By Angelee Deodhar
Payal and Ruchit had been in Korea for almost two years now. Ruchit, an IAS officer, had been posted to Seoul after his stint in Japan. They had been married for almost twelve years, and their wedding anniversary was fast approaching. They had no children, and it was painful for Payal to be asked by all her relatives whether she had decided not to have a child, and what the couple was doing about it? Payal wanted to scream, “What can I do?” Her mother-in-law was very kind and kept quiet but Payal could sense the frustration as other people kept asking whether there was any “good news”.
Ruchit had suggested adopting a baby, but Payal couldn’t accept the idea of getting someone else’s baby. Would she be able to love it enough? Would she mistreat it? What would people say? What if she got her own child after adoption? In a way she was happy she was away from India. Away from the probing, but she was terribly lonely. She loved to walk and explore the city, as Ruchit hardly had time to take her out. Once in a while they did go to the shops and arcades.
Payal had only one Korean acquaintance ,Seo-yeon, who lived opposite her flat, and was a translator at the consulate. She had two small children, a four year old boy , Ye-jun, and a two year old girl ,Chae-won. Their father, Sung-min, worked as a computer scientist. Seo-yeon often invited Payal to come over for a cup of tea. She shared many of her books on Korean mythology, culture and music, and watched dubbed Hindi movies with her.
Payal’s other friend was an elderly Japanese lady ,Kimiyo Tanaka, who lived with her husband two floors below Payal’s flat. Both were very active in social work, haiku and golf. It was Kimiyo san who introduced Payal to haiku, and ever since Payal learnt about the form. She had begun to write haiku on her own now. Kimiyo san had three daughters who came over with their children, and each time Payal was invited for a cup of green tea and sometimes for lunch. Tanaka san played golf and was also a very good artist. He shared many of his paintings with Payal.
There was just one Indian family, the Singhs, who lived in that building. Mr. Singh was also an official at the consulate, who had recently moved to Korea after a ten year stint in Japan. Mr. Singh spoke fluent Korean and Japanese, but all Mrs. Singh could say was “Arigato” and “Dozo”. Their son, Ankit, was a student, and when he was not studying, he could be seen dancing down the corridor or nodding to his own beat on the iPod, which seemed to be a part of him. Whenever he saw Payal, he would smile and say ‘Yo’! The Singhs, Ruchit and Payal often spent the weekend together.
Payal was very attracted to the temples and went to explore them on her own. She would walk the narrow streets and didn’t mind the jostling crowds, the vendors, the color or the noise. It reminded her of India.
Payal was a devout Hindu, a vegetarian and kept her many fasts, but she liked to go to the temple to pray to Mago, the Great Goddess. She prayed fervently to Mago to bless her with a child. Today, as she wandered around the temple complex, watching the koi under the bridge, tears pricked her eyes and she went to sit for a moment behind the temple. All at once she felt someone’s presence behind her, but when she looked back there was no one. She got up and walked towards the main shrine last of all as she would be leaving for India the next day. Ruchit would join her later.
She went home and packed, met Seo-yeon and Tanaka san and Imiyo san, who all gave her little presents. Ye-jun and his sister Chae-won gave her a drawing they had made and on which he had laboriously written, “We love you, come back soon”.
Next day, at the airport Payal went to explore some duty free shops after checking in her bags. She bought a few presents and a small jade statue of Goddess Mago to keep in the family shrine.
She was pleasantly surprised to find that her seat companion was a young lady from South India going home to her parents. They chatted and exchanged notes about Korea. This lady was a scientist and also had no children.
At the New Delhi Airport, Payal’s parents were there to receive her and they gave a lift to Payal’s new friend. At home she gave them their presents, and the statue of Mago was put in the family shrine.
The next day, Payal went shopping with her mother to the local mall. While they were in one of the shops, suddenly the whole structure rumbled, the glass windows trembled, and there was a loud explosion. There was panic in the mall, Payal and her mother got out somehow and saw that there had been a blast in the adjacent building. Many cars including theirs had been trapped in the rubble. A few people had been injured but the police was already clearing the site. Payal and her mother came home in a police van. Two hours later there was a phone call from the police who asked them to come down to the station headquarters immediately.
Payal and her father went to the police headquarters and after identifying their car papers, the police chief said, “Madam, while I understand the panic in which you fled the bomb scene, surely you should have given a thought to the infant you left behind!”
Payal said, “What infant?” The police chief said, “The infant in your car, who is now in the neonatal unit. It was lucky one of our staff heard the baby cry and took it to the hospital. One of my staff members will accompany you to claim the child.” Payal was dumbstruck and tearful. Her father too, was silent but he quietly pressed her hand to prevent her from saying anything at all.
From the hospital, after signing a few papers, they picked up the little girl who was wrapped in a soft baby blanket. She couldn’t have been more than two months old. She was adorable and had beautiful grey brown eyes. She yawned and Payals’ heart turned over with love.
When they went home, she found Ruchit had also just arrived. She told him everything. He hugged her tightly and said, “This is wonderful! But according to the law we can’t claim this child as our own, What if…?”
Payal put her finger gently to Ruchit’s lips to quieten him and led him to the shrine to offer a prayer of thanks. After they had prayed, Payal showed Ruchit the statue of Goddess Mago she had bought and placed in the shrine.
Payal was shocked. This was not the statue she had bought! This Mago was carrying a child…
Dr. Ms Angelee Deodhar, an eye surgeon by profession as well as a haiku poet, translator, and artist lives and works in Chandigarh, India. Her haiku, haibun and haiga have been published internationally in various books and journals, and her work can be viewed online too.
To promote haiku in India, she has translated six books of haiku from English to Hindi. These include: If Someone Asks: Masaoka Shiki’s Life and Haiku (2005), Classical Haiku: A Master’s Selection, edited by Miura Yuzuru (2006), Ogura Hyakunin Isshu: 100 Poems by 100 Poets (2007), Children’s Haiku from Around the World-A Haiku Primer (2007),Indian Haiku (2008), and The Distant Mountain: The Life and Haiku of Kobayashi Issa(2009).
She has edited both Journeys and Journeys 2015 an Anthology of International Haibun just released on Amazon has a total of 145 haibun, by 31 poets of international repute.
She is working on Journeys 2016, the third anthology of haibun from around the world.