by Kusum Choppra
(Ahmedabad, Gujrat, India)
“Rima, you’ve not been to see Ma once since her op. last week? Your sale over three days ago,” Pia charged.
“After looking after her for years, isn’t it your turns now?”
“Looking after or your meal ticket? When Raunaq and you got dough, you left her alone.”
“She complained to you?”
“Am I blind? The way she looks at the door whenever it opens…”
“Aw girls, she has an expressive face. Whenever I see Ma, I wonder: Why did she let Pa break up the family?”
“Rima, you’re blaming her? Single-handedly?”
“Her carping would drive anyone away. After you two married, I was alone with it.”
“And your sponging n demands? Home late, then loud music left on, wake up to a hot breakfast. She stayed up to switch off lights and music and clear up after you, and you complain?”
“Don’t you know how she nags?”
The eldest sister Saloni spoke up. “Wait till you cross 50; then we’ll see who nags. Rima, then it was your freedom. Now?”
“Depressing. Ma never laughs.”
“Do you ever let her smile? I remember her generous smiles lighting up her eyes,” Saloni reflected; “her face, almost trembling with pleasure—so much a woman, a mother; all taken away from her. You don’t remember, Rima, but Pia does.”
Saloni hesitated as if questing herself before she continued slowly,
“Never wondered at the 8-year gap between Pia and you?”
“Of course. Was I an accident?”
“Not accident, Baby, Ma’s last-ditch attempt to salvage a flopped marriage. She never expected one more millstone around her neck.”
“How dare you?”
“All of us became millstones around her neck when Pa walked out. You can’t recall how Ma survived, shutting out everything in her life, just to feed four mouths two meals a day. Who do you think did it all, while someone flew in once a year with a shower of little gifts?”
Pia, quiet till now, broke in…
“Stop passing judgment on either Pa or Ma. They’re our parents, humans, not gods; we each have something from both of them. Pa and Ma have their own virtues and failings; all they need now is a smile and a caring look. Can’t you spare that much, Rima?”
“Girls, now I’m married,” said Rima married 6 months, “Why did she give him such a long rope that he could vanish altogether? Why?’
“Baby,” said Saloni slowly, “that is a long thorny road. Want to hear?” Almost gently:
“Compatibility depends on many factors. There are two basic human types, the Hail-Fellow-Well-Met and the earthy, sober. Initially, opposites attract, Hail-Fellow comes down to earth and the earthy shakes up. The trick is settling in and getting the environment right.
Pa is Hail Fellow. Ma earthy, a PhD in Adjusting. His family loved her for being a beautiful, accommodating wife he loved to show off to envious friends. Only Ma didn’t realize she was ‘Accommodating’ till later. Usually happens too late. The wife is last to know; no one shatters her dream world. I often wonder: is it pity, malice or just plain fear?”
Saloni stopped suddenly, then continued painfully:
“You remember that holiday at Pachmarhi, Pia? Someone passed a remark, Ma was boiling mad. She told us not to budge from the poolside and marched into the hotel. She came out hours later, a different woman altogether.”
“Years later, she told me. It was after my first battle with my husband Atul. She found Pa in bed with another woman. He laughed in her face and said ‘That’s the way I am. I love women, the more the merrier. Be happy with what I spare for you; don’t rock the boat”.
Can you imagine how she shattered? A decade-plus of supposed ‘happy marriage’ tumbling down? That supposed togetherness, cuddling, sacrificing her desires for his frenetic partying, freezing air-conditioned room…. I wonder: was that why she always curled up to him, giving him what he wanted, never mind the string of abortions that wrecked her health? Two kids and all that accommodating later, she was just one in a long unending queue? Think, Rima, would you have coped with that?”
“Then life changed altogether. Ma changed; Pa never did. The family tried reconciliation; gloom, fights and patches of sunlight, one when you were born, Ma’s last-ditch effort. Life catches up with you no matter how much you hate it.”
What d’you mean?”
“Rima, I cringed when Ma stopped smiling. Now I can sympathize. I was Pa’s Hail Fellow girl, an incorrigible flirt. Earthy Atul kept me grounded though I led him quite a dance; then he got me involved in his business, with a separate department to handle on my own.
day, he sat me down and read me the rules:
“The day my child wonders whose kid he is, it’ll be over,” he said. I’d worked out that most guys were simply variations of him or Pa. Having burnt my fingers with two, why exchange for another similar model? My home became like ours when Pa was there, noise n tension. We wanted him but hated it too. When he finally left, it was so light, so peaceful but vitality was gone. Life became quite pheeka once again ….”
She stopped again pensively and her sisters waited.
“Until I met someone of my own. We complemented each other, I was flamboyant, she the quiet arguer; forcing me to think, about so many things, and figure out Pa and Ma, and how they affected me, my life. We grew close, very close…” she closed her eyes.
“Yes, Pia. She opened so much more life for me.”
“Does Jijaji know?”
“They all know her as a friend and accept her. She makes herself a very acceptable person generally; keeping her philosophies and radical thinking for a suitable company only. Smart woman, isn’t she?”
“Teach Ma who spouts philosophy to all and sundry,” broke in Rima.
Pia jumped on her. ” Be grateful, her philosophy is simple homespun, not bitter as might well be. You grumble about Ma. What about Pa? Have you made your peace with him or still battling?”
“I had long ago, but…”
“He married Sarita and actually produced a kid young enough to be your kid. The gall! How could he do that to us?”
“Why are you so upset?”
“How to acknowledge a brother younger than your own son, Pia?”
“As a fact of life, Rima. Look: after years of frittering and flirting, Pa settled down with Sarita. She’s, our age. Wouldn’t she want a child of her own? Bhale Buddha mil gaya husband, but the kid had to happen, with no great effort on either side.”
“And you accept that?”
“Rima, it happened and will exist whether we accept or not. I was as upset as you. Atul’s the type who’d press my hand when I’d laugh loudly at Comedy Circus. He almost had apoplexy at that development, made my life hell. Pami helped me get Pa’s womanizing in perspective. Thank God the fear of ‘young wife’ ditching him brought him to heel; ditto Atul’s stodginess.
They cannot help what they are. Nor can we, so we have to work around the differences. I see it in my twins, Akash and Anita. He can’t stop giggling and smiling and she will not stop climbing trees with all the earnestness of Tensing Norgay conquering Everest. Tell us, how do you and Raunak cope?”
“Raunak loves to travel, at every opportunity. Hence his sales job…” a sudden thought changed her face. Rima gulped, then continued, “I was running from the Ma blues and bhajans all the time.”
“Giggling Smart Aleck; understand her solace in solitude?” Pia
“No. Why can’t she go for kitties instead?”
“She is Ma; she saw through kitty culture long ago. Why should she expose herself to the Cats at Kitties?”
Saloni turned to Pia “Have you your peace with Pa?”
Pia nodded slowly. “More than Rima. I meet Pa often; Pa and Ma are both important parts of my life. How to cut them out?
Yes, Sarita was a shock. I went out of curiosity and accepted her as Pa’s choice. She really adores the mellow him, but is smart enough to not give him any dheel. If it were to happen now, he may behave differently, but Time does not return.
The kid’s a tiny angel; pray that Pa does not leave him midstream as he did us. Sarita doesn’t have Ma’s strength.”
“What’s the use of strength which can’t hold your man?”
”What is the use of holding a man against his will? Don’t forget, Ma never had Pa. She was Official Cover-up Pin Up for his adventures.”
Saloni was shocked. Rima burst out “Rubbish. Who told you that?”
“Pa himself. Once, trying to justify himself, he said he got tired of maintaining a charade. So he walked off. Until Sarita happened and it was time to settle his oldish bones.”
The three looked at each other.
“Know the latest: I died laughing at Sarita’s open marriage proposal, telling Pa not to flirt behind her back, just bring them home and she’ll bring her boyfriends home too. Her laparoscopy means no pregnancy hassles.”
“Yes, I heard and felt sorry for Pa. Poor misfit of an old man whose time is past and he doesn’t even know it.”
1598 words *****