It was a cold winter evening in the month of December when Sagarika and Nisha boarded the Mumbai Rajdhani from New Delhi to take them to Mumbai. They saw each other for the first time at the railway station where there respective husbands had come to drop them but at that point they were too caught up to pay much attention to each other. As it is there was a lot of hustle and bustle at the railway station at that time because the train had just pulled in and people were clamoring to board it. The passengers, their relatives, the hawkers and of course the ‘coolies’, there was a considerable amount of mayhem on the platform. Nisha was a little late getting to the station and was desperately trying to locate her seat on the chart while her husband Naren was lecturing away on how it had been silly of her to have reached late. She was trying to handle her luggage, locate her seat and put up with her husband’s tirade all at the same time and still trying to keep her wits about her. Not an easy task!!
Along with that, she was also hoping that some sense would prevail and he would just shut up because he was too loud for comfort and peoplearound could hear him. It was hard to miss the amused expressions on their faces. But of course that was wishful thinking!! He couldn’t care less about who was listening and who wasn’t. He had to say what he wanted to and she knew that he wouldn’t stop till he had finished. So till then….. good luck!!..
Anyways it wasn’t long before she found her seat, got in with no help from the still shouting Naren. Soon the train blew the whistle and it was time to leave. She was happy and looking forward to the short break, a break from her normal routine. What is more the break meant that she would get to spend time with her childhood friend who lived in Mumbai. Was she looking forward!! She hugged Naren, kissed him and then turned to get into her compartment and settle down for the journey. She took out her book and her I pad and was debating between which form of entertainment to choose from when she heard a friendly ‘Hi’.
She looked up and saw that it was the pleasant-looking woman at the station who as luck would have it was going to be her travel companion. So now she had three choices- a book, a movie and a conversation. And the conversation won. She introduced herself and learnt that the woman, her companion on this journey was Sagarika who was off to Mumbai to take care of her daughter who was going to have a baby. Sagarika had been a witness to the drama at the station and was smiling in a knowing kind of a way, something that I guess only a woman or rather a wife can relate to. The two of them got talking and all plans of reading and watching a movie flew out of the window.
It is odd how two people not ever having set eyes on each other before that day can in the course of a journey undertaken together bond so quickly and so well. This is what happened with Nisha and Sagarika that winter evening. They got talking and had so much to talk, so much to share that for obvious reasons one train journey was not going to suffice. Of course, it all began with the usual small talk about husbands, children, families and gradually started to get more personal. Eventually it reached a point where they ended up sharing the stories of their lives. It seemed to be like a night, a time when there were no barriers, no hesitation in letting each other on with the secrets of their lives. Both the women it seems wanted to unburden themselves or maybe just wanted to share. And that’s what they did.
Sagarika took the lead in this. She started by revealing that she had had a childhood which wasn’t very happy. In fact it had been quite traumatic. She was the eldest in the family with two younger sisters and a brother. Her father had been a senior bureaucrat, a pleasant and agreeable person otherwise but with an extremely colorful personality in his young days. He had had a string of affairs and had always found it easy to dump one woman for the other. Since he had lived alone in Delhi while his parents lived in Lucknow, it had been fairly easy for him to lead such a lifestyle. But he couldn’t do that for too long. His parents found a girl for him and he had to get married to her. The girl was beautiful, reasonably well educated and belonged to a well-known family of Lucknow. She fitted the bill in every way and the parents wanted the two to get married as quickly as possible. Since there was no reason to refuse other than the fact that he would have had to give up his debauched lifestyle Sagarika’s father had to agree and get married. Thus her parents, Lata and Pran got married. They saw each other in person for the first time on the day of the wedding though they had been shown each other’s photographs. Pran was good looking and debonair and so Lata had fallen in love with the man in the picture though for him she had been just another girl with the difference that he was going to get married to her and thus get tied down.
Lata had grown up in a large joint family where women were largely confined to the house and it was the men who controlled everything. She had been taught to live under the control of her father, uncles and brothers. The environment in her marital home was no different. So she walked into her marriage knowing and accepting the role that she was to play. The only problem was that she was an educated girl with a mind of her own, so toeing the line never came easy to her. As expected the initial few days were idyllic, dream like and all was well. Pran came home early, spent time with his wife, occasionally took her out and even got a gift or two for her. But then Lata conceived and as prescribed by the doctor had to be on bed rest which meant that the two of them needed someone to help them out. Since no one could do that Lata had to go to her parents house and stay there till the baby arrived. She went there and Pran went back to his old ways. Those times were such when no one really questioned a man if he strayed or betrayed his wife. It was more her fault for having the temerity to leave her husband and go.
Anyways it was a matter of six months after which Lata was back with a baby girl, their daughter who they named Sagarika. Though Pran and his family had wanted a son, Pran was equally happy to have a daughter. In fact being the first born she was the apple of his eyes and remained so till the day he died. With a child, a husband and a house to look after Lata had no spare moment. They were well off so it wasn’t that she had no help in the house but she had to be around all the time. Moreover, since both husband and wife came from large families, they always had relatives visiting them and staying on for weeks, sometimes even months. So all in all it was a busy household with she being the sole in-charge . Though Pran kept up with his women he wanted his wife to be someone who he could show off to others whenever he so desired. He made her learn how to converse in English, dress up smartly and attend parties with him. It was at one of such parties that the secret of her husband’s womanizing unearthed itself albeit accidentally. One of his friends who was quite close to him got drunk and in that drunken state blurted out the name of the woman Pran was seeing at that time in front of the whole gathering, Lata was shocked to say the least though she covered up her feelings pretty well. But she was itching to get back home and confront her husband.
Now though Lata belonged to a family where the will of the males reigned supreme she was no pushover. The moment they reached home she asked Pran to come clean. Initially Pran tried to deny everything but couldn’t do that for too long because Lata was relentless in her questioning and probing. Eventually he admitted to having an affair with one of his colleagues which led to a huge fight between the two of them. It got so bad that Pran in his anger ended up slapping Lata. The slap had the effect of unleashing a kind of a rage. Lata started shouting at Pran, insulting him and calling him all kinds of names. Since Pran couldn’t quieten her down, he hit her a couple of more times and then walked out of the room. Lata just collapsed on the floor and started crying her heart out. And then, in walked this little angel who had been a witness to the scene and couldn’t see her mother in that state. She put her little arms around her mother and started consoling her, speaking softly, wiping her tears. The five year old was doing to her mother what her mother did to her when she was in tears. At that point the little girl hated her father for putting her mother through so much misery. It was never very obvious to the rest of the world but that particular instance and thereafter various other transgressions on Pran’s part ensured that the mother and daughter never got back to being close to him.
Pran and Lata had three other children thereafter but it was never the same between them. And as Sagarika grew up she was witness to innumerable fights and arguments between her parents. With time and age though Pran should have toned down, what happened was the opposite. He became very short tempered and difficult to deal with. As a result of his temperament his younger children never became close to him. Though they were shielded from his womanizing ways by Sagarika and Lata his obnoxious ways put them off anyways. Sagarika in particular didn’t want her siblings to ever see the real side of their father and thus get scarred for life. She over the years became a huge source of support to her mother. No matter what her father did she was always there for Lata. However, as she grew older she started feeling that her mother hadn’t done enough to stand up to her father, a view which was shared by Lata as well. She always felt that Pran was always able to outshout her, control her because she wasn’t aggressive enough. She felt that because her family had never supported her she could never take a stand and take tough measures. The more this feeling got embedded in her the firmer Sagarika became in her resolve to never let anyone control her be it her husband or her children. So over a period of time, she became aggressive, overbearing and extremely outspoken. She never thought before opening her mouth and this became a way of life with her. But what the world could not see was that behind the tough exterior was this extremely insecure, sensitive girl who did not want anyone to leave her and go. It was as though the infidelities of her father had made her want to believe that one needs to do everything to stop a loved one from leaving. And no matter what, she always believed that there was some lacking on her mother’s part because of which she hadn’t been able to hold onto her husband. But all this was buried deep inside her. On the exterior she was as hard as a stone……
Nisha had been listening to the story with rapt attention. Her heart went out to the little girl who had had had such a troubled childhood.She got up and hugged her new found friend. By then it was dinner time and her stomach was growling. But she wanted to finish eating quickly and get back to the story of Sagarika’s life.She was curious to know as to what kind of a person had Sagarika ultimately turned out to be. Soft and sentimental or hard and unemotional. They finished eating, had a hot and much-needed cup of tea and then Nisha was all ears….
Sagarika grew up to be a beautiful young girl who had boys chasing her all the time, a fact not liked by her father at all. He would make sure that she never left home alone, never went out for parties or even met her friends too often.Sagarika greatly resented all of this but didn’t have the guts to openly oppose her father. But that did not mean that she obeyed him all the time.She did things on the sly, went out without telling her parents and made a lot of friends. In fact the more her father stopped her from doing certain things the more she wanted to disobey him. What got to her and what made her disobey him was the way he spoke to her. She would never try to understand the reason behind his instructions. She disobeyed because the instructions came from him and in a tone that she didn’t like because she found it very derogatory. And in fact she always did the opposite of what he wanted her to do. And this became a part of her personality so much so that even later on in life she never ever cared to listen to anyone.
She always remained close to her mother but she was very clear that she didn’t want any restrictions to be imposed on her. She wanted freedom to do what she thought was right which was what she always considered her actions to be. And her siblings meant the world to her. Since there was a gap of four years between her and the oldest one, she was always extremely caring and protective towards them . In fact the one who got her maximum love was her brother who came into the scene when her parents had become quite old and didn’t have a lot of time or energy to be with a small child. Sagarika took over the role of a mother like a duck takes to water.
So with time she became a care taker, a care giver, always in charge of her own life and that of others around her. This also made her very authoritative and dominating, not one to listen to anyone and definitely not to a man. It was as if the experience of her mother had taught her never to be controlled by a man. Therefore in all her friendships with boys she was the one who called the shots. As a result she never got along with boys who were like her. She was also of the belief that one should never ever fall in love as that could only weaken a person. But not everything goes as planned. More often than not things do not happen the way we want them to. And so into this closed world of hers, entered Mohan, a quiet and calm person, a complete opposite of Sagarika. He was strikingly handsome which was what drew Sagarika to him in the first place. They met at a party where some common friends introduced them to each other.She liked what she saw but he didn’t. He found her to be very loud and bossy. Mohan was a creative, laid back kind of a person who stayed miles away from aggressive, controlling people which is how Sagarika came across to him. Moreover he was an artist in the process of making a name for himself and parties were not really his scene. He had been forced to attend that one as it had been thrown to celebrate a friend’s birthday. So he wanted to get away as soon as possible.
Though Mohan hadn’t been much of a company at the party, still there had been something about him that had attracted Sagarika to him and so she wanted to meet him again. She told their common friend about it who tried to get them together but Mohan wasn’t interested. He told the friend very clearly that aggressive people like Sagarika were not really his cup of tea. The friend went and repeated this to her but it obviously made no difference. She knew that she liked him and wanted to get to know him better and so that was what she was going to do.She decided to dig out more information about him and found that he was the son of a very well known writer and came from an extremely affluent background. Now although Sagarika’s background was equally affluent, her family’s reputation wasn’t that good owing to her father’s womanizing. People in the city knew about it and so did not have a very high opinion of him. But she wasn’t someone who would let something come in the way of what she wanted. And she was beginning to realise that she had fallen in love with Mohan. So now there was no question of letting him go.
As they say ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’. Now that Sagarika had met the man of her dreams she knew that she was going to marry him.The only other person who knew about her feelings for Mohan was her mother with whom Sagarika shared everything .Since Mohan seemed to be a nice boy and Lata could see that being with him made her happy, she encouraged her daughter to try and get to know him better. Lata had always felt that since she hadn’t had a chance to get to know her husband before they had married she had made a mistake. She was pretty sure that had she met him before their wedding she would have got some inkling of his ways and so would have never married him. Therefore she did not want her daughter to repeat the mistake.
As a result of Sagarika’s persistence,Mohan and Sagarika started spending a lot of time together and the more they did that the more Mohan started liking her.He realized that her dominating and overbearing ways were only an act, a defence mechanism. She was actually an extremely vulnerable girl who was not very strong emotionally. Being with her made Mohan want to protect her and take care of her. Her outspokenness did get to him at times but he was sure that with time he would be able to tone her down,make her understand and appreciate other people’s perspectives. Meanwhile their friends got to know about their friendship which had now turned into love and they were all very happy for them. Mohan went and met Sagarika’s family and liked everyone and particularly her siblings. He felt really protective about them and they all seemed to adore him.
The real problem for them came up when Mohan decided to introduce Sagarika to his mother. Though she knew about the relationship his mother wasn’t really keen on them taking it any further. To begin with she had always wanted a girl who was professionally qualified or at least very well educated.She was also very particular about the family background of people she associated herself with. For her, name and reputation mattered a lot. Even her friend’s circle consisted of women who came from wealthy and well known families.On both these counts Sagarika could not measure up so there was no question of Mohan’s mother agreeing to anything between them. But rather than getting discouraged or dissuaded by this attitude, Sagarika was surer than ever before that she wasn’t going to leave Mohan come what may.
Mohan was also quite dismayed by his mother’s attitude but couldn’t think of how to get her to change her mind. Not being someone who liked to confront people he decided to wait and bide his time. This went on for almost two years. Both the women were not prepared to give up and Mohan was caught in between. He loved Sagarika, he wanted to marry her but at the same time he didn’t want to antagonize or disappoint his mother. So what was he to do?
At this point Nisha could not help wondering if Mohan’s feelings had really been as deep as Sagarika had assumed them to be. She felt that if he had loved her enough he would have taken a stand and gone against his mother. But he hadn’t. However she didn’t say anything to her friend and waited for her to resume the story. Sagarika was on the phone speaking to her daughter first and then to her husband who had called to check on her. So Nisha had time to sit and reflect. She also observed that time had not mellowed down Sagarika in any way. Though now in her fifties she was still as aggressive as she would have been when she was young. Her entire demeanor was overbearing and commanding. Nisha really wondered if the others had had a chance to get in a word. Sagarika finished talking and decided to resume her story. Both women were quite tired and sleepy but Nisha wanted to listen and Sagarika wanted to share. So they continued talking.
As time went by Sagarika’s mother started pressurizing her to convince Mohan to marry her. So now whenever the two of them met she did not talk about any thing else but the need for them to formalize the relationship. She would keep telling Mohan about how they were becoming the butt of people’s jokes with people wondering if they would ever tie the knot. Mohan agreed with what she said to him but didn’t know how to handle his mother. He had tried convincing her on a number of occasions but each time that he had tried she had flatly refused to even talk about the subject. It was as though for her it was a forgotten chapter and she had moved on. In fact she had even started introducing him to girls who she thought were fit to be a part of their family. The more this dragged on the more animosity it created in Sagarika’s mind towards Mohan’s mother. She wanted to marry him and she knew that she couldn’t let anything come in the way of her decision. So one day when she met Mohan, she became very emotional and with tears in her eyes implored upon him to marry her because if he didn’t then she would find it difficult to get married to someone else as by now everyone associated her with him. If he ditched her, her reputation would be tarnished forever. This really moved Mohan who felt terribly guilty about leading her on and then not taking a decision. He therefore decided to have a frank conversation with his mother and make it clear to her that she would have to put all her prejudices aside and accept Sagarika into the family. He also decided to take his father’s help in this as his father was far more liberal and understanding than his mother. With this resolve in mind he went back home and told his mother about his decision.
His mother was of course taken aback by this sudden change in her son and tried to stick to her stand but couldn’t do it for too long as her husband also joined hands with the son. So although she disliked Sagarika and her background she had no choice but to give in. Sagarika’s parents and in particular her mother were overjoyed at the development and started preparing for their daughter’s wedding. At that point it seemed that the two women in Mohan’s life were never going to get along. At best they would learn to tolerate each other for lack of choice but otherwise there would never be any love lost between them. But life is full of surprises!!
Though both her parents were equally excited about the wedding their approach towards it was diametrically opposite. While Pran wanted to do everything possible to make the wedding grand and special, Lata wanted it to be absolutely low key. She did not want to extend any special treatment towards her daughter’s in-laws. There were two reasons for that. First of all, she had not liked the way Mohan and his mother had kept Sagarika hanging for that long and some part of her wanted to square things up. Also, over the years she had come to believe there was was no need to treat the boys’ side as some kind of demigods who had to be pampered or worshiped. She felt that all the undue attention showered on them ended up getting to their heads and made them behave in a high handed manner. But somewhere along the line the mother and daughter just forgot how to be even nice to Mohan’s family. Every suggestion or piece of advice given by Pran regarding a function or a meeting was rejected outright.So though he wanted to give them gifts and treat them well he couldn’t do much. What he found ironical and unacceptable was that though the mother-daughter duo didn’t want to treat Mohan’s family in a special way they wanted them to do everything for her. It was as though they were extending a huge favor to Mohan’s family by getting her married to him and therefore they wanted Mohan’s parents to do everything for her from showering her within gifts, jewelry, the works. Finally very reluctantly and after a lot of pressure from him they relented a bit and agreed to a few of his suggestions. Sagarika was laughing as she related this but Nisha felt that at that time it would not have been a laughing matter.
Listening to this Nisha also felt that the mother-daughter duo had gone a bit far. In fact, their behavior showed they had double standards, one set for themselves and one for Mohan’s family.She felt that one cannot treat other people shabbily under the garb of being modern and enlightened. She felt that the two of them had by not treating her in laws very well tried to get back at them and also set the tone for the future.
Sagarika went onto relate how the two of them got married and though Mohan wanted to live with his parents, the strained relations between his mother and wife left him with no option but to take up an apartment and live separately. Not only that, he could not even meet his parents very often because Sagarika did not really want much of an interaction with them. His mother also was not so keen on meeting her with the result that months would pass before they could meet.Otherwise, life was quite close to being perfect. Mohan was an easy person to live with, not demanding at all. He was quite a cool person who never let any situation get to him. This was unlike Sagarika who was quick to react to things especially if they were not to her liking.Her parents especially her mother continued to play an integral part in their lives. Very often her siblings would visit them and stay back. Mohan being the only child of his parents had grown up quite lonely. So he loved it when they all came over and the house reverberated with their sounds. He would happily take them out and spend time with them. On one of such days which also happened to be his birthday, his mother dropped by to wish him. The look on her face when she saw all of them there was one of both hurt and anger. Mohan not expecting to see her was quite taken aback and equally embarrassed. It was quite awkward for all of them though Sagarika did not let the visit bother her. But once she left, Mohan and Sagarika had a huge fight with Mohan blaming his wife for separating him from his parents. He told her in front of her family that he would not let anyone of them enter his house till the time his parents could also do the same.
But somewhere Mohan knew that it wasn’t right to blame only his wife for the strained relations with his mother. The blame lay with him as well. In trying to be a good husband and giving a good foundation to his marital life he had forgotten all about her. Even if she didn’t like Sagarika she still continued to be his mother and he had no business to forget her like that. He realised that he needed to strike a balance between the two relationships which was what he was now going to do. He had a word with Sagarika about this and though she didn’t really agree with him, his tone and the look on his face told her that it was better to remain quiet and let him do what he wanted. She discussed the issue with her mother who also advised her to lie low for a bit.
So Mohan to make things better if not right decided to go and meet his parents, something that he hadn’t done in months. They were of course very happy to see him and welcomed him very warmly though his mother wasn’t quite forthcoming. She was a little formal and stiff. Seeing her this way, Mohan decided to spend the entire day with her. He was sure that she would come around. And come around she did. After his father left for his game of golf, mother and son bonded over innumerable cups of tea, lunch and then an early dinner. It seemed as though it was back to the good old days before he had left home to stay separately. Mohan on his part apologized to his mother for having ignored her and she on her part decided to accept Sagarika and move on with life. Meanwhile, Sagarika was getting paranoid sitting at home waiting for her husband to come back. Though quite confident about her relationship with her husband she was still getting very jittery thinking about what the two of them would be discussing.
At this point Nisha had a thought.Had Sagarika been feeling jittery because she had been somewhere guilty about keeping Mohan away from his mother? Did she have a role to play in making sure that the relations between the two remained strained? Anyways putting aside her thoughts she looked up to listen to more…….
And if you want to know more… You will have to wait for ’ The Journey’ Part 2.