He was a senior executive. Interns and freshers looked up to him. With awe, respect and a tinge of envy. He was suave, popular and a trendsetter. One Friday, he ordered a round of shots for everyone at work, after an evening of binge drinking in the office. There were a few groans and protests. He ignored. It was her first week at work. He singled her out for two shots. She squirmed. He resisted. Coaxed her. Pushed the glass towards her. Cheered her. Egged her on. Everyone gathered around her. And she gently, reluctantly, parted her lips. Still squirming.
I was in a saree shop. Admiring the colours and patterns, in search of a new outfit for a wedding reception. And the lehenga saree revealed itself on a mannequin. An over enthusiastic sales guy offered to drape one on me. An aunt nudged me forward. Before I could even examine myself in front of a mirror, the said aunt captured a quick snapshot of me. For my daughter abroad, she said.
She was yet to celebrate her first wedding anniversary, when the mother-in-law apprised her. She was to hand over her bridal saree to a cousin in the family. She complied, meekly. It was returned to her a week later, after being cleaned at a local laundry, with the embroidery coming apart.
I didn’t let her enter the house. I relieved her of the flowers but I insisted that she explain her timing before I let her in. I pretended to be vexed with her for coming late. She pretended to be embarrassed. I was thrilled. But I continued giving her a hard time for a while. At the threshold of the house. She apologized sheepishly. As you would to a school principal. And I welcomed her home with a flourish.
A week later she admitted to the mother how elated she was. How wanted and special she had felt, in those few moments. That the celebrations had felt incomplete without her.
Only she didn’t know the truth. Perhaps, I didn’t either.
What I do know is that it was a spontaneous outpouring of affection. The heart was overwhelmed with tears and her presence gave me a reason to smile. She didn’t know whom I was comforting more.
She sat on a chair, especially decorated for her. And she saw her world in front of her, the one she had built with her husband; her sons, their wives and the grandchildren. The spread on the table included her favorite dishes. And she was seated next to her favoritest person in the world, her sister; also her best friend.
We had talked about this day for weeks. The night before we had stayed up to create a collage of memories for her, to include the most important people in her life. We had had a minor debate on whether to include the late grandfather’s pictures in it. She had a right to those memories, we noted.
Making the collage was a fun ride down memory line. The time when we made the men of the house chop salad for the evening meal, when we decked up in ghaghras for the Diwali Puja at home, when the baby brother’s first milk tooth fell off. We saw our grandmother lounging on a beach in Daman, a rare picture of her with the grandfather and of her with her favorite pair of knitting needles.
She was overwhelmed when we unwrapped her present. Until that moment, I had no idea that a bunch of pictures could make someone so happy. She took her time to identify each person and each moment. With pride, with glee, marveling at the world she had helped build.
I wonder who crossed her mind that night as she embraced sleep, her granddaughters who had wished her from the other side of the world that morning or our grandfather.
They told me that she was getting old and feeble. That I should cut her some slack in her old age and not be so harsh with her. But I didn’t think that I had it in me. I was rankling with the pain of rejection. And in my scheme of things, she had yet to make amends for a lot of injustices on her part. I just wasn’t able to find it in me to forgive her. Not just yet. For every instance that I was reminded how much I owed her, I dug into my ever-growing list of grievances against her; most of them legitimate.
I became cool and distant. I did what was expected of me. Being polite, expressing concern but if you knew me well, you knew it was a well-concealed façade. Smiling on the outside, seething from within. Until this became a definite part of me.
Distance helped ease my pain (as is usually the case). Some of my resentment melted away. Mostly because I wasn’t pondering over it as much. And I was sufficiently beyond caring now.
So when she called me last week, and I spoke to her after a gap of two months, I wasn’t as perturbed. What left me troubled is how weak and helpless she sounded. She was due to visit the doctor. But no one seemed to be free to accompany her. So she let it pass, as a mother is usually wont to do.
For a very brief moment, it reminded me of a time, two years ago, when I had offered to accompany her and she had spurned me in favor of her grandson. Ever so patient, the father had consoled me then, “It’s her loss. You cannot possibly make the same offer to someone twice.”
That evening, a part of me thought that perhaps I could!