“Then next Sunday is fixed?”
“Okay then, reach there in time,……..but you did not utter a word about your fees?!”
“Now what can I say about the fees? I too belong to the Charan community like you, so you give whatever you think is reasonable….it is all going to remain within the community….”
On that Sunday, Hemu and I started off to reach Songadh by evening. We then found out that this programme had received a lot of publicity. A stage was built in the compound of some institution, and not only the stage but also the road leading to it, were decorated. People from Songadh and the surrounding villages had thronged the site and the compound was full.
Songadh is near Bhavnagar. To fix a programme of Hemu Gadhvi, some persons had come bearing a note from someone working in R.R.Sheth and Co. Everything was settled.
That night, Hemu poured his heart out, singing folk songs, telling Duhas, Stories and Anecdotes and regaling the crowd. When the programme ended in the early hours of morning, the crowd was extremely happy and so were the organisers. Hemu received Rs.250/- more than expected.
Next morning when we were returning to Rajkot by bus, Hemu asked the conductor to issue tickets for an intermediate stop.
“Why?” I asked.
“Just say Hello to sister….she lives nearby.”
Now I knew his entire family but was not aware of any of his sisters staying here. Thinking her to be some distant relative, I left the matter at that and started chatting with him.
Our destination came. We got down and walked a kilometer to reach a village with perhaps a hundred dwellings. Hemu pulled out a crumpled post card from his pocket, deciphered with some difficulty what was scribbled on it, and then asked someone who was sitting under a tree: “Where does Dhaniben stay?”
“I say is that not Punja’s wife, Punja from Darsadi?’, said someone
“Oh, that Punja who died some eight months ago?”
“Yes, the same one” said Hemu.
One person then called out one of the boys playing nearby:” Panchia, show our guests Dhani’s house”, then turning to Hemu:”How are you related to her?”
” I am her brother” said Hemu.
“Oh, good. After Punja’s death, Dhani had said that she does not have any relatives. Poor woman is having a hard time raising her children. Good. Whatever little help she receives will be welcome”, that man expressed his sympathy.
Panchiya left after pointing out Dhani’s hut to Hemu.
When we neared it, a young girl was feeding some grass to a cow.
Hemu:”Girl, where is your mother?”
Just then, a woman, about thirty five, slim but strong, came out of the hut and stood behind the pillar supporting the hut.
Are you Dhaniben?”
“Yes, do sit down” saying that the woman went inside the hut.
Unable to contain myself, I asked Hemu :” You do not recognize your own sister?”
A shove of his elbow was the signal for me to keep quiet.
A young boy, about ten years old, brought some water for us. That little girl put a thin mattress on the swing outside. We took our seats. While drinking water, Hemu saw that Dhaniben was sitting inside, behind the door.
Returning the glass to the boy, Hemu said:” Son, tell your mother that uncle who sings for the Radio, has come. ..Hemu Uncle.”
Dhaniben immediately came out. Hemu touched her feet and said:” Sister, I had received your post card but at that time it was not possible for me to come. Moreover, I could not have helped you in any way. The children might feel that this uncle only has a big name but never shows up!”
Dhaniben did the best she could for us, offering us some tea. Hemu enquired about the welfare of the family, then pulled out an envelope containing a thousand rupees from his pocket and placing it at her feet, said:” Sister, please accept this for now, will send you more as and when possible. Don’t worry about anything…….”
Dhaniben was moved. Hemu called out all the three children ,exchanged some pleasantries with them, and hugged them.
While leaving the village, as if in response to the question bugging me, Hemu said:” I also do not know Dhaniben, but read this post card. Her husband, Punjabhai who had no relatives came from Dasardi and settled down here. After he died, this woman went through a lot of hardships. As I used to sing on the Radio, her children would often ask her as to who I was and she would jovially call me her brother. The children really took me for their uncle and I had no inkling about it!
After Punjabhai died and the family fell on hard times, the elder son told his mother:” Ma, write to Hemu Uncle. He sure will help”
A desperate Dhaniben then wrote to me, describing everything and requesting my help. When I received the post card I was in no position to help. To-day I have received something from this programme, so….”
then added jovially, well, even in fun I was called their “UNCLE”…now you be my “UNCLE” and pay for the bus tickets, my pockets are empty!”
BY GIRISH GANATRA