I remember those days. The days of poverty, days of hunger, days of being in the constant fear of going bankrupt and losing everything. The days where we were afraid when we would get our next meal, days when we were always keeping an eye on our crops so birds and wild animals would not eat them.
Those were some of the best days of my life.
I drove on the country-side, keeping the familiar image of that relic in my mind, while my sister sat next to me, going through a photo album, which was extremely dusty and wrinkled from age.
She turned towards me and showed me a photo, “Remember this?”
I looked at it, laughed and shook my head, “Like it was yesterday.”
The photo showed a family of four, a mother, a father, a son and a daughter, all of them more colourful than a rainbow with broad grins across their faces after a day of playing holi.
“Can you believe that we are now so stupidly rich, Varun?” she said as her eyes twinkled with recollection.
“Not stupidly, Avni. You respect Lakshmi. You do not call her things like stupid or filthy.”
She rolled her eyes, “Sanskari aadmi.”
“What? There’s nothing wrong with having values.”
“Yeah, yeah, just drive, bhai.” She punched my shoulder playfully and went back to looking at her album.
If we told you that I, Varun Bhose, the biggest millionaire of India was born in a family which barely had any money to even sustain itself properly, I am sure your jaw would drop on the spot. I, Varun Bhose, a hot-shot business man, owning and running more than 5 companies, was a child in a village that was enjoying life, watching crops grow with my father.
I was sick of seeing my parents in poverty so I took up a job in a market. The owner taught me basic entrepreneurship skills. I could already see numbers drift across my eyes and how I could play with them to make more profit. I suggested that the owner make some adjustments to his market, basic ones, so that more customers buy goods from his shop, hence increasing profit. His shop became the go-to place for all the village residents and the owner made sure I got a piece of the action. He sent me some money everyday, even after I left the shop so I could have an education. I told him not to send me any money but whenever I pleaded so, he always said, “My shop was the only source of income for my family and you turned it into a golden goose. I am only giving this money as thanks to you and we all know that you should not say no to a hearty gift.”
I looked at my sister and said, “Remind me to meet Murli Babu after we see the cottage.”
She smirked, “Oh ho, you want to go that far down memory lane?”
“We’re already seeing the home we were born in, can’t go further than that.”
“Very true…oh look! There it is!”
She pointed to the right at an old cottage, made of mud and dirt and a roof of straw, with a measly wooden fence surrounding it, which was falling apart. Weeds and shrubs had grown around and probably inside the house and cracks had appeared on the dirt walls due to the extreme temperature in these parts.
A wave of emotion hit me the moment I saw it. No. The moment I saw her. My home. I immediately stepped on the brake and got out of the car to look inside.
Surprisingly, I saw no weeds and it seemed as if the whole house was kept clean as if it was some sort of display in a museum. There was the occasional cobweb but other than that, it seemed clean. Avni walked in and admired the cottage with me.
“What are you feeling right now?” She asked.
“I…do not know.”
My emotions were all mixed after seeing the cottage. I remembered days when our family almost starved but I also thought of days when money or not, we were so happy. I briefly felt that happiness. Memories of my childhood came rushing back. The time amma made us ladoos during Diwali, how she would insist on washing us after we had had our fun during Holi, the time I played the role of Ram in a Ram Leela we had organised for Dussehra; all those and more sweet memories came rushing back.
I almost started crying. When a person sees even a glimpse of their childhood and realises how much time has passed since then, it becomes overwhelming. Although it feels like only a month or a week ago that you were sitting next to your mother as she recited you a story, you remember and realise that almost thirty years have passed since you were born and it dawns on you that life just flies by in a blink of an eye.
“You know…I remember how amma used to make us puris on a black tawa and both of us would fight for who would get the most because then we would get most of the gravy or kheer to eat it with and of course, amma’s cooking was out of this world and appa always used to bring us something to eat when he came back from his job at the construction site in the city. And, during my birthday, amma had saved enough money to get me a new shirt so I could impress Mina and goodness knows how she got to know of her and during yours, she got you that bow-clip you always wanted from the shop in the city. I know that money was tight but how I wish we could go back to those beautiful days. ”
Avni punched my shoulder to get me back into reality. I blinked twice and wiped my eyes before looking at her and she said, “I wish…amma and appa were here to see what we have become.”
“Me too Avni…”
“Would they be proud of us?”
“Me, yes. You…maybe not.”
She gasped and said, “How dare you?! I helped you become a millionaire.”
“By heading one company of mine.”
“I perfected that packaging company and made it into one of the finest without your help!”
“I did the same. Only five times. With different companies, two of them my own.”
She pushed me onto the floor and rubbed my hair with her fist. I pulled her leg so she lost balance and fell down with me and I pulled her hair as well. Two minutes later, it would be hard to believe we were posh millionaires. Both of us grimy and dirty and our faces caked with dirt and dust and our clothes roughed up and I am pretty sure she tore my jacket a little bit. We looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“You look like how you used to when you were sixteen. All we need now is for you to turn into a stick.” She said.
“You are not going to win any beauty competitions either dear sister, you look like a demon with that hair-style. It suits your character.”
We helped each other up and washed our faces near a hand pump and got back into our car. We wanted to do this trip for a long time and we were happy we decided to. The five hour drive was worth it after all.
Let’s just say that even if it takes you a million years to find the place where you grew up, take that trip. It enlightens and humbles you. Most importantly, it grounds you; brings back glimpses of your childhood, of your roots.
Author: Aditya Iyengar
Editor: Akansha Makhija