Sid smiled when he saw Linda enter his study with his customary after dinner coffee. He felt pleased when she placed it before him and did not leave, but balanced herself against the edge of the table and gazed at him with affection.
“Thanks, honey,” he said, raising the cup to his lips.
“You look worried, Sid.”
“Don't I know my husband long enough?”
“Did Beth notice it too?” he asked about their seventeen year old daughter.
He grimaced when she nodded her head.
“No point trying to hide anything from you gals. One more rejection letter today. Nobody wants my solar pump.” He removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"Don't lose hope, darling." She leaned forward and ran her slender fingers through his thick hair, graying at the temples.
"I know, honey."
"Is that all?"
He shook his head, surprised at how well she read him.
"This came in the post today." He opened the drawer, removed an envelope and extracted a letter.
“What do you think?” He queried, arching his eyebrows, after he translated it, word by word..
She gave him a faraway look, the way she did when she thought hard. He felt relieved for having confided in her. While she pondered over his problem, he settled back to admire her sensuous face, expressive eyes and glowing black complexion.
When she pursed her lips, he sat up, eager to hear her judgment.
“You must leave immediately with Beth. I'll get permission from her teacher,” she announced.
Siddharth Bose experienced no fatigue, notwithstanding the arduous twenty-four hour long journey from New York’s JFK to Calcutta’s Dum Dum airport and the twelve hour time difference. Instead, he felt tentative and nervous. The hero’s welcome he received at the airport took him aback.
“You’re a celebrity, dad!” Beth gushed, gazing at Sid with wide-eyed wonder. Weaving through the crowd of adulating villagers from his birthplace, all of whom had come to receive them at the airport, they were ensconced within the safety of the car.
“Dad, you’re the most educated son of your village and they respect you. That’s why they invited you to inaugurate the new school building."
“You may be right, but I feel uncomfortable.”
What scared him were the expectations he had seen in the villagers’ eyes. Do they expect me to make a difference to their lives? But why? He wondered. He had studied in the village primary school after which his family who were wealthy landowners sent him to Calcutta city to pursue higher studies. He earned a gold medal in Mechanical Engineering from Calcutta University. The professors there motivated him to pursue his Masters at MIT. That is how he landed in America. If I owe anything it is to them who showed me the American dream. I don't owe anything to Bishnupur.
Beth’s voice interrupted his trip down memory lane. He caught her staring at a crowded bus which stopped beside them at a signal. Passengers spilled out of its doors and windows.
"Don't forget that India is the second most populous country in the world. There is huge pressure on all public services," he explained.
"But I see lots of fancy cars and nice buildings."
"Like America or Europe for that matter, India too is plagued by income disparities. The only difference is that the lower social strata here are much worse-off than their counterparts in those countries," he persuaded, feeling guilty about the air-conditioned comfort of the plush Mercedes they were seated in.
“Can I ask something, dad?”
“Is it true that after completing your studies, you never returned to India?”
Cringing at the accusation in her tone, he realized it was time he dispelled her doubts.
“No. After finishing my studies I returned to India with the idea of finding a job here. But I wasn’t alone. Your mom was with me,” he answered.
Her big, round eyes revealed her bewilderment.
“Mom was here!”
“We never told you. My parents refused to accept her and I couldn't convince them. They were too scandalized with their Protestant African-American daughter-in-law. Since I couldn’t even imagine life without her, I returned to America. To never come back,” he said softly.
“I’m sorry, dad. Both of you must have had a real hard time.”
“It wasn’t easy. Your mom’s family never liked me. The only reason we made America our home was because it would be easier for me to settle down here than for her in India.”
“That’s such a great love story. Both of you sacrificed so much for each other,” she effused.
He smiled, patted her hand and checked his watch to ensure that it was a decent hour back in New York before calling Linda.
“Hello, darling,” she answered.
“How’re you, dear?” It had only been a day since leaving home, but he already missed her.
“I'm fine. All set?” she asked.
“I think so. Tomorrow is the inauguration. I wish you were here,” he answered.
“So do I, honey. But let's take this easy.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I have to run now, Sid. Say hi to Beth. Love you.”
“Me too,” he said, before hanging up.
The convoy crossed a long bridge.
“That is the Ganges, the holiest river of India. Bishnupur is located right on its banks,” he informed with pride.
"Wow! I had only read about it in textbooks."
The motorcade snaked its way across the dusty trails of Bishnupur, a nondescript village situated in the state of West Bengal in Eastern India. They stopped outside a magnificent mansion.
“What’s that, Dad?” Beth asked, amazement written all over her face.
“The house where I grew up,” he said, his eyes moist and his voice choking with nostalgic memories.
“Are you a prince?”
“Let’s meet your grandparents,” he said averting the question. Her question embarrassed him; his family’s opulent house stuck out like a sore thumb against the squalor which she had seen when the car passed through the village.
Siddhartha stepped out of the car and saw his parents after a gap of almost two decades. Tears streaked down his mother’s eyes and his father looked haggard and gaunt, a pale image of his former proud self. Could I have gone to America without their support? Did I try hard enough to make them accept Linda? His guilt hit back with a vengeance.
The scene made him speechless. He wanted to hug them, but couldn't. His heart overwhelmed with remorse and tears welled up in his eyes.
“My grandparents, dad?” Beth’s voice gave him the courage to speak.
“Papa, Ma, my daughter Elizabeth,” he spoke in an almost inaudible whisper.
He watched with baited breath when Beth approached and stood before her grandparents. What happened next was a scene right out of the movies. His mother pulled Beth into her bosom and holding her, sobbed like a child.
“Forgive me, son,” said his father, when Sid got the courage to touch his feet.
"Why didn't you bring Linda?" asked his Mom several times.
Siddhartha Bose experienced a peace of mind he had not known for a long time.
The next few days were the happiest in Sid’s life; the only lacuna being the absence of his beloved Linda. He inaugurated the new school building which was why his father had invited him.
Beth formed an instant bond with her grandmother and though the barrier of language separated them, they discovered ways and means of communicating. Sid was amused to see his precocious daughter walk about the house with a Bengali dictionary in her hand. He spent the daytime exploring the village holding her hand and showing her all his childhood haunts.
“Why are the fields so parched, dad,” she asked one day.
“Because the rains have failed this year.”
“Rains? But the Ganges is less than a kilometer away!"
“True. But the farmers own small landholdings and cannot invest in irrigation,” he explained.
“The power supply is erratic and they would have to invest in expensive generator sets.”
“It's so unfair. Our house has dish TV, internet, the works while these people can't even get water for their fields.” She nodded at a group of women who were sitting outside their mud huts.
“It’s lunchtime. Let’s go home. Granny will be waiting,” he said.
“You’re missing the point, dad.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you can do something to reduce the suffering of these people, you should do it,” she insisted.
“But I don’t live here. A couple of days more and we will both return. How does it matter?” He threw up his hands in exasperation.
“You travelled the world trying to sell your solar pump to people who don't want it. These people do. And there is so much sunshine.”
“I don’t see your point,” he said stubbornly.
“Dad, all your life you sought glory and recognition. This is your opportunity. Don’t you see how much these people respect you? Do something for them and they will worship you for life.”
He was shocked at how well she knew him. Taking her arm, he started walking toward their house.
“You’re right, Beth. But we need sponsors. Someone has to build a factory. It costs money. We couldn’t do it on our own.”
“How much would it cost?”
“Give or take fifty million Indian rupees. About a million dollars,” he responded, not sure what she was heading at.
“What would be the price of that diamond necklace Granny gifted me? And that Mercedes? ”
“Are you suggesting I pawn off my family assets”
“Of course, not. I am not parting with Granny’s present. It’s a sign of her love. But we could approach a bank,” she insisted.
Six months later, Linda cut the ribbon signaling the start of the “Manorama Solar Pump Factory”, named after Sid's mother. It had been an emotional reunion between her and her once estranged in-laws. Supported by the cheering villagers, they clapped when she inaugurated Siddhartha’s dream project.
"Good news, honey. My application for sabbatical leave has been accepted," Sid informed, reading his mail. Linda and he were alone in their room after a hectic first day of work at the factory.
"That's great. Did you see the reporters at the factory today morning?"
"Look at this!" he exclaimed.
Linda rushed to his side. On his laptop screen was opened the electronic version of the next day's edition of the daily ' The Times of India'. Below the image of Linda inaugurating the factory was the article titled "American Dream in Bishnupur"
"Siddharth Bose, the man behind the Manorama Solar Pump Factory, informed journalists that his affordable and low maintenance solar pumps would benefit every poor farmer of India," the article started. It went on to elaborate Sid's dreams and the struggle he went through before the factory was ready for commercial production."The investment for the project has been jointly funded by The State Bank of India and by Bhabhani Bose, Siddharth's father. The land for the factory has been donated by Manorama Bose," it concluded.
"Congratulations, darling!" Linda complimented.
"Couldn't have been possible without you, honey." He stood up and took her in his arms.
"And Beth," she reminded.
"Of course. I'm so lucky to have both of you in my life."
"That you are!" She chuckled.
"You've to stand by me while I set this up. It will be unbearable for me to live without you and Beth. But we have to pull through this together till the management of the factory can run it without me."
“We're always there for you. And don't worry.We will keep visiting. I'm so happy you're reunited with your parents. For long I lived with the guilt of taking you away from them," she confessed.
He closed his eyes, nuzzled his nose against her soft hair and wished for time to come to a standstill.
Word Count: 1995