They were a poor family from Uttarakhand but were determined not to remain poor. It was a hard slow slog but their determination underpinned by extraordinary selflessness bore fruit. Whenever good fortune favoured a family member the immediate reaction was to share it. For example, when a family member got a job in New Delhi he lost no time in inviting relatives back in the village to come and share his rented accommodation and look for a job if they so desired.
It didn’t matter that the accommodation was a small cramped room in an overcrowded slum without any direct water supply. What mattered was the sharing. The moment a family member got a leg up, he would offer to pull up others too and the solid ladder that formed soon became a key factor in helping them break out of the poverty circle.
That’s how Ravindra, just twelve years old, was able to come to Delhi and search for employment that would enable him to study and work at the same time. He found a job as a helping hand in a bakery and was so conscientious in carrying out the sundry tasks assigned to him that his employer soon granted him privileges like free food and to and fro daily fare.
Ravindra was merely nineteen when his employer opened an ice cream parlour and entrusted him with the task of ensuring that the staff carried out their duties efficiently. This prestigious supervisory role was accompanied by a substantial pay hike which enabled Ravindra to bring his fifteen old brother Tinku to Delhi. But Tinku soon became a source of constant worry for Ravindra and other family members who had migrated to Delhi.
Tinku loved the sights and lifestyles in Delhi. He was inseparable from his touch screen mobile phone, a gift from Ravindra and he never tired of travelling on the Metro. While everybody understood his teenage interests and passions nobody could understand his reluctance to do work of any kind even if it was running a small errand like going out to buy something. All he wanted to do was to have a good time which naturally didn’t go down well with other family members in Delhi who were all exceptionally hard workers.
No amount of talking to Tinku made any difference. Threats to cut off his pocket money or send him back to the village would bring on a sullen silence and no other change in his attitude. But then, just when everybody had given up on him, something happened which brought about a dramatic change in Tinku. He fell in love. The girl worked as an assistant in a garment shop and the desire to make a good impression on her induced him to take up a job in a photocopying shop adjacent to the garment shop.
He wasn’t a hard worker but he was a quick learner and worked speedily and it was these qualities which enabled him to hang on to his job. It was a different matter that he didn’t contribute anything to the family kitty but spent everything he earned on making calls to his girlfriend and buying her presents. Yet his family members didn’t really mind. “At least he’s working at long last” they said.
Then things changed again. The girl’s family learnt about the relationship and put their foot down. They were both immature teenagers from financially weak backgrounds they pointed out and now was the time to concentrate on working, earning and studying. The girl’s family didn’t forbid her from meeting or talking to Tinku but made it very clear that the relationship was fine only if it wasn’t given priority over earning and everything else. But the girl took the dressing down to heart and stopped speaking to Tinku after explaining what had happened.
Tinku pleaded with her, reasoned with her but she had made up her mind and stopped taking his calls or responding to him in any manner. Tinku was devastated. He became careless at work and after numerous warnings was given marching orders. Ravindra found another job for him in an artificial flower shop but Tinku just couldn’t focus on work and lost the job within a week. His uncle found him a job but Tinku didn’t last there either.
Scolded and berated by everybody Tinku withdrew into himself and refused to discuss the reasons behind the sad change in him and kept them in the dark about the breakup with his girlfriend. Even the touch phone from which he was once inseparable now lay uncharged and silent. It was at this point, after giving him many futile pep talks, that relatives decided to give him a final choice. If you want to stay on in Delhi you must work and support yourself they told him. If you don’t want to work go back to the village. They hoped this choice would have a salutory effect on him but the effect turned out to be disastrous.
When Ravindra returned from work late at night the next day he was surprised when Tinku didn’t open the door despite repeated knocking. He must have returned to the village was Ravindra’s first tired thought but the realisation that the door was bolted from inside alarmed him and he called up his uncle and other relatives and woke up the neighbours. Together, they forced open the door and discovered Tinku hanging from the ceiling fan.
“He was just seventeen”, Ravindra and his uncle told me brokenly. They were overcome with remorse and grief. “We drove him to his death by scolding him constantly and foisting a choice on him. Now we have a bigger problem. Its over a month now but from the day we cremated him he’s been sobbing outside the room and knocking on the door every night.
“He can’t enter because a priest has put up a ‘banda’ (protective barrier against spirits). But its breaking our heart. He’s so unhappy and obviously wants to be with us for some reason. We want peace for his soul and forgiveness from him but don’t know what to do. We can’t afford the expensive rituals the priest is suggesting”. I advised them to have the ‘banda’ removed and have as many relatives as possible in Ravindra’s room that night.
It was a highly emotional but very satisfying meeting with Tinku’s spirit Ravindra told me. Tinku’s spirit couldn’t leave earth because like those living he too was weighed down with guilt and remorse at having made loved ones suffer and was filled with regret at having impulsively committed suicide. This unburdening combined with the remorse and deep love for him expressed by family members enabled Tinku’s soul to be at peace and leave for the other world. There is no more sobbing and knocking at Ravindra’s door.