by M. Mohankumar
I happened to meet him when I went to my home town, after a long interval, to attend a marriage there.
He was sitting in the front row in the marriage hall, and looking at me, across the aisle, every now and then, with a faint smile on his face. When the ceremonies were over, he came over to me.
“Do you remember me?” he asked.
I couldn’t recognise him.
“I’m Divakaran, your cousin,” he said. “We’re meeting after so many years.”
I must say that I was none too pleased to meet this person. He was the man who had filed a partition suit against my father and his brother, a suit that dragged on for years, causing us so much misery and unhappiness.
The tie had snapped long ago. Why, then, this move on his part, this overture, after so many years?
He accompanied me to the dining hall, sat with me and ate the feast with me, reminiscing all the while.
“Do you remember the last time we met?” he asked. “More than fifty years ago! You were then living with your parents and Grandmother in the ancestral house; and we, my brother Balachandran and me − motherless children − were staying with our father. We came to celebrate Onam with you all. I was twelve at that time; you must have been barely eight. Since then, so many unfortunate things happened. I lost my brother. My father had married a second time, and I was so lonely in his house. Grandmother died; then there was the partition. And then the suit that I was forced to file as soon as I turned eighteen.”
“How could you recognise me after so many years?” I asked.
“That wasn’t difficult,” he said. ’I’ve your recent photos. Photos and clippings about the release of your books. In fact, I’ve been keeping track of your career ever since your days as a District Officer.”
He spoke fondly of my father: how kind he was and generous to a fault, and never did an unjust thing, and yet… His voice trailed off, and I could notice tears welling up in his eyes.
By the time we parted, my attitude towards him had softened considerably.
I had often wondered why, when the partition took place, the properties were not divided equally among the three surviving members of the family − the two brothers and their nephew. Mother used to say that she was all for equal division of the properties, but then, her voice did not prevail.
Back in Bengaluru where I’d settled down after retirement, I took out the records of the case that I’d salvaged after Father’s death and studied them. I found that the case was not as simple as I’d imagined.
There were two sets of properties involved in the partition. The first set had come down to Grandmother as her share from the original joint family, and it was divided into three equal shares. The second set consisted of properties which Grandmother had bought from out of what she considered her own income. As such, these properties were treated as Grandmother’s personal properties, and she had executed a will bequeathing these properties to her two sons, her daughter having passed away by that time.
The Sub Court rejected Divakaran’s claim that he was entitled to one-third share of the second set of properties as well. He then filed an appeal in the Madras High Court. When the States were reorganised, the case was transferred to the Kerala High Court. And there it remained pending for many years till it was disposed of in Divakaran’s favour, ordering repartition of the properties into three equal shares.
This suit brought my father to his knees. He had to fight it alone; his brother took no interest, and was prepared to sink or sail with my father. The case came back to the Sub Court for execution of the decree. The properties were attached, and Father was left with no income of his own.
He died broken-hearted.
It took years for us to recover from the blow.
I have no doubt that Father had acted in good faith on the strength of the will executed by his mother. It was an unfortunate development as a result of which we suffered grievously. Divakaran no doubt knew how, in those days when my father was employed in Burma, he had been so helpful to Divakaran’s mother – my aunt, and to the other members of the family, from time to time. He must have heard of the agony that Father had suffered on account of the long-drawn-out litigation and how he died a premature death, leaving his wife and children improvident. And, as years passed, he must have regretted these developments. Otherwise, why did he come over to me that day after the marriage, and talk to me the way he did?
Then, a few months later, I received an invitation from him for his son’s marriage. Attached to the invitation was a letter. “You must come,” he had written, “and bless the boy, your cousin’s son.” I wanted to attend the marriage, but I had a sudden attack of flu and couldn’t go. Instead, I wrote a letter to him.
A couple of years later, when my brother’s wife passed away, he came to the house and sat with us, silently, and joined the funeral procession.
A year or so later, my wife and I went to invite our relatives and friends in our hometown to the marriage of our daughter which was to take place in Bengaluru. We went to Divakaran’s house too, and invited him and his wife.
He greeted us cordially. Age had started to tell on him. There was a wistful look in his eyes. He spoke of the old days. He spoke of my father −“Such a good man” and of our grandmother, how wise she was, and powerful.
Here is a transparent man, I thought, and yet…
He took out a sepia-tinted photo from the show-case and showed it to me. And there, in the family photo, I saw Grandmother sitting with her daughter, the son-in-law and the two small children.
We too had a photo of Grandmother in our old house in the town, but somehow it was lost, and could not be traced. How I wished I had a photo of Grandmother, hanging in my study, to be looked at, remembering her in moments of trouble!
As we took leave, he said, “I’m not travelling much these days; but I’ll try to attend the marriage.”
And he came. He came with his wife. He ate the marriage feast with me, and went on reminiscing, as before. And they came to our house, husband and wife, and spent some time with us.
As they were leaving, he took out from his bag a packet wrapped in brown paper.
“My gift,” he said.
I opened it, and saw a framed photograph:-an enlarged copy of the family photo that I’d seen in his house.