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Reena and Suman lost their mother in childbirth. My only daughter-in-law died trying to produce a son. My son, who was longing for a son, became a widower. A pall of sadness overcame us all. He found his solace in alcohol – no surprises there. What about me? In my fifties, I restarted my work to support him. I am a widow and was so dependent on my only son and daughter-in-law. Seeing him wasting away in tears and alcohol nights, I had to take care of my family.
I pulled out my long lost courage. Whatever little savings I could muster were held close to my chest, and I left my small village home to work in the capital city of Delhi. My relatives lived there and assured me help to find employment. I wanted to work for my little Suman and Reena.
My son came to his senses eventually, but not before hitting rock bottom. He continues living off the little land we have in the village, barely making ends meet. I found work with a good family as a housekeeper. I lived well, had my separate quarter and sent my son money for my granddaughters. We pooled our resources to keep our family afloat. Reena and Suman were going to a free Christian village school. Life fell into a positive frame with hope as my constant companion.
As time passed and my son’s grief over his wife’s loss subsided, his lust rose. He remarried without consulting me. His new-found bride became his new pride. In his ongoing honeymoon, he started ignoring his daughters. Suman and Reena became stepdaughters in their own father’s home. Disappointed, lonely and sad they were unable to deal with the new reality. I was left with no choice but to call them to live with me in the city. My work and responsibility multiplied. But the thought of having my girls gladdened my heart. I still nurtured dreams of carving a better future. Thankfully, my employers continued to support me in this tough phase.
I managed to marry off Suman to an older man. I was criticized and berated by my relatives but I couldn’t care less. I just had to settle the young girls. Suman’s husband turned out to be a decent man. He respected and welcomed me whenever I visited. They produced two daughters and one son. Suman is happily settled in her home. She has a huge age gap with her husband but he takes care of her and the kids. He is a polite, kind man. That is enough for me. Seeing my one granddaughter settled I feel more alleviated. I had bigger dreams for Reena.
Reena was cut out of a different mould. She was a bright, peppy teenager growing up in the big city. She worked on and off, collected money and blew it on clothes and enjoying with friends. She was gregarious and hot-headed. She wanted the latest mobile phone, flashy boots and a boyfriend on her arm. I loved her to bits (I still do) and cannot see any wrong in her desires. You are young only once and my youth had passed way too quickly, always trying to please my in-laws.
The first sign of Reena’s rebellious nature revealed itself to me the day she ran away with a boy she fancied. That fateful day of her disappearance, my world shook like never before. Sad, with meagre resources, I was unable to do much except calling up her friends to trace her. Silent tears fell ceaselessly. I waited for her to return. After a week she reappeared. I was so very relieved to see her, that I didn’t ask her anything. I was just too happy to have her back in my lonely life.
She now wanted to work in a mall and live on her own or probably with her newfound boyfriend, so I thought. Not to scare her off again, I agreed. What choice did I have? I didn’t want to lose my Reena again. She had not received her mother’s love, her father didn’t care and I felt she was my daughter.
Her smart uniform, given by the mall authorities, looked good. I was beginning to feel proud of her independent streak. She is my gutsy girl, who wanted to live life on her own terms. This situation continued for a few months. My joy was shortlived. Reena left her work again and disappeared. This time I didn’t panic. I thought she had gone to enjoy with her friends and would return in a day or two. Well, it was much worse than I had imagined. She came back with news of her pregnancy.
This was really the last straw for me. Alone and ageing, I just didn’t know what to do. I again asked my employers if they could help. Reena was 6 months pregnant and there was no easy solution. Her boyfriend had scooted and was not even contactable. Abortion is illegal after three months of pregnancy. She wasn’t married. My mind in a muddle, I died a hundred deaths every day. What will my relatives say? The only solution which emerged after much research by my employers was to send her to a convent and keep her there for a year or even two years, till the baby was born, nurtured and given up for adoption. This was hardly a solution for an effervescent, bubbly girl whose only crime was the desire to enjoy life. Nothing else to do, I accepted the inevitable.
We were to go to the convent the next morning. In my despondent state, I decided to phone my son and inform him of the developments. I thought to myself that he had to know even if he didn’t care. I spoke to him with the heavy heart of a grandma who had failed to take good care of his daughter. Surprised but happy to hear from me, he heard the story and started weeping. My daughter in law was with him and heard everything in silence. She was always blamed by Reena, Suman and me, for taking their father away from them.
I was giving up all hope and resigning myself to a very bleak future. That night was the darkest night for Reena and me. We were sinking in our tunnel of despair. The sun rose early, but I couldn’t face the day. I couldn’t go to work, huddling into myself with a death wish.
At about ten, the bell seemed to ring continuously. There was no avoiding it. I opened the door to find my son and my daughter-in-law standing there. They had left for Delhi immediately after my phone call. My daughter-in-law came forward to hug me. Her words were like silver bells ringing in a temple, “I have come to take Reena back to the village, we will look after her, she is our daughter after all. Please send her with us and don’t worry”.
Shaken to the core by this unbelievable divine intervention, I managed to smile. My daughter-in-law repeated her words and hugged me. “Ma you take care of yourself,” she said. I tried to open my heart to receive my son’s new wife as my daughter-in-law for the first time. Reena hugged her stepmother and wept piteously. She had finally found her mom. I found my son after years. I thanked them, offered them tea and they left as soon as they had arrived. I went back to my work, recounting my tale to my ever-supportive employers.
Now, a week later I feel relieved of my pressure to take care of Reena. This time, I had lost her to her rightful parents. I feel proud of my son and my daughter-in-law. But I miss her even more than ever. She was my bright spark, albeit a brat but she made me smile at the end of a long working day. I feel so useless as if my role in my son’s and grandchildren’s life is finally over. I am once again alone in this crowded city, plodding through my hollow days, waiting to hear some good news, waiting for the magical return of my runaway Reena.
“You wait, longing to hear
Words of reason, love or play
To lash or lull you toward the hollow day”
Bindiya is a linguist, works at a diplomatic mission, is a wife, a mother, an Indian citizen who is passionate about living life to its fullest. She has travelled widely, is actively involved in several social initiatives for women and children through her organisation ‘Mil Baant Ke- Sharing With Dignity´. She is committed to health, literacy and skill-building projects. Her sincere involvement with people and her awareness of the world around her find expression in her paintings, poetry, and articles. Bindiya is a multi-talented dynamic individual who has lots to say, give, and share. Her poetry has been published in a few anthologies and a solo poetry/photography book is in the pipeline.
Image via iStock
Bindiya is a linguist, works at a diplomatic mission, is a wife, a mother, an
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