5: The Inevitable
A few days passed without event. I was outside on our tiny terrace garden, a watering can in my hand, exchanging notes with my young neighbor while her good-looking bhaiyya hung around in the background and pretended to ignore me. I was in a great mood having received a very good offer from a renowned local clinic. Plus mom had made my favorite idli sambhar for breakfast which I took as a peace offering from her side.
“Let’s go to a movie. How about you Manas?”
“I’d love to come. How about this Friday? I’m free after five,” Puja’s brother said catching my eye and I felt something akin to an old familiar excitement.
“Yes it’s a date!” I turned and skipped back inside, already thinking about what I was going to wear.
My hopes were dashed.
My mother confronted me again but this time she had company… my Dad.
I haven’t yet talked about him. There’s a reason. Because Dad and I shared a relationship which could be best be described as uncertain. Mom and I got along quite well. At least we had so far despite her many faults and likely mine as well. We usually found a middle ground. But it wasn’t the same with Dad.
To everyone; family, friends and neighbors included, Krishnakanth Govindrao Bhatt was a wonderful person. He was solid, hardworking, honest and reliable. And he was generous to a fault ever ready to lend a helping hand. But he had a vice that dismissed everything. At least it did for me–his love for drink. The bane of many families. It was what drove my brother away to join the army and make a life of his own. My mother’s years of sitting up late into the night waiting for Dad to come home and then having to deal with his drunken meanness with my assistance. It is still as clear as day. I remember wrestling with him while he rained slurred curses on mom. Him telling me I was good nothing, the vile stench of alcohol on his breath. There were times he would retch up blood and we would rush him to the hospital. He always recovered. Always; only to return to his ways. I was traumatized. Perhaps that contributed to my anxiety and eternal self doubt. Perhaps it was the reason I could never open up to anyone because I couldn’t trust them. How can you after being betrayed by someone so close to you? Perhaps it was also the reason why I hadn’t confronted Rohan.
Dad did come around finally. I got him into a treatment program. He had been sober for almost five years though even now the fear would always haunt us when he didn’t return home on time.
I couldn’t forgive him. So I pushed him to the background. He didn’t mind. Rather he liked to remain there and let me do whatever I wanted. Maybe it was his way of saying sorry. Therefore I think it must have taken mom quite a bit of effort to have him back her today.
“Why are you in such a hurry Mom?” I looked at Dad for help. Strange but right now he seemed to be the only friend I had.
He nodded his grey head uncomfortably. “Aanchal’s only twenty six.. Let her be…”
Mom ignored him. For her twenty six was ancient. “Your father and I were thinking of leaving here and moving in with your brother in Gorakhpur;” she kept her eyes focused on the far wall. “We are getting old and things are getting tight. Your brother’s income is limited and we all know you don’t get along well with your sister-in-law.”
“It goes both ways mom. That woman is a chudail (bitch)! And you know that too!” I burst out. I couldn’t help myself. My brother’s wife was my least favorite person in the world.
Father uttered something that could perhaps be taken for disapproval. Mom bore a resigned look on her face. She didn’t chide me for my views. Instead she said, “Aanchal, we have to learn to change and adapt.”
“You don’t have to mom. Now that I’m done with my studies I can take care of you both. Besides is there some kind of rule all girls should get married?”
She looked at me as if I had lost my mind. “Why are you talking like this? Has it something to do with that Rohan you used to talk about? Tell me Aanchal!”
Damn! Was I that transparent? I shook my head. “This has nothing to do with him. Nothing. Just leave me alone will you?” I got up and left the room.
I thought the matter was settled but Indian parents are very persistent. They don’t understand their kids can actually harbor opinions that differ from their own.
There’s a saying in my country– Jab ghee seedhi ungli se na nikle, to ungli tedhi karni padti hai.. (by fair means or by foul) My parents brought in a proxy; my uncle Raghavendra, dad’s big brother. The family’s elder since my grandparents passed. He had an excessive sense of righteousness and took his job a little too seriously for my liking.
He sat on the the seat of honor, the antique padded rocking chair that used to belong to my grandpa, and began without preamble; “You are making us all very unhappy Aanchal.”
“Why?” I demanded perhaps a little too loudly. I didn’t care. I’d had enough of this nonsense. “I have every right to exercise my rights just like my brother. He did exactly what he wanted.”
Uncle Raghu flicked his hand as if he was swiping at a fly. He went straight for the jugular. “Look at your poor mother. How she has toiled all her life to give you everything. She pampered and spoiled you. She fought with all of us even your father to let you to go to medical school. And this is how you repay her?”
Repay? Is that what it all came down to? If I’d known I’d have never been born.
I got a call from Suraj, from America. He said he and his mother had left as his vacation was done. He made a case for himself. “You don’t have to cook. We can do it together. We can be partners and yes we can also travel.” I tried to recall his face while he talked.
Maybe he wasn’t too bad.
Maybe he’s okay, I thought. Not as good looking as Rohan but okay. And he was tall. That counted for a lot. He had a sweet earnest face. He had even teeth, minty breath and manicured nails and yes he spoke well. Still there was something he lacked. But then nobody was perfect. There! I was already making excuses, compromises. But I was being juvenile. Fairy tales aren’t supposed to be real.. and that’s why they are called fairy tales. Besides only few get lucky..like Rosh. Damnit! It was high time I kicked her out of my mind.
Wasn’t Nishi aunty happy with her husband? He would put a toad to shame. And that lisp! I shook my head in disbelief. I couldn’t imagine them in bed. But somehow they had managed to have two kids.
Suraj’s brother called me. Then a couple of his sisters. They said Suraj really liked me. Why didn’t I say yes? I didn’t know how to answer them. And before I knew it I was married. I sleepwalked through it all, a plastic smile pasted on my face.