Thirty Years Later (page 3)
 
Thirty Years Later
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5
The D’Souzas
The following morning I phoned Elias D’Souza. After recovering from such a surprise call, he invited us to visit their office later that day and to come to their house for dinner. As we drove up to the building that afternoon, I began to realize that something very big had happened with CHEMNR Farms. The building was large, the grounds expansive. As I came up the stairs, Elias ran out to meet me — there it was — the same great smile, only now on a handsome, successful, fifty-year old man. Over tea, Elias related the story of their success. He stressed that everything was based upon his having learned to work hard from Ivan and Edith Brotzman. For years he had not even had a Coke, as he put every rupee back into the business. All of the children had worked with the family business and all were still involved. Only his father had passed away. Richard, his younger brother, was an integral part of the business, even though he had been paralyzed at age fourteen by the use of an unsterile needle during an appendectomy.
     The business now had farms in many locations and employed several thousands of people. The business volume was over fifty million dollars a year, the largest chicken operation in all of India. Elias travels the world on business trips, and tries to get to Florida several times a year to visit Ivan, who has remained like a father to the entire family.
     After a tour of the facilities, we were taken to Elias’ home. Where once we had worked side by side, debeaking and plucking chickens in their dirt yard, now stood a 12,500 square foot mansion, complete with manicured grounds, swimming pool, and Italian marble floors. Elias’ gracious wife, Terry and their three young adult children greeted us with warmth and curiosity. We were so comfortable with these fine people that we accepted their invitation to move to their guestroom and remain with them for the rest of our stay. Over the course of the next few days we visited Elias’ mother, brother and sisters, meeting their children (including an Edith and an Ivan) and reminiscing over the changes their hard work had brought.
     But Elias had one more surprise in store for me. During our first visit to his office, I had told him of my desire to find Uma, and the very small lead I had from Roshan, that she might be in a town called Ahmednagar, about 200 kilometers to the south. Elias took down what little information I had and offered to call his good friend, Mr. Roy, who happened to be the Superintendent of Police in the Ahmednagar district.
     That very evening, as we returned from touring the CHEMNR — now C and M — farms, Elias greeted us with the news that Mr. Roy had called him back saying that Uma had been located. I couldn’t believe my luck, and asked if they were very sure that it was she. His answer brought tears to my eyes — “Yes,” he said. “they are very sure, because when the policeman asked if she was Uma Chhajalane, she at first was very afraid. When they said an American woman was looking for her, she began to cry, then laugh, then cry and laugh again.” I realized it must be her, and that we still shared the emotional bond that had so tied us thirty years before.

Uma
The following day, we hired a car and drove to Ahmednagar. Mr. Roy had invited us to his bungalow to be reunited with Uma. We approached the imposing compound dominated by the stately English-style bungalow with its large covered porches. Trees shaded the well-kept yard; servants rested or walked slowly through the hot sun. Several government jeeps were parked on the side of the house. I felt nervous and suddenly very unsure of myself.
     Mr. Roy and his wife, both of whom were very excited about the scheduled reunion, greeted us at the door. He had brought Uma and her family to the compound, and they were already waiting for us. His making the arrangements, and bringing her to his home particularly touched me, as India is a highly stratified culture. Mr. Roy, as the Superintendent of Police, was one of the most important people in the district. Uma, as a low-class sweeper, was one of the least important. Yet Mr. Roy treated her with tremendous respect throughout our visit that day. Both he and his wife were extremely enthusiastic about the event, and those under him followed his commendable example.

 
Barbara and Uma embrace


Gifts from Uma

     After sharing a cup of coffee and making a “game plan” for the day, Mr. Roy took us out to the porch, where Uma and her family and friends were waiting. There was a cluster of animated, village people. Although I hadn’t seen Uma since she was twelve years old, I knew her instantly, and as she ran to me and we threw our arms around each other, I felt my heart would burst. She was so small, at about 4 feet 8 inches — no taller than when I had last seen her. She gave us flower leis, homemade sweets, placed red dots of respect and welcome on each of our foreheads. She had even hired someone to take photographs. I wondered how she could afford all she had done to make our welcome special.
     As I could no longer speak Marathi, we conversed in English with the help of an English-speaking young man accompanying Uma. His name was Sunil, and I was soon to learn that he had a special place in her life. I was also about to learn what my longest-lasting influence as a Volunteer may have been. In the sixties, we were very concerned with the growing population, and many of us committed to the concept of zero population growth — that is, having no more than two children to replace yourselves. As a Volunteer, I had strongly encouraged Uma to have no more than two children, assuring her that both she and her children would have a better life with fewer to provide for. Uma had believed me and had given birth to just one son and one daughter. How could I know, in my youth, or have the foresight to understand the consequences of that commitment on her part? Now, at the age of 42, Uma was a widow, her husband having drunk himself to death some years before. Her daughter, Sarika, had married the previous year and had moved to another city, becoming part of her husband’s family as is the custom in India.
     At this point in the telling of her story, Uma’s voice became shaky and she began to cry. Her oldest child, her son, Sunil, had been killed in a motor scooter accident the previous year. He was one of thousands of young men who are killed in car and motor scooter accidents every year in India, with their terribly overcrowded roads, jammed with speeding buses, full of dangerous potholes, and snuffing out young lives in tragic accidents on a daily basis.
 
     
Home | Back Issues | Resources | Archives | Site Index | Search | About us | To contact us

Bibliography of Peace Corps Writers | PC writers by country of service

E-mail the webmaster@peacecorpswriters.org with comments
or to be added to the new-issue notice list.
Copyright © 2008 PeaceCorpsWriters.org, (formerly RPCV Writers & Readers)
All rights reserved.