#2 The unending quest

Another train from a far off station somewhere in Andhra, started towards Secunderabad. And boarded the train was an elderly couple, somewhere in their late-40s named Narsayya and Muthyalamma. They had a child about 20 years ago. Not anymore. Their parents had married them off early, while they were just out of their teens. And in a year and half of their marriage, they had a child. Narsayya was very happy when he got a child. Even more happy as it was a boy. He named him Shankara, after the name of Lord Shiva, whom he was devoted to. He was on cloud nine when Shankara was born. He celebrated his son’s birth by feeding everyone in the village for a day. He was so happy that day. And he hoped it would last forever.

He had a decent job in the city, but he visited his village at least once a month for a whole weekend, to meet his parents. And he had married Muthyalamma, who also is from the same village. They came to the village for the first delivery of the child, as the tradition goes. The wife should be sent to her mother’s house for delivery of the first child. His job had earned him enough money to say that he is rich, when compared to his fellow people in the village. Although he had money and a good job outside of the village, he was humble. He always felt pride about his village and he never intended to leave it entirely. After he got married with a kid, he decided that he would be happy with one child. He didn’t plan on having any other child.

After the naming ceremony of his child, he wanted to leave to his job. It was not a job that gave him much of a choice to go about what he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do. He left to the city after bidding good byes to all his friends, parents, wife and his newly born promising that he would return back in a week. Life was peaceful. He went back to his village frequently. He started living alone, as his wife was at her mother’s house. There was not much that he could do at home when she wasn’t there. Although she was a village girl, she was intelligent and they had shared many a time discussing many things. They never had a specific topic which they wanted to discuss, but they ended up having the best time in the world. She was not in a position to travel and her mother had offered to take care of her till she recovers. Along with her mother, there were his parents too, who also offered to take care of the newly born kid and his wife.

He was glad that she was in good hands. But he was a little sad, that the house he used to return to everyday, would be empty for a while. And the next time she would return back, it would be along with the kid. He couldn’t wait for her to recover. He started spending a little more time in the office, as the work load also increased around the same time. He has been slacking due to unexpected leaves because of the kid and the various ceremonies. And he has to get up to the mark by completing the deadlines given to him. He compensated that by spending a lot of time in the office. One day after office, he was tired, but didn’t want to go home to an empty apartment. He asked his colleagues if they had any plans for the night. They said that they were going to a bar to have a drink and proceed home after that. Narsayya had never touched alcohol before in his life. He accepted, hoping that he would just spend some time with them in the bar and then proceed back home, a little late, when he was sleepy.

He didn’t foresee what might happen. If he did, probably he would have not gone to the bar that day, but there was not much control on himself that day. He didn’t want to be alone and just wanted to keep himself distracted. As he went to the bar, his colleagues asked him to take a drink. Although he was reluctant, he had accepted their offer. He took a beer and slowly started sipping it. It tasted bitter. He wanted to express that he didn’t want to drink, but that would be rude to his colleagues. So he drank it silently. By the time he finished one, his friends had already downed about 4 mugs of beer. They were almost ready to lose consciousness and decided to leave for the day. It was just the beginning of the month and they had quite a lot to pay for the bee. Narsayya asked for his share of the bill, but his colleagues said that it was their treat for him and paid his bill and left.

This happened for a while. On a Friday, they went out to a small hotel on the road rather than the bar. They took a bottle of rum and coke and had something to eat with it. This got him addicted in no time to alcohol. He started drinking daily. His wife was still in the village. It would take a few more months for her to come back to the city. Narsayya didn’t go to his village for a while. He used to go every week, but it has been a month since he last went to his village. He was spending a lot of his earnings for getting drinks every day. He had been so addicted to drinks that without a drink he couldn’t sleep that day. And this addiction was not known to his wife.

That came as a shock to her, when she returned back home with him after a few months. He had gone to his village after a while and got his wife and son back. She couldn’t believe what her husband had become. She tried talking sense into him initially and he seemed to accept her arguments They made sense to him and he decided that he would be quitting it entirely. But slowly, the addiction had caused him to have a last drink. And there was something so great in taste about the last drink. No matter how many last drinks you have, you always want one more.

He had his first last drink. He managed to cover the smell as he came home. But his wife was able to find out. She didn’t want to make him feel guilty then. It was already night and any argument now would wake up the kid. She didn’t want to do that now. She wanted to talk to him silently without making a scene. Next morning, she slowly asked him to quit. And as again, he accepted. He was impressed by the way his wife had handled the situation. He decided to quit.

Quitting something that became a habit and is pleasurable is really hard, but Narsayya became determined. He wanted to keep good on his word. And no matter how tough it was, his wife had supported him in that. He could reduce the frequency of the drinks. Although the reason he started drinking was now gone from his life, it became a little easier for him to quit. And in a month, he was completely off the drinks. He spent all his time with his son and wife and made the best of the time they spent together. Slowly, as the child started growing, he took his first words, the first steps and many other firsts of his life. Narsayya and Muthyalamma spent all their wonderful first with their child together. They, along with their parents had been there for all the ceremonies that he needed to do for a child.

A few years later, when the kid was around 6 years of age, he took them to their village. He went to his friends to visit them. A few of them got jobs in the city, while there was some whose marriage was fixed. All of them wanted to celebrate being together for the last time. They were not sure of how many of them would be there in the village after a while. Their celebration, which started from breakfast that day, ended with dinner and a little drink after that. The local drink, Tati Kallu, was a kind of drink which he avoided in many situations. But this time, he had less choice. He drank it, and a little more than he expected. After the party, his friends have dropped him at his house and left.

He entered the house and started shouting at his wife. She understood in a moment that he is drunk. It was a long time that he has had a drink and he had promised her that he would not drink ever again. His wife had become serious at the mention of him drinking. He broke his promise today and he had the audacity to come back home with the drunk face. She became angry and started questioning what was in his mind when he did that? The argument slowly escalated into yelling. It woke up the kid and he started peeping at the argument. Slowly, Narsayya became serious at his wife’s arguments. He knew he was wrong and he wanted to stop the argument and wanted to sleep. His wife had started mentioning how he had promised on the kid regarding the promise of not drinking again. And in the frustration, he slapped her. It resounded across the house. Shankar was shocked. How could his dad beat his mom? And what was the reason? Was it him? He heard his name in the argument and thought it was because of him that they were fighting. Probably they would be happy if he wasn’t there. Immediately he had decided that it was because of him that they were fighting and he would put an end to this. And during the night, he had slowly without making a sound, ran away.

Narsayya and Muthyalamma were shocked to find out that Shankar was missing from the place he slept. It was not the time that the kids played. And he was there the previous night. Where could he disappear? They had no idea. They searched the whole day, hoping that they would find him somewhere, in some part of the village playing with something. They would be glad and tell him not to go anywhere from the next time without informing. They just wanted him back.

Around the time of breakfast, they ran to the railway station if he went there. Narsayya was known among the village and Shankar was a favourite kid for everyone. Mainly for the reason that he was from the city and not studying in a better school than the other kids. A few ladies wanted him to be the future groom for their daughters too. And in the railway station, the station master had immediately run towards them, as if he had some important thing to say.

“I saw your son leave in a train last night. How did he leave if you are here?” he asked them. Direct to the point. If what he thought was right, there was not much time to be wasted.

“He… ran… away…from…home” Muthyalamma replied and started sobbing. Both of them were heartbroken at the realization. The station master had immediately run to his office to make a call to announce to the other stations of a boy of about age 6, who is missing. And their search for him started that day. It has been 20 years, still there was no sign of him. They had lost hope of finding their son ever again.

“It’s all my fault” Narsayya cursed himself many times.

“Don’t beat yourself up. We both share blame in this. We will get our son back” Muthyalamma used to console him when he did that.

Narsayya relived the story many times, every day. And each time, he did it, he looked at the photo of his son he took the day he went missing, and apologized. He asked him to come back home. He left his job to find his son and many years later, he had come back to Secunderabad. He hoped to find his son somewhere. Although the possibility was really small, he prayed to god to give him back his son.

Secunderabad station had slowly crept up towards the train, as Narsayya had been lost in the story he lived more than he needed to. “We will find him” Muthyalamma said, as they got on to the platform.

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