“Aahna is just a duty, she calls me choti maa. You are the love of my life and are always hovering on my mind. My eyes are always on you and my heart beats for you.”
18 years ago, on this very day, I opened my eyes to this beautiful world. Maa tells me that there were festivities and celebrations all around. She’d never seen the Manchanda Villa lit up so beautifully, not even on Diwali.
The halwais were busy packing gifts, dry fruits and sweets. There was media flocking around. For a couple of days, Maa chose to believe that the celebrations and the glitz were for my birth. But reality confronted her when Mrs. Manchanda stepped into the house with a baby girl in her arms.
The girl who was born at the exact same time, on the same day, in the same city but to a different mother. Astrologically, we had similar destinies but she was the blessed one. The one with the softest and prettiest rooms in the world while Maa carried me to the darkest corners of the house – servant quarter, as they called it.
Mr. Manchanda was a business tycoon and Mrs. Manchanda a social worker. Just 20 days after giving birth to Aahna, she went back to her NGO and the elite parties. Maa was bestowed with the responsibility of babysitting Aahna during the day.
There were times when Maa was torn between her love for her daughter and her duty to take care of Aahna. But she never let one part overrule the other and she took care of Aahna just like me. In fact, she cared for her a little more!
For a few years, I accompanied Maa to work until Aahna started having problems with a dark-skinned kid in her room. However, she didn’t want to spare Maa from her caretaker duties. That day I cursed Aahna with whatever little vocabulary I had but cursed my destiny a little more. Why is she so privileged?
Since then, Maa woke me up a little earlier, dressed me up, fed me stale roti and milk before rushing to wake up Aahna for school. In those 30 minutes, mom tried to make up for all the pampering, love, compassion, and energy that would last for the next 13 to 14 hours before she came back from the Villa.
Meanwhile, I tidied up the house, finished my homework and walked down to school. Once back, I cooked meals for myself while Maa served lunch to Aahna in the villa.
My heart ached for Maa’s time and by the end of the day, I would be tired and frustrated. But whenever I saw my tired, weary Maa, I faked a smile, gulped down my complaints and wept myself to sleep.
But today was different. It was my 18th birthday and Aahna’s too. She always celebrated her birthday in a resort and Maa would take an off but not today.
Today Aahna’s birthday was celebrated in the villa with a pompous party and Maa could not take an off. She promised me to take an off over the weekend but my birthday will be gone by then. In anger, I did not wear the new dress she got me. Neither did I go to school.
I was upset and furious and cursed my destiny yet again. Destiny could never bless me with anything that Aahna had in her life. There she was celebrating in the villa with everyone around and here I was lonely in the dark servant quarters.
Late night, when Maa was tiptoeing into the house I switched on the light and shouted, “You take care of Aahna like your own daughter. But what about me? Why can’t you braid my hair like Aahna’s? Or dress me up like her? Why can’t you come and serve me meals? Maa, why do you want me to become mature for my age? And why can’t you spend time with me on my special day? Even today you chose Aahna. You clearly don’t care for me or miss me!”
Maa just smiled and said, “Aahna is just a duty and she calls me choti maa. But you are the love of my life and you are always hovering over my mind. Do you know that there’s one corner in the villa where I can peep into our one room house and that is the kitchen. So I always excuse myself into the kitchen to check if you are back from school. If you have had lunch or not. That you are safe and asleep. And if you have studied or not.”
“Acha! And all this while I thought you could dive through the tiredness and emptiness in my eyes,” I grumbled as I rolled my eyes.
Maa chuckled, pulled my shoulders and rested my head on her lap, “Of course I do. My eyes are always on you and my heart beats for you. There is no right age to be independent and I don’t want you to depend on others for your survival and sustenance. I want you to grow your own roots and stand strong on them. And I take care of Aahna to earn for your studies so that you grow strong roots. I am sorry beta. Please…”
Interrupting and realising that there’s no point dragging it, I turned around on the bed and maa hugged me from behind.
“I am sorry beta,” Maa whispered in my ears. But I closed my eyes while a tear trickled down as my heart ached for a little more time from Maa, a few more kisses and hugs from her. I envied Aahna for having everything in the world and still snatching the only thing I had in my life, Maa.
The next day, when the crimson rays pierced through the window, my knuckles rubbed the eyes to force them open. I found a handwritten note addressed to me, under my pillow.
Thank you for everything.
You must be wondering why because we have barely talked in our lifetimes. In fact, I tried everything possible to keep you away from home. But today, I will be leaving for London for higher studies. And I confess that I always envied the blessed girl that you are.
All my actions were directed to divert choti maa’s attention from you to me. Somewhere she bestowed me with the warmth and love that I always expected from my mom. She was the only one who stood beside me till I finished my meals. The only one in this huge villa who noticed that I didn’t eat well and if something was bothering me.
My mom always asked about my well-being and could be easily bluffed. But choti maa never trusted my lies. She got my favourite dishes cooked when I was gloomy. My parents just gave me birth but choti Maa raised me and I owe her a lot.
I often curse destiny for sending me to this big villa and I envy you for being blessed with such a beautiful relationship with your Maa. I just wish I could have been blessed with choti maa.
And I am sorry to keep you away from your maa. To make up for it, I have asked my mom to take care of your studies and family whether choti maa chooses to work or not.
I will be sending my driver with dresses for both of you. Please get ready and he will take you where a room is booked just for the two of you. I hope it makes up at least a bit for your missed birthday celebrations.
Signing off with apologies to mend the past and sweet memories to help me survive a lifetime.
Today I realised that we were two kids who had a lot in common. Dissatisfied with our lives, we just wanted to be in the other’s shoes. But, I embraced my destiny, walked on my own path, and glided through life like a blessed soul.
Author’s Note: It is the responsibility of the parents to make their kids feel like the blessed souls so that they can overcome every hardship in life and reach out for the skies.
A version of this was first published here.
Picture credits: Still from Hindi TV Series Kulfi Kumar Bajewala
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