The gentle evening breeze caressed her cheeks as Mamta sat in the balcony of her eighth-floor apartment, overlooking the Arabian Sea. This was the time of the day she relished the most, a time when she had the house all to herself. Her son, Sumit, was at his swim practice and her husband, Subodh, at the gym. The maids had left for the day. The breathtaking sunset, the sea breeze and a cup of steaming masala chai was all she had for company. Today the chai seemed extra special though. The nostalgia of meeting a bosom pal had swirled into the warmth of the chai sharpening its spice.
What a pleasant surprise it had been! Bumping into an old friend. Mamta chuckled softly as she recalled the school days when the two friends had bonded, especially that dreadful day in the eighth grade when she had scored a zero on her math exam. A duck! The anxiety of solving the Math paper had been so strong that she had completely blanked out. V had comforted her throughout the evening and helped her prepare for the next one. For the next two years since that day, Mamta had spent every evening before a Math exam at V’s house. After the X grade board examinations, the two friends had pursued different fields of interest and lost touch with each other.
Mamta had since come a long way from the anxiety ridden girl she once was. Now she was a manager at a multinational company. She loved her job and her life. She often sat in the mellow glow of the sunset, her heart basked in gratitude. She could not have asked the One Above for any more. As the foamy waves lashed against the shores and receded back into the sea in front of her, her thoughts receded deep into the oceanic past, to the day it all began.
15 years ago
Mamta twitched nervously as she sat outside the principal, Mrs. Seth’s office, in her son’s school, waiting to be summoned, a crumpled note in her hand. The piece of paper, just a day old was worn out from the number of times she had folded and unfolded it, reading over the same words repeatedly while trying to get a cognizance of why it had been addressed specifically to her. Normally, teachers in the school addressed the notes to both parents of the child but this one had clearly stated that she be present to meet with the principal.
What had Sumit done wrong she wondered? Why did Subodh not have to be here? If Sumit had misbehaved, the note would have been addressed to both parents. Or was it her, had she not been a good mother? Had he complained to the teachers about the time she had lost her temper and smacked his behind? Or had they noticed the day when, in the rush of the morning hours, she had accidentally switched Sumit and Subodh’s lunch boxes. Poor child had ended up with a tummy ache after eating a spicy roti roll with sprouts instead of his jam and butter sandwich. Or was it because she had turned in the permission slip for the field trip late?
Fortunately, before she could come up another plausible reason Mrs. Seth beckoned her into her chamber.
“Come on in Mrs. Singh, have a seat. How are you this morning?” Mrs. Seth smiled at her, peering over her glasses. The gigantic desk, the crisp pleated pallu of her saree, the firmness in her voice all gave Mrs. Seth an aura of reverence that engulfed Mamta’s meekness completely. She felt like a tiny rabbit trapped in a lion’s snare.
“I’m… I’m fine, thank you.” She stuttered weakly.
“Let me get straight to the point Mrs. Singh.”
Mamta felt her heart thump in her chest.
“The reason you are here… the other day at recess Sumit was sitting all by himself while the other kids jumped around and played. He looked sad, so I walked up to him and asked him what the matter was. He told me he was sad because you were too. He said you cried every night, maybe because he was not a good boy.
What is the matter, Mrs. Singh? Is Sumit right to say you cry every night? I do not mean to intrude but you know, a child can thrive in school only if things are well at home. It breaks my heart to see a five-year-old carry the weight of his Mother’s emotions on himself. Is there any way we can help?” Mrs. Seth asked gently.
The genuine concern in her voice touched a chord in Mamta. Tears welled up in her eyes. Not only was she sad but now jaws of guilt pierced their fangs into her heart too. How could she have let her emotions affect her child?
“I..I…don’t know what to do. Nothing I do is ever right” she said in between snifles. “The rotis are not round, the idlis are too flat, the dal is either too watery or salty. Nothing I make is good enough for Maa. If Sumit does not eat, she says I don’t know how to feed him. Some days if he eats a second bowl of rice she says I will make him fat. If the child watches TV she says I am spoiling him yet she herself lets him watch all those dreadful TV serials she’s addicted to. If I make him study she says I am pushing him. I never seem to do anything right.” By this time, her sniffles had turned into sobs. “And Subodh is always traveling,”
“Mrs. Singh? Mamta? Can I call you Mamta?” asked Mrs. Seth tenderly. This could well have been her own daughter.
Mamta nodded admist the bawls.
“Mamta, I presume you are talking about your mother-in-law?”
This time Mamta nodded vigorously.
“My dear… you need to get a few facts straight. If you think you are only as good as the rotis you make or the bhajiyas you fry, then you are so wrong. You cannot live your life according to another’s expectation of you. If you do that, you will always fall short and spend the rest of your life trying to be a good daughter-in-law, a good wife, a good mother…so many roles, so many different expectations. In the process, you are bound to lose yourself. What if you indeed made the world’s best round rotis but your mother-in-law took a penchant for square ones? Trying to be a perfect daughter-in-law is like trying to reach for the pot of gold at the other end of the rainbow. You can never reach it.
It’s funny though. In our culture, we often wonder if the bride will adjust to her new family but the truth is often it is the groom’s family who are not ready to open their hearts to adjust and welcome another into their home.
Now, of course, I am not saying that you shy away from your responsibility of taking care of your aging in-laws but do it the with your essence, the way you can do it not always the way she wants it.
And its’ very important that you take time for yourself every day Mamta. To do something you enjoy. Maa is old and with age comes rigidity. Accept it and move on. Take her less seriously and yourself more seriously. Its’ very important for a mother to be happy Mamta. You see, children are very perceptive. They may not understand a situation but they can certainly feel the emotions. You are not helping your child by staying home and being miserable.”
“What can I do? Who will give me job, Mrs. Seth? I was never good at studies. I scrapped through school and college so my parents got me married early and I am not good at this either!” Mamta was sobbing uncontrollably.
“Who says you need a job to be happy? There must be some activities you enjoy. Maybe dancing or music? Embroidery? Did you have a hobby growing up?”
Mamta gazed at the wall to her right. The tears in her eyes blurred her vision, the sadness in her heart blurred her clarity of thought. The emptiness in her gaze was suggestive of a spirit dulled, lost in the maze of life.
Silence ensued. She finally spoke, “I used to enjoy painting as a child.”
“There you go! Just take a few minutes every day to paint. For those few minutes let it be just you and the canvas. That will go a long way in bringing you joy. Baby steps, my dear. Just do this and see how things change. And yes, remember it takes a village to raise a child. Its ok to ask for help. You cannot do it alone.”
Fifteen years ago, that was the day her journey began. That conversation in Mrs. Seth’s office sparkled clearly in her memory just as the sea waters sparkled in the soft glow of the moonlight, under the canopy of the night sky. The turn of events since then had only been pleasant. Mamta took Mrs. Seth’s advice very seriously. Every afternoon she poured her emotions on canvas and the results were brilliant jewels of art.
One fine day Mamta while emailing pictures of her works of art to a friend accidentally typed in neenarai@gmail instead of Neena.rai@gmail What followed was serendipity. Prompt came a reply in her inbox,
Not sure if these pictures were intended for my viewing but I love them. I run a designer boutique in South Bombay and am currently looking for an artist to paint on silk fabric for my clients. Kindly get in touch if you are interested.
Mamta got in touch with her and very soon she was designing and painting beautiful works of art on sarees and dupattas for Neena’s clients. Neena encouraged Mamta to go back to school to do a part time masters in management. One thing led to another and brought Mamta to where she was today.
Everything Mrs. Seth said was so true. Mamta’s mother-in-law had passed away a few years ago but even in her last few moments she had a lot to complain about, the food being insipid was just one of them. Mamta had become more accepting and sympathetic towards her condition and did not let her mother-in-law’s sharp tongue affect her. She learnt that her son enjoyed swimming and both parents encouraged Sumit to pursue his passion. He soon swam for one of the best clubs in the country.
The doorbell rang to break Mamta out of her reverie. Once again, all she could say to the One above was Thank You for sending a couple of angels into her life.
Thus, ends the story of two childhood friends. Both on very different journeys who found joy in the belief that miracles happen to those who allow it.