“Panditji, this is taking too long can’t you speed it up a bit,” Shekhar yawned and managed to wink at me at the same time. I couldn’t help letting out a small giggle for which I got a light whack at my back by my elder cousin. We had been sitting for too long now, almost 3 hours. But then I was told that was how it was at weddings, mine was no different.
I was getting married to my college sweetheart, a love story been written to death by Bollywood directors. Boy meets girl, she doesn’t notice till some bad guys from the same college give her unwanted attention and well then comes our dear hero and suddenly the girl realizes how perfect the boy is. Yes, that pretty much sums up my love story.
I looked down to stifle my smile, knowing only too well that the sudden fits of giggles that usually rise up at odd moments are almost impossible to curb, which if tried too hard, came out as snorts. Now that sort of thing would not do especially keeping in mind that my would-be in-laws were sitting right in front of me. So I simply tried giggling softly, I called them whispered giggles, a technique I learned from my mother. And just like that I didn’t need to try anymore, the uprising had stopped as quickly as it had started.
My mother, the same woman who was sitting right in front of me, trying to catch my eye just like Papa. It was too late, didn’t they know that? They threw me away from them long before I could know I was no more home. I was their only child, the apple of their eye born almost 16 years after their marriage. I grew up with a smug knowledge that whatever I would ask for would be given to me without questions. I lived the dream every child has, of getting each wish fulfilled before I even form the right words. I can’t remember a time when my parents said no, and I think that’s why sending me away like that stunned me into silence. I never protested as they thought I would, I didn’t kick or scream or make a scene, no I was too proud for that.
I never wanted to leave my school, my friends and restart my life with strangers, but I didn’t have a choice. I knew as much without needing to raise my voice against the injustice of it all. They gave their reasons nonetheless, they thought I should learn the hard way, learn how to handle when someone said no.
They never heard from me again, my letters were never me, just some facts which we were forced to write to our parents every week. Those years were nothing short of hell, but they never knew. They even came to visit, but every time I went out into the city, carefully corresponding my outings with their visits.
My years in school were not the best moments of my life but it did teach me to be independent. With time I began applying for colleges, in cities as far away as possible and finally made it to Xaviers, Mumbai. My life kept going, but it seemed better, my friends were not so different from me anymore. There were times I felt I could move on in life and forget everything, and then when I had almost convinced myself that I could, I met Shekhar.
I wasn’t the most popular girl in campus or the prettiest, but for Shekhar I was nothing less than an angel, it was in his eyes. I’ve met men who look at you as if they could gorge you, but he saw me in a way that made me feel needed, wanted, something I realized I hadn’t felt in a long long time. We were the cute couple on campus for the next 5 years and before long, he proposed.
Like any other girl these days, marriage was a thought that I did not hope for till much later, preferably never. But then they say you can’t plan your life, so here I was next to a man I loved and sitting in front of me were those whom I should have been crying for like every other bride.
We finished the final phera and it was time to take our blessings from everyone. My in-laws hugged me tight welcoming me into their family. A hand caressed my cheek wiping away a tear I didn’t realize anyone could see. I turned hoping to Shekhar there but was met with old brown eyes that held back so much more than tears in them. And this time I could not look away.
How did she grow so old? Never before did I notice those wrinkles around her eyes, or those slightly crimsoned greys almost splattered across her forehead. Her hair was dying. What happened to those long tresses I used to love combing at nights hoping mine would grow just like Ma’s. She seemed so different, so helpless, and those tears? Many of my friends said they had never seen their dads cry, well my mom was the stronger one and not once had I heard her raise her voice or cry.
And then, just like that, we hugged. My heart soared and my mind went back to those carefree years from my past. They way she hugged me the first time I scraped my knee on my cycle, the day a boy in my class pulled on my pigtail and called me a sissy, when I got my first period, I even told her how my crush finally found out and embarrassed me in front of the whole class. She was the one who introduced me to music, applauding me on my singing and pushing me to competitions and being there each time I lost or won looking at me with equal amount of pride.
I missed her so much, her soap, her soft fingers now wrinkled beneath mine. And then it hit me. I won’t be with her anymore, I had asked Shekhar to take me away from India, somewhere far away from everyone. I won’t ever know what happened in those years I wasn’t there. I always thought I never wanted to hear their reasons, that I didn’t need to know if they had stopped loving me.
“Smriti beta?” an uncertain hoarse voice called me from the back. I knew my father well, he wouldn’t have called out again. Never before did I feel the urgency in his voice and neither do I remember having complied to his wishes so fast.Papa wasn’t an easy person to live with, he gave me all I wanted but I knew it came at the price of my mum bearing the brunt. He had certain rules I always felt obliged to rebel against and yet he managed to always have an upper hand. He was never comfortable with me being so feminine, my lack of interest in sports always amazed him.
The old man in front of me seemed no more than the ghost of the man I knew then. His eyes were covered with spectacles and he was using a cane to support his weight. The man I knew had scorned at these objects even when once he had come back from the hospital after a major accident which had not only temporarily affected his eyesight but had also left him with a weak limb. I suddenly realized where I got my strength and stubbornness from. I had always thought I was more like my mother, but had secretly always admired Papafor his actions.
I don’t know how long the three of us stood looking at each other, but no one seemed to be there anymore. I didn’t quite know what to say, there was no more any anger in me, it was long past that. What I had were questions, questions on why they sent me off to a boarding when I was just learning about life, when things were just making sense to me.
He seemed to have understood me, but left me standing there. “Don’t walk away papa,” but he didn’t stop.
“Beta, he wanted me to give you this, he loves you a lot you know,” handing me an envelope my mum looked straight into my eyes a note of hope in her voice. She then silently followed her husband.
And they never came back, not even when I was leaving and the rest of my family came to bid me farewell.
Throughout the journey Shekhar held me tight. For the first time I cried like a baby, those years of not knowing came out in tears searing a pain so strong in my heart I knew I could never be happy again.
I had read the letter.
You’re a married woman now, congratulations. Did you know you have always been our pride, our little miracle child? We’ve watched you from afar for many years now, I am sorry we hurt you so badly, you didn’t deserve any of it. You were everything we wanted and so much more.
I am writing this letter to tell you that you were loved. The last few days made me realize how much you needed to know that. Your eyes have been asking these questions without you knowing it. I always thought it was better you never knew, for then you might be able to hurt less. But then I saw you look at your niece in doubt when she held out her hand to you with so much of trust. I puzzled on it for so long, for even as a child you were the nurturer, the mother to those younger to you, you had changed. And as always it was your mother who bailed me out, made me realize that you may have doubts about your own maternal love, question it because of what happened to you, if it would be temporary for you too.
It is thus I have to tell you my child that we never left you. We have been there besides you knowing about you as a girl and a woman. There had been times we wanted to come out in the open to help you, especially when you lost to a far lesser singer at a school competition. We had seen you wake up early mornings to riyaz. It was so difficult for us to be away from you then but you were strong even when you were on your own.
We were living in the colony near your school and had told your teacher never to tell you all this. I have been ill for many years now, the day we decided to send you to a boarding was the toughest day of our life. I was to be hospitalized for a few months, you were too young then, we didn’t want to leave you alone at home. Our relatives were out of question because of reasons you have seen yourself when you were with us. I didn’t want you to waste your year just because of this, but we also knew that you would have never gone had we told you the truth, you’ve always been as stubborn as a mule. So we had no other choice. And then you never came back, we knew you avoided us but you were growing, learning. You were doing things we knew we could never teach you, had you been with us, your life would have been lived running between school and the hospital.
I hope I am not too late beta, to ask for your forgiveness. You’ve grown up to be a beautiful woman both from the outside and from within. May god bless you with beautiful children who would be really lucky to have you as a mother.