When I am Free
by Ritu Sama
“I want to go!!” – Tanya was loud this time, her lips slightly quivering with anger and her chin slightly raised in defence.
Her mother, Kanchan, was silent – a troubled and defeated look on her face. The expressions couldn’t be mistaken though, she didn’t need to word her disappointment as it was written in bold all over her face.
Tanya knew this face – whenever she would throw a tantrum, this was exactly the expression her mother would reward her with. Today was no different.
“You don’t like living at home,” Kanchan quietly asked. In fact, it was more of a statement rather than a question – a conclusion she had painfully arrived at.
“You know, the college here is equally good. I will be there to take care of you. You will be at home and you won’t have to worry about anything. Why do you want to join the Delhi college and stay in hostel?”
“You would never understand! I am eighteen! Can’t I make my own decision? I want to go to the Delhi College and not stay here in this small remote town” – Tanya had been selected for engineering in two colleges, the famous engineering college, which was just a mile away from her house and also in the Delhi college.
Kanchan gave a sigh – this was a ‘I give up for the time being sigh’. The discussion was parked for the time being.
The remote town was in fact a beautiful city where Tanya lived with her parents and sister, Trisha. Kanchan had lived all her life here, married to a local boy - Abhishek, had given up her career and taken excellent care of her two daughters.
“Didn’t you want to work?” – Tanya had once asked Kanchan, when she had seen her mother congratulating their neighbour on her promotion.
“Yes, may be. But I have my writing. It keeps me busy when I am free.”
Tanya knew that her mother was free only once a year when the daughters went for the summer camp.
“Won’t you get them published?” Tanya had probed.
Kanchan had become thoughtful – “Yes may be one day when I am free. I am in no hurry.” – She had added with a smile only to get back to her chores.
At the dinner table today, Tanya’s sister Trisha was all excited about her annual functions scheduled in a week. She was the star dancer and had won many competitions.
“Mom you need to embellish my dress by tomorrow. I need to show it to the coordinator,” Trisha demanded.
“It’s almost done, Trisha. Another 2-3 hours tonight and you will have the most beautiful embellishments in the whole troupe!” Kanchan assured her younger one.
Tanya was sulking as Kanchan had predicted – giving a cold shoulder and answering in monosyllables. This was so typical of her since childhood whenever she didn’t get her favourite toy. Kanchan just gave her time to come back to her senses.
“Tanya, this will not take you anywhere – and certainly not to Delhi!” – her father remarked, with newspaper in one hand and a morsel in another.
Tanya just gave the look to her mother, the look shamelessly showering the disappointment and saying that I am distraught all because of my mother.
Kanchan was slightly taken aback, seemed like the winds of rebellion were here to stay. She was hurt by Tanya’s attitude. Was she asking for too much? Kanchan wondered. She was only asking for just a few more years before her beloved first daughter would spread her wings and fly away from the nest.
Kanchan thought about Tanya’s stubbornness. Both the colleges were equally good and still she wanted to go away. She didn’t know any kid in her neighbourhood who wanted to leave her parent’s house that early in life. Tanya had just turned eighteen – was she to blame, maybe she was not a good mother, maybe she was suffocating her daughters with too much care.
Kanchan’s whole life had revolved around her family. That’s what she had seen in her own house as a kid. Her mother was her guide and best friend and that’s what Kanchan had also tried to be to her daughters. She had never let herself free time, never pursued time consuming interests, through illness and celebrations and failures she had been with them. Kanchan had enjoyed the journey with her daughters – two were really a handful though – there were frustrating moments too, but persistence had been her key.
And today, was Tanya indicating that it was too much that their mother had to back off. Tears threatened to roll down as Kanchan looked outside the window before retiring for the day. Looking
at the still air outside while a storm brewed in the depths of her mind.
“Are you worried about the money?” her husband asked Kanchan as they both sipped their morning tea in the veranda, a 15 min. ritual before the humdrum of the day started.
“Because you should not be. We can easily afford to let Tanya study in the Delhi College”.
Kanchan was not worried about the money. She was confused by what Tanya wanted and she was also confused by her own emotions. Was she clipping her daughter’s wings, would her daughter remember her mother to be a compulsive tyrant who didn’t let her daughter step out of her house?
She shuddered when she remembered what her neighbour had told her a few days back - how Mrs. Lalvani’s daughter had run away with the gardener’s son as Mrs. Lalvani had put too many restrictions. She couldn’t be like Mrs. Lalvani. Kanchan took a decision.
Tanya was out with her friends the whole day – they were all emotional on leaving the school and wanted to stick together as much as possible before joining the colleges of their choice. Kanchan was busy the whole day as Tanya was bringing her friends for a small party – she had a long menu and Kanchan was happily arranging the table when they all arrived – loud and cheerful, bringing a smile to Kanchan’s lips. She hadn’t got a chance to flex her muscles the whole day, but this laughter had been worth it. She felt rejuvenated as if after a long spa and then to be hugged by her daughter – it was the reward she could never ever get satiated with.
“Wow! Aunty- the spread looks awesome. We are all starving. We didn’t eat much the whole day because we knew we were coming here in the evening!!” Tanya’s best friend Vibha commented.
Tanya was in a good mood too.
May be this was the time – Kanchan thought. All her friends were there. She wanted Tanya to be happy and she had now realized she wanted to set her free.
“Tanya, have you told your friends you will be moving to Delhi soon? Or you want to tell now?”
Kanchan surprised her daughter and she could almost see tears of joy in Tanya’s eyes.
“Oh Mom – you are the best!” Tanya hugged her mother tight. Kanchan had heard this so many times, but each time it gave her the same amount of satisfaction. Kanchan knew she had taken the right decision. Abhishek also was in agreement.
Rest of the days, before Tanya’s departure, were a flurry of activity. The list was never ending and the enthusiasm never dying. Much to Kanchan’s relief, there was a bunch of other kids joining the same college from their town.
Kanchan got up very early on the day of her daughter’s departure. It would be a day of new beginnings, she wanted it to be right and she wanted Tanya’s journey from that day onwards to be right, even though it would be without her mother by her side.
Tanya was chirpy. Though Kanchan knew she would be nervous as hell but her Tanya was an expert in masking such emotions. For the past few days, they had been having long talks and chit-chat planning the future, planning the vacations when Tanya would be home.
The train was before time and Tanya was seated with all her luggage and her other friends. It was a noisy compartment, brimming with youthful exuberance.
“Tanya, dear – this is the first step towards spreading your wings. Just remember start with small flights and your wings will soon get the strength to take longer and higher flights…and…then as you know….
“then sky is the limit” – both mother daughter said in unison. This was their favourite phrase.
It was time for the train’s departure and Kanchan got out of the train.
As the train slowly moved away, Tanya looked outside the window towards her mother –“Mom – make this a first step towards spreading your wings too. You can soar in the highest of the skies. I would be in Delhi and I wanted you to use that time to do what you have wanted to do…I want you to experience freedom just the way I will…This is your flight too. No longer you get to say now –“when I am free.”
The surroundings faded away as these words hit Kanchan’s ears. It was a perfect plot by Tanya, to sneak in the long-wished moments of freedom in her mother’s life.
“Yes, no longer I get to say that when I am free” – Kanchan repeated on her way back – “It was time for spreading my wings too.” ***