Thirty Six

Vasushena was late that day returning home. It wasn’t because Bakula held him up. In fact, Bakula had left, though he had not given any indication to Vasushena the previous day. Vasushena had searched for him all morning before returning home despondently. He could not believe that Bakula had left just like that. Vasushena had not told anyone about Bakula. He had lied to his father about why he could not learn how to mend wheels, to drive a chariot and to ride a horse during the mornings. He had starved in order to take food to Bakula, and yet, in the end, the man had left without even telling him. A part of him knew that Bakula had helped him as much as he could, that the man was perhaps not necessary to his continued education, but that was not the point. Bakula had betrayed his trust when he left in secret, without a word. And that was a new experience for Vasushena. He had never come across someone who broke a word so casually. It bothered him. For the first time, he regretted not asking Bakula who he really was. After all, someone had been after him. What if it was the soldiers? What if Bakula was a thief? Or an assassin?

“Where were you?” Atiratha asked, when he reached home. “I’ve been waiting for you. Have you forgotten that today I don’t have to work? We could have spent the entire day learning.”

“I’m sorry father,” he apologized, not wanting to tell another lie, and yet, not wanting to tell the truth either. “I shall not do it again. We can learn in the morning from tomorrow, if you prefer.”

Atiratha looked at his son with troubled eyes. There was something bothering his child. It was very evident to him. But he didn’t want to pry. His son was growing up, and he might not appreciate his father wanting to know every detail of his life. Whatever it was, Vasushena would tell him when he was ready. Or he would not tell him at all. Either way, he would not pry.

“Go and have your bath,” he said. “Today, we will not be having any lessons. We’ll start tomorrow morning.”

Vasushena did not even ask why. He simply nodded and made his way to the river. It was still hot, but the river was not still. Though the current was not very strong at their bathing ghat, he could see the ripples on the surface. There was a strong wind blowing. The ghat was deserted, which suited him. He did not want to make small talk or to pretend to be cheerful for his friends. He was not cheerful. And he doubted if anything would make him feel cheerful today.

“You’re back,” his mother smiled at him as he entered the house, fresh from his bath. “Has your father told you the news yet?”

“What news?”

She ruffled his hair, though he was already taller than her. “You’re going to have another brother. Or perhaps a sister.” her smile was radiant.

Vasushena stared at her. He had not expected it. A brother or a sister. He grinned. It was the best news ever.
“Does Sangrama know yet?”

Radha shook her head. “I didn’t want him to know till I’ve told you. You’re the eldest. And it will be your job to take care of your younger brothers.”

“Or sister,” Vasushena said, still grinning. He could not stop. He felt as if there was a bubble inside of him, a large bubble filled with laughter and joy. It filled his chest till it hurt, and yet it felt good. He could not remember the last time he had felt like this. Perhaps the day Sangrama was born. He hoped that his new brother would not be as irritating as Sangrama, but his hopes weren’t high. But still, he would take care of him or her, just as he took care of Sangrama.

“When will he be born?” he asked. “And what shall we name him?”

“There’s time enough for that,” Radha laughed. “He won’t be born for an ayana yet, maybe longer.”

“But we can still have toys made,” he said. “I can ask Asmita. His father knows how to make toys made of wood.”

“Let’s wait till he’s born,” Radha said. “It’s bad luck to have things made for the baby before his birth. We don’t want to tempt fate.”

“Okay,” Vasushena nodded. “But there has to be something we can do which isn’t bad luck.”

“Of course, there is. You can take care of Sangrama, and you can help me with some of my work if you want. And you can also help your father, so he won’t be under too much stress.”

“Okay,” he said. “But do I have to take care of Sangrama? He’s a bit irritating.”

“Oh you naughty boy,” she laughed, pretending to box his ears. “What sort of big brother are you?”

Vasushena grinned. “The best kind. You know it.”

“Then, you go and bring your brother back from the playground, so he can have his bath, and we can all have lunch.”

“Must I?” Vasushena asked in a despairing tone.

Radha brandished a ladle and he laughed, and ran out. He made his way to the playground, feeling happy. What did it matter if Bakula left? He had taught him enough. He would practice everyday till he found another teacher. His father could teach him what he had to in the mornings, but the afternoons and evenings were all his, and no one could take them from him. He knew his mother was only partly joking when she said he would need to take care of his brother and help around the house, but even with all that, there should still be enough time to practice. He was feeling that he was indeed fortunate. Whatever or whoever Bakula was, he’d taught him. How many boys in his position would have been fortunate to get a teacher at all? But he had been so fortunate. His father, knowing his real interest did not tell him not to pursue it. Vasushena might be young, but not foolish. He knew that most Sutas would have tried to discourage their sons from such dreams, but not Atiratha. Gratitude welled in Vasushena at the thought of his father. He was fortunate to have parents who not just loved him, but accepted him for what he was, no matter it was different from what they knew or expected. And now, he was going to have another sibling. He was indeed blessed. He could not believe he had spent half the day feeling sorry for himself.

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