Delivery Boy

March 15, 2011


We had many relatives and they had many relatives.

There were a couple of traditions.

First, all the children would complete the elementary, primary and middle schooling at our place no matter what their relation was with my grandfather Anna. Those desirous of high schooling would go to the district place Yavatmal, with another grandfather. If the pupil survived this phase, first two college years (Inter as the exam was called then) would be completed at Nagpur at yet another grandfather. If you wanted still more, you would be shipped to Varanasi. My grandfather himself as also his brothers were all from Benares School. So was in the next generation. This tradition ended with my generation, around 1950’s since there were a few high schools and colleges opening at various towns, one started by my own grandfather. Girls in the family usually did not survive beyond Yavatmal phase and declared eligible for marriage. I see such a bonding between my uncles and aunts because of this tradition. Such closeness is seldom seen in the other families. When they meet, they quickly go back to the memories of their school days, just stop thinking about the present tense or what is happening around them this very moment. What a camaraderie!

The second tradition was that all the pregnancies and deliveries, at least the first few of all the newly weds, would take place under supervision of my grandmother Tai, in our house. We had a special delivery room reserved for this purpose, may be because Tai herself had nine living children and her husband had fourteen brothers and sisters all together. Like it was common in other households too, sometimes the delivery room had two beds – one for the earlier generation and one for the next, mother and daughter or daughter in law and mother in law at the same time.

No wonder Tai was bent upon training me as a Delivery Boy. As if the school exams were not sufficient, this additional training and responsibility was simply too much when entrusted to me. Not that I could complain, because nobody could complain when Tai requested with a sweet in her hand and a sweet in her phonetics.

The aunt in question was to deliver in June-July. For that matter, most of the marriages and deliveries those days took place in this June-July season for the obvious reasons that I would understand later in my life. This aunt was dear to me. Instead of arriving a month in advance of the D-Day, she wrote a letter to my grandpa that she would arrive a good three months before.

“Why so early?” was my immediate question to Tai. “While she went with her husband, did I not tell you that she would not stay there? Why did you send her in the first place?”

“This is not in your hands, dear. Only Gods decide when she will deliver.”

“I had told you not to send her. Did I not cry that time? And did you not? You would not listen. Now, when I have settled with myself that she is not ‘from this house’, here she comes again in seven eight months to stay for six months? You people are insane.”

“Guard your voice and language.  There is nobody in this house except you and me. I do not even talk to anybody for days on. What difference it makes to you if she stays for a few months or years? You have your room to yourself and keep quiet.”

“But I am learning to ride a bicycle. She always laughs at my mistakes. She always sends me to marketplace again and again.”

“Now, not us, but YOU are insane… I shall tell her not to tease or trouble you. Go pick her up from the bus stand.”

My guess was correct. As soon as she arrived, she put her bags in my room and threw me out with all of my belongings. This was her room before she went with her husband. So what?

I tried not to come back from school in time that day. But with the onset of the darkness, my courage failed and I had to return. What I saw was normal. Both Tai and her daughter were crying together. They had started crying in the morning as I remembered, and the scene was still not over.

“Food.” I yelled.

“Under the steel basket, in the kitchen.” Aunt replied. She was taking charge of our house?

But what a snack! The same I had missed for seven-eight months. Aunty’s favourite too, but never cooked by Tai after aunty went to her husband. At least one plus mark for her arrival.

Come evening the next day, my friend Nana arrived to teach me the bicycle. This was everyday routine these days. Many of my friends had learnt to ride bicycles on their own. However, Tai had not liked the idea in the first place, although I had advocated a several advantages to her. She had agreed on a few conditions only when I had told her how I felt inferior in comparison to other friends. These were agreed as follows:

– Thou shall not learn or ride it unless I supervise you.

– Thou shall not fall down or get injured.

– Thou shall learn under an accomplished teacher.

– Thou shall not ask for a new bicycle as soon as you learn to ride.

I agreed to everything, because none had bicycles those days and they were available on rent any way. Tai would sit out and curse her destiny the whole hour when I was practicing. She now handed this responsibility to Aunty. Aunty had no pastime anyway and was whiling her time away in gossip with Tai or her or Tai’s friends. Nana had instructed me not to look at her and concentrate on learning. He would be holding the cycle carrier while I treaded on Half Pedal. One day, however, Aunty started calling me loudly to stop, while I was riding. I did but fell down, injured my knee and got angry as to why she stopped me. She beckoned me to her and handed out a one paisa coin. When I enquired why, she said that I had successfully passed bicycle rider’s test. Nana came then from a distance laughing and said that I was riding on my own the whole evening and he was just pretending to help me as he was told by Aunty. The paisa was my prize for the graduation. “I was carrying it with me all these days. You took a long time. But that is fair, because even I do not know how to ride a bicycle” Indicating her fat stomach, she said, “Now I am relieved. You can rush to the hospital on bicycle if there is an emergency.”

The emergency arrived like other emergencies in early rainy season, riding on a dark night, when it was raining and lightening cats and dogs. In the beginning, Tai asked me to go and call neighboring women. Nobody came – not even opened their doors for me. This done, she started with the usual stuff that I am a grown up, responsible person and it is time to show my true character. I knew when she uttered such words. I told her to just speak out my sentence. Aunty had started to whimper by now. Simultaneously, she was trying to laugh in between and her eyes were as if pleading with me. I had no escape.

My umbrella was not functional, as usual. Tai readied the lantern. When she saw the state of the umbrella, she quickly brought a folded blanket for me to done, covering my head and back. ‘Ask for Kamal. Ask for Kamal there, the nurse. Tell her the utensil has broken.’

I started my long journey to the hospital. I was cursing all the Aunts who came to trouble their nephews, all the husbands who married wives, all the husbands who dumped their wives at their in-laws, the rain god, the mud god, my family for not providing me chappals or sandals, the people who thrust unnecessary responsibilities on kids like me, the neighboring lady who always came to us in the morning and never went unless she had downed cups of Tai’s tea, the lady who always said that my Aunty was her daughter, not Tai’s, their husbands who were hiding in their houses when I, a little, helpless, poor and what not kid was trotting to the godforsaken hospital.

Thanks to the anger and my loud cursing, I reached the hospital quickly than I had expected. It was totally deserted. I wondered if anybody except ghosts occupies that building at all. But there on the floor, was a man sleeping soundly under his rug. I had to create a lot of noise and throw stones that were hard to find in the mud before the watchman in the verandah finally woke up.

I asked for Kamal, he said ‘She is in Nurses’ Quarters, not here’ and quickly covered his face again. This time I increased the size of stones and he had to oblige, but not before telling me that I am the devil incarnate’s son. So be it.

We went to Kamal’s quarter. The watchman knocked the door only once when she came out running as if she had telepathically understood what the scene was.  She inquired what was the ‘mother’s name’ while packing her case, to which I blurted out my mother’s, then Tai’s. She laughed and said she knows who the ‘mother’ was any way since she knew the dates by heart. She requested the watchman to go with us. He promptly refused.

So it was me, the lantern and Kamal walking, back to house in that idiotic rain and thunder. She was saying something soothing and assuring that I did not understand. It was an alien language. But it felt good. She said she knew me, had seen me in the house when she had come to check up Aunty earlier on. Then she said that I shall have to work throughout the night and help her. I said I am already sleepy.

But I had to help.

Warm water cold water towels towels jug scissors this that grace of god light a lamp sit outside old clothes coal at least call somebody else ginger turmeric difficult difficult telegram tomorrow write the correct time but where is sweater ok now muffler sweets medicines dispose rubbish and chord god is great nice kid tea now…..

It went on and on with background music from Aunty. I did not know when I slept of exhaustion, but it was daybreak. Tai woke me up quite late in the morning.

“What?”

“Get up Dada, you have a little brother now,” Said Tai.

“I hate him and Aunty and You.”

‘That’s fine, but why not have a look first?”

I opened my eyes. Tai had held a bundle very close to my face. Must have been sleeping, this thing, because it had it’s eyes permanently closed and like old men.

“This is the ugliest of my brothers.” I said, “And why so red-faced?” Aunty laughed heartily in the distance.

By afternoon, cables were sent to relatives. Neighbors started arriving to greet. People praised Aunty for her grit, patience, courage and so many things that were and were not required in delivering the baby.

I inquired if I can have a few days off from school. Tai refused. In the days to come, the house was full of relatives. Aunty’s husband had come, so had Grandpa. They kept coming, there were a lot of helping hands and most of them conveniently forgot that I was also a member of the house. I was convinced that Kamal was the one who was the real hero and not Aunty and we two smiled at each other when somebody praised Aunty in our presence.

The after-months were not bad because then the ‘bundle’ started to look like a human incarnate, started recognizing me, and because Tai cooked a different sweet almost every day.

Aunty departed at last with her husband. Like others, he also did not recognize anybody else’s efforts in delivering the baby. Further he asked what we were to present to the new kid on the block. I handed over to him my only saving, the one paisa coin that Aunty had given to me on my graduation. ‘That is all?’ he asked cynically.

Aunty presented a nice Saree to Kamal and offered a hug for me while promising to come back at the earliest opportunity. I kept distance. Who would welcome the annual, mandatory responsibility?

Kamal  and I went  along well until she was in our town. Why we would not? Because we quickly understood that rainy seasons and this delivery business was not the exceptional but a regular feature. I had lost interest from the very first, once I knew the labour involved in it, but Kamal and Tai used to be enthusiastic every year for the new arrival as if it was their first.

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6 Responses to “Delivery Boy”

  1. Ranjeet Elkunchwar Says:

    Nice…who is the aunt?


  2. You’ve blogged after a long time, but this one was definitely worth the wait! Wonderful up & down swings throughout the tale, bordering on true value education and good humor, especially the spoof on the ’10 Commandments’ in between, and the ‘cursing in the rain’. 🙂

    As always, it has some great insights into the society and customs and practices prevalent then!

  3. PeACEMAKER Says:

    Thanks Nikhil. It was not possible to write for some time for various reasons. Hope the situation improves.

  4. Hema P. Says:

    Haha, I can almost picture you getting soaked to the skin and trying to see where you are going in the sheets of rain! A good one, Rajeev!


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