A prodigal son returns to his family via a social network
At the Domales’ small flat in Pune, the family members are chatting in Marathi. Ankush, 24, wearing a crisp-white kurta and jeans, a large blue turban, a steel kada, and a thick beard, is the only Punjabi oddity in this Maharashtrian household. Besides his physical presence in the Domale home, Ankush is linked to the family through one more aspect: blood. Ankush’s full name is Ankush Domale, a Hindu Maharashtrian born and raised in Pune, till a twist of fate landed him in Punjab and made him a Sikh.
In the year 2000, when Ankush was nine, his father, Ramesh Domale, a steel factory worker, died of ill-health. The monthly widow’s pension of Rs 450 given to his mother, Hemalata, was the family’s only income. In order to make ends meet, she had to rent out two rooms on the first floor of their house. Thus, Hemalata, Ankush, and his younger brother, Santosh, then seven years old, had to cramp themselves up in the lone room downstairs.
But the loss of his father hit Ankush harder than anything else. “I was very close to my father. When he died, all I wanted to do was run away. I didn’t want to live in a place that reminded me of him,” he says. While Ankush was close to his father, Santosh would cling to his mother, and the two brothers would often fight. “He was close to mother. And that made me feel very lonely, especially after a quarrel,” he says. To fight off such negative thoughts, Ankush started spending more time outside home. “He was a very quiet child. Whenever we would go to a relation’s place, he would not leave me. We had to force him to go and play with other children. He would never wander off anywhere, and was deeply religious. Even though we are non-vegetarian, he would only eat vegetables. But his father’s death changed him completely. He started roaming around with friends and began coming home late. But he would always return,” says Hemalata.
Except for one evening in February 2002, when Ankush did not return. He had borrowed his uncle’s bike and rammed it into another vehicle. The enraged uncle beat him up. Hemalata talks of that fateful night, “I was very upset. We were already reeling from financial difficulties, and then my brother came and complained