1936. In the tiny hamlet of Hosur, Kamala and her husband Ramachandra Rao lived in a modest house. They were relatively well off, thanks to the good harvest. With four sons and a daughter, Kamala had a tough time managing the household in the early years. Ramachandra had completed his secondary school education and thus had the privilege of being an assistant to the District Collector. Thus, the family was respected by the village and they lead a comfortable life.
Years passed, and the village flourished; its fields were replenished by the Hemavathi. It was the period of War and Ramachandra, much to the chagrin of his wife, decided to participate in the Freedom Struggle. The boys considered this heroic and wholeheartedly supported their father and on 13th June, 1943, he left the house, in spite of Kamala’s pleas, never to return alive.
Kamala was distraught. She controlled her grief to tackle the impending question: How was she going to raise four boys and a girl singlehandedly? She decided to work; something unheard of for a woman in those conservative days. Nevertheless, after much persuasion, she was offered her husband’s job. She appointed a helper to inspect the fields and ensured that they were not neglected.
Kamala was now an ambitious woman. Her dedication impressed the Collector and he recommended her for the Panchayat Committee. In a matter of months, she was appointed and her pay increased manifold. She now travelled by an ambassador and wielded much power in the district. After her tenure, which coincided with the graduation of her sons, she retired from politics, since they now produced handsome salaries.
The fields, however, were now literally in deep water. The Government proposed the construction of a dam across Hemavathi and this resulted in flooding of several acres of land. The compensation was meager and approaching the court was a long and arduous route. It was in this situation that her third son, Surya Narayan approached her with a request. Now Kamala always had a soft corner for Surya Narayan, her most ambitious son, with a desire to see the world. It reminded her of her younger days when she had dreams of travelling across the ocean to other countries.
She knew the reason for his approach. For long, he had nurtured the idea of studying in America. So it was no surprise, when he requested for financial assistance. She couldn’t refuse, but neither did she have the resources.
Then, she remembered the Oak Chest. During her marriage, her mother gave her the ornate wooden Chest which contained antique gold jewelry. It had been passed down from generations and was now in Kamala’s possession. With a heavy heart, she gave the Chest to her son. Mother and son stood looking at the Chest; she, with a tinge of regret and he, with hope and happiness. He promised to buy it back for her and she nodded absently. Neither mother nor son mentioned this to anybody.
Surya Narayan did his MBA from Harvard University. After his graduation, he began working there. He was now accustomed to the American lifestyle and did not intend to return. Fate however, had decided otherwise.
Kamala was now aged and the old woman still stayed in Hosur, while her sons had migrated to Bangalore in search of better opportunities. She longed to look at her heirlooms before her death, but did not dare tell her sons about it. She prayed for Surya Narayan to return. Only, he heard her prayers a little too late.
When he returned after his prosperous stint in the US, it was for the occasion of Kamala’s funeral. He was reminded of the promise he made, nearly a decade ago. As he scoured her room, he found a letter addressed to him.
“I know you will return. I only hope it is before I leave this world. My one wish is to see the Oak Chest. Please…”
Tears welled up as he remembered the forgotten promise…
The above story is partially true...The facts are true, I’ve embellished on the sentiments. Surya Narayan Rao happens to be my dad’s uncle.