Sujatha’s eyes races around to find that familiar face in the myriad of faces. Will she able to recognize her? She catches her laughing excitedly in a group of ladies. She walks towards her and taps on her shoulder. Manju turns and lets out a cry of joy.
“Suja, after so so many years. So good to see you. And couldn’t you inform me you were coming. I would have come to the airport to pick you up”
“Knowing me you shouldn’t be telling this!”
“Ya, the great lady of surprises. But still….”
Manju hugs her and realizes a cute girl standing beside them and looking at them in amusement.
“Hey, is she Sumi”
“Oh my god, she looks so much like you when you were college”
Manju hugs Sumi also. Sumi doesn’t know what to do and tries to put on a smile.
“Mama, won’t you introduce me to your friend.”
“Sure, dear. Hey Suja, she is sweetie my daughter”
“Hello Aunty, mom always talks about you. Glad you could make it for Anil anna’s wedding.”
“I couldn’t miss it dear and especially since I would get a chance to meet my college buddies and my dearest friend”
“Sweetie, why don’t you introduce Sumi to your friends”
“Go along Sumi”
Sumi forces a smile at her mother and goes along with Sweetie. Sumi is all confused. She didn’t want to come to India especially when all her friends had gone to Hawaii for holidays. She had wanted to join them. But her mom wouldn’t hear anything of it. She couldn’t allow her girl to go all alone with a bunch of crazy girls and boys to Hawaii all by herself. Her father had tried to convince her mom but…
“Suja, she is grown up. And this is not India, this is Japan. Here kids are independent after an age. You have to also allow her to grow up independently”
“I am an Indian and you are also an Indian. Just for the sake that we live in Japan, I can’t forget my roots nor can I allow my daughter to do that. For me my daughter’s safety is my utmost priority and I know what I am doing”
The topic was closed. And so here she was, tugging along with her mother to India. Her mother visited India every two years and Sumi had to always accompany her. Not that she hated India but somehow she didn’t feel at home in India. Relatives crowded her grandparent’s home the moment they landed. So many aunties asking so many questions about Japan. Why are they so inquisitive after all its just another country. They would leave after they got their box of chocolates and one or two other gifts. Did they come to see mama only for the gifts, but then who bothered. She missed Sushi but she also loved the food her grandma cooked for her. She especially liked her grandpa. He was a retired professor and used to tell her many funny anecdotes.
She is brought to reality by Sweetie shaking her hand.
“Hey where are you lost. Ok, this is Reema and Sunita”
She looks at the girls and smiles meekly
“Hey Sumi, nice to meet ya. Hey, tell us about Japan. Do you have a Japanese boyfriend?… Do you eat Sushi and all..Do you smoke and drink… I heard its very common there.” The girls spoke on and on….
Sumi gets irritated. Same questions and guys do you think every girl has to have a boyfriend. How sick. She feels like throwing the glass of juice in her hand on both the girls….
“No, I don’t have a Japanese boyfriend and yes I eat sushi and love it but I also love Indian food”
She abruptly turns to Sweetie and says, “Hey, I will hang around. I have never been to an Indian wedding before. Do you mind?”
“No, I won’t. Why will I?”
She leaves behind three pairs of eyes gapping at her in disbelief. Sweetie breaks the silence with “Attitude girls, attitude”.
Sumi wanders about, sees some sitting space under a tree and sits down. Her eyes search for her mother and spot her giggling away to glory with her bunch of friends. She sighs and continues to watch the people around.
“Hey sitting alone? Care if I join you”
She turns to see a girl in Jeans and t-shirt calling out to her. Certainly inappropriate for the occasion.
“Hi, Am Sumi”
“You certainly don’t seem to be liking the people around”
“Nothing like that. Its just that I don’t know anyone particularly well. You are a relative of Sweetie”
“Ya… She is my cousin. How about you”
“My mom and her mom are college friends”
“Oh, ok. So, you are studying”
Sumi forces a smile. Not again.
“For starters, I too studied in Japan”
“Oh really. Thats nice”
“And what brought you to India”
“One my love for architecture and two, my parents decided to settle down in India”
Sumi stifles a smile.
“So, you like this place”
“Ya at times I do… at times I want to go back to Japan”
“I can’t understand the system around here. So much of pollution, corruption and things like that. Why I can’t even wear those shorts which I am so much used to wearing in Japan as guys glare at you. I have to hold my bag more dearer than my life, least somebody snatch it away. The buses are always crowded to the core especially in the evenings and I have to take an auto back which is quite costly. They never seem to use the meter even though they have one fixed in the auto as though it were some kind of adornment for their auto. Every office asks for an extra 10 to 100 rs to get your file moved through and it takes ages for government offices to pass on the files from one desk to another. I don’t understand what are they paid for? And yet life goes on here. It doesn’t stop.”
Sumi giggles. So much of what used to go in her mind was being told to her. She nods in agreement.
“Well, its just that I have got used or rather I would say adjusted to this system and I am carrying on” “So what do you do here?”“Well, primarily am an architect and I travel a lot around India discovering the rich architectural variety that India has to offer. In fact, I will be going to Thanjavur to see the temple there. If you are here for sometime, you can come along with me”“Oh is it, I would love to. Let me ask my mom … will you be here for sometime”“Yup, sure … Take your time”
Sumi hurries towards to her mom and whispers in her ears. A long discussion follows. They both move towards Ruby.“Mom, she is Ruby”Sujatha starts interrogating Ruby (the usual motherly questions) – where will you stay, who are going with and so on.Manju who is watching the scene from far comes and calms down Sujatha. “Hey you stay in Japan and still you get so much pepped up. Its perfectly fine for Sumi to go with Ruby and by the way guys, Ruby is my to-be-daughter-in-law too. Ruby, Sumi will be your responsibility during the tour.”“Sure mama, she will be perfectly fine”Sujatha looks confused at Ruby and wonders why she is not in a sari for her cocktail party but doesn’t say anything.
2 days later“Ok bye mom, I am leaving now”. “Ok bye Sumi and take care and please don’t drink water from the road side stalls. You will get sick”When will Mom stop worrying … “Ok mom”She gets into the van waiting for her. Ruby is already there. She introduces Sumi to all her colleagues. Sumi gets chit chatting with them and sits back to enjoy the trip.
After sometimeThey reach Thanjavur temple and start getting off from the van. A lot of beggars immediately surround them begging for money. Ruby holds Sumi’s hand and pulls her away towards the entrance but Sumi keeps on turning and looking out. Sanjay, who had so far been observing Sumi silently comes up from behind and says,
“What happened. Some problem”“Uh no… these beggars”“Oh.. thats a common sight in India”“I know but why are they not given shelter or job by the government”“Good question, we will write a letter to the PM tomorrow and ask him. Ok?”“Oh come on Sanjay, don’t be so cynical”“Sumi, even I don’t know the answer so this is what I can say”“My mom also says the same thing and puts me off but can’t we do anything for them”“If your heart goes out to them, then maybe you can join our group”“What group”“Me and some of my college friends work in a village school”“Really. Can I join your group?”“Ya, of course. Its open to everyone. And maybe you can join us this weekend before you actually decide whether you want to join us or not”“Okay. Will it take more than a day else I have to ask my mom permission”“No, we can go in the morning and come back the same day”“Cool thats perfectly fine”Sumi remains excited through the trip and Sanjay can’t help smiling at her. Ruby is amused by her enthusiasm for a trip to the village school but doesn’t say anything.
D-Day arrives …“Ok mom, am leaving”“Ok but are you sure you want to go that Village School. I mean its good but still”“Don’t worry mom. Its just a visit, okay”“Ok, take care”Sujatha looks as her daughter happily hops onto the bike. Sanjay doesn’t look bad, not a bad choice by my daughter after all.After an hour of driving, they reach the village school. Its abuzz with the chanter of kids running here and there. Sumi looks at them. They are kids from very poor families, some with torn pants, some with torn shirts but still running about with a huge smile. Sanjay goes and rings the bell and all the kids rush inside the community hall which also serves as the classroom. Sanjay looks at Sumi and tells,
“Would you like to take today’s class?”“Uh… but I didn’t prepare anything”“I guess you must be knowing English alphabets … the kids won’t understand Japanese ones”“Ha ha…. Ok Will try my best. You will be there to help right?”“Yup. Sure. My other friends will be here in sometime. They will handle the other classes.”“Ok cool”
The class gets over and the kids rise to wish their teacher. Sumi feels something tugging at her heart. She can’t understand what it is. Sanjay knocks on her head and says“Madam where do you get lost every now and then”“Nothing. I don’t know I am feeling something for the first time”“Does the something have a name”“Sanjay, thats why I said its something”“Ok, you ponder on your something. Want to see the village?”Sanjay starts walking. Sumi asks “Not on the bike”“This is rural India Mam and to know them, you should be at their level, not zooming past them”“Ok”
She starts following Sanjay. Everywhere its the same thing. No proper brick houses, thatched roofs, ladies blowing through some earthen ware and trying to make fire for cooking food, people in tattered clothes, smell of cow dung, people looking more than a layer of skeletons. Her heart fills with remorse. She clutches Sanjay’s hand hard and he pats her back. “Don’t worry, its ok. This is the life here”“Can we go back. I can’t take this any more”“Hmmm”
2 days pass by …“What has happened to you? Why do you look like Paro who has lost her devdas?”Sujatha is not able to understand the transformation in her daughter. She is quiet as though she has been taken by thunderstorm. Maybe Sanjay said something to her.“Ok, have your coffee and pack your bags. We are to leave tomorrow night”“Mom, can I stay back for some more days with Grandpa”Sujatha is happy that her daughter is probably liking India after all and maybe Sanjay. She smiles back at her and nods her approval. Sumi is taken aback. Her mom never agrees to such things so easily and anyways who cares as long as she can stay for some more time in India and think over Sanjay’s Idea.
The other day on their way back, Sanjay and Sumi had stopped at a coffee shop.“So, did you like it”“Ya I did but its heart wrenching. All these scenes are unthinkable. I want to do something for them”“Aah the good samaritan. Probably you can join an organization which works for such people”“Do you know any?”“Ya I have a few friends and probably they can arrange it for you. But mind you girl, this is not a reality show where it will end after some time. These are thankless tasks which you will have to do umpteen number of times. Why even your family may not approve of it. So be prepared for the worst. Social work is not so easy as it seems. It requires a lot of patience”“Ya I know”
A week later … “Tring Tring” Sujatha’s husband picks up the phone.“Hey darling, whats up. hows life and hows grandpa and grandma. When are you coming back?”“Everyone is fine dad and I called up to say something”“Ya go on”
He puts down the phone with a smile on his face. “Sujatha, there is some good news. You daughter has decided to become a social worker”“Whatttttttttt”“And she has also decided to stay back in India”Sujatha is shocked … “I wish I had allowed her to the Hawaii holiday… This would not have happened then”
“Sujatha all this while you have only imposed your wishes on her. Allow her to do something of her choice at least now. She is no more a kid. I am an Indian and you are an Indian. Allow her also to be an Indian and do her bit for our motherland”
Sujatha is taken aback and looks at her husband while he sits down to watch FIFA…
It takes days and at times years to decide our goal in life. At times, a single incident changes the purpose of our life and we move ahead in pursuit of it. But a majority of us don’t even try to know what our goal in life is. We accept life as it is and as it comes. A goal in life is a must. For a mother, it may the upbringing of her kids, for a teacher it maybe the future of her students. A goal however small defines the purpose of our life. To all those people, who have defined their goals in life and are in pursuit of it… “Try, try and you will succeed” and to those who haven’t yet discovered it, I hope you will soon.