Chapter 7: Transformation

After about ten hours, I was in Vancouver. It was a long tiresome flight from London. Only a few years ago, my nephew had moved from UK to Canada for personal betterment. He was happy for earning a good salary but unhappy about social life. At times, he decided to come back to UK. I remember his dad felt the same when he had emigrated from India to England.

For my sake, he had taken a leave for a fortnight. I thought that since I happen to be in Canada, why I should not meet some acquaintances belonging to my rural background. I rang up to one and he responded, “This week, I am on night duty. To make a night off, you know……?”
“That’s enough my friend, I never asked you to make a night off, enough of meeting you. Anyway, thanks,” saying this, I put the receiver down.
My nephew looked at me askance. I explained him that Bha ji had maintained this man’s father for six months in England, without charging him a penny for his boarding and lodging. His wife had looked after him as her own father. And now this fellow tells me that it’s difficult to make a night off. I simply don’t like anyone to make a time off, but he could meet us tomorrow, after having a good sleep.

One day, my nephew, Shami took me to his in-law’s relations. I realized that none of the eyes had the gleam of welcome. A sense of compulsion and anxiety to get free of us was writ large on their faces, formal conversation and suffocating environment seemed to be unbearable for me. That was beyond my experiences. Now it started to become clear to me why Shami was thinking to return to UK!

Next morning, Shami blurted out, “Uncle, today we shall go to the house of aunty Surinder.”
“You are very naughty, you ruffian. You have sent your wife to work and now thinking to take me somewhere to fill my stomach. Are we beggars? Cooking is my hobby otherwise we can eat at any restaurant. For the sake of my health and in the interest of my lifestyle, I prefer to eat at home.
“But, don’t you wish to meet anyone now?” he asked.
“We must meet uncle Ram Singh, however. It is long since I met him in India. Also uncle is a man of guts!” I told him admiringly.

At our native village, our houses are in the same street. My mother and aunty Channo had sisterly relations. Though Channo was not my real aunt, but our families had deeper mutual love and understanding than some blood relations.

All praise to uncle Ram Singh! He always put on fashionable clothes, had good food and drinks, indulged in luxury to his fill, and was fond of keeping company with important people. Social gatherings were either organised on the second floor of the house or sometimes, in the courtyard of the farm house.
Whenever it was held in the farm, Khushia had the responsibility of preparing meat. In preparing meat dishes, in the whole village, he was thought to be the greatest expert. While cooking outside, he would again and again go in to fill his peg and on pretext of tasting, put a little on his plate after each peg. The chapattis would come prepared from home.

Uncle Ram Singh had no son, Meeto was his only daughter. He owned twenty five acres of fertile land and he made the best of every day he lived.

Sometimes, a couple of cars were also seen parked at the farm and party continued till late at night. On such a night, aunty Channo and her daughter Meeto could hardly sleep in peace. Many a time, worrying on account of Ram Singh, a thought of some call girl’s presence also made them uneasy. Channo tried her best to make Ram Singh realize that their daughter had grown up, and what she would think if she ever knew of such revelry activities. But how could Ram Singh get rid of his inculcated habits?

In my imagination, I began to visualise clearer images of aunty and uncle’s faces; Ram Singh’s attire like that of the bigwigs, glowing face, tomato like red cheeks, intoxicated eyes, coiled moustaches, fun loving and humorous temperament, and a broad chest. But Channo was just the opposite, depressed face as if she were ever grieving, though every amenity was available to her at home. Ram Singh’s purse was always bursting at scams but still sometimes, aunty was obliged to barter grains, jiggery or cotton for small things like soap or washing powder.

Right from the first day, Channo had been swayed by Ram Singh and this poor lady, had remained somewhat terrified. She had never been able to speak aloud to her husband’s excesses. There was no lack of essential dairy products like milk and butter at home and the neighbouring women added cheer to their house on the pretext of getting buttermilk or yogurt. Curds, butter and fresh vegetables were never out of stock, but still, Channo had never looked buoyant. Whenever she cracked a joke with me, a spark was visible glowing in her despondent eyes. At such moments, it seemed as though some fire like that of live coal lay buried in the hot ashes of her longings; such a fire of life as could flare up into a flame, finding a vent.

Perhaps main cause of aunty’s helplessness and despondency was that, God hadn’t blessed her with a son. Secondly, up to the time of Meeto’s marriage, Ram Singh had squandered away fifteen acres of their fertile land in his luxurious lifestyle. This anxiety was eating into vitals of Channo’s life as to, what would become of the remaining ten acres!

Someone among the relations, passed on the information that Meeto was her parent’s only daughter and inherits ten acres land. This way, Meeto was married to a boy settled in Canada. Having reached Canada, after few years, Meeto managed to fetch her parents also. Hence Ram Singh and Channo left Punjab and settled in Canada.


I told Shami to bring my contact-book out of my bag, so that I might try a tinkle to uncle Ram Singh. When I rang up, aunty Channo responded from the other end. After enquiring about our well being, she said, “You scoundrel, you have been here in Vancouver for ten days, and calling up to us today. Listen, your uncle is about to return and let me note down your phone number. Sooner he arrives, before setting out we shall take your address and will shortly be coming to fetch you. Don’t go away.”

After giving the phone number I said to Shami, “Well boy, you also may resume your duty and I have found the people like myself. Just see, she hasn’t said anything like that it was a busy season and they were short of leisure.”

Exactly after an hour, Ram Singh called up and said, “Sukhbir, how are you man? Let me have your address and I send Meeto off in no time. She stays at a short distance from us. I haven’t learnt how to drive; nor felt the need of it as my employer pick me up, and drop back home in the evening. Your aunty and Meeto work in the same factory and either has a car.”

Ram Singh’s tomato like red and glowing face was revived in my imagination. One, who loves to make the most of his life, has a distinct nature. He, who never enjoys his own meal at home, can’t feed an outsider too? Strange questions start arising in my mind.
In this speedy age, everyone is constantly yoked to his work and one day suddenly, he breathes his last, in the same fetters. Is man created to lead this type of life only? Is life not to be cherished or enjoyed? Is purposeless hoarding of money, the aim of life? It is to be lived and savoured along with the work. Is it our duty to amass money for our offspring, yet to be born? If life is a blessing, why does it taste bitter? Can’t we help putting this yoke of labour, around the necks of our children too? Can this material abundance alone, afford real happiness? There must be some limit to avarice! Is love not the basic need of man? Only the sentiments of love and affection are the beauty of the world. Such several thoughts, one after the other, kept running through my mind.

I started thinking that after coming to Canada, the personality of uncle Ram Singh must have blossomed further. I began to visualize close cropped head and inflated ruddy face of uncle, and scoundrel glittering eyes!

As Gurmeeto (Meeto) rang the bell, I came out of the world of my fancy. While conversing, after about an hour’s drive, we reached a building block. In this very block, uncle owned a flat on the second floor. Meeto rang the bell and a staggering, emaciated and feeble old fellow, opened the door from inside.
“Oh! You, really, what has happened to you uncle?” suddenly these words came to my lips.
I thought that, if uncle is in this miserable plight, then aunty must be in much more worn out condition, trudging up her way. But how could she be driving a car? I wondered in myself.
Formally, we engaged in enquiring about each other’s well being. After a while, the bell rang and uncle got up to open the door, but in the meanwhile Meeto opened it. Handing over two plastic carrier bags to Meeto, a pretty woman took me in her embrace. I felt like asking the uncle about this young lady, but could say nothing.
I only kept looking towards aunty Channo. I could not believe, glittering eyes, the bunch of keys and a cell phone held in hand, white-ruddy complexion, sharp features and talking like an actress. It made me amazed.

“Lets sit over there,” uncle pointed towards the sitting room. After exchanging few words, we sat closely. “Shall we start? It is already late enough and Sukhbir must be tired as well,” staring at me and aunty, said uncle.
As he poured beer for me, aunty said, “Let me also have something, I am tired too.”
Uncle looked behind sofa and then called out, “Meeto have a look in the kitchen if some wine saved on that day is there, to soak your mother’s lips.”
Then looking at me, he addressed, “You might have experienced, Sukhbir, in these countries, it is the women who rules. I think for the last rung of life, India is better. But your aunty will be the last person to agree.”
“Enough of your India, I have seen. Don’t be mistaken; you, too, will not now find India of yore. Forget your merriments of the past. What is missing here? Do the work and get wages week by week,” aunty told in a straight forward language.

Holding her wine glass, aunty moved towards kitchen where Meeto was already engaged in preparing dinner. After finishing his peg in one go, uncle asked, “What about your land at Jullundur?”
“Bha ji has sold that when last time he visited India.”
“How much have you sold for?”
“Nearly five millions.”
“Very good, very good,” he said pleasingly.
“I think your Bha ji had bought it for little less than a quarter of a million only, at that time.” He tried to remember.
“Has he sold his flat in Mumbai as well?” he asked again.
“I suggested him to sell it but he thinks to keep it, in case any children wish to go for a holiday.”
“Has he dropped the idea of making a film?”
“It’s a team work and some members of that team, he finds not very honest and reliable. That’s the reason, I suppose, he and his partner Subhash have changed their minds.” I tried to explain the whole situation.
“How big is that?”
“It has two bedrooms and a spacious lounge. It is a nice flat, newly built but bit far away, on the outskirts of the city. After spending two months in London, I hope to fly straight to Mumbai as one of my friend from Chandigarh, planning to make a tv serial. By that time, rainy season will also be over.”

Sooner aunty Channo returned, he again touched the subject of settling back in India.
“What would we do there?” she asked angrily. “Look! Here I earn three hundred and sixty dollars a week and owns a car. Same amount of money he earns,” she addressed me.
Looking at me, she further added, “Would that be possible in India? Here I can buy, eat or drink whatever I like. What is lacking in this country? I am not going to India. Let him try if he wants to have a taste of his native land and I bet, he will be disillusioned in no time.
Looking at her face and intrepid coquetry, I was amazed to see the transformation in her thinking. I could clearly see the smouldering fire blaze into a full flame of life.