‘Ma,’ Sonali shouted.
Sonali knew it wasn’t right to be screaming like that. But what could she do? She was running late, she had to be at work by ten for an important meeting, but before that, she had to drop Ma to the hospital where she was going for a checkup. The doctor at the hospital was her friend so she could afford to leave Ma with her. But they needed to hurry. Oh, God!!
Ma came rushing out of the room. Before Sonali could say anything, Ma asked her, “Have you had breakfast, beta? You can’t begin your day on an empty stomach!!”
Sonali caught hold of her hand, smiled and said, “Yes Ma, Yes, I have had my breakfast, my almonds, my juice and everything else!! Can we now leave?”
Ma had tears in her eyes as she looked at her daughter, her daughter though not by birth. The daughter realized what was happening and said, ‘Ma, no drama, please. I know I am the best thing that could have happened to you but let’s go now!!’
At this moment, Ishaan came into the room. He had just walked into the house after his morning run. He saw this banter and couldn’t help smiling. It always warmed his heart to see how the two of them could find some reason to argue with each other. Though on the face of it, they appeared to be arguments, they weren’t merely that. They were an expression of the love that they had for each other. One just had to scratch the surface to see that. It was all the care and concern that manifested itself in this way.
Theirs was an unconventional family, the family that consisted of Ishaan, Sonali, Ma and the little Arjun. But it was a happy family, and he loved that bit, cherished it. He greeted Ma, touched her feet, something that he did every day and then went up to the door to see them off.
Sonali led Ma towards the car, went with her to the hospital, and once her friend had taken over, she left to get to work. She was quite worried about Ma as she had not been keeping well in the past few weeks. Her diabetes had been playing up, and her BP was also a little on the higher side. She didn’t want to take any chances and so had decided to get a complete medical checkup done. Her friend Anita was a senior doctor with a hospital and had agreed to help her with everything.
As she was thinking about Ma, she wondered if she should tell Harsh about it but wasn’t sure if he would even take her call. Should she drop a line? Frankly speaking, she had no answer. But she knew one thing. Ma would not want her to do that, and so she decided to stay quiet. Anyways she reached office and the next few hours just whizzed past. The only break happened and that too for a couple of minutes when Anita called and told her that Ma was on her way back home after the checkup. She told her that the reports would be available the next day and Anita had sent her in her car. Heaving a sigh of relief, Sonali got back to work.
It was very late by the time she got home. She was bone tired and mentally wiped out. She needed a hot cup of her favourite cardamom tea and some soothing words. And sure enough, God granted her that wish. As soon as Sonali walked in through the door Ma as if on cue quickly got her the cup of tea and then sat down to talk to her. Fifteen minutes of bliss and then Arjun who had gone down to play was back wanting his mother’s time and attention followed by Ishaan. This was Sonali’s happy little world, a world that was incredibly special and precious.
However, her world had not always been happy. It hadn’t been happy for the most part of her life. And this is the story of her life in her own words.
I, Sonali Das Menon, was born to my parents ten years after their marriage, a much-awaited birth. They loved me to bits and went all out to make my life as comfortable as possible. But my mother couldn’t do it for too long. I was only two when she died in a car crash. She had been on her way back home from a party, driving her favourite car when she had lost control, and the car had skidded and overturned. It had immediately caught fire, and there had been no chance of survival. My father was devastated and didn’t know what had hit him. He couldn’t come to terms with the fact that his wife had left him all alone to raise a little girl by himself. And somewhere he couldn’t accept it till the day he died.
I didn’t know what was happening. Though I don’t have a recollection of that time, I am told that I was like this lost child who didn’t know where to go. Nobody would tell me anything, and the maximum that I was told was that my mother had gone to be with God. I just wanted to know when she would be back. Eventually, my father was advised by all his friends and family members to pull himself up and focus on me. That sort of made sense to him and he tried to get over his grief so that he could give me as normal a childhood as possible.
Time went by; I grew up. My father was my parent, my guide, my friend, my mentor all rolled into one. He had decided that he would focus all his time and energy on me, and that was the reason why he chose not to get married. I am sure that many times he must have been tempted to do that and to bring up a daughter would not have been that easy, but he did not give up. So though I missed the presence of a mother in my life, he tried to make up for it in every possible way.
I finished school and was ready to join college. I got admission into a well-known college owing to my good grades. The next three years of my life were quite enjoyable. College meant more freedom, new friends and I loved my life. Having grown up with just my father around, I never knew what it was like to have a mother. It was only when I visited my friends did I feel the lack, but once I got back home, I fell into my normal routine. But soon the three years were over, and it was time to decide the next course of action. I had grown up to be an ambitious young woman who wanted to have a career of her own, and so I decided to study further. I decided to go abroad for my Master’s. The only hitch was that I would have to leave my father all alone and I wasn’t comfortable about the idea. Though I was hesitant about leaving my father behind he made sure that I went. He did not want me to compromise on my aspirations and pushed me to go ahead. I did that, but as soon as my course got over, I headed back to be with him.
I got placed in a leading foreign bank and was on the road to a successful career. My father being a father, now wanted me to get married. He was almost sixty by now and wanted to see me settle down with a nice, qualified boy as he liked to say. Well, his wish came true when I met Harsh, who was my counterpart in a rival bank. We hit it off from day one, and within six months we had decided to get married.
Since we were rivals at work, we decided that we would keep our personal and professional lives separate and never discuss work at home. We managed to do that very well and were very happy with each other. Seeing me happy brought happiness into my father’s life as well, and he felt that he had finally done his bit.
Harsh was the only child of his parents who lived in the same city but not with us. They were lovely people, and I got along very well with them. In fact, his mother and I became very close. She would consult, confide in me more than she did with her son. Harsh was a nice person, but he was too impatient and short-tempered and couldn’t be bothered about things which didn’t concern him. So if his parents needed to see the doctor or they had to take care of a family obligation, I was the one they relied upon. It was as though I was their daughter and he the son-in-law. For him also it was an extremely neat arrangement. He had someone reliable to whom he had delegated the task of looking after his parents. And since he trusted me, it was as though he had abdicated and I had taken over. Not that I had any objections. I loved his parents, and the feelings were mutual.
Three years into my marriage and my father passed away. He had become very lonely after I had got married and though he tried to keep himself busy, he just couldn’t find anything worthwhile. Somewhere I feel he had lost the will to live as well. He was tired of his lonely life. And though Harsh and I told him to visit us often and stay with us, he never took up the offer. He was the old school kinds who could not even think of having a drop of water at his daughter’ place. I tried visiting him as often as I could, but with my work, my home, I could not do it very often. We spoke to each other twice a day, but that was it. Anyways with time, the loneliness got to him, and one day he just died in his sleep.
I was heartbroken. After all, he was the only parent I had ever had. But something happened that day which transformed my life in many ways. As it is, I had been very close to my mother-in-law, but the day I lost my father, we became even closer. I was sitting in his house with tears streaming down my cheeks. People were coming to pay their condolences, and I was sitting there like a zombie. And then I felt someone touching me on my shoulder. I turned to see. It was my mother-in-law. She took me in her arms and said, ‘Beta, you have us, why do you worry? We are your parents from now on.”
Her words touched a chord, and that day onwards my husband’s parents became my parents. Though even earlier, I had taken care of them now it was as though I had forgotten that I was related to them through my husband. I started spending more and more time with them. Whenever I had the time on a weekend or on a working day, I would go and visit them even if my husband couldn’t make it. I would even take them out sometime for a meal or just a coffee. It was strange, but my husband never showed any inclination to join us. He would happily sit at home while I spent time with his parents. Needless to say, the three of us would have a great time. My father-in-law and I shared a deep love for books and would never tire of discussing them. My mother-in-law though also a book lover was not as passionate as us, but then we had other things to talk about. We would go shopping, watch movies or just sit and chat. I had managed to develop a great rapport with them.
However, over a period of time, my father-in-law’s health started deteriorating. He started falling sick very often and had to be rushed to a doctor every now and then. Though not completely surprising, it was largely my responsibility to do that. My in-laws would never call their son whenever they needed help; it was always me. By now, my father-in-law had developed a heart issue and needed to be continuously taken care of. Though my mother-in-law was there, she couldn’t manage on her own and for me too rushing to their house every time was not easy. So I suggested that they should move in with us. Harsh wasn’t too sure as he felt that their coming to live with us would intrude into our privacy. But I felt that since we were the only family they had, it was our responsibility to take care of them. My friends laughed at me when I told them about what I wanted to do. They found it unbelievable that despite my husband not wanting it; I still wanted them to move in. They were my in-laws, after all! But I was convinced about my decision. Harsh and I lived in a three-bedroom apartment, and I decided to give one room to my in-laws.
Though they moved in my mother-in-law was very clear that it was going to be a short term arrangement as they would go back once my father-in-law got better. But then that wasn’t mean to be. Within two weeks of their moving in my father-in-law had a massive heart attack and he passed away, leaving us heartbroken and grief-stricken.
My mother-in-law, of course, was the one who was most affected. She had lost her companion, her soul mate, and it was difficult for her to live without him. I could feel her pain and so made sure to spend as much time with her as possible. I would come back from work, have my tea with her and take her for a walk. Many times I would tell Harsh also to do the same, but he never seemed to be interested. He was in his own world and did not like to change his routine for anyone, even for his mother. But I changed a lot of things in my life to accommodate her and had no issues about it.
Life with Harsh was the way it had always been. But of late I had started noticing that he had started working long hours and also travelling quite a bit. But honestly speaking between my work, the house and my mother-in-law I had no time to figure out the reason. I assumed that he was trying to keep busy to deal with the loss of his father. I wished that he would spend more time with his mother, who was grieving her husband. And after all, he was the son. I tried talking to him about it, but he didn’t seem to feel the need. So as always, it was left to me to handle everything.
Soon it had been six months since my father-in-law had passed away. It was a Sunday night, and I was winding up for the day. I still had to give the medicine to my mother-in-law, read up for a presentation the next day, and it was past eleven. As I was walking towards her room, Harsh walked up to me and told me that he needed to travel the next day as something urgent had come up. I didn’t pay much heed to it and helped him pack his bag. He was to be away for three days. Generally, whenever he travelled, I shifted into my mother-in-law’s room so that we could sleep together.
After helping Harsh pack, I rushed to my mother-in-law’s room to give her the medicine. I also wanted to tell her that I would be sleeping with her for the next three nights and we could do what we loved. We loved chatting, watching movies and discussing our favourite books and with Harsh not being there, we could do it easily. Somewhere after her husband’s death, my mother-in-law had started reading more than ever before. My in-laws had been running a small library in their house, which now, of course, she had packed up but she had most of the books which she had promised to gift me. Her son wasn’t much of a book lover anyways.
When I told her that Harsh was travelling the next day and would be away for three days, she looked at me and said, ‘But tomorrow is a Friday. You mean he will be away on the weekend”.
That is when it struck me, Yes! He was going away on a Friday so why couldn’t he come back the same day or on Saturday morning. I had been so caught up in my world that it had never occurred to me. But when I questioned him, he said that he had a few meetings fixed up for the weekend and that is why he needed to be there. I believed him because I trusted him, which was a mistake as I was to realize in the coming days.
Anyways he left the next day, and I got busy with my work. It was a Friday, and I decided that my mother-in-law and I would go out for a meal and then watch a good movie at home. I called her and told her to be ready by about seven. The plan was that we would go to her favourite Thai restaurant which Harsh didn’t like much and so she never got an opportunity to go there.
The two of us went and had a great time. We came back, watched a movie, had a cup of green tea after the movie and then went off to sleep. Somewhere the void that had been left by my mother had got filled up. As I was dozing off, I couldn’t thank God enough for bringing this lovely, gentle woman into my life. So what if she was my mother-in-law? That was only a name given to our relationship. She was my mother for all intents and purposes, and I was full of gratitude.
However unknown to me, my world was going to fall apart in the next few months. I woke up on Saturday and realized that Madhu a friend of mine who lived in Mumbai had called. We had been together in school and had been good friends. After getting married, she had moved to Mumbai as her husband had a business there. It wasn’t very often that we spoke to each other, but when we did, we could speak for hours on end about various things. She knew Harsh as she had attended our wedding and then had also come and stayed with us on a number of occasions. The two had never liked each other, but I had never paid heed to that. My husband did not have to like all my friends and vice versa. While we were chatting, she mentioned that she had bumped into Harsh in one of the restaurants where she had gone with her husband. Though she said it casually, I had a feeling that she wanted to say something more but was hesitating. So I asked her what the issue was.
She hemmed and hawed and finally blurted out, “Sonali, I didn’t get a good feeling when I met Harsh yesterday.”
I in my usual unsuspecting manner retorted, “So what’s new about that? You never are comfortable in his presence!!”
She said, “Yes, I know that. Tell me something why is he in Mumbai?”
I told her what I knew. I said, “He has gone on work. He has a few meetings till Sunday and will be back on Monday morning”.
Madhu counter questioned, “Who has he gone with?”
I told her I didn’t know, and I had no idea who he was planning to meet? I reminded her that we never kept track of each other’s work, as we worked for rival organizations.
She got very agitated at this statement of mine and said, “You are such a fool. You have done so much for him, looking after his parents, his life and look at him”
I still couldn’t understand what she was rambling about. I did know that she was one of those who had not liked the idea of my in-laws moving in with us. She had told me that I was being an idiot and was inviting trouble by getting them into my house. In fact, she had said,” Sonali, you don’t understand. They will always be his parents no matter how good you are to them. He is their son; you are the son’s wife. So don’t overdo it.”
She knew that I had always craved the love of a mother in my life and was probably trying to make up for that by getting my mother-in-law close to me.
But of course, I had refused to listen to anyone. Rest is history.
I tried to laugh it away, but Madhu did not think it was a laughing matter. She said,” Sonali, I can’t put a finger to it. But it didn’t seem right to me. He was with this stunning looking woman, and the two seemed to be too close to each other. They could barely keep their hands off each other!! That can’t be a business meeting. You’d better find out.”
Though I tried to show that it wasn’t as serious as she was making it to be somewhere, I had a feeling that Harsh was up to something. And the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became. Of late he had been coming back late very often always saying that he had work. All of a sudden, he would call to say that he would not be having dinner at home. I had never suspected anything, but now I felt that maybe I should be a little more careful. The whole day I was stressed and though my mother-in-law kept asking me the reason I couldn’t share anything with her, for obvious reasons.
The weekend went by, and then on Monday morning, I got a call from Harsh who had landed and was on his way to work. I wasn’t my usual self with him. And though he may have detected my detached and cold response, he didn’t react. I decided to test him. So I left my office at four in the afternoon and went straight to see him. The idea was to go out for a coffee with him and gauge him. He was as expected taken aback to see me. I had never done this sort of a thing ever before. But he was sporting enough and fell in line with my plan. We went to a nice coffee shop in the neighbourhood and spent more than an hour chatting about a lot of things. We did have a lot in common, and that was the reason why we had clicked in the first place. Sitting with him did not seem any different from other times. He was normal, which made me wonder if I had overreacted. Maybe he had run into an old friend with whom he had gone out which is when Madhu saw him.
In fact, he told me about the people he had met in Mumbai and the fact that he had bumped into Madhu. I didn’t tell him that she had spoken to me. So when I asked him casually if he had been alone when he met her, he told me that he had been with an old friend who had just moved back to India. The fact that he told about who he had been with made everything seem fine to me. I felt that Madhu had overreacted and I should just forget about what she had said to me. Anyways we decided to go back home together, and life was back to normal.
Somewhere, however, Madhu’s words stayed with me. No matter how hard I tried, I could not trust my husband fully. Though I didn’t want to turn into one of those suspicious wives, I felt that it wasn’t a bad idea to be aware. But then like they say, old habits die hard and gradually, I got back to being my unsuspecting self.
Six months went by in this way and then one day one of my husband’s colleagues, Rajat, who was also a good friend called and said that he wanted to see me but not with Harsh. It seemed a bit strange to me because he was Harsh’s friend and had no reason to see me alone. I was also wondering why he wanted to see me outside and not come home. I told my mother-in-law about this strange request from Rajat. She too wondered why he wanted to see me but told me to go ahead and meet him. So I went and met him. And that meeting turned my whole world upside down! The moment we met, I knew that something was wrong. He looked different, somewhat cagey, a little embarrassed, maybe a mix of the two. We sat down, and after a few attempts at having a conversation about inane things, he came to the point. He looked at me, put his hand on mine and said, “I need to tell you something.”
And for some strange reason I knew, just knew what he wanted to tell me.
I looked up to hear what somewhere I already knew. He just confirmed it. He told me that my husband was seeing this other woman for the past year and seemed pretty serious about her. They had met at work as she worked in one of the organizations with which their bank had dealings. Though initially, it had seemed to be a friendship now it was pretty evident that it was something more. He admitted that he had known about it for a while but hadn’t known what to do. He had been torn between sticking up for his friend and doing what was right, and finally, the need to do the right thing had won. He felt that he owed it to me to let me know what was going on. He further told me that he had tried dissuading Harsh but to no avail. He was continuing to see that woman whose name was Suchita. They met nearly every day after work and many times even travelled together.
As the truth was tumbling out, some part of me was dying a slow death. I was getting consumed by a mix of emotions ranging from anger, hurt, betrayal and an incredible amount of sadness. I felt ashamed as I thought that there was something lacking in me, which had caused this to happen. What had I done to deserve this? Was I not a good wife? Did I not love my husband, care for him? What was wrong? And how was I going to deal with this?
I desperately needed to talk to someone but didn’t know who to turn to? Ever since I had got married, my mother-in-law had been my confidante, my go-to-person. But now I was in a fix. How could I go to her with this? How could I tell her that her son was cheating on me? She wouldn’t believe me!! And even if she did, she would blame me for having done something wrong, for having pushed him into another woman’s arms. After all, he was her son, her only child!
I got up, thanked Rajat and walked out. I didn’t know where to go, what to do. I sat in the car with tears running down my cheeks. I knew I should go home, but home meant, my mother-in-law who would immediately know that something was wrong and then I wouldn’t know what to do. But then I couldn’t keep sitting in the car all evening either. It was already seven, and she was calling. Even Harsh had called, but I hadn’t taken the calls. I started the car and turned to go home. I had no idea how I would face anyone or what I would say. I was still crying, my eyes were red and puffed up, and there was no way that I could hide my state from anyone and especially not from my mother-in-law who would immediately know that something was terribly wrong.
I reached home and saw that she was sitting in the living room waiting for me. I quickly rushed to the bathroom and washed my face to bring some semblance of normalcy, but it was all a wasted effort. One look at me, and her expression changed to one of concern and anxiety. I tried putting up a brave and happy front, but it was of no use. She got up from the sofa, walked up to me, put her arms around me and asked, “What’s wrong, beta?”
That one word and all my intentions and resolves of not sharing anything with her flew out of the window. I started howling and just couldn’t stop. I wasn’t able to say anything and just kept crying. She kept trying to calm me, pacify me and asking what was wrong. Finally, when there were no more tears left, I looked at her and blurted out, “Harsh is cheating on me. He is having an affair.”
The look of shock and anger on her face was to be seen to be believed. She had just one question. “Was that what Rajat wanted to talk to you about?”
After I replied in the affirmative, she pulled me into her arms and patting me on my head said, “Let him come back and we will talk to him. You don’t worry; I am with you in this. I won’t spare him!”
And with that one statement and the events following it, my mother-in-law became my “Ma” and remains so till date.
Harsh came back, I confronted him, he denied, we had a massive argument, and then Ma stepped in. In a calm and collected tone, she told him to come out with the truth and seeing the fury in her eyes he could no longer deny it. He admitted that he had been in the affair for the past one year and was now seriously thinking of a divorce.
“Slap!” that’s how Ma reacted; not one, not two but one after the other. She just couldn’t stop. She was livid with him and couldn’t believe that he had dared to say that he wanted to divorce me. Now she wasn’t someone who was orthodox enough to not believe in the concept of a divorce, but she couldn’t understand why he wanted to leave me, leave his marriage which was a happy one. It didn’t make any sense to her as to why he would have wanted to have an affair. What was wrong with him? But though she shouted at him, hit him, Harsh did not react. He had no answer to any question, but he didn’t even try to say anything against me. I had a million questions. I wanted my answers but other than saying that he loved Suchita [yes, that other woman] he didn’t say anything at all.
Both Ma and I tried in our own ways to ask him for an explanation, but he refused to give one. When I asked him whether he had ever loved me, he admitted that he had at one point, but now he loved her. For me, this was a shock; I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that now my husband loved someone else. Wasn’t our marriage supposed to be for keeps? When had he started drifting away from me? Why had I not been able to see it?
That night I just couldn’t sleep. I kept sitting in the living room, not wanting to go to my room. And Ma kept sitting with me, holding my hand and trying to console me. She still had a hope that she would be able to stop Harsh from taking the drastic step. She told me that she would have a word with him in the morning. But I had no hope now. I knew that he was very serious about wanting to move in with Suchita and nothing we said or did would make any difference. Any how Ma tried talking to him, tried to make him change his mind, but the mind had already been made up. He told her categorically that he could not carry on any longer and had just been biding his time. He was in a way relieved that I had brought up the topic on my own otherwise he would have had to think of a way of doing that.
So the next morning, he packed his bags and moved out, ending our marriage and leaving me in a mess. I was heartbroken, angry, felt cheated, and was confused as hell. I didn’t know what to do, how to move forward. What would I tell people? What would they think about me? I called in sick at work because there was no way that I could face anyone. The whole day I spent in a bewildered, outraged state. I knew that my husband of five years had left me and gone to live with another woman. I wanted to know why had he done that. But there was no answer, the person who knew the answer couldn’t or wouldn’t give it to me. I felt betrayed, and there was this feeling of rejection. Wasn’t I good looking enough? Wasn’t I presentable? What did I lack that the other one had? All these questions, these doubts were tormenting me. I was hurt, I was angry, and the one person who truly speaking shouldn’t have been there at all was there holding my hand, comforting me, giving me all her love, all her care.
I was in a messed up state for almost a week during which time Ma did not leave me even for a minute. She made sure I was never alone, she ate with me, she slept with me and kept talking to me, listening to me. She blamed her son entirely for the situation and did not speak to him. After a week, I joined back work and gradually got used to the idea of having been let down so badly. As I started to get some semblance of normalcy into my life, I realized that with this big change in my life, certain other things were to change as well. For one, the house that we lived in had been taken by Harsh on rent so technically it was his and I would have to move out. In any case, I did not want to stay there any longer. Fortunately, I had money of my own, I worked for an organization of repute, so sorting out some of the things wasn’t that difficult. I got an apartment on rent through my bank and moved out of Harsh’s house in a month. Though Ma wanted to move with me, I told her to take her time and not rush into anything. After all, he was her son, and I did not want to come between them. She had supported me throughout, and I knew that without her support, I would not have been able to weather the storm. However, I also realized that I could not be selfish and separate her from her son.
So before leaving, I called Harsh and told him that Ma would be there all alone, and he could move back. Though I left, I told Ma that I would always be there for her, and if ever she needed me, she just had to call.
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. My broken heart was slowly mending, and though I had no answers to why Harsh had done this to me, I was kind of learning to live with it. It would come back at the most unexpected of times, the hurt, the anger, the feeling of rejection, but I just learnt to push everything aside and focus on my work. I got a much-awaited promotion which did a world of good to my self-esteem. My friends, some of whom I had ignored while I was married, came back into my life. They all helped me cope up, helped me to push back all memories. And of course, the bond between Ma and me continued to remain as strong as ever. As I see it now, it was becoming stronger than before. We spoke every day for at least an hour, sometimes even twice a day. I still visited her, made sure she took all her medication and kept up with all her visits to the doctors.
What was strange and unbelievable about the whole scenario was Harsh, and his behaviour towards his mother. Though I had moved out of the house, he didn’t move back. In fact, he took another apartment on rent where he started living in with Suchitra leaving Ma all by herself. I couldn’t understand why he would do that. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t come back and stay with his mother? Why would he leave her alone? But maybe Suchitra didn’t want to live with her in the same house. After all, they were not married, and Ma did disapprove of the relationship. She hadn’t forgiven them for what they had done to me but what was even more baffling was that he never ever visited his mother. He just transferred some money into her account every month, and that was it.
I gathered all that by the fact that whenever she had a problem, she called me. Whether it was her phone not working or her help giving her trouble or her wanting to go somewhere she always got in touch with me. It baffled me no end, but then over the years, I had realized that Harsh was nothing but a self-centred person who had never ever cared for his parents even earlier. So what was different now? Since I knew this, I made sure that I took care of her in every possible way. I made it a point to visit her practically every weekend to help her with her errands and to take her out as well. People found my actions very weird, but I couldn’t care less. She was my Ma, and that was it.
This went on for several months. We would meet, we would talk and share everything with each other. It was surprising, but Ma never spoke about her son. It was as though she had completely erased him from her mind. She never took his name even in passing.
On the contrary concern for me was on top of her list, and by now, Ma had started pushing me to start seeing other men and move on. Our divorce was almost through. I hadn’t contested it, and I didn’t want anything from him, so it was kind of easy. Ma was worried about me and wanted me to find someone. But I wasn’t ready at that point. The hurt was too fresh and too recent. I wanted time to get over it. In any case, my work had become very hectic, and I was swamped by it. I had to travel quite a bit and that too, for many days at a stretch.
It was one such trip which changed my life one more time. I had to go to Singapore, and I met Ma before leaving, and I told her that I would be away for a week. I made sure that her house was stocked up, she had all her medicines, all her appliances were working, and her help was around. In any case, she knew that she could call me if anything came up. And though I could not have come back, she knew that I would take care of her issue. But that didn’t happen; she did not call me.
Two days after I had left which happened to be a Wednesday, Ma’s maid decided to leave. Though Ma pleaded with her to stay on till
I came back; she refused and left her high and dry. I remember that I spoke to her that day, but Ma didn’t tell me anything about it because she didn’t want to worry me. She thought that since it was only a matter of four days, she would be able to manage. And in any case in case of an emergency, she assumed Harsh would be there.
On Friday as was her routine, Ma woke up in the morning and made herself a cup of tea. She opened her front door to pick up the newspaper, but when she tried shutting it while going back in, the door wouldn’t shut. Something had happened to the lock. She thought that she would call the building maintenance and get it fixed. But though she tried all day nobody turned up. During the day she was ok. She managed to put a chair against the door so that it wouldn’t open. But as it grew late into the day, she started getting a little jittery. The thing was that she was the only person on that floor. The apartment opposite hers was empty as its occupants were travelling.
As luck would have it towards the evening, the weather also started to change, and it became very windy. And it became so bad that the chair was not enough to keep the door tightly shut. Each time a strong gust of wind came, the door made a banging sound which was a little scary. But still, Ma kept her cool. However, at about seven in the evening, the weather became worse, and the sound of the wind whistling through the corridor became very frightening. With this, all kinds of thoughts started entering into her head. She had called the maintenance people many times, and they hadn’t come. But they all knew that she was all alone and her door was open. What if one of them came in the night to rob her and then killed her? What would she do? Though she tried to keep all these fears at bay as it started getting dark, she became more and more petrified. She was at her wit’s end. She tried sitting on the chair for some time so that she could keep the door shut. But then for how long could she do that. Usually, a gutsy woman this situation was getting the better of her. She was scared stiff!
Finally, left with no option, she decided to call her son. The son was probably busy, so he didn’t take the call. She messaged him, telling him about what had happened, but he just replied by saying that he was busy. Though Ma had not been expecting a better response, this indifference broke her heart. She had never been the kinds to ask for help unless it was absolutely necessary, a fact her son was aware of. She couldn’t understand why Harsh couldn’t see that there must be a valid reason for her to call and message.
However, that wasn’t the case. Harsh had got alarmed on reading the message but since he had been in a meeting, he hadn’t been able to respond. But he had called up Suchita and told her to call Ma, but she had not bothered to do that. By then it was ten in the night, and Ma was panic-stricken. Call it divine intervention or what, at that very moment, I who was in Singapore and in the middle of the night just got up sweating profusely. And for some reason, my thoughts went straight to Ma, and I called her.
She picked up the phone on the first ring and started sobbing, and it was difficult for me to get a word out of her. She was almost incoherent, but somehow I managed to figure that there was something wrong with the door of her house and she was petrified. My heart went out to her, and I knew that if I had my way, I would have rushed to be with her, but I couldn’t do that for obvious reasons.
Though I had always known about my ex-husband and his selfish ways, this one had taken the cake. Though Ma had not said it, I knew that she must have tried getting in touch with her son since I wasn’t there. How could he have ignored her calls? I had no answer but rather than wasting my time on him; I decided to do something as quickly as possible. I called up Kanchan, a friend of mine who lived close to where Ma lived and told her to go check on her. Kanchan and her husband rushed and what she told me chilled me to the bone. Kanchan told me that Ma had been shaking like a leaf when she had seen her; she hadn’t eaten the whole day because she had been too scared to leave the door. Her blood pressure had dropped, and in fact, when she saw Kanchan, she just collapsed in her arms. They had taken her to the hospital where the doctor had decided to admit her and keep her under observation. Once she regained consciousness, she wouldn’t let go of Kanchan’s hand, that’s how scared she was. And her son never even called to check on her.
Anyways Kanchan stayed with her at the hospital and then took her to her own house. Her husband in the meanwhile managed to get the lock fixed.
A day later, I was back and in more ways than one. I decided that I would not let her live alone. I made her pack up her stuff and move in with me. But of course, before doing that, I gave a piece of my mind to that ex-husband of mine. I didn’t let him get a word in while I was doing that. He spoke to Ma, but she was also very cold and curt with him. She wished him all the best for his future life and told him that he was dead for her for all intents and purposes. She told him clearly that she had always had only one child, but now that child was me and not him.
And so that is how Ma came to live with me, and we lived happily ever after.
[Two years after that incident, I got married to Ishaan, and though he was a little surprised by this relationship, he accepted it. In fact, he now admires us and the bond we share.
But like I tell him’ “I got a divorce from her son, not from her!”]