“Eclectic, interesting…will fill you with hope and resolve!” – Pick up our new short story collection, Women.Mutiny
The monkey is not on your back. It is in your head and you are feeding him by giving attention. It would soon paralyze you.
Our Muse of the Month series this year focus on stories that pass the Bechdel test, and are written on inspiration from a new prompt every month. This month, the prompt was “A Step At A Time”, and the story should pass the Bechdel Test, that is, it should have at least two well crafted, named women characters (we differ here slightly from the classic Bechdel test, in that we require these characters to be named),
The second winner of our April 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Namrata Singh.
The coral pink cuckoo clock kept in Myra’s room chirped 8:00 am as Naina entered the bathroom covered in warm mist and dragged Myra out of her bath tub filled up to her ankle with hot water.
“Mamma, Nooo!” the whiny voice tried it’s best to persuade Naina.
“Enough!” and she pulled her out in a jiffy. Morning time was a battle that Naina fought in her home just like millions of other moms who struggle to balance breakfast, lunch, tiffin, and children and husband all at the same time while their hot cardamom tea patiently waits in silence getting cold. Naina’s was no different.
Shubham left for office planting a peck on Myra’s forehead and a quick bye to Naina.
With braided hair, Myra gulped the toast and boiled egg with warm milk, picked up her Barbie clip and hurried behind Naina who stood in the patio with Myra’s school bag in one hand, water bottle in another and eyes laden with anxiety.
“I won’t take my bike today Myra. I will walk you down to school,” said Naina biting her lips.
“Why mamma? I want my Barbie bike.” Myra pleaded clutching on to Naina’s olive green tank top.
“Okay, you can ride while I walk but I am not biking today.” She looked at her phone wondering if she should carry the interruption along. Few second of thought and she picked up her iPhone 7s and climbed down the stairs, to the parking lot where the bicycles were parked. The school was a good 20 minutes’ walk, reduced to five minutes by bike and today Naina needed some time to think. Extra five minutes, all by herself …just to herself.
The kindergartners had lined up for their class and Myra reached just in time. Few sloppy kisses on her mom’s cheeks and Myra walked into the class carrying her communication folder.
Naina heaved a sigh of relief and started walking back. The weather was perfect outside, nice and sunny, a bit overcast but deep within her, there was a downpour of thoughts and anxious feelings. Barring a few morning walkers, the park next to the school was otherwise deserted. Naina thought to perch herself on the grey bench for some time. No sooner did she reach a shady spot covered by a big banyan tree with rich spring foliage that her phone rang.
Naah! She sighed. Naina hated the technology intervention at this time. She refused to see who was calling but when the rings persisted, Naina finally caved in and saw- ‘Daadimaa* calling’. That surprised her because her 72 year old granny had not been well for some time and Naina feared some bad news.
She sprang to pick up the call before it ended and hurried an instant “Hello Daadi, How are you? All well?”
“Nainu, I am good. Calm down. I am much better. It was a bad case of flu but I survived. You father complains about my teaching every day. He doesn’t understand that a teacher will die teaching. Hahaha!” Daadimaa’s fruity voice relieved Naina.
“He is right Daadi. You have been teaching all your life. Teaching to elementary students wears you down.”
“This is a good wear and tear and I am glad I get to keep myself productively occupied otherwise your mother and I would kill each other every day,” Daadi chuckled. “Hmmm. How are things otherwise? Your mother told me you are deliberating about a second child.”
“What do I say Daadi? Too many things. Let it be. You tell me, has it started raining in Kolkata yet? It’s close to monsoon time there. Bangalore is dry here.”
“Naina, you haven’t been calling me lately and that is unusual. I have known you since the doctor handed you in my lap’s moments after your birth. I have raised you all by myself when your parents were busy working hard. Is everything okay?”
“Daadi, too many things. I feel so spiritless and sapped. Sometimes, I want to run away …from Shubham, Myra, work and all the responsibilities that surround. It is so overwhelming. This smart phone is an added trouble in life. The constant pings, posts, gossip, I find it too toxic. You know what sometimes I find myself burning with envy. I know it is stupid, funny, not done but I land up comparing my life to everyone else and I often find myself unhappy. “
“Hmm. I see”.
“You know Daadi, at IIM, I use to think that the world is my oyster, I was so sure. When it changed to a dungeon, I don’t know… I closed the doors of the corporate life to attend to Myra’s needs, and now when I compare the destinations we all have reached, I find myself nowhere. My start up — as you say –is just a start up. I feel so frustrated as if I have disappointed my own self. It is eating me up. Now there is one more addition from my in laws side- having a second child because Myra needs company, our family will be complete and I haven’t felt so torn ever.”
“A second child?” Daadi’s eyebrows raised.
“Yes. Shubham’s parents have been asking us the same question ever since Myra turned 5 last November and Shubham is slowly caving in. We had made a choice to have a single child but …huh…what do I say? Choices Daadi. Life is so complicated. So much to do…I guess you all had a better life.” Naina concluded.
“Our time? Hmmmm.” Daadi took a deep breath and added, “Naina shall I tell you something. Life is as simple or complicated as we make it to be.”
“Oh Daadi. No theory please. We have many monkeys on our back.”
“You think this is theory? Naina, it is my life story. After losing a husband to blood cancer when your son is just 9 and daughter barely 5 is no theory. Adopting that daughter against the wishes of the world is no theory. Raising the children, managing work and household, taking care of aging parents and scornful in-laws is no theory.”
“ Daadi, I didn’t mean it that way.”
“I know that Naina.”
“I never knew that becoming a mother for a second time was so important.”
“It is not. Who said?”
“The world. They make me feel incomplete.” Naina sounded defeated. “People and their judgments never cease to amaze me. My only child Myra is soon going to be victim of stereotypical ‘ONLY SYNDROME’ and I find it unfair because it is not the truth. If ONLY is a syndrome then SIBLINGS is a syndrome too. Isn’t it?” Naina raised her voice.
“Naina, calm down. Since when did you become so indecisive?””
“Indecisive? People and their…”
“Who are these people who are dictating you about your life choices?”
“Sorry…I didn’t get you.”
“Naina, I am only asking who are these people who are making choices on your behalf?””
“Friends, neighbors, acquaintances, my hairdresser, my mum-in-law…all around.”
“And you let them?” The outrage in Daadi’s voice was apparent.
“I get affected by their words and the conclusions they pass.”
“Because I don’t know what to do. I am happy with Myra and I think I can only go that much. I have my own career and to Shubham and me having a second child doesn’t figure in our list of life goals. Do you really think a second child will complete the family?
“Complete…Really? That is a big word. Who is complete? Listen to me Naina because this Sanjukta Sircar, retired professor of psychology at Kolkata University wants to talk to Naina Roy the IIM, 7 figure salaried professional and tell her that you are as complete as you think, that happiness is a matter of choice, that comparison is an insult to your being. Naina, I have two children, one Bittu, your father and one adopted, your Bua*. You know it all. Bittu born from my womb, the other from my heart. People who were unaware about Misha, often commented that she resembled her father a lot. Strange isn’t it? They commented that I had a complete family. Haha! COMPLETENESS is not in the number of children you have. Siblings is a choice not a necessity. If number of children meant happiness and completeness then the roadside dwellers would be the happiest. Isn’t it? You and Shubham decide if you are ready for another child. Not everyone else is, and that is not a crime. What is a crime is to force yourself into motherhood and do a lousy job in bringing them up.”
“No Naina. You have to take control of what you think. Do not let somebody else’s thoughts govern your life. Choose your thoughts. The monkey is not on your back. It is in your head and you are feeding him by giving attention. It would soon paralyze you.”
“But Daadi, you can’t undermine comparisons. They do happen and one can’t but help feel unhappy.”
“Nainu, it is a very old proverb but will always be closest to my heart. How difficult it is to see the glass half full?”
“Because when you see people around with full glasses, you hate your glass half empty. You want it full too.”
“Happiness is a choice Naina. Comparison is a choice. Making a choice is a choice. I am just trying to get across one point Naina. CHOOSE. Is it so difficult to not look at others? Are you so unoccupied and if that is the case Naina Roy, I Sanjukta Sircar will tell you the biggest secret why I choose to work till now. An empty mind was a devil’s workshop and continues to be so. Social Media has added to the power of this demon. If you do not have something productive to do, find one, start one. It requires one to be brave because we love our comfort zone. It is the best place to settle in but it soon starts rotting and decaying and you have to get out of it. That, undoubtedly calls for some effort and courage which you have shown. To me you are a bright kid and your start –up looks like a great idea. What is the problem then? Your friends and their FB posts? Delete your FB account if you cannot handle it.
Choices Naina! And mind you, despite everything, you can’t do all, you can’t get all, something will be left out. A step at a time, and sometime when you really want to compare, look down…look at those who don’t have what you have and you would get your answers. Don’t care about whose grass is green or yellow, just water your grass. You can only control that. At 72, I may not know how to operate an iPhone, but I know about life which even an iPhone doesn’t. Be aware, be mindful and be grateful. These are regular life challenges which you have made gigantic and now this giant is ready to gobble you.
I am keeping the phone because I have to prepare lessons for the students who would come in the evening.”
“Ummm…..Daadi, wait, did you have breakfast?”
“No, I will go now.”
“I love you and thank you…”
“Thank you for?” Daadi paused
“Ummmmm” Naina tried searching for words
“You take care Nainu. Don’t let the monkey call the shots.”
Saying this, Daadi disconnected the call, leaving Naina amidst noisy silence. She sat on the bench for long. The dark clouds had floated away and the warmth of the sun comforted Naina. She felt her throat dry up. As she walked back home, she saw her neighbors and friends going about their life. Naina climbed the steps of the second floor apartment, one step at a time trying to disentangle the weeds from her feet, untwining it from her fingers and loosening her soul from the grip of the monkey.
Bua- Father’s sister
Namrata Singh wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2018. Congratulations!
Image source: pexels
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