The thing I remember most about the yearly trips to the native place was all the people we met. We covered the entire state with four main destination points. Paa’s village to see Dada ji, Dadi ji, Chacha, Chachi and all the cousins. Invariably both the Buas would come along with the kids as well. Then there was a visit to see Nani. A trip to badde Mama ji’s place and one to chote Mama ji’s place. Four corners of the small state meant we covered it all every summer vacation.
But these were not the only people we met. There were constant stops to have breakfast at someone’s house, tea at another, lunch someplace else, halt for dinner. All this with no formality. There were no four dishes for dinner along with puri and rice and desert to follow. These were unannounced drop in with whatever the family was having for dinner served to us as well. Which meant simple dal roti or khichadi or daliya. Mattresses lined up on the floor to sleep the night before starting out again. Every city we crossed, there was someone to meet.
I did not know who was who, what the connection was. I just knew them all as part of the family (whose side, Mom’s or dad’s, I never thought to ask). During the pesky teens I started taking umbrage to what someone said or how someone did something. But every time I brought it up with Maa she would calmly ask me
Is it really that big of a deal? Relationships take forever to build and a minute to break. Would you have us break a relationship over something this small?
The answer I always came up with was no.
College happened, marriage happened, moving away from the country happened, annual trips stopped, grudges became big in my mind and then got left behind with everything else that was going on in life. People were forgotten with the passage of time.
A few weeks back as Bhaiya and I stood helplessly wanting to give blood but rejected because of the blood type mismatch and having such a common blood group that the blood bank overflowed with it while Maa’s blood was of the rare kind so an exchange was not in the cards, I saw all these people I saw years and years back come forward. Seemingly on their own. One phone call to one person and the greater family connection came together. Unasked for, people came up and volunteered to get a blood match done. A pattern soon emerged and more and more people came forward. Mom’s mother’s eldest brother’s youngest son ready to drive out for an hour at a minutes notice. My 21 year old, totally irresponsible, all about having fun, cousin brother abstaining from drinking alcohol when out with friends and carrying a list of his friends and their phone numbers because they had the same blood type as Maa. And I think for the first time I really understood what family was all about.
As hard as it was, that constant hand on the head from someone or the other kept me going. As shattered as I was, the blanket of love covered me when I most needed it. As difficult as it was, they collectively pushed me out of the country and on a plane because that was the need of the hour. As heart breaking as it is for me to be away, I know Paa has that support system around him.
Today, I stand humbled, feeling an inch tall for all the petty grudges I carried with me. Saying thank you seems so inadequate for all they did and continue to do. As I call home, Mami ji picks up the phone and says,
Beta tu chinta mat karna, hum ab yahein raheinge. Papa theek hein..
and I break down, not out of grief for a change but for the care shown. For the love in that voice. For the biggest wealth my parents gathered over the years which flows over to us unasked, undeserved, never worked upon – support of the family.