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Both instances had evoked strong reactions from the feudal society she belonged to. For a society that still treated a girl child as an unwanted burden, this was unheard of.
Today again, Namrata, paced in the garden restlessly… confused, lost. The pain was unbearable and even though four months had passed, she was still struggling to come to terms with her loss. Life had dealt a cruel blow, but she knew that at least for Radha’s sake, she had to be strong; she had to emerge out of the shadows of her own grief. Every time, she thought of Radha’s future, a shiver ran down her spine. She was all of 25. There was a long life ahead of her…
A barefooted stroll, on the lush green carpet of her garden, had for years, given her solace and today again she was there… in search of the peace and calm, that had been eluding her in the recent times.
Tears rolled down as she thought of the ill-fated day, when she had lost her only son. Rahul had to attend a friend’s wedding at Ghaziabad. Radha was down with viral fever and so he had gone alone, never to return– in the wake of the communal riots, the bus carrying the wedding party had been attacked, and none were spared..
The memory made her feel weak. She pulled up the bamboo chair lying nearby and sat down. As she sat there, gazing at the setting sun, she was once again engulfed by the thought which had brought her to the garden in the first place – future of her daughter- in- law, Radha.
She knew that customs and traditions weren’t too kind and society was still not open enough to embrace a young widow, openly. She had tried discussing it with Radha’s parents, but soon realized the futility. While her parents were equally shaken by the tragedy, they had accepted it as a stroke of destiny. They were firmly rooted in traditions and like most others, had no desire to defy the norms or ruffle any feathers.
For Namrata, defying norms was nothing new. She had done it the first time, when she chose to pursue MBBS, and then again, when she chose, a love marriage over an arranged alliance.
Both instances had evoked strong reactions from the feudal society she belonged to. For a society that still treated a girl child as an unwanted burden, this was unheard of. But then, she was never one to follow the beaten path, and so, had found her way to become the first ever female doctor from the community, and also to marry the love of her life. She was ready to walk that path again again – this time for Radha!
Later that night, as she rummaged through the book rack, looking for something to divert her mind, her hands inadvertently, reached out for an old diary…
She pulled out the diary that had been her constant companion, for most part of her early life. As she settled into the arm chair and turned over to the first page, she couldn’t move her eyes away – for the words there brought back so many memories…
“I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading;
It vexes me to choose another guide”
These lines from Emily Bronte defined the very essence of her being. They had always reminded her of her inner strength and resolve, and had helped her wade through many a crisis. Could these now help Radha find her way, she wondered. The thought gave her some hope and relief; if only she could help Radha start a new life, a life that followed her heart!
Namrata believed that instead of providing external support, it was more important to help her discover her own strength. She had to learn, to become her own support and cheer leader!
Since the demise of her husband fourteen years ago, life had not been easy for Namrata. She was, however, aware that had it not been for her education and financial independence, it could have been much worse. So, making Radha financially independent, was her topmost priority.
As she thought more about it, she recalled that Radha had once made a passing mention of her childhood dream to join the Civil Services. This was in conflict with the beliefs and norms of her family and community, and so had just remained a childhood dream. Namrata , wondered, if this was the time, to revive that dream. She saw no harm in giving it a try. In case it did not work out, Radha always had the option to pursue some other professional course.
In the next few days, Namrata collected a lot of relevant information about preparation for Civil Services and also the professional courses that Radha could explore. She had it all ready before Radha’s return from her parent’s place.
Later that week, when Radha alighted from the car, she was a pale reflection of her former self. This pained Namrata immensely, but also firmed up her resolve, further.
She had always treated Radha as a daughter. Radha, had also been very affectionate and respectful but also very restrained and shy. Namrata, had hoped that with time, she would ease out. However, with the changed circumstances, it had now become her top priority and focus to forge a close bond with Radha and help her open up. Only then, could she truly understand her desires and help her find her way.
For the next few days, she always found ways to spend more time with her, talk to her about various things, her interests and hobbies…they watched movies together and discussed them. All this diverted Radha’s mind and also helped her to open up. She was getting more and more comfortable with each passing day.
One evening, when the conversation ventured around future plans and career choices….Namrata proposed the idea of Civil Services exam. She shared with her, all the information she had gathered “Beta, go through this and let me know what is that you would like to do. Civil Services or a Professional course- the choice is yours”.
Two weeks later, they had started looking for books and coaching institutes for Civil Services Exam!
As expected, all hell broke loose, when the relatives and neighbors heard of it, but Namrata did not care. She stood like a rock between her Radha and her detractors. She was clear and firm, that Radha was now her daughter and nothing and nobody could come in the way of her chosen path. Her firm stance ruffled many feathers in the community, but she paid no heed.
As time passed, everyone got busy with their own lives and the focus shifted away from Radha. There were still those occasional remarks and questioning glances, but they failed to bother the Mother and Daughter.
Soon began the rigor- coaching classes, mock tests and late-night studies. Radha was now so immersed in the preparation, that she hardly had any time to think or worry about anything else. The goal had infused a new life into her and she was determined to succeed.
In her first attempt, she cleared the Prelims, but fell short at the Mains. This, however, did not deter them. They knew it would happen the next time …and it did!
Radha was seated on the stage with other dignitaries. The proud mother, in the audience, was soaking in every moment of the celebration. Her daughter, Radha- the first lady collector of the state, was amongst the five women achievers to be felicitated in this special ceremony, hosted by the Chief Minister.
Radha’s name was announced … Namrata quickly reached out for her camera to capture the moment, but she fumbled and the bag fell over along with all the stuff inside it. She was still gathering the stuff, when a familiar voice on the mike called out “Ma, this is for you… the mother who did not give me my heartbeat, but taught my heart to beat, for my dreams.”
All eyes were now on Namrata, and as Radha, spoke about her journey, the entire gathering erupted in a thunderous applause- together they had turned the Tide!
As she wiped her moist eyes, Namrata looked up… up towards the sky. She knew, someone up there, would also be celebrating today!
Editor’s note: This short story was shortlisted for the August 2019 Muse of the Month contest. We are honoured to publish it, even though it wasn’t one of the winners.
Image source: a still from the movie Listen, Amaya…
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