I was the only son of a rich Indian farmer which entitled me to a plethora of privileges. We lived in a village called Koproli that fell on the outskirts of the Financial Capital of India – Mumbai. We were 50 kilometres away from the centre of the city amongst the lush greenery that bordered the banks of Kalundre river.
My father owned fields that seemed to stretch beyond the horizon much farther than the human eyes could see. We harvested many crops seasonally ranging from rice, wheat, millets, pulses to corn and vegetables.
I was well-fed and taken care of. My parents doted on me and showered their love by fulfilling every demand I put forth to them.
I took keen interest in Karate at a very young age and so, my father had a professional Karate-instructor come-by thrice a week and coach me at home. As far as academics was concerned, I wasn't a very bright student. I managed to maintain an average score in all my tests which to my parents was more than satisfactory. One of the privileges of being the son of a rich farmer was that, they did not expect much from their children as far as academics was concerned. The children were expected to inherit the land and carry forward the family legacy of farming.
My mother would regularly feed me rich food saying, “You are learning Karate. You need strength and stamina. You should eat healthy and energy-rich food.” She would feed me eggs, chicken, mutton as well as milk, sprouts and dishes made of rice, wheat and millets on a regular basis.
We had plenty of servants assigned to each task and mom would go hollering instructions - "It is time for Mayank's milk. What are you people doing? Go! milk the buffalo, boil the milk and give Mayank a glass-full in the tall copper glass. And don’t you dare remove the cream off the top! He needs all that fat for the kind of sport he plays.” As a result, I grew stronger and taller, looking much older than my age.
My father was a good man except that he would spend his evenings drinking with his friends. He would come home after a hard day's work, ask about my school and other activities and after finishing his evening tea and snacks, would go for his daily entertainment with friends.
He would come home drunk every night. But he wouldn’t create any ruckus or blabber expletives like most drunkards did. He would instead silently eat his dinner and go off to sleep. My mother never complained. My father fulfilled all her demands as well and she never lifted a finger to do any work except serve my father his meals and oversee the work done by servants. She lived a royal and lazy life.
As every rich farmer did, my parents too sported all kinds of jewellery they could possibly wear. It was the customary fashion-trend of the rural-rich in those days. As a result, right since childhood, I too was made to wear all kinds of ornaments and I couldn’t be found without chains, rings and bracelets adorning my stout and muscular body.
When I was 11 years old, tragedy struck. My father’s drinking habit had taken a toll on his health. His liver was giving away, sputtering to keep itself abreast with his heavy drinking habit. The doctors advised that unless he completely gave-up his nightly drinking habit, whatever was left of his liver cannot be salvaged. My father, the illiterate-rural-rich-egoistic-bloke that he was, who thought himself to be the undefeatable Superman, laughed at the doctor’s advice and continued with his nightly drinking habit.
His poor liver struggled for another two years and finally gave up. He died when I was thirteen. He was buried as was customary in our culture in the centre of his vast fields that seemed to extend beyond the horizon. A mango sapling was planted to mark his burial spot. The surrounding acre of field was left empty but for the mango sapling that marked my father’s grave.
My mother having married my father at the tender age of thirteen was left a widow at the young age of twenty-seven. She was fair, beautiful, slender, dainty and nothing less than a beauty-queen. Village women envied her and the men lusted after her.
Hardly a month had passed since my father’s demise that I heard rumours about my mother having a roaring affair with one of the other rich farmers' of the village. He was married with a family of his own.
I would walk by the village streets and would hear fellow villagers mock me with ironic humour - "Oh, poor boy! Father has left him too early and his mother is giving men of this village a run for their money."
They would purportedly tell me - "Mayank! Did you ask your mother as to why your friend's father visits her on the sly when you are away at school? Ask your servants. Or better ask your friend Shyam about this. Maybe Shyam's mother is aware of her husband's wayward ways and yet pretending innocence just as you? God alone knows what they do locked up in one room for hours!"
I did not pay heed to these rumours until one day, as I was practicing my Karate-kicks, I overheard them speaking.
“Come with me. Let’s start a new life in a new place. Far away where none can touch our past. Not even us.” He said in a hushed deep voice filled with lust.
“What about Mayank and all this property?” She cooed back in an equally lusty voice.
“We can send him off to a boarding school. We will sell all our properties and go settle somewhere else. I will forget my family, you forget Mayank.” He whispered, his nose caressing her cheek.
“Ok.” She replied and they both laughed.
I was shocked and taken aback. I broke into a cold sweat. I simply ran to the edge of the fields and sat on the banks of the river. Tears streamed down my face and sorrow gripped my heart. I missed my father more than ever. I went and sat by the mango sapling that marked my father’s grave. I cried till I could cry no more.
I lay there staring at the clear night sky. Doubts and questions regarding my future haunted me. The night was sultry, humid and eerily unnerving. Memories of my life until the day my father expired flashed through my mind in random bleeps.
The time we went swimming in the river, the time we sat by the rocks and fished, our laughter – his hoarse and manly-deep-throated laughter resonating along with my sharp yet boyish laughter flooded my thoughts.
I put my arms around the tender mango sapling about a foot high and wept.
"Baba! (dad in Marathi language) Baba! Why did you leave me alone? Where do I go from here? Can you see what’s happening with me?"
I heard a faint whisper. It was as if someone was speaking inside my head.
"Baba! Baba! Are you sure everything will be alright? Is that you advising me? - I whispered back.
"Yes, my son!" – I heard the whisper again.
The next morning, neither my mother nor her lover could be found. They had left without a trace.
The grapevine that went around the village was that their love was too strong for them to stay back. They had fled leaving behind their families and properties as well.
Soon after my mother as well as Shyam's father had disappeared and were nowhere to be found, it was ruled by the authorities that they had eloped. I was a sorry figure left alone feeling like an orphan despite having a mother who chose to abandon me.
I was handed over to Shantiniketan, a home for orphans. Under their wings, I bloomed. Not only was I good in Karate, but I soon discovered that I had a flair for writing as well. I had managed to get a decent degree in Journalism from a good University and went on to work with the newspaper that boasted of top readership in India.
Having worked two years as a successful Journalist, I felt the urge to hone my skills further. I applied overseas and went on to add a specialised degree in Journalism from an American University to my credentials.
There was no looking back since then. I was one of the most sought-after crime reporters who took risks and had interviewed notorious terrorist leaders. I was known as the dare-devil reporter who never hesitated to step into war-torn territories looking for sensational stories.
It is three decades since I visited the place I was uprooted from. Life had taken me places. And today, at the age of 42, I am once again drawn to the place I had spent my early years of my life as a child.
I had been to the city on numerous occasions in the past, but the calling wasn’t strong enough to make me visit my birth-place. I had skipped visiting that part of the town. But today was different. I felt as if Baba was wanting to say something.
It was late June and Mumbai was sweltering in the summer heat. The humidity was too much to bear and I was still sweating in the air-conditioned interior of the high-end car.
The outskirts of the city were now another satellite city called Navi-Mumbai. High-rises dotted the skyline and it did not have even an iota of resemblance to the place I was born and where I had spent my early childhood years.
It took me nearly three hours to reach my destination navigating through the heavy traffic of the city. A sprawling residential complex stood exactly where my father’s never-ending fields had seemed to stretch farther than the horizon.
A builder had constantly pursued me to sell the land for quite-a-while and finally I had relented, selling the land to him under one condition. He was not to disturb the acre of land where the mango tree that marked my father's grave stood. He could plan his construction in whatever manner that suited him around the acre of land.
The builder had also given me half-a-dozen apartments in the complex besides paying me a hefty sum for the land. The complex was impressive.
As I entered, I saw a temple to my right, exactly where we had our animal shed. A small group of two storeyed buildings stood to my left. I had specifically given away houses to our servants or rather their successors as a mark of gratitude for their honest services rendered over the years.
I proceeded further. The complex was built in a circular fashion with the amenities designed in the centre.
My heart beat faster. I pulled off my suit and tie unable to bear the sweltering humidity. I wished it would rain soon.
I could see the tall and broad mango tree that marked my father's grave. It stood majestic in the centre of a huge lawn. To the left was an amphitheatre and to the right, a few gazebos. Few wrought-iron park benches lay scattered on the periphery. Beyond the gazebos were a couple of tennis courts followed by a swimming pool and a club-house. A Jogging track surrounded the entire acre of land at the centre of which stood the mango tree over my father’s grave.
I was happy and felt thankful to the builder who had left the mango tree undisturbed as I had requested and planned the amenities surrounding the acre of land.
I reached under the mango tree and saw few ripe mangoes still hanging from branches too high for me to reach. I walked closer and stood right next to its trunk. I fondly ran my fingers over its trunk. Memories flooded my thoughts and tears flooded my eyes.
I stood there as I heard a loud thunder followed by a bolt of lightning. I looked at the ground where I stood. Lush green grass covered the area. But I could tell the burial spot like the back of my hand.
It began to rain. It felt like the heavens had opened the gates of their dams. Within moments it was a thunderous downpour.
I heard a faint whisper.
“Hasn’t everything turned out fine my son?” followed by the sound of laughter, the unmistakable sound of my father's laughter.
"Yes, it has Baba!" - I laughed back, my laughter sounding very similar to my father's.
It felt once again like the night before my mother was believed to have eloped with her lover. The night the downpour had camouflaged the disturbed earth just beside where my father lay, just where I had buried my mother and her lover as my father had advised.