SANCTUARY (A TRUE LIFE STORY) - Welcome to My Woven Words


Amar looked at the calendar. It was exactly two years since he had come to Nagpur with Baba. Two years and two weeks ago Amar had been so happy with his family in their little home in Bhuju

Nine-year-old Amar lived with his Bapu (father), Shailesh Rana, and kid sister Priya in a slum. Shailesh was an artist who painted hoardings and signboards. Their mother had died when Priya was still a toddler. All the same, Shailesh had looked after them very well.
On the morning of January 26, 2001, their little world was completely destroyed. Bhuj was ripped apart by a major earthquake which left in its wake death and devastation. That fateful day Amar and Priya were playing in front of their house. Their father had gone to the building opposite their house on some work.
Amar did not even know what happened. There was a strange kind of sound and something fell on his head and he lost consciousness. Later when he opened his eyes he found himself in a large tent. All around there was complete confusion. People were lying in makeshift beds. Some were weeping, some crying out in pain, while a few were sitting and staring straight ahead numb with shock.
Amar looked around. His eyes desperately searched for his Bapu and Priya. They were nowhere to be seen. He got up. His head, which was bandaged, was throbbing. Despite the pain, he went out and started looking into each and every tent. Neither Priya nor his Bapu could be seen. Finally, in one of the tents, in a dark corner he found Priya sitting and weeping. On seeing him, she jumped up and rushed into his arms. Luckily she had escaped unhurt. Together they started searching for their father in vain. They felt miserable.
However, the next day they met Baba. He was an old man, tall and slim with a kind and gentle face. He had come on a visit to Bhuj and had lost his entire family.
"Children," he said, "this earthquake has wiped out my wife, my children and my grandchildren. And you have lost your dear father. I have no one in this world and neither have you. I belong to Nagpur. Why don't you come and stay with me in Nagpur? We have to get on with life." Baba said looking at Amar.
Amar had still not given up hopes of seeing his Bapu. Seeing him hesitate, Baba continued, "We have looked everywhere possible. Children, come with me. Amar, you can help me in my work. I own a shop which sells frames. I also frame photographs, paintings and certificates. You can assist me."

That was two years ago. In the last two years, a lot had happened. Priya and Amar had come with Baba to Nagpur.
He lived in a small house, quite close to his shop. He admitted Priya and Amar in a nearby school. They would leave at seven and come back by one. In the afternoon, Amar helped Baba in his shop. Amar liked the work and lately, according to Baba, he had become quite an expert.
Though Amar was quite happy with Baba, he missed his
Bapu very much. Every now and then his mind would go back to his home in Bhuj. He would miss his Bapu the most during festivals. His Bapu was an excellent cook, and on Diwali he would make Amar and Priya's favourite halwa and laddu. In the evening, they would burst crackers
which were again made by Bapu. On Holi, all of them would douse each other with colours and end up looking like
                                                              *                                       *
One day, after school, when Amar reached the shop, Baba said, "Today a man came with a painting. It has to be framed and given by tomorrow morning. I will start
work immediately. You can take over later, after you have eaten and rested."
"Where is the painting, Baba?" Amar asked.
Baba patted his head affectionately and said, "It is there on the table."
Amar went up to the table and looked at the painting. It had been done on canvas. As he looked at it, he felt a strange kind of excitement course through his body. His heart started beating wildly and he had to hold on to the edge of the table. It was a beautiful painting—simple, yet expressive. It showed a small house in front of which two
young children—a boy and a girl—were playing. A man was sitting on the ground watching the two them. Amar looked at the right hand corner of the painting. Yes, the initials were unmistakable: S.R. His Bapu had created this beautiful piece of art. There was no doubt about it. His heart thudding against his chest Amar rushed to Baba, "Baba, see, this painting has been done by Bapu." "Are you sure, Amar?" Baba looked at him incredulously. "Yes, see carefully. This boy is me and this is Priya."
Baba leaned forward looking intently. After a few moments he said, 'You are right, Amar. This definitely must have been painted by your father."
"But Baba, I am not sure whether this painting was done before or after the earthquake."
"You mean you are not sure whether your father is alive or not? Don't worry, the person who came with this painting
was telling me that he had picked it up at an exhibition in the Chitrakala Academy. And the artist whose paintings were being exhibited was very much there."
"Baba, are you sure?" Amar clutched Baba's arm excitedly.
"We can find out, son. The exhibition is on right now. Let us rush to Chitrakala Academy.
Twenty minutes later they were standing in front of the Academy building.
"Come, let us not waste any time," Baba said taking Amar's hand and leading him inside. It was a large hall. Its walls were lined with paintings. Around 20-25 people were there. Amar looked around. He was praying madly, hoping against hope that he finds his Bapu there.
In one corner he saw a man, with his back to them, talking to a lady. Instinctively, he knew it was his Bapu. He gripped Baba's arm tightly, his nails digging into his flesh. He pointed in the direction of his father, unable to utter even a single word.
Suddenly, the man turned and their eyes met. He was holding a book, which slipped, from his hand.
"Bapu! BapuF' Amar yelled, unable to control his emotions any longer.

"Amar, my son!" his father's face lit up as Amar rushed into his arms. Everyone in the hall was dumbstruck. They stared mesmerized as father and son hugged each other.
"Where is Priya? I hope..." Shailesh asked when he found his voice.
"She is safe. She is at home, Bapu."
Amar introduced him to Baba and quickly told him how they had come to Nagpur.
Later in the evening when they were comfortably seated at home with Priya perched on her Bapu's lap, he told them his story: "The earthquake destroyed almost everything. The building where I was then, collapsed and I was buried under the rubble for almost twenty-four hours. I don't even know how I survived. I vaguely remember being taken to a hospital. When I regained consciousness, I frantically searched for both of you. But there was no news. Probably by that time you had left with Baba. I was only hoping and praying that you would be alive and well.
"I left Bhuj and went to Baroda. There I managed to get a few assignments for painting hoardings. One day, when I had finished one of the hoardings, a man approached me. 'I am Ajit Parekh,' he said, 'I own an art gallery. I live across the road. I have been watching you paint since the last few days. I can recognize talent when I see it. I am quite impressed by your creativity. I would like to give you an opportunity to exhibit your talent.'
"Naturally I was thrilled. Parekhji gave me all the material I needed and left me free to work for six months. Soon after, an exhibition of my paintings was organized by
Parekhji, in his art gallery. My work was appreciated and all the paintings were sold. Since then Parekhji and I are together," Shailesh finished his story.
"Bapu, I have one request."
"What, son?"
"Bapu, now that we are going to Baroda, can we take Baba with us? He has no one to call his own and today if we are with you alive and well, it is because of him."
"Of course, son. I shall always be grateful to him. He gave you a roof, a sanctuary, when you needed it most."
Meanwhile, Baba who had gone to get some sweets returned just then.
"Baba," Shailesh said getting up and touching the old man's feet. "You must have heard of a father adopting a son. I want to be the first son to adopt a father. Will you please be a grandfather to my children and come and stay with us."
Baba hesitated and then seeing the expression of hope on the children's faces slowly nodded his head.
"Yahoo!" Amar hugged Baba and Priya jumped onto his lap hugging him.
"Shailesh, I too can't stay without them," Baba said.
In the next exhibition of Shailesh Rana which was held at Baroda, the painting that fetched the highest price was a watercolour. It showed an area completely ravaged by an earthquake and an old man picking up two tender saplings. The title of the painting was 'Sanctuary'.

Ramendra Kumar

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