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.
The flames in the fireplace flickered making the shadows dance across their faces as they regarded each other. A single thought occupied both their eyes. They could hear it as if it was being said loud and clear—Why, why does life behave this way?
Why did it have to them together at such a time?
Why did it brew this attraction? And he expressed it without any hesitation throwing her in confusion at first. She, who for sometime now had not considered herself attractive or for that matter even in the least interesting to the opposite sex. Then she realized it was for real and he was oh so sweet.
Her hand shook as she offered him the cup. She withdrew it right away and dug it into her pocket as if it would give her away. Her cold immune self.
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4: They Like You
Mita’s wedding entailed a long weekend in Pune. It panned out to be quite a pleasant waste of time rather than the embarrassing ordeal I’d anticipated. The foremost reason being that I was saved from an inevitable run in with Suraj.
“He had to fly back to the States since he had used up his paltry two weeks of vacation,” Mita informed me with a morose droop of her pristine painted lips. “I begged him to stay, after all I’m like a sister to him, but he wouldn’t. He said his job was at stake. He has a tough boss.”
Thank heavens for ruthless capitalism; I thought trying to maintain a straight face. But then another provoked renewed anxiety. “How about his mother. Is she still here?”
My almost cousin shook her head. “She too had to leave. Kokila aunty dreads flying alone.”
I engulfed Mita in a bear hug and bid Suraj and his mother a gleeful goodbye.
Now, feeling slightly more in control of my future, I settled down to entertain myself. The birds of paradise were out in full plumage, each one more resplendent than the next. The carnival that was the marriage venue was a perfect setting for them. I floated by with a chilled glass of kokum sherbet in my hand, and watched from what appeared like a safe distance. I caught snatches of conversation, exchange of news and gossip, punctuated by the tinkle of merry laughter. But when I attempted to look closer, I witnessed a different scene altogether. It was filled with envious, lonely and unhappy hearts that yearned forever in silence. I turned away disgusted with myself. My profession was making me feel like an intruder.
3: Meet Him Please
Slaves we are, habitual slaves. Look around. You will see us everywhere. We are serfs. Originally of our invaders, the British and the Mughals. Then of our culture, our parents, teachers, and neighbors, our superstitions and our horoscopes. Independent thought doesn’t come naturally to us. We need a guideline, a common constitution. If there are rebels amongst us, they are scant.
It was a pleasantly cool Friday morning and the parrots were up and about screeching their morning ragas. Mita had made her exit and I was back on the living room couch, embracing sloth like a long lost friend which meant catching up on my reading and getting acquainted with our new maid. A thin and wiry young woman close to my age, Rani was married with three children, the youngest a mere babe in arms.
“How do you manage?” I asked more than a little curious.
Rani was kneeling before our small wornout display cabinet, dusting with care a collection of beautifully carved wooden folk musicians. A family relic, they had escorted my mother from her paternal home as a wedding gift.
Rani turned around with a bright smile. “As best as I can.”
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2: The Inescapable Truth
A girl should be pretty, fair, demure,
Educated but not too much
Her only ambition should be to serve her family
And once she weds– her husband and his family
A divorced woman is a woman without morals
As for love–well leave it for the movies
It probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the following few weeks were some of the worst of my life. While I occupied my days struggling to fill the void left by my favorite companion, my nights were spent chasing away visions of his naked body entwined with my double-crossing best friend’s in varying degrees of nauseating intimacy.
I found my mood vacillating between extremes—an all-consuming jealousy and a soul sapping depression. My ego was wrecked beyond salvation. I was done. I, me, myself—all of us were done. Finished. Kaput. It was a foolish notion yet very real. At last I could empathize with what many of my patients often told me—When it comes to matters of the heart, the mind simply loses it.
I believed I was ready to call it quits. I began attending keenly to the plans some of my more miserable patients had concocted so to do themselves in. It came as a surprise at how creative some of them were. And easy. Damn easy. But a couple of things barred me from taking the conclusive step. Fear for one. I hate to admit I am a coward. While the other was fulfilling my life’s greatest ambition of becoming a full-fledged doctor of medicine. I didn’t want to die without obtaining the rights for the title of ‘Dr.’ in front of my name. In the least that would give my parents something to speak about with pride and regret at my funeral. I couldn’t give that up. Not even for Rohan. Fortunately or unfortunately it’s a curse I have learned to live with. I abhor leaving anything half-done. My life revolves around a perennial check-list.
The finals were looming just around the corner. I aced my exams, secured my degree, then packed my bags and moved back to my gaon as they say in my land. Though gaon was no tiny hamlet rather it was a sheher; the biggest in the country—Mumbai.