Keeping a Family Together: A Lesson in Forgiveness

I first found out about the circumstances surrounding my birth at the age of 14. My grandmother Mercy wanted to take me to the Infant Jesus feast celebrations at a church near her home, as she’d done many times before. At that age, spending time in a church beyond my weekly Sunday mass wasn’t something I did willingly. I think I complained about it and asked why my sister wasn’t being made to go.

Which is when she sat me down, and told me that I was now old enough to know about how I’d almost died hours after being born. How, in those terrifying moments, she’d prayed desperately to Infant Jesus to spare my life, promising to bring me to the feast celebrations every year if I survived.

My mother lived in a typical Indian joint family after she married my father. In those days, dad would be away at his work in Abu Dhabi on a three-month shift, before returning home on a month-long break. While he was abroad, mom was ill-treated by his parents, because she insisted on her right to visit her parents regularly and stay with them every other weekend while he was away. The hostilities continued well into the last trimester of her pregnancy, when one particularly nasty incident occurred in dad’s presence.

Refusing to let his parents continue to mistreat his wife, dad walked out of his home. He used to give his earnings to his parents and was told he’d get nothing if he left. He went anyway, and so my parents were virtually penniless at this point. Mom went to live with her parents, while he returned to Abu Dhabi for his next shift at work.

Eventually, she gave birth to me. But due to the extreme stress she’d endured during her pregnancy, I was born with a rare disorder which I now know is called hemorrhagic disease of the newborn. It is a deficiency of Vitamin K that causes excessive bleeding and requires a blood transfusion. To make matters worse, I also belong to the rarest blood group in the world. Both dad and my maternal grandfather were overseas on work. My panic-stricken grandmother, mom’s siblings and their family friends scrambled frantically to find me a donor, while mom kept asking where her baby was. Finally, it was a total stranger to us, the cousin of the friend of a friend or something like that, who came to my rescue. My paternal family were nowhere in the picture, nor did they come to see me after I was brought home.

After this, my parents were understandably bitter. Yet, when dad returned to Mumbai, my maternal grandparents insisted that they take me to his house to introduce me to his family. At first, mom was furious and refused. My grandmother took me and placed me in mom’s arms, and told her that just as she was caring for her helpless infant, dad’s parents too had cared for and raised him. That no matter what had happened, they would always be his parents.

Over the years, mom has spoken of this incident only a few times to me. She prefers not to dwell too much on the me-nearly-dying bit. But what she does emphasise is her parents’ response to the situation. Had she and dad been left to their own devices, they would’ve remained angry. I, and then my sister, probably would have never known dad’s family. If today we are on cordial terms with his family, it is because of my maternal grandparents’ intervention.

Mom categorically states that at that age, she had no real understanding of our faith, beyond its rituals and routines. Her parents showed them how to put that faith into practice, by instructing her and dad to forgive. By not making the problems, as severe as they had been, greater than the people.

It is that example my parents have followed all through their lives. My parents continued to visit my paternal grandparents. Dad always sent a portion of every salary to his parents. My sister and I were raised to know and be respectful towards all our relatives, regardless of any differences of opinion. Even after I found out about this incident, the guidance from mom and my grandmother was firm: forgive, because they are your family.

I have begun this blog with this account to depict the kind of people my grandparents are. To them, family is sacrosanct. Because of the sufferings mom bore, they left their other children free to choose where to live. They were always kind, caring and hospitable, and went even more out of their way to make their children’s spouses feel like valued members of the family.  Which makes it all the more terrible that they received such cruelty in return.

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