"They had sent me home"
Was all Chandrachur Singh told his wife Rai.
Chandrachur had come home suddenly, almost abruptly, from his posting at Bikaner.
Rai, new to the home of Chandrachur, did not ask anything to her husband, only that she felt suspicious after a month or so, when Chandrachur, instead of making preparations to go back to the battalion, stayed back, whiling away his time in doing errands at home, like tending the cattle, the goats and sometimes going out to till the few acres of land behind their hut.
Only on August, Rai, understood, a great big change had happened. The British had given away the land to someone at Delhi.
Radio messages called for celebration.
Azadi seemed to be a great occasion for some celebration.
But neither to Chandrachur, nor to Rai, it meant anything new.
The only new thing that Rai got was a copper bowl, that her husband had brought.
A simple copper bowl, usually found in army mess, with a number inscribed.
While the country went to a mode of celebration, Rai and Chandrachur, in their isolation at their small hut, in the remote village of Rajasthan, had nothing to celebrate.
One night, after a month and half of his abrupt return from the barrack, Rai garnered courage to ask her husband, "achcha, how will we survive? There's not a morsel left at home, crops are dwindling"
Chandrachur said just.
The next morn, Chandrachur rose early and went straight to the land.
It had not rained much in August or September.
The soil had hardened like stone.
Yet Chandrachur started tilling, using his old bullocks and a long hard rusty plough.
The sun must have been beating down upon him.
He tilled still.
For next few days, from Dawn till afternoon he did the same.
Rai remained busy taking care of her only son, a new born, at home.
The rain did not come.
It seemed a famine was going to arrive with its ugly shape.
A few grains of wheat, borrowed from a neighbour, served them for a few days.
With a lot of hard work, vegetables grown at the backyard, by Rai, also came to certain help.
But without rains, was it not difficult to live?
Then one night the rain came with thunder and lightning.
How pleased was Chandrachur!
The next morn, he went straight to the field.
Now it was time for him to do irrigation.
With spade and axe he dug a channel, to let the water flow into the field.
Seeds were thrown.
Rai also became happy. At least they would not have to starve, once the grains would yield.
Chandrachur worked harder.
But he spoke not a single word about his coming home from the barrack.
"Had he been sacked from Army, by the British? But the British have long gone...now he can rejoin the army...can't he?" Thought Rai, though she never asked anything to her husband.
Crops started growing.
Rai was happy.
Chandrachur, it seemed, also had forgotten about the army.
The copper bowl with his army service number inscribed, came to be used as a necessary utensil by Rai.
That year, late November, when the winter was slowly making a foray into their village, Chandrachur fell ill.
He had fever.
Rai brought some medicine from a local Ayurveda potion seller.
That cost her two annas. Not a small amount, considering the declination of Indian currency, post independence.
The potion was duly given to Chandrachur. But the fever continued.
Then oneday, Chandrachur breathed his last. He just passed away, without showing any forewarning, barring that fever which never diminished till he went to the Eternal Abode, leaving behind Rai with a son and a few acres of land and a copper bowl.
God only knows , how Rai survived with her son after that.
She worked at lands, fed her son, sold the grains to a local wheat merchant.
Her son was admitted to a local school.
Then oneday Rai heard from someone in the village that the new government is giving pension to the widows of armymen.
Rai went to the Sainik Kalyan Board.
"Show us your late husband's service number"
The officer asked Rai.
"What Service number?"
"A document which will prove that your husband was in the Army"
Rai returned home empty handed.
She rummaged Chandrachur's steel trunk.
Found a money order slip, old and yellowish.
The money order receipt of an amount of Rupees Ten, she received first and last from Chandrachur, from Bikaner, where he had been posted.
Rai went the next day to the Sainik Kalyan Board.
The receipt was shown.
"But it did not have any service number of your late husband!"
The Officer said.
Rai was in tears.
"How can I establish that, Sir, an illiterate woman as I am..."
The officer looked at Rai's face.
She got wrinkles all over her face, not because of her age, but because of the hardships she had gone through perhaps.
"Okay. I will see to it"
The Officer said.
Next few months, almost once every week, Rai would go to the Sainik Kalyan Board.
"we are trying to find out in which battalion your husband had worked, you see, it is very difficult to find that out without any document showing his service number..."
The Officer would say.
Then one evening, when Rai was cleaning the utensils, the copper bowl of Chandrachur was what she got to do scrubbing with tamarind, to make it look glossy.
Then, almost like a providence, she found something inscribed on the lid and on the body of the bowl.
They looked identical.
Rai scrubbed harder.
Yes! Something looked like a number there inscribed, on the lid of the bowl.
The body of the bowl also had the same numbering, as it seemed.
Though Rai coud not read the number, being an illiterate, she at least understood that the inscription had some meaning.
The next day, Rai went straight to the Sainik Kalyan Board.
The Officer was not there.
"You wait, he would come after one hour".
She was informed.
Rai waited there at the lobby with a small girdle in her hand which contained the copper bowl.
That one hour seemed like one month.
She was feeling hungry.
She had to go back before three when her son would come home from school.
The Officer came.
Rai showed him the copper bowl.
The Officer looked at the bowl.
He was silent.
" how long you have been using it?"
He asked after a long pause, staring at the bowl, held in his hand.
"Will you mind if I keep it for a few days?"
"Because it might earn you your pension!"
The Officer gushed, smiling.
Rai was amazed.
"Thik hain...bahut khub...Shukriya..."
Was all she could somehow mutter.
Her voice was choking up.
Her eyes were glistening, they were becoming teary.
The Officer stood up, took her shaking hands and said, "Don't you worry, something,will surely happen, now that you have given me a solid proof..."
"What is that? A solid proof?"
Rai asked, ignorant as she was about ways of officers and offices.
"This copper bowl of your late husband...it will earn you the pension."
The Officer reiterated.
Rai felt like crying.
Tears were rolling down her eyes.
She said, before leaving the Sainik Kalyan Board, happily, thinking more of her husband, Chandrachur Singh.