We make such a lovely picture today that we could sell anything on Indian television right now. Anything from expensive suiting to insurance policies. Or multinational banks. Or maybe even pure gold jewelry. Or a health drink. A teary eyed mother, grey haired in silk and pearls dabbing her eyes with the edge of her sari pallu. A proud father glancing around in all directions to no one in particular and mumbling ‘My son, my son’, much like how he says ‘Peace be with you’ at mass every Sunday. And a son who has just been awarded his doctorate from the most prestigious university in the United States of America.
I am enjoying playing the stereotypical ignorant- but- proud -mother moment today. I really still don’t fully understand what Aryan’s doctorate is for. But I know that it is something that will help save lives someday. And I know that my son must be something of a prodigy for getting this PhD at twenty four. That is all that matters to me. Ravi is beaming so much that the metal cap on his last molar flashed when it caught a ray of light from somewhere. That metal cap after his root canal treatment on that tooth, his symbol of martyrdom. Why spend money on a ceramic cap for a tooth that won’t show when that money can buy Aryan food for a couple of days in America, he had said, feeling proud of the sacrifice he was making for his son. It wasn’t like my son actually needed his parents to go on an austerity drive and tighten their belts to put food on his table though. He had gone there on a full scholarship and was sending money back home for the past few years. I resented Ravi for trying to take any bit of credit for Aryan’s American education.
That crash diet and tucked in stomach have helped Ravi fit into this suit he is wearing today, but the pride that has filled every pore of his body is making it burst at the seams. A rare wave of fondness sweeps over me when I look at him today. Was this the man I came to America with 35 years ago? The man with whom I went back to India with six months later, carrying Geetu in my womb and the blame of having brought him bad luck on my shoulders. It wasn’t any recession that got him fired. It was his new, luckless wife. We were never able to step into the USA again afterwards, and a day did not pass for the next thirty five years without me having to hear how it was I who was to blame for the wretched existence we were forced to lead in India.
In an arranged marriage, they told me that familiarity will lead to like and like will lead to love. But in our marriage, everything led to hate. Ok, let me give him some credit here. Ravi never hated me, it was I who hated him. I hated him for taking it for granted that the freshly graduated mechanical engineer would be a contented housewife. I hated him for making my brain rust over the next three decades. I hated him for calling up his mother every night to report to her about what I had cooked for breakfast, lunch and dinner and go on to say that it tasted nothing like what she churned out from her magic kitchen. I hated him for switching off the bedroom light the moment he wanted to go to sleep, ignoring me lying down beside him engrossed in a Dan Brown novel. I hated him for not noticing my new haircut, my new clothes. I hated him for not asking me if I had eaten dinner whenever I laid out his food when he came home past midnight. I hated him for not being Mathew McConnaughey or Hugh Grant. I hated him for not being able to talk about Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice. I hated him for being 11 years older than me. I hated him. I hated him, but I continued to exist as his wife. For Geetu. For my parents’ place in society . For his parents’ place in society. For his sister’s wedding. For his sister’s husband’s family’s place in society. For his office parties. For his bedroom. For his kitchen. I continued to exist as his wife. And every day, I began to shrink a little so that I could enter that shell I was building. The shell that would protect me from the life I hated.
But then everything suddenly changed. It must have been a year before Aryan was conceived that my life was suddenly took a turn, and to the surprise of luckless me, it was a turn for the better. I had shrunk myself into a non-entity and was living a comfortable life inside that little shell I had entered when all of a sudden there was birdsong and sunshine in my life again. Maybe it was the very act of taking out my engineering degree from that suitcase on the loft or being able to step out of the house for something other than restocking my pantry. I wasn’t actually applying my engineering skills in that job, but I was doing something more than two loads of laundry a week and it was so liberating.
And most importantly, I suddenly started to have someone. Someone who would taste a bit of my packed lunch and tell me that I was a good cook. Someone who woukd read a poem I wrote and tell me that I wrote well. Someone who would give me more than a passing glance and tell me that the peacock green kurta made my eyes sparkle. I had something to wake up for every morning, someone to wake up for. And because of that, I had something to come back to every evening.
And then, Aryan was born. When I look at Geetu these days, I feel guilty. She has turned out pretty good inspite of all what I put her through. She is in a solid marriage full of laughter and love today. So no, I think I managed to successfully smile through the hate I had for her father. I hope she has blanked out those few days when I was in the hospital after I overdosed on sleeping pills when she was five years old. I’ve never been able to get over the guilt of having done something so selfish. I love Geetu, my firstborn. My daughter, the one I dreamed of dressing up in pretty pinks and yellows since I was thirteen. I love her, I do. But I don’t love her as much as I love Aryan. There, I said it. And I feel bad because I don’t even feel bad about it. But I am Aryan’s mother today and I won’t allow myself to think about anything else. Anything.
Aryan comes up to me and envelops me in a bear hug. He is so tall, towering over me and Ravi. My heart fills up with so much emotion that it hurts. Blood rushes to my head and I can hear my heart beat in my ears. He says something, I cannot hear. The thudding gets louder and I sit down. He gives me a peck on my cheek and goes over to speak to a friend who just waved to him. I look at my boy. He is surrounded by a group of friends now and they are all laughing about something. A girl walks up to him and puts her arm around his waist. Aryan puts his arm around her shoulder, glances at me and raises his eyebrows seeking my approval. I smile back at him. There is so much happiness in the air today.
And to think that twenty five years ago, I sat on a wooden bench in the basement of that building, bladder full of water, planning for this moment today to never happen. He was with me all the way, holding my hand through it all, saying that he supports whatever decision I make. But deep inside he didn’t want me to do it. He wanted me to keep the baby. It was the only thing we have to show for ourselves, for these months of joy we shared together. We have no other future, he said, let this baby be the future we share. And then he leaned over and whispered in my ear ‘I love you . I love you both’.
Maybe it was the claustrophobia I felt in that tiny medical lab, maybe it was his hot breath that warmed me when he whispered those words or maybe it was just my heart telling me to. But I just grabbed my purse and ran outside. He ran behind me, following me up the narrow steps to the main road. I flagged down an autorickshaw and jumped into it before he could catch up with me. And as I was leaving, I looked back and saw him wave. I am not sure if it was a wave goodbye or a wave asking me to stop for him. I just waved back. I’m sure he couldn’t have seen me through that hazy plastic autorickshaw window, but that wave was my closure.
He kept his word. I’m surprised at how we have managed to stay unconnected all these years. I still haven’t mustered up the courage to Google him. He left to Australia a few weeks before Aryan was born. We remained in touch only on the phone after that afternoon at the abortion clinic. No words of our love were spoken though. It was just pure business. I would keep the baby, but as mine, not ours. He would never contact us again. Ever. His PR to Australia was coming through and he would have left anyway. ‘You’ll know, Deepak’, I said to him when he called me from the airport after having made his his wife and children wait somewhere far away. ‘You’ll always know. This whatever we have had for the past two years is stronger than any other bond I’ve made in my entire life. And you are leaving a part of that behind with me. You needn’t be here. Whatever happens, somehow, you’ll just Know’
Do you Know, Deepak? Wherever you are, can you sense something today? Your son has just been awarded his PhD and I am here celebrating it with him and the man with whom I raised him. But I can sense it Deepak, I can see you opening a bottle of your favorite scotch tonight and celebrating too. Because I know that you Know. Like you’ve always Known.
Dedicated to that child who should have been