||Thirty Years Later
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||The DSouza family drifted next into my mind. They were Christians, with four teenaged children. Elias, at 19 was out of school and worked full-time with his parents on their small poultry farm. This very poor family was just starting their poultry endeavor with their first two hundred chickens when the Peace Corps Volunteers who preceded us in Nasik had begun to work with them. Those Volunteers were retired Iowa farmers who wanted to do something significant in their retirement. When we arrived to replace them, they had helped the DSouza family build their poultry farm to nearly five hundred chickens. They had also started raising broilers as well as chickens for egg production. Most of our time as Volunteers was dedicated to this fine, hard-working family. At the time, they lived in the feed shed adjacent to their poultry house. Elias had once told me that the best gift Ivan, the retired farmer, had given him was to teach him how to work and to work hard. I knew Elias had put everything into his familys business, and I was very curious to see if they were still in operation and what level of success they might have achieved.
The last family that I recalled touched my heartstrings the most, being among the poorest of Indias poor. Our sweepers had been Harijans or outcasts in the strictly stratified Hindu culture. All of the children in the family worked, and most days, ten-year-old Uma came to clean our rooms along with her six-year-old sister and two-year-old brother. Uma had a twinkle in her eye and a great smile. She would teach me Marathi words and I taught her English words, which she was very keen to learn. Each holiday she took time to teach me about the local traditions and would bring special sweets or colored powder to show me how they celebrated. I had held Uma at her wedding as she cried before she went out to meet her new twenty-one-year-old husband ten years her senior. I had encouraged her to only have two children, hoping she and they could have a better life with fewer children to care for. I had long ago lost track of Uma and had no idea how or where to find her. I assumed she was living somewhere among the poor masses of India. I had committed a full week to trying to locate her on this trip.
Arriving in Nasik
It was evening as we pulled into the station. Nothing looked familiar as I walked towards the large, new station, and I almost wondered if I was in the right place. Suddenly a well-dressed man came towards me, and I realized it was Chief. The sight of the older, but familiar face was very welcome and I was relieved to be greeted with such warmth so very far from home. Chief took us to a restaurant for dinner, then drove us to the bungalow of a friend, where we would stay. It was only later that I would learn why we were not given accommodations in his own, large home.
As Volunteers, we had enjoyed many meals and lively evenings in that magnificent home. Now, the morning after our arrival, I stood dumbfounded in front of it as I saw its wretched state of disrepair. The house had not been painted for years. Porches were sagging, the roof needed replacement and the yard was no longer maintained. Inside I could see that the house had not been cleaned for a long time and garbage was being thrown out the back door. Chief sat on the porch, petting his dog and drinking beer. As we began to talk, I realized that he had already had a lot to drink and that my dear, old friend was an alcoholic. He talked about his circumstances, saying that the purse from the government had run out many years before, and that he had been left without an income. His sons had been raised to be idle wealthy and were not adjusting well to establishing themselves as businessmen. With a growing sadness, I left to attempt to find my other old friends.
Falu and Roshan
We walked through the streets of the city, which had grown ten times in population over the years. The center of the town had changed so much it was difficult to orient myself. As we neared Falus compound, however, things began to look as they had thirty years before, and I approached their same small yellow house with a comfortable sense of the familiar.
My knock was answered. There stood Roshan, her face closed with suspicion at the strangers standing on her porch. Suddenly, her eyes widened and she smiled her warm, wonderful smile, as she recognized me with my full head of gray hair and my new husband. She welcomed us and as we shared tea she filled me in on thirty years of their family history. One of her sons now lived in the U.S. The other lived in the compound with his wife and two-year-old son. Falu himself was well, but had gone from being a reclusive farmer to a reclusive writer. He rarely left the compound, using his time to write stories of his hunting adventures. Falu slept all day and wrote all night, she explained. She invited us back for dinner to have a good visit with him.
That evening we laughed, remembered, and shared many old stories. Falu and Roshan were the same gentle people, happy and comfortable with the lives they were living. I asked them about the DSouza family and it was from them that I got my first understanding of the measure of DSouzas success. They had prospered, beyond their wildest dreams, I was told. Roshan gave me their phone number, and I could hardly wait for the morning to make contact with them again. Roshan also knew something of Uma, as Umas family had also worked for Roshan. She was quite sure that many years before, Uma had moved to a town approximately 200 kilometers to the south. She had not heard anything of her or the family for a very long time.
That night my head was reeling. So far I had found two of the four families I had known so well thirty years before. Tomorrow I would learn of the DSouzas and I had a lead to Uma. Would I actually find them all, coming full circle with my experiences over the span of thirty years? I contemplated the changes in Chiefs life undoubtedly he had had too much money and too little discipline, slipping slowly into a decrepit and for him humiliating lifestyle. Alcohol had drained him of any energy to improve his condition, and he was simply drinking his time away. Falu on the other hand, reclusive as he had become, was still his old self warm, humorous, and dedicated to his new writing career. I wondered what I would find with Elias and his family the following day. I finally drifted off to sleep, thinking mostly of Uma and wondering whether I would be lucky enough to find her among the masses of Indias poor.