Kavita admired her mother. She had seen her mother transform hopelessness into purpose and sadness into meaning. She rebooted her life and gave wings to her dreams.
was eight years old when she first saw her mother Neena sobbing and wiping away her tears with the pallu of her sari. Neena was a single mother who worked around the town as a maid after she was cast out of the house by her landlord and his family due to the awful sin he had committed but never atoned for. This was when Neena realized the ordeals a woman encounters when she is trapped in the claws of an oppressive society and how the woman always has to carry the burden of a man’s sin.
Raj never called Kavita by her name. He would always address her as “pari”- a fairy. He was fond of sitting her on his lap and narrating historical stories about how India suffered at the hand of British rule and how they robbed India of it’s precious diamond- the kohinoor. He would also narrate her mythical stories derived from the Mahabharata. Kavita would listen with enchantment and quiver with pride to have a father who possessed such vast knowledge.
Every Sunday, Raj would come to visit Kavita for an hour or two with gifts and endearments that made her feel deserving of all the bounty life had to give. And for this Kavita adored her father even if she had to share him.
Raj had five children of his own, of which four were legitimate and all strangers to Kavita as she was the fifth “illegitimate” child he had with Neena.
He was the wealthiest man in New Delhi. He owned a chain of lavish restaurants which Kavita had never seen but at her insistence, Raj described it to her, so she knew that the lobby was made of blue terracotta tiles, where posters of Bollywood were encased in glass sheets, that it had a private balcony and gilded ceilings. On Wednesdays, Raj said children got free kulfis at the ice cream booth.
Neena smiled reluctantly when he said this. She waited until he left the house before smirking and saying, “Other children in the town get to relish on ice cream. What do you get Kavita? Only tales of kulfis.”
Raj was one of Delhi’s most reputed men – friend of the lieutenant governor and the ministers. He had an accountant to handle all his finances, a personal assistant and two caretakers. Neena had been one of the housekeepers until her belly began to swell.
Sometimes, Neena wished, she had the courage to sharpen her knife and do the virtuous thing so that she would no longer have to wear the scarlet letter around her neck. Even Raj didn’t have the courtesy to stand up to his family and in-laws and accept responsibility for what he had committed. Instead a deal had been struck behind close doors to save the face of the family. The next day he made her pack all her things and sent her off.
“You know what he had told my father when asked about my swelling belly? That I forced myself on him, that it was all my mistake. This is how they tread over a woman in this country.”
“Look at me, Kavita.”
Hesitantly, she gazed at her mother.
Neena said, “Learn this now my daughter, before it’s too late. A girl’s self respect is the most important thing to her. If she loses it, it’s as if she has sold herself.”
Neena said she wouldn’t live in her mother’s empty house either, in Chandni Chowk. She said she wanted to live somewhere, away from the prying eyes of people, somewhere detached from the rest of the society, where neighbors wouldn’t stare at her belly and assault her with their unkind words. So, she decided to settle in a shanty in Sangam Vihar.
In her new surroundings, Neena didn’t mingle much with the neighbours and spent most of her time indoors after a hard day of cleaning and scrubbing in elite people’s homes. She would earn only a few shillings at the end of the month. The young children were scared of her and would call her a witch. She had become a lunch hour talk where people would discuss her appearance, her loneliness, guessing among themselves about her background and how come she didn’t have a husband but had a daughter. A few people would talk about her in a tone loud enough as she walked past them on the dusty streets that she could grasp a word or two but wouldn’t bother to turn around.
It was springtime and Kavita had turned fifteen years old. Raj had gifted a casket with few gold coins, a silver necklace with a pendant of crescent star and stars hanging from them. At night Kavita lay in her bed and imagined how it would be like to live with her father and her other siblings in a mansion. They would walk together in Lajpat Nagar where Raj said you could find whatever you want. She would wake up early to prepare breakfast for him as he would leave for office. In the evening, she would eagerly wait at the doorstep to greet him and so much more. She wouldn’t have to wait for weeks to meet him.
The next afternoon, it was time for Raj to leave. Kavita stood on the doorstep, and watched him exit the doorway with teary eyes and deep breaths.
“The next time you come, I want you to take me to my other siblings so that I can meet them, and we can live all together,” Kavita told Raj with a lingering hope as he was disappearing out of her sight..
At first, Neena banged her head in her hands, whimpering around.
“Of all the daughters I could have, why did I endure pain for someone as ungrateful as you. What a stupid girl! Do you think you matter to him or his family? I’m all you have in this world who loves you and wishes for your well being. Are you going to abandon me like this?”
Kavita decided that she is never going to visit her father’s place. She knew the miseries and suffering her mother had endured in bringing her up. She realised how her mother had grown frail and pale over the years owing responsibility for everything that happened to her but never let Kavita feel a morsel of regret or pain. She knew her mother had lived with her past but worked hard to earn a living. As she thought about all this, a wave of something sad and despairing, but also something eager and hopeful rushed through her.
Years passed by, and Neena\’s sweat and blood paid off. Kavita had grown into a highly educated, independant woman with a family of her own – she was a successful entrepreneur now and had a clothing brand too. Neena had saved her earnings from odd jobs so that she could help secure her child’s future and not let her live at the mercy of others. She knew wretched men and how they never accept illegitimate children in public but shower heaps of love and endearments when the society is looking away.
Raj had completely abandoned both Kavita and her mother and hardly ever communicated to inquire about their well being after his own children grew up. He wanted to bury his past so that his image would not get tarnished amongst people who revered him and considered him a respected gentleman.
Over the years, Neena had grown sloppy and bent with age. She could barely walk or perform her chores. She had developed a serious terminal illness that doctors declared could not be cured as it was in its final stage.
On a chilly winter morning, Neena breathed her last and her soul made its way up peacefully.
The sole purpose of her life was accomplished- She wanted to see Kavita as a well settled woman with a voice of her own and didn’t want her to be affected by her mother’s dreadful past.
As Kavita was laying her mother to her final rest, she recalled her own life – her entry into the world as an illegitimate child, a pitiable thing, a regrettable mistake, and yet how her mother loved her, nourished her and inculcated in her values of self-respect and pride that adorn a woman.Her mother was leaving the world as a companion, a guardian- An angel mother. This was her legitimate end. She even recalled how her father always mocked her mother and never brought her anything each time he came to visit. He deprived her of basic financial support leaving aside love and care.
For Kavita, a lump of gratitude swallowed down her throat and with watery eyes performed her mother’s last rites realising how despite being casted off and rejected everywhere, she had the glimmer of hope that helped her continue moving forward. Neena believed that people with the worst past can create the best future – That’s why she toiled hard day and night because she was determined in providing her daughter a better headstart for life.
In all the misery she was inflicted with, she put them all aside and instead found beauty in the joys of living. She didn’t let people’s stare or harsh comments deter her from doing something she truly believed in.
She found beauty in the rest of her life that was awaiting her- a harbinger of hope and an instrument of courage and never let her past dictate her life.
Image Credits: Pixabay
I am Iman Shakeel - an impulsive writer and a voracious reader who fuels her daily
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