The Second Son – Episode 2
Link to Episode 1
India was basking in the early days of independence after the withdrawal of Colonial rule. There was tentative joy, budding confidence, and a glimmer of hope that had long been absent in the country. People were exhilarated by their newfound freedom and they were eager to take their place in the infant country. They were ready to leave behind the limitations of slavery taking instead, the position of masters – masters of their country and of their destiny.
Amid all this excitement, Sharda announced that she was pregnant once again.
“Pregnant?”, exclaimed Ba.
Mr. Chatterjee’s mother, Ba, as she was lovingly called, ruled the household with an iron hand. Most people didn’t take long to discover however that her heart was soft as butter.
“You are over forty years old. We will have to be very careful”, she continued with a distant look in her eyes. Memories of her unborn dead child loomed before her.
“Ba, I will do all I can to protect this child. This is truly God’s grace. Perhaps it will be a girl.”, Sharda replied cautiously, barely concealing her joy.
Melting with love, Ba’s face relaxed into a creased smile.
“Don’t worry, everything will be ok. We will give the best care to this baby”
“and to you.” Ba‘s face softened with love. “Your baby will be born in free India. She will enjoy the swaraj that our freedom fighters fought for.”
Sharda’s bulging belly soon became unconcealable and the Chatterjee family was in a state of delight and anticipation.
Ba managed all that Sharda ate and ensured it was nothing but the best. Every dish was cooked in pure ghee and lightly spiced to avoid scorching the baby’s complexion. When Sharda grappled with morning sickness, her diet was monitored and adjusted to ensure that she was able to keep her food down.
Ba made the ghee herself to ensure it was the purest and freshest. She collected cream from the milk containers all week till she had a pot full of cream to extract ghee from. The night before she planned to extract ghee, Ba added a splash of chhaas (yogurt starter) to establish the cream overnight. Early the next morning, she approached the pot with a churner and worked it until the buttermilk released and separated from soft, velvety, white butter. She extracted the mound of butter from the buttermilk and put aside a bowl of makhan for the family to enjoy with bajra roti for breakfast. The rest of the cream she transferred to the deep ghee pot that had been with the family for generations. Ba set the pot on the wood-burning stove where it was slowly heated until the milk solids turned a golden brown leaving liquid, golden ghee.
This ghee would be the base for all dishes cooked for Sharda. Ba‘s deepest desire was to see a daughter in Sharda and Moushoom’s arms. After two sons Raja and Bhima, the family was ready to welcome Goddess Lakshmi in the form of a baby girl.
To ensure a bright complexion for the baby, Ba served Sharda several fruits throughout the day. At night, before Sharda slept, a tumbler of cool milk was placed at her bedside to fill her up and help her sleep through the night.
Kantaben, the family midwife, was re-hired to massage Sharda’s swollen ankles each evening. She kept a close eye on Sharda as the pregnancy progressed.
When the time came, it was a long labor, but at the end of it, there was jubilance! The Chatterjee family welcomed a beautiful baby girl! Ba‘s smiled with joy and gratitude as her prayers were answered. Sharda’s daughter was everything Ba had dreamt of. She was named Bharti in honor of the independent Bharat she was born in. With a head full of dark curls, a peachy complexion, and chubby limbs, she won the hearts of the family and became the apple of everyone’s eyes.
Bhima was first presented with his baby sister when he returned from school that day. He didn’t say and nobody remembered to ask him, why he came home without Raja. Mr. Chatterjee was therefore spared the embarrassment of learning that his firstborn had once again produced inadequate work at school. The exasperated Masterji had asked Raja to stay back after school and work on his assignment until he had adequately met the requirements.
Bhima encountered an air of festivity as soon as he crossed the threshold of his house. Ba welcomed him with a warm hug and informed him that he was blessed with a little sister. Mr. Chatterjee was pacing the courtyard with unbridled delight, discussing with Munshiji the gifts they would distribute among his staff to celebrate the new arrival. Ba led Bhima to the room where his mother was resting. As he settled on the chair at his mother’s bedside Ba gently placed the little wiggling Bharti, swaddled in Ba‘s soft malmal saree, in Bhima’s arms. Bharti smelt of the besan, turmeric, and cream that Kantaben had used for her first bath.
As soon as he set his eyes on his baby sister, Bhima felt a rush of warmth through his heart. He instantly fell in love with the tiny being in his arms as he realized he could do anything for her. At that moment, he made it his life’s work to keep her safe and happy. Not knowing the many challenges that lay ahead of him, Bhima gazed at his sleeping sister in wonder and adoration.