My world has fallen apart time and again!
I was born with a golden spoon that turned wooden within five years, but I could stay the course. She was always there with me. A bit broken, a bit damaged, but I managed to dust myself off. I carried on. She was always there, watching from behind! It wasn’t a privileged childhood. But it wasn’t a deprived one either. The small house at a dingy by-lane in North Kolkata seemed so spacious. Love can indeed create magic!
The posh English medium school was no longer affordable. But the vernacular medium school was quite up to the standards. Then, her presence at home started to gradually dwindle through the day. But she would be back before dinner time. It didn’t matter much! Life under the care of grandparents with limited discipline instilled, seemed no less wonderful. If I needed something, I would ask my Grandpa. And he would happily oblige. I didn’t know how he managed with his meagre government pension.
One day we went to attend a house-warming ceremony somewhere in South Calcutta. Late that night, after having dinner when I walked on the streets holding my Grandma’s hands to catch a cab for home, I didn’t have an iota of doubt that she wasn’t behind us. When the cab arrived and I prepared to board, I turned back to realize her absence. I asked my Grandma.
“Isn’t Mamoni (that’s what I call my Mom) coming with us?”
“No”, she replied.
I didn’t know that she would never return home.
Love is kind but love is cruel as well. I wasn’t angry. I was hurt; I was a bit broken; I was a bit damaged, yet again. I let my sadness breathe. And then life too moved on. She visited us often with her husband, who of course wasn’t my father. I didn’t like him. He didn’t like me, either. We just tolerated each other’s presence. Those visits too dwindled. I stayed a few times at her husband’s place. I was never at ease there. I would find an excuse to cut short that stay and return to my grandparents’ small house.
I graduated, got a job and eventually shifted to Delhi. I didn’t inform her that I was leaving Kolkata. Two years went by, she didn’t call once. She loved me so much. She was badly hurt, for sure. But I didn’t care. Why should I? I wasn’t prepared to forgive her “selfishness”. Two long years went by. I visited Calcutta several times. I never called her. I never met her and often avoided family functions where she could be present. My finances began to improve. The irony of life is that money makes your misery bearable. I was “happy” in my own little world. Her absence was no longer a thud in silence.
Then, one Saturday morning – I still don’t know why – I picked up the phone (with some prodding by my friend, Sanjay) and called her.
“Mamoni, how are you?”
“I’m fine. You remembered me after so long?”
The melted heart ran down my cheeks. “I’m fine. I will go to Kolkata next week. I want to meet you,” I told her.
“Okay, fine. I won’t go to your Grandma’s place. We will meet somewhere outside for lunch.”
I agreed. I was so desperate to meet her. I was ready for any precondition.
Sanjay continued to drink rum neat from the bottle – eerily symbolic – the spirit of love strengthens when aged…why dilute it? Sanjay wasn’t my best buddy at the University. We often found ourselves at loggerheads on issues, creative or otherwise. Yet, there always have been mutual respect. That’s why our friendship has not only stood the test of time, but has grown leaps and bounds over the years. But that’s a story for another day.
We met outside at a newly opened restaurant on the ground floor of the refurbished Star Theatre. The food was fine. The décor was spacious. But I was claustrophobic. A thousand questions circled around my mind. Those that I wanted to ask her for a long time. But I never did. Rather, over the years, I had allowed my mind to be clouded by the judgements of so-called blood relatives who always had their own axe to grind. Those who were always jealous at my father’s success but play acted their role as a well-wisher perfectly.
“You want to ask or tell me something?” She asked, putting up a stern demeanor.
“Yes. Why did you leave us? We were happy together. It wasn’t a luxurious life but we were happy.”
She broke her couple of minutes of silence.
“Have you watched the film “Sophie’s Choice”? If you did, you will understand why I had to leave you.”
For the uninitiated, “Sophie’s Choice” is an Academy Award winning movie starring Meryl Streep. Sophie, a Polish immigrant, who upon arrival at Auschwitz was forced to choose which one of her two children would be gassed and which would proceed to the labor camp.
“I was thrown into a marriage with your father when I wasn’t really prepared for. I was just eighteen. But I still managed to adjust myself with my new life. Then, you were born after a year. When your father passed away, I had very little choice to lead a dignified life. I didn’t have much formal education. But I had to ensure that you and your brother lead a normal life. I didn’t marry him because I wanted to have riches and pleasure for myself. In fact, that I never had. He was foul-mouthed and verbally abusive, especially when he was drunk. But I hung on to it knowing that he would pay for your and your brother’s education. Every day, I sacrificed a little bit of me, so that you could lead a life in peace, even without me. Have you ever thought about how your daily needs were being met? Do you really think your Grandpa drew enough pension to take care of them? At the end of every month whenever I went to your grandparents’ place, I was welcomed with a long list – waiting to be reimbursed. Even a small pencil didn’t manage to skip that list, ever. No one asked me whether I could manage to get the money. Everyone just asked for money.”
As the monologue went on, I increasingly began to realize my mistake. The guilt ran down my cheeks, once again! I embraced her with a tight hug, indifferent to the people staring at us.
Who cares? It was the day I found my lost mother – the woman I loved the most…yet when she apparently left me, I didn’t plead her to return.
I have realized over the years that what’s good in me is solely hers. What’s wicked in me is solely mine! That day, the evening came to claim her again. I will probably never know another woman who can love me, or care for me, with such pain locked in the heart. Love often needs to be cruel to be kind.