Mukund and Kanchan Malik did not have a child yet, though their marriage was 6 years old. There was no medical problem and so like most people in India they turned to religion for help. They went to the Mata Vaishnodevi Shrine every month, for six months in a row. It involved an overnight train journey from Delhi, a walk to the shrine thirteen kilometres uphill and back usually on the same day.
Then the Goddess heard their plea and blessed them with a son.
They called him Aarman.
Aarman’s earliest memories were of his mother, an omnipresent figure of his childhood. He had a few memories of his father who was mostly never there because of his job as a senior finance employee at Transpose, a big IT company. Perhaps because he came too late to her and with much effort, his mother was overprotective of him. There was no other sibling, so Kanchan’s life revolved around Aarman.
“You are my good son” she always told him, “The Goddess, took off her talisman around her neck and gave me a gift of you- the Goddess’s talisman.”
Aarman was a dutiful and a wonderful child.
Good in studies and sports equally. Polite and decent.
He was Kanchan’s pride and some days she felt so much love for him that she feared her heart would burst. She loved him with a fierceness that was intense and did not want to share with the rest of world.
But life does not allow for that, she understood.
So she protected him as much as she could and started to guide him into a decent education. She knew that would be his defense against the cruel world.
Aarman loved his mother and as she spent so much time with him, he grew close to her. His eyes would seek her first for every approval even when there were other people around. He saw her effort in their everyday life, on his studies and leisure. He wanted to ensure that he became the good son she wanted and needed so much.
Her confirmation and approval became important to him. He started working towards IIT entrance examinations as he grew older because Kanchan wanted him to study there.
He was an intelligent boy and spent all his time studying. His dedication to his studies even surprised Kanchan. She too made equal effort with him, taking care of his food and other basic necessities so that he could concentrate on studies.
He cracked the exam and entered IIT Delhi.
His mother’s joy knew no bounds.
“Study more,” she told him, “and become a scientist.”
She dreamt of Masters and PhDs.
Aarman felt elated too and a new college brought new friends along with broader horizons. Like all boys he too saw pornography at the hostel, had his first beer and talked about girls.
He had a small group of friends who like him were studious but had fun sometimes.
He focused on studies more. Masters and PhDs beckoned.
Time passed and so did his father one day leaving Kanchan and Aarman alone to fend for themselves. He made sure they were financially well off before he passed away though. Aarman competed his Masters and started to work on his PhD.
He was receiving an allowance now so his mother started to talk of his marriage. It secretly pleased him, this talk of marriage and he was looking forward to starting a new phase of his life with someone special.
Kanchan was unsatisfied with most of marriage proposals. She wanted someone educated, beautiful and special for her only son.
Her name was Shreyea. She had just finished her medical degree and started working as a doctor with a private hospital. She was from well to do family in Delhi and had a younger brother who was studying in IIT Mumbai.
Kanchan felt this was the right girl for Aarman. She set about the matchmaking with a vigour and soon Shreyea and Aarman got engaged and then married.
Kanchan thanked the Goddess again for Aarman, for their home and for Shreyea now. It was, she felt, her happily ever after with her good son.
She was wrong.
Aarman and Shreyea got off to a great start in the marriage. They spent their honeymoon in Maldives and on return to India, went back to their jobs.
The fights started after two months.
“Do you care for me?” Shreyea screamed at him one day, “Do you even love me?”
“Yes” he retorted loudly, “I do love you and care for you. We are together, aren’t we?”
“I don’t mean sex, you idiot!” she replied, “I mean caring for me, caring for my feelings. Listening to me so you understand how I feel and talking to me about your feelings.”
“Do you feel anything for me?” she moaned crying.
But Aarman did not know what feelings meant. No one had taught him how to feel or how to care. He had spent all his life in books and the only relationship example he had seen was his parents. His father worked and his mother took care of the house. That was fine for them.
His mother had never taught him or counselled him about feelings or caring. He knew more about the workings of an internal combustion engine and the principles behind it than he knew of a woman or her emotions. Let’s not even think of the principles behind a woman’s logic, he thought shuddering.
He did not know how to care for a woman. He had never had a meaningful relationship with any woman in his life.
Frankly, he thought he was doing all he could and then some. He was coming home from work on time, they watched TV together and the sex was fine.
He was confused.
What more did she really need?
“Do you want to go out for dinner to your favourite restaurant?” he asked her. Maybe this would help and show he cared.
She screamed and threw her phone at him shouting “Get out, you bastard!”
Then she locked the bedroom door and he could hear her crying. He knocked a few times and said sorry. He had no clue why he was apologising but it usually worked so he was trying it out.
After a bit, he just gave up and went to sleep in the drawing room. He switched on the TV and made himself comfortable on the sofa with a rerun of a world cup cricket match playing.
After a few hours, she unlocked the door silently walked to the drawing room. He was completely absorbed in the cricket match on TV and did not notice her. She kept staring at him for a few minutes silently unobserved.
Then she walked back to their bedroom and locked the door.
Kanchan could see that they were fighting and Shreyea seemed more upset with each passing day. She did not want to interfere but the marriage was worsening steadily. He was spending more time on the drawing room sofa with the TV than with her in the bedroom.
So one day she sat down with Aarman to understand what was going on while Shreyea was at the hospital.
“I don’t know ma,” he said, “she is the one who is always fighting.”
“But why Aarman?” Kanchan asked, “What is the problem?”
“I don’t know the problem, ma,” he said with anguish, breaking her heart, “I am trying my best. She says I don’t love her or care for her but I do. I am trying my best here and I don’t know what more she wants.”
“She is your wife, beta” said Kanchan, “Your responsibility. If she is feeling this, you must try harder. Spend more time with her. Go out for dinner, movies and perhaps take another holiday together.”
“Ok ma”, he said, ever the good son.
So he tried harder but things did not change. Shreyea felt no love from him because he did not know how to love. She felt no care because he did not know how to care. “If there was no love and care,” she thought, “What good are dinners, movies and holidays?”
The fights now expanded to include Kanchan and that created more problems. Aarman was fine till Shreyea was angry with him but he could not stand it if she said anything to his mother.
Small slights and incidents became issues.
Issues became egos.
Egos became anger.
Anger became rage.
Rage became issues again.
The fights had escalated to the point where no one was clear of the real reason of the fights in the first place.
Aarman saw his mother crying one day in the kitchen and lost his temper. He walked up Shreyea in the bedroom and another argument started.
This time when she said something about his mother, he slapped her. Shreyea left and they filed for divorce. The only blessing was that they did not have a child. Kanchan blamed Shreyea. She was the one at fault because she could not understand Aarman. Could not love him for what he was. She could see that he had tried hard to make the marriage work. He had even taken leave from office and asked Shreyea to go on a holiday with him. He had even booked the tickets.
But she was uncompromising.
“You need to compromise in a relationship,” Kanchan had told Shreyea multiple times.
“What relationship?” Shreyea had retorted sarcastically sometimes. This made Kanchan angry because she felt that Shreyea was not even willing to acknowledge the marriage between her and Aarman.
Aarman threw himself into work and his PhD.
Kanchan continued to sigh as she saw her only son, her good son, battle with sorrow and loneliness. Time passed and so did the memory of Shreyea.
Kanchan started to explore the subject of Aarman marrying again but he would not hear of it to begin with. But then he thawed over time.
“What kind of girl do you want to marry?” She asked him.
“Find someone just like you Ma,” Aarman told her.
That pleased her no end and she started the effort again to find a suitable girl for her good son. Her efforts were not very successful as he was now a divorcee and that reduced the eligible pool considerably.
It was on a trip out of town to a conference in Pilani that Aarman met Smita. She was a PhD. On the podium she was speaking about the effects of measuring earth’s gravitational field as applied to quantum mechanics and its impact on future aeronautical designs by a study of how birds navigate it.
His favourite subject.
He walked up to her after the lecture and they spent an hour debating this. He saw that she had forgotten to get her hair properly tied. There was a strange yellow colour stain on her top and her socks did not match.
Aarman realised that none of this mattered. He liked her. He asked her out for a date when they reached Delhi and to his surprise she said yes. They met and the lunch was great as they talked about quantum mechanics.
Aarman started to meet Smita regularly and they enjoyed each other’s company. She did not ask him to talk about his feeling and whatever she felt, she kept to herself.
He told his mother about Smita and sought her approval. Kanchan was happy with Smita’s profile, education and seemed perfect for Aarman. She gave her blessings and he proposed to Smita the next day.
To his pleasant surprise, she said yes immediately. There was no pleading or haggling involved and he was also pleased that she did not ask if he cared for her or had feelings for her.
They married in a quiet ceremony to Kanchan’s immense delight.
They were good together, like two peas in a pod. There was no fighting and sleeping on the sofa. Kanchan checked every night.
She sighed and thanked the Goddess again. Time as they say marches on and Kanchan kept praying for good times ahead.
Life took on a simple and a pleasant rhythm, like a lullaby. Like an undisturbed surface of a pond. Then a pebble hit the surface of the pond and created ripples.
Smita could not get pregnant. They wanted a child and Kanchan was pressing them to have one quickly because they were all growing old.
There was no medical problem, the doctors said. They were all distraught.
Both of them were sad. They wanted a child and the lack of a child made them feel inadequate and incomplete.
The marriage was now in the fifth year, stained and childless when Kanchan advised turning to religion. She asked them both to travel to the Mata Vaishnodevi shrine like she and Aarman’s father had done.
Aarman, the dutiful son agreed though his education told him it was all superstition. Science and engineering does not believe in faith. But he was the good son so they went to the shrine.
An overnight train journey from Delhi, a walk to the Shrine thirteen kilometres uphill and the same back. They went every month for six months in a row. Then the Goddess heard their plea and blessed them with a son. They named him Aayan.
Smita’s eyed had a feverish look the first time she saw her son. She had waited so long for him and her longing had already created a bond with him that promised to be strong. She would love him and cherish him every day. She wanted to hide him from the cruel world. Her heart was bursting with the love that she felt for him.
Smita held up Aayan in her hands and whispered to him, “You will grow up to be just like you father. An IIT engineer and a scientist. I shall make sure of that.”
“My good son” she said kissing him and crying. The child cooed.