“I have a story.Raghav
Would I tell my story?
I love to tell my story; it inspires me so much.”
I am Raghav and this is my story. Punjab, in the northwest, borders Pakistan and is rich in agriculture. It boasts huge fields, large combines and farm machinery rarely seen in other states.
Uttarakhand, is known as “the mountain state,” because the Himalayas rise out of it. Dehradun is its capital. The mountain people are proud, living in shadowy valleys and sunlit snowy heights. Ancient villages lay hidden, deep within the steep and shifting Himalayan peaks. In these states, Punjab and Uttarakhand, my story begins before I was born.
My Punjabi Grandfather was considered wealthy because he owned land and cows. But more than that he had a healthy sum of money given from the army as his pension. Grandma died early in their marriage and left him with the responsibility of raising their young son. Grandfather was an irresponsible father and instead of teaching and disciplining his son, he spoiled him and that spoiled man became my father. I suppose Grandpa just didn’t know how to be a parent, or perhaps he didn’t want to put all the time and effort into doing so. Grandpa’s bad habits are what my father saw and learned.
My father had the chance to go to school, but he never even bothered. He wasted his childhood doing as little as possible. As an adult he spent his time drinking and indulging in other bad habits as his own father had done. Of course, the time came when grandfather wanted his son to have a wife; that was a necessity. Who else could manage the fields and the cows and the household?
Grandfather arranged his marriage with a girl from the city of Dehradun. Her father died when she was still very young and her mother was left to care for eight daughters and two sons. The burden of raising her children and running the house was huge. Arranging marriages for eight daughters is an enormous and expensive task for a poor widow. She tried to give her daughters the best marriages she could afford, but for a daughter, marriage is not cheap; dowries are an obligation and tend to be pricey. Thus, my mother was destined for the farmlands of Punjab, a marriage with a cheaper dowry.
Cows are holy and walk freely in the streets of Dehradun eating whatever garbage they find. When my mother, a city girl, arrived on my grandfather’s farm in Punjab, she was immediately expected to look after cows, crops, land and the whole household simultaneously and single-handedly. Having never lived on a farm before; she gritted her teeth and learned fast, for she had no choice.
Our little family began soon; three sons. My oldest brother never had to live in the poverty that soon crept in on our lives. From early on mother was smart and wanted at least one of us to get a good education. She convinced my father to let my oldest brother stay with his maternal grandmother. Dad agreed to her demands, off went my brother. Dehradun is a city known for schools and good education. Now it was just me and my brother, Akash, in Punjab with our Mom and Dad. Our home situation was not at all healthy and was daily deteriorating.
As far back as I can remember, my father and grandfather would go out in the morning and come back late at night every day. What did they do all day? They drank their days away —drank away all the army pension money, and then started borrowing money from their friends to continue drinking. Finally, their friends “wizened-up” and Dad and Grandpa were exposed; they had borrowed money from everyone they knew and the well was finally “dry”. The only alternative they could think of to support their drinking, was to sell off the livestock, and then the land, which was sold bit by bit until there was nothing left. The only reality that remained was ourselves; a very poverty-stricken family.
Akash and I went to the local village school about six kilometers away from our house. We walked to and from school daily when we were only four and five years old. Our father would buy a small notebook to write our lessons in which was filled up completely in two or three days. Even on the days when we didn’t have a copy, Dad would still force us to attend school. Showing up empty handed, the teacher would promptly send us back home. We’d walk hand in hand back to our father who would angrily tell us to go to the store and buy a new copy. Slowly, once again, we’d plod down the dusty road back to school. On the days when we had the copy we would still be sent back for some reason or other, such as having to pay the school fees which our father hadn’t sent with us. Nearly every day we would walk back and forth those six kilometers two times a day. We were sick and tired of walking back and forth day after day and of being disgraced in front of everyone. Two options were left for us: being humiliated daily by the demands of our teacher, or feel the hostility and rage of our father on our backsides.
Day and night mom worked while Dad never lifted a hand to help. Even as children, we understood what was happening, and it made us feel helpless and sick. Every day we would pray that evening should not come, because when evening came our father came and he would be drunk. That was the worse time of day. When Dad arrived, he always thought mom needed a beating. When he beat her, we were very scared. Sometimes our dad would tell us to stand in the corner. But many times, we were beaten alongside our mother. It was terrible that our mother worked like a slave all day and then faced punishment for it every night. But Mom loved us and worried more about Akash and I than she did for herself. She was powerless to make it better. Those evening beatings were our biggest fear. Mom’s biggest fear was that if something did not change, we would become like our Dad. She couldn’t bear that thought.
Fear drove Mom into making a very bold and daring decision. She decided to flee. In desperation, she resolved not have this situation for the rest of her life. In Punjab, custom demands that money not be kept with the women of the household, it is only with men. The only way Mom could get money was to sneak it. I don’t know how she did it, but she slowly began to collect some here and there. After she had about 200 Rupees (around 3 dollars) she made her escape. Waking up before dawn one brisk, foggy winter morning, she quietly crept up to our beds, gently shook us awake and whispered “get up and get dressed.” In a flash, she had rushed us out of the house as fast as she could. Our destination: Dehradun.
Frightened and panicky, Mom continuously looked over her shoulder while shoving and pushing us as forward on our way to the bus station. Though relieved to be at the station, the bus hadn’t arrived and the wait seemed interminable. We waited and could nearly count every breath; suddenly, the thing that mom dreaded the most happened —Dad appeared. It was horrible. We had never seen him so angry and a big fight ensued. Our father dragged us towards himself while our mother yanked us back. Dad yelled, “Leave these children to me! Go if you want to go!” He was beating Mom hard with his fists. After a short while, Mom couldn’t take any more because she thought she had lost us and began to cry. It was more than she could bear, but unexpectedly, out of the morning mist, a man emerged from nowhere wearing some kind of an official uniform. He stepped in closer through the heavy fog and asked my dad, “What is happening? Why are you beating her?” Mom wept and told him everything.
Even with the intervention and sudden distraction, Dad’s anger didn’t subside at all, and instead he sharply reiterated, “These boys are coming with me!” That started Mom and Dad off, and fist fighting began again. The man in the uniform didn’t leave. His presence carried an aura authority, “Don’t fight anymore! Ask the boys who they want to go with.”
Before Akash and I knew what was happening, Dad slapped us really hard across our faces and asked, “Who do you want to go with?” His intention was to make us too scared to say anything, except the answer he wanted to hear. He immediately achieved what he wanted in part; we were terrified!
Mom stared with apprehension and dread, afraid we would give in to fear and give Dad the wrong answer. We were very frightened; afraid to give any answer, the fear of being slapped again was very real. We were unable to speak for a few long minutes; a lapse of time, which helped us collect our thoughts and our courage. At last we both spoke out together —we wanted to go with our mother.
Dad exploded and was to the point of hysteria, but the man in the uniform stepped in and restrained Dad from hurting mom and us any further. An early morning bus was pulling up. When it came to a halt, that man made sure we were all on the bus without Dad. I always wondered who the man was and whether he could he have been an angel? He really was an angel to us —appearing to us out of the mist, just like an angel stepping in from heaven. We arrived in Dehradun and stayed with Grandma.
One night when I was seven years old Dad came to Dehradun. Nothing had changed; another big fight took place at Grandmothers house. Someone called the police and the domestic dispute became a major production. My very drunk father started hitting everyone; even grandmother. He was trying to grab Akash and I to drag us back to Punjab. Late at night the police asked us the same question; “Who do you want to be with?” We both said, “Our mother.” The police told Dad that if there was a bus at the station, he should get on it immediately and go back to Punjab, otherwise, he should leave first thing in the morning.
Fearful that he would not leave without Akash and me, Mom made a plan. Once again, we were woken up early and heard her hushed voice whispering, “Don’t come back from school unless I come to school to take you home. When your Dad leaves here, I will come to get you. Go now.” Akash and I were really scared. School was a long way from home and we waited a long time after school. It was getting late, so we decided to leave the school premises and hide in some bushes that were along the way. We were really afraid that our father would suddenly appear and grab us. It was 3 o’clock and we were still sitting under the bush. It was 4 o’clock and we sat under the bush. It was 5 and 6 o’clock and we sat under the bush. Mom said not to come home on our own. The whole family was now worried about us and they were all searching for us. Finally, Mom’s face appeared under the bush, and she pulled us out with a scolding that was more like hugs and kisses.
At grandmother’s house in Dehradun there were still four unmarried younger sisters. After a month the gossip started: “How can a married girl come back to her home with her children for such a long time?” They spoke rudely and directly to Mom. Truly, it was not easy for Grandma to look after so many people. We had worn out our welcome. Mom began looking for work and met some foreigners who had a handicapped daughter needing someone to care for her. At last she found a job! We rented a room, but for some reason or other every month we would be asked to leave. It happened this way for a couple years.
Dad had gone back to Punjab. Finally, we managed to stay in a rented house for the next year, but school fees were going up. Financially, things were becoming tighter for our mother who also needed an operation, but money was scarce. Not once had Dad given us any money. We happily lived separate from him, but surviving was rough.
The foreigners Mom worked encouraged her to admit us in a hostel in a small village outside of Dehradun. Mom couldn’t bear the thought of giving us up to anyone. Maybe by working harder she could earn more money?
Her employers counseled and encouraged her further, stressing the advantages for her boys if she put us into that home. At last, she decided to at least visit the home. We, and her employers all went together. What she saw made her realize we would have an opportunity to grow up with dignity and be educated. The foreigners talked on our behalf and an agreement was made for us to be admitted.
We grew up there. I’ve now understood that you can’t learn from a book or a person the lessons in your past. It is the best gift God has given us, even if you faced trials. It is a testimony of how God works in our lives. Whenever I tell my story to someone, I find myself being encouraged. It is amazing to me how God brought me out of my physical, mental and spiritual poverty into my present situation. I have learned a lot from my past. Because of that, God has blessed me with a maturity from which I can share and continue to grow.
Whenever I go home on the weekend to my mother, she is very, very excited. She says, “Whenever you come, it’s like a light coming into the house.” When I sit with Mom and my oldest brother, and am about to sleep, something comes into my mind, and I share God with them until 12:00 or 1:00 in the morning. They have so many questions and so many doubts, ‘If there is God, why do bad things happen to us?’ They tell me, “Raghav, when you come, it’s a totally different environment.” They don’t put on the DVDs or television. Mom just says she is very, very happy. Dad is also at home with Mom now. He no longer causes us any problems —a wonderful answer to many, many prayers.
*Raghav is a teacher and gives the students all he has to help them down their individual roads. He says: “I’m able to pour out only what God, through life, has given me to share.”