in-law, the mother had chosen to get out of the house, locking the main door. Suku.bhai was totally helpless.

After he retired they sold the house. What is the need for the big house, they said, and bought a two bedroom flat in a complex. Nayana.ben would have gone on feeling deprived - of the space, and status, if within four or five days she had not met Ratna.

That day the doorbell rang, and she opened the door. A young woman was standing there with a bunch of flowers in her hand, and bright smile on her face. With her was a boy of about four. She said to Nayana.ben at once, “Welcome to this complex.” She asked the boy to present the flowers to aunty, and continued, “ I am Ratna, and his name is Krish.”

Perhaps for the first time Nayana.ben was speechless. This girl is so dark, almost black - oh, no, she seems brown-black. How nice is this colour on her. She must have been thinking in her mind, but blurted out, “Ratna? This name is - this is an Indian name.”

“But of course, I am Indian. Why, I don’t look Indian?”

Nayana.ben wondered that she is black, but it is as if she does not look ‘black’. Why is that? It is as if the colour of skin does not come in the picture at all. Why is so? Her face shines with such a smile, is that why? Her eyes are filled with feelings, could it be that? This little boy is also black. Oh, no, no, he is warm-brown. He was also standing there, with sweet smile on his face. Quickly Nayana.ben picked him up.

After this, nobody realized when it was that Ratna and Krish started calling Suku.bhai ‘Dada’, and calling Nayana.ben, by mistake, ‘Nanu’. Nayana.ben would be restless if some day she did not see Ratna, or get to hug Krish, She eagerly started making special Gujarati dishes for Ratna’s husband.

At such times, whether she was also burdened by the thought of her son Raja or not, even Suku.bhai could not say.

One day Ratna told her that now Krish’s father wants him to join a Children’s Centre. He is still very little, but if he can be with other children, and play with them, he would start learning somethings. Besides, Ratna had thought that she will aslo go with Krish to the Centre, and will help there for a few hours every day. Outwardly Nayana.ben showed how pleased she was about this, but her mind was gripped by worries. As if she would be left alone now, and the demon called Migraine would appear again.

Two or three days after starting to go to the Centre, Ratna told Nayana.ben that, “The Centre needs a lot of help. Nanu, why don’t you also come there with us?” The first day she went there feeling a little shy, but she found that the atmosphere was informal and friendly. Children were happy and playful. At lunch-time her quickness in the kitchen was very helpful. As Ratna had told her before, most children were from low-income families, and almost all of them were Hispanic and African-American. Brown, Black, White. Perhaps for the very first time, that did not make a difference to Nayana Sukumar Shodhan. She found all the little kids lovable and huggable. Everyone there started calling her ‘Nanu’.

Krish had a special friend there. A three year old boy called Ragu. His skin was a darker shade of wheat. He was also a smiling child, like Krish; at this age he sounded very sweet, and he would also run to Nayana.ben and give her a hug every day. Remembering the idol of child Krishna in her prayer-room, she would think “Isn’t he just like my little baby Krishna?”

Many times she heard Ragu say, in a sing-song manner, “My Papa is King; my Mom is Queen.” Like the others in the Centre, Nayana.ben also wondered what that meant. But she did not get to meet any child’s parents, because after lunch when the kids took a nap, she would leave for home.

One afternoon she saw a beautiful woman coming in, and Nayana.ben kept looking at her. Tall, slim, straight shoulder-length hait. large eyes, sharp nose, and there was dignity on her lovely oval face. It did not even occur to Nayana.ben that the colour of her skin could be called black. She thought, she is just a little more wheat-shade than me. Right then Ragu came dancing, and singing, “My Papa is King, my Mom is Queen.” And the yound woman picked him up.

“Oh, so this is Ragu’s mother. Both the mother and the child are similar in good looks, and both are so likable”, Nayana.ben felt. Ratna knew her, so she came by to talk with her. “Today Ragu has to leave early. That is why his mother has come to pick him up,” Ratna told Nayana.ben.

The young woman smiled to express ‘hello’ to Nayana.ben. And Nayana.ben blurted out, “What is it that Ragu goes around singing?” “Oh, I am sorry, is he bothering everybody a lot here?” “No, no, not at all. It is just that he sings ‘my papa is king’, and we can’t understand what he means. That’s all!”

The young woman’s smile was making her face lovelier. She said, “That is because his papa’s name is Raja. Perhaps we told Ragu once that ‘raja’ means king, and he seems to have retained that.” “Raja?”, Nayana.ben could barely say even one word.

“Yes, aunty, the complete name of his papa is Rajaram, but here, you know, how they shorten the names. The boy’s name is Raghav. What a nice name it is. His father gave him that name especially thinking of his mother, but it has been turned into just Ragu! And everyone calls me Sophy, but my name is Sophia.”

Ratna also started saying, “Oh yes, see, we named the boy Krishan, based on Krishna, but that has stayed as Krish.”

Nayana.ben’s whole existence was shaking. While Ratna and Sophia were busy chatting, Nayana.ben struggled to slip away from there. Even Ratna did not know when she went home. After this she stopped going to the Centre. Ratna tried a lot to pursuade her. “Nanu, the kids are missing you. And Ragu cries at times, calling out for you.”

But Nayana.ben kept saying, “It is enough. Now I feel very tired.” Her migraine also returned. But now, neither did she bang on her head with her hands, nor made any complaints to her Krishna idol. She just sat around still and wordless in the flat. Suku.bhai was very worried, and thought that perhaps he should ask Ruchira to come home now.

But before scaring Ruchira about this, he decided to have a talk with Ratna; and he asked her if something had happened at the Centre. From a few questions by him, and Ratna trying to remember the past few days, they came up to the last afternoon. When Ratna mentioned names like Rajaram, Sophia, Raghav, and the conversation with Sophia, he undestood what the whole matter was about. And instead of worries about Nayana.ben’s health, his heart filled up with joy and hope. Ratna also felt relieved when she learnt about the whole situation.

One afternoon, when Nayana.ben was having a cup of tea, there was a sound of banging on the door. Saying “Who is doing this?”, with a frown, she opened the door. Instantly four tiny hands went around her legs, and there were excited shouts of “Nanu, Nanu”. From one side Krish, and from the other Ragu, kept hugging and pulling at her.

Suku.bhai took out a big box of biscuits. He had bought it for this evening, and had hidden it away. Ratna took milk out of the fridge. Both the boys did not let Nayana.ben alone. She also had to have milk and biscuits with them.

In about an hour, there was a soft knock at the door. Suku.bhai was eagerly waiting, and he opened the door right away. His dear son and daughter-in-law were standing there. How many years later the father and son were facing each-other. As they hugged, there were tears in both their eyes. Sophia bent down to touch his feet, and Suku.bhai hugged her with affection also. So far no words were spoken. Perhaps they were not even needed at this time. Ratna also welcomed them in, indicating with a finger, to stay quiet.

From the inside room Nayana.ben’s voice could be heard. Ratna opened that door soundlessly. Rajaram could see that Nayanu was sitting in the middle of the bed. On her both sides two little boys were curled up - Krish on one side, Ragu on the other. Nayanu was lightly stroking both their heads with her hands. Her moist eyes were closed, and she was singing with deep feelings -”King Ram, O Lord Ram, cleanse us of all our sins.”