Chapter 12: Good Old days

Perhaps, everybody is reminded of his or her good old days, carefree time, spent happily in a friendly environment. After retirement, Banta, on account of rheumatic pains and Kartari, due to asthmatic trouble; both decided to go to and live in India, during the years of the fag end of their lives.

He had sufficiently exploited his body in the factories and foundries of England. Now, he must live in slight rest and respite. He had duly fulfilled all the duties of family life and this fulfilment, gave him a feeling of great pride and satisfaction. And why should he not feel proud? He used to work on night shifts and many a time in winter, weeks used to elapse without seeing the sun. Certainly, they can’t be his good old days. May be, may not be. Who knows!

After reaching England, he had felt very depressed at this industrial life, but he was also unable to return. He had compromised with his mind and circumstances. There was no other alternative more or less like the other contemporary Indian immigrants. He had been burdened with the domestic responsibilities of their united family back home. But sometimes, he got so fed up with this sort of life that he wanted to become an ascetic and take refuse somewhere in the Himalayas. But no such thing either was possible or happened. He was obliged to live in a limited and specific circle, night time in factory and day time in bed. That is why, he was very happy even living away from his children.

They happily got rid of the custom officials at Delhi airport and sooner they came out, their nephew, Harpal, had arrived already there to receive them and by evening, they were at their home. They found the village very much changed, observing the surroundings.

Next morning, Kartari (Kartar Kaur) got occupied in conversing with the neighbouring women and Banta Singh set out to have a round of his farm. On the way, meeting and talking to the people of his village, he arrived at his farm house. He was very amazed and raged to see a bricked parlour in the corner of the field with guava trees. It was quite appropriate to feel angry. It was the duty of his nephew to ask him, at least for his permission. Secondly, he had not expired, nor was he issueless.

He felt that Harpal’s wife washing utensils near the clay oven, had noticed his discomfort. Her children, leaping and bounding in the parlour, also seemed to ridicule him.
“It is ok, what is the importance of this wretched one canal of land,” he tried to console himself. “Secondly, it hasn’t gone to any stranger; after all, there isn’t much difference between mine and my brother’s children. It is one and the same thing. None of my children would come here to do farming!”


This way, facing such incidents, almost a week or so passed and every day, a feeling of being superfluous and unwanted, began to depress them. The keener this feeling was, the more anxiously they remembered their children, left behind in UK.

One day, by chance, all the members of their family had gathered at home. At night, after dinner, Kartari introduced the matter getting a cue from her husband Banta Singh.
“Harpal, how long shall we stay here as guests? Secondly, it is not that we have never done manual labour before. If you vacate one portion of our house for us, presently this is sufficient for us and we can have the room upstairs for guests. Other thing, we have to be on a special diet and we can cook and eat at whatever time we feel like,” Kartari eagerly wanted to sort out.
“Look aunty, why have you said this? When I cook for the rest of the family, why can’t I cook for you?” before anyone else said anything, Harpal,s wife spoke out.
“We treat you like our own parents, then, why do you think of these distinctions?” Harpal, thus tried to win over his aunt’s heart.
“It is not a matter of distinction. Your aunty is right. One day, we have to do all the domestic work ourselves and yet, we are not very old and worn out. We wish to carry on such chores for the sake of our health and rather we can prolong our mutual love and understanding, in this way. If we have a separate kitchen, it doesn’t mean, separation of hearts. In the long run, it is you who have to do everything,” Banta Singh corroborated what Kartari had said.
“Uncle, you have seen the condition of our house yourself. We have been looking after your house and our own has been reduced to ruins. After the winter, we shall be able to repair ours and then, if you desire, we shall vacate the whole house. Up to that time, if you can manage with the upper room, it will be better. There is a small kitchen adjoining that room also,” Harpal suggested in the tone of a decision.

The winter passed off, but none appreciated their sentiments. In their own house, they were staying like strangers! Now the heat of the sun didn’t allow them to sit near the clay oven to cook. The dry season of the summer also, like the temperament of their nephews, continued to sicken them and at last, the rainy season set in.

Banta Singh talked of his troubles and hardships, among his fraternity and relatives so that he could get due sympathy but, what was to happen? If something had to happen, it would have happened by now. In his leisure, he discussed it with some but why should anybody spoil his equation with Harpal, for the sake of Banta, a foreigner and almost a forgotten name for the whole village? When he shared all that with his sons in England and asked with slight harshness, the matter was further complicated.

Banta had been relieved of his rheumatic pains but, it had given way to his mental misery. Living in rural climate, his wife, Kartari, also had got rid of her ailment but the atmosphere of the village and their home had started chocking her, instead. The house which they had fondly built, with the sweat of their brow, now had become a burden, instead of giving them the comfort and shelter. When the relationship with his brother and nephews, became devoid of warmth, their life started becoming colder.

Far away in the north, the clouds were gleaming. When the flash of lighting split the clouds with a loud roaring sound, it seemed to pierce their hearts.
“We could have called in the electrician and got the plugs fixed. We could put the fan on. These damned mosquitoes do not let us sleep for the whole night,” said Kartari from the adjoining cot.

“Our getting the plugs fixed can wait. First of all, I should request for the meeting of the village committee. Let them not pay us arrears, but for future, their accounts should be straight or they should release my farm land. Today, I had talked to Sarpanch and Bahadur, the son of my old friend. No devil pays attention to what I say, as if I were insane or they didn’t understand my language,” Banta continued to empty his mind and further added, “Kartari, many a time, I doubt that we have returned to a wrong village. This village does not show even the slightest kinship. Nether the people are, as they used to be when we were here, nor is the simplicity of those good old days. Neither anyone cares for the well being of another, nor does anyone try to be of use to others, nor do the people show the warmth of the previous times. God knows what curse has fallen on this village! No one realise what affection and compassion are! The village has been estranged. I feel like a stranger here. I had dreamed of the sweet and loving life of the village, but now, feel that we should return to England. I admit that lot of things change with the time, yet regret that this change should be for the better not for the worse! To me, this sort of progress or advancement seem going in the negative direction; socially, morally and culturally. We had thought that we would spend a few months in relaxation, but to be honest, I have got fed up with this village. Yes, one time, it was ours but not now.”

“I also miss my grand children, badly sometimes and then, think for the sake of our health, I feel like spending some more time here. It doesn’t matter if they wish to keep one portion. At least, we can talk to them rather than feeling lonesome. Once we go away, no one is going to pay us a penny. Actually, that is what they want,” Kartari, too, expressed her observations.

After sometime, Banta Singh spoke to his son in London to pay a short visit to sort out domestic dispute. From the other end he said, “Dad, I had explained everything to Malkiat’s brother Sukhbir. Leave it to him. He will get everything sorted out. Children miss you a lot and let us know if you want us to send tickets.”
“Your mum is not feeling at ease and missing you all. If Sukhbir can do it, then, we better return. We have enough money to buy tickets from here,” saying this he felt somewhat relieved. 

Willingly or unwillingly, they were flying back. Their thoughts were pursuing a question or within themselves, a question was pursuing their thoughts. Where is our home or homeland?

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