When the divergent branches of the family tree meet after decades, there is bonhomie and palpable excitement in the air. Stories are told and retold with more masala and romanticism. Suddenly I found that I had American relatives with the surname of Rafferty! To understand the convergence between the Mandageres (the village that my great grandfather belonged to) and the Raffertys, one needs to travel back in time to pre-Independence India.
My grandfather’s youngest brother Subbu, the apple of everyone’s eye and highly qualified joined the Quit India movement. In his passionate idealism, he threw all his educational certificates (conferred by the British) into a bonfire, wore only khadi garments and joined Gandhiji’s ashram in Gandhigram. Following rules of the ashram, he espoused social equality and married a girl from a lower caste. Those days this was taboo and such marriages were frowned upon.
The other Mandageres were shocked and said, “How could you?” But he didn’t care. Post-Independence he realised that he needed to start from scratch and carve a life of his own. He managed to get reasonably good jobs in different parts of India. But there was a restlessness in him to explore other avenues and give his children a better life.
Soon, opportunity knocked and Subbu migrated to the US where he began using Mandagere as his surname. He ensured that his wife studied further and later both became university professors. The children were well-educated and brought up to chart their own paths. The family often spoke about their Indian relatives, but the opportunity to interact with most of them hardly ever arose.
The children got married to Americans they studied or worked with and Subbu and his wife were very happy. Soon, the grandchildren arrived and their joy multiplied. After a few years, Subbu and his wife passed away leaving their children with a rich legacy of sound values and their hard-earned savings.
Subbu’s children believed that their parents had given them a good life and they must donate their money to give others a better life too. Usha, their eldest daughter married to Mike Rafferty, was thinking of donating her share of the money to various charitable organisations in her parents’ name. But she was wondering where the money could be sent in India and how. She only knew about Gandhigram but wanted to identify some more organisations.
Around that time, my maternal aunt was going on a 35-day train journey criss-crossing the US. Through some connections, she contacted Usha (her first cousin) and Mike who invited her home for a few days. Prior to meeting each other, they had the same niggling fear — although they were genetically linked, would they like each other?
But Usha said that as soon as she saw my aunt she had no doubts in her mind as she had such a “Mandgere face!” When Usha learnt about the philanthropic work that my aunt and mother are involved in, she made her decisions about where to donate the money.
While they – Usha and Mike, Arun and Kelly — were here with their twigs (children), they visited Mandagere, had lunch with all the other branches and twigs and felt the bond of blood. That’s how the family tree flourishes and grows.