“Help me clear the house,” Rukmini pleaded with Meghna. “I can’t manage it alone.”
Reluctantly, Meghna obliged, allocating only half a day from her busy schedule. “Tell me precisely what you would like cleaned,” she instructed her mother. “I will have to bring Raaga with me. She will nag me if she gets bored. I can’t leave her behind.”
“No question of that!” Rukmini replied, predictably.
Though they were in the same city, getting Meghna to visit her was a challenge. Poor child, she had so much on her plate!
Forty two year old Meghna walked into her mother’s house the next morning, dragging a sulking 10 year old behind her. Rukmini welcomed them with an anxious smile and fussed over Raaga till Meghna snapped, “Oh, leave her mother. She will be happy watching TV.”
“She may enjoy going through your old things,” Rukmini tried to entice her granddaughter, but neither Meghna nor Raaga seemed enthused with the idea.
Raaga switched the TV on and sat on the sofa across. Rukmini smiled affectionately and moved to the window, peeping out. Something about that disturbed Meghna, who looked away and walked into her room.
“My precious,” Rukmini had whispered so many decades ago, standing next to the window.
Meghna, just six, fluttered her eyelids as she looked at her mother adoringly. “Can I go down to play?” she asked softly, eagerly.
Rukmini’s smile waned slightly. “I am busy right now… Shall I take you down later?”
Meghna peeped out of the window. “They will go away.”
“Who are they?” Rukmini joined her daughter at the window. “They are playing with stones! How dirty! We will play some pretty games at home, ok?” she sat next to her daughter and smiled affectionately.
Meghna looked at her mother doubtfully. “But I want to play that!”
“That’s what you think. But mamma knows best…”
Rukmini was not a young mother – she was 36 when Meghna was born, after many prayers, fasting, visits to the doctors, treatment. A fact she drilled into her daughter’s brain over the years. Rukmini and her husband Ravi were running their own business – an engineering firm – at the time. When the child was born, she left everything aside to enjoy motherhood, to give her everything to the child. She skipped the playschool completely, preferring to give personal attention, teaching her daughter all the nursery rhymes, counting, alphabets at home.
“Oh how wonderful that had been! You were such an easy child!” Rukmini would exclaim and look at Meghna pointedly, to imply that things had changed, and it wasn’t so wonderful any longer.
When Meghna turned six, Rukmini found the best school and enrolled her daughter there. Unable to bear the pain of separation of even those few hours, she had rejoined business, returning home when Meghna did. “As of now, the child is back by noon. But in a few months, she will be away till 2 pm.” Just thinking of it made Rukmini anxious. Would the child get into trouble? Will there be bullies? What about abusers?
Sometimes when at work, she would be tempted to run to the school to check on her child, but it was Ravi’s stern glance that kept her in place. When she saw her daughter later, she would first check for any telltale marks, to inform her of any misfortune that had befallen her child. Not finding any, relief would sweep over her. Truth be told, Rukmini wondered if she were not just a bit disappointed too. It was as if her fears were unfounded, which they were not, she was sure!!!
As Meghna grew older, she seemed to want more time away from her mother. It broke Rukmini’s heart. When a few years later Rukmini had to finally give in, there were so many conditions. “You have to be somewhere, where I can see you and call you. You have to be back home by 7. You will play only games where there is no chance of your getting lost or hurt…!”
It was all for the best, Rukmini thought with a sigh as she joined her daughter in the bedroom.
But Meghna never appreciated that. Relieved to be away from her mother’s immediate presence, Meghna nodded to all and ran out before Rukmini could finish! She couldn’t even complain to Ravi, for he seemed so indifferent to their daughter’s safety! So she carefully kept her husband out of all important decisions that needed to be taken for their daughter. “What do you know? You focus on the business,” she sternly held him off. Ravi had no reason to interfere, was glad even, since their business was in its growth phase and needed his attention.
Rukmini’s pleasure in trying to instill the fear of the lurking threats in Meghna’s mind was short lived, though. The more she cautioned Meghna, the more her own fears grew, and the more her daughter seemed eager to explore and confront dangers. Rukmini’s health started getting affected.
“You are giving me heartburn, Meghna!” Rukmini accused her daughter, then a teenager.
“Don’t call me that! I am Maggi. And you are making me a prisoner,” Meghna retaliated. She hated that name, the one her mother had given her, and wanted a new persona.
“What kind of a name is Maggi? Like instant noodles,” her mother complained.
“That’s me. The Now Girl.”
“All that I have gone through for you…!” Rukmini started on her favourite line.
“Mamma, I didn’t ask you to go through it. In fact, I wish you would stop!” Meghna retorted bluntly.
“Where are you going?” Rukmini asked. Even at that moment of hurt, her concern for Meghna, who seemed to be heading for the door, hadn’t come down by a fraction.
“For a walk.”
“No, wait till daddy comes. You cannot go alone. People stare.” Rukmini had to fight several such battles.
As Meghna rummaged through her cupboard, she discovered some clothes had mysteriously vanished soon after her buying them when she was younger – dresses her mother had disapproved of. She remembered how her mother wanted to win every argument, by hook or by crook. There were so many conditions! She could not go for movies with her friends, because in the dark theatre, lots of sins happened. She could not go out to eat, because across the table, much mischief was perpetrated. She could not even go to the gym alone, for trainers could not be trusted. Only if Rukmini, Ravi or a trusted old servant was around could she budge. Even the clothes she wore had to be as per Rukmini’s standards.
All Meghna wanted was to become an adult, independent, to get away from it all.
Rukmini was ready for that too. The mobile phone was like a wireless umbilical cord, connecting them from wherever Meghna went. “Isn’t it wonderful? Remember to call me the moment you reach,” was a standing instruction. “And when you are starting from there…. And if you are stopping anywhere in between.”
If Meghna ignored, her mother called till she picked up. If she switched off her phone, then there would be hell to pay. It was better to give in and update her mother every hour till she returned.
Oh, for some moments of anonymity, to be lost in a crowd, not to be connected, not to be traced, not to be followed…
Meghna reached deep into the shelf and out came a cover with some papers – application forms. She stared at it, old frustrations rising again.
Rukmini had decided what Meghna should do for master’s, and where. But Meghna wanted to make a dash for freedom. She quietly prepared for the qualifying exams to go abroad, thinking when the time came, she could muster the courage to broach the topic with her parents. But when the time came, she couldn’t face her mother, and her father proved to be helpless and futile.
Rukmini took the papers from her and smiled. “Imagine! If you had gone abroad, your life would have been a wreck. Bad company, wrong man…! So many disasters could have befallen you!”
Meghna glared at her mother, grabbed the forms and tore them viciously.
In a way, she had found that freedom only after her marriage. And, in motherhood. She felt more in control now.
“Mamma,” Raaga peeped in. “I can hear the other children playing downstairs. Can I go?”
Meghna stared at her daughter. “No! We don’t know who they are! You stay at home and watch TV!”
“You never let me go down!” Raaga complained.
“Mamma knows best,” Meghna snapped with a look that shut her child up.
Yes, finally she could do as she wished; impose her will!