God's Own Children
God's Own Children13 mins 1.2K 13 mins 1.2K
It was a rainy Saturday morning; a dark thunderous day penetrated only by brilliant flashes of lightning, waiting to unfold strange events in Vasundhara’s life that would change it forever. Rain came down in blinding sheets, drenching everything in its path, and quickly diminishing all cosmetic differences between people, who had dared to venture out that day. It seemed like the rain god was conspiring to bring Mumbai to a standstill. But that had not deterred Vasundhara from taking the train, which was almost empty, from near her single-room house at Malad to Churchgate which was a good 30-km ride. She could not afford to miss her coaching classes for computers and civil services exams.
Shunned by the society for what she was, and with very little financial support, studies had always seemed an unattainable luxury to her. However, with some help from kind souls, she went on to complete her degree in commerce after which she managed to find herself a job as an accountant in a supermarket. The paltry income could hardly cover her living expenses, let alone financially support her dream to pass the civil services exam. In her twenty-one years of life, Vasundhara had always trudged forward through all the challenges, insults and ridicule heaped at her; something she had done out of necessity initially but had soon become her second nature.
Since I have hit the rock bottom of life, I can only go up now, she always told herself when she needed some self-motivation, or to console herself when she was bogged down by her lonely life.
As she stood by the train door taking in the cold breeze, and reading a book, she noticed the middle-aged man who boarded the train at Goregoan and now stood opposite her. She had seen him in the train many times before; he too made the journey to Churchgate every day. But they had never spoken. The man was always lost in his thoughts that made him oblivious to all those around him.
No one gives me a second glance anyway, she thought.
The floor had become slippery now due to the rain. Vasundhara decided to find a seat inside the train. As she was about to move inside, the man opposite her suddenly lost his footing and fell forward. At the last possible second, he caught the vertical bar and held on to it for dear life. But as the bar was wet too, his grip began to weaken. Vasundhara stood paralysed with shock as the man struggled to get a foothold. Quickly recovering her senses, Vasundhara caught the man’s shirt collar firmly and pulled him into the train with all her strength.
They sat down heavily, taking in deep breaths. They were still reeling with shock and did not utter a word. The man spoke first.
“Thank you. I would probably be dead now if not for you. I don’t know how I lost my footing. It was so sudden. Thank you so much. It was not such a good day to go to work I guess”. He spoke quickly, still catching his breath.
“It’s alright. I am just happy you are safe now. Anybody in my situation would have done the same thing”, Vasundhara replied with all modesty.
“Maybe. But you are being modest. What you did takes courage and quick thinking. I am indebted to you”, he said.
Vasundhara kept quiet.
“I am Abhayankar”, he held out his hand as he introduced himself. It was the first time someone had offered to shake hands with her, treating her as a person.
This was very new to her. She shook his hands, trembling as she introduced herself.
“I am Vasundhara.”
“Well, Vasundhara, I am so glad we met today, of all days. I know I sound a little selfish now, with you saving my life and all. But I really mean it”, he said, as he smiled earnestly.
Vasundhara had never really expected the conversation to continue. No one spoke to her much; in fact they were too afraid to even stand close by. Even in her coaching classes, almost all the students sat away from her except Rajju, her only friend who sat with her.
Oblivious to her brooding expression, eyeing the book that lay next to her, Abhayankar continued with a question, “So Vasundhara, what are you studying? I have seen you in the train many times before and you always seem to be reading some book. That is a very good habit.”
The question caught her by surprise. The man had taken notice of her after all. That was something.
“It is not just a habit. Actually I work as an accountant in a supermarket, but I am also preparing for the civil services exam”, she answered, pride showing in her tone.
Abhayankar looked at her in awe and admiration. His respect for Vasundhara went up a notch. He sounded genuinely happy as he said, “Civil services exam! That’s a lofty goal. Very good. Your parents must be very proud of you.”
But Vasundhara was not happy with the praise. Abhayankar had hit a raw nerve. Her parents had abandoned her on the streets at a tender age. She grew up among people like her. Life had been okay till she reached her teens. But from there on, it became a living hell for her. She had no friends; faced a lot of ridicule and loneliness. But all the humiliation had brought about a strong resolve in her to fight back, rise up against odds and work hard to improve the lives of people like her.
Somehow sensing that he had said something wrong, Abhayankar quickly apologised, “I am sorry if I said something wrong. Please don’t mistake me. All the best to you. I really hope you pass out of the civil services exam with flying colours.”
Why is he apologising to me? He is being nice and gentlemanly. But why?, she wondered, with a bemused look on her face.
After a minute’s silence, Abhayankar spoke again, “You know, you remind me of my daughter Neena so much. She was also like you in many ways. Bold and studious; yet modest and simple. She wanted to become a doctor.”
As he spoke of his daughter, Abhayankar’s eyes welled up. But he did not cry.
Vasundhara did not know what to say. How does one react to something like this?, she wondered.
How was she to know what to say? Life had not prepared her for it.
But she felt the need to say something.
She asked slowly, “What happened to her?”
“She died five years ago. She was about your age. Maybe she would have still been in medical college now had she been alive.”
For the first time, Vasundhara felt sad for someone other than herself. She did not want to ask, but still blurted out the question.
“How did she die?”
Abhayankar looked out of the window as he spoke, “Multiple sclerosis. She was just eight when it was diagnosed. We tried to give her the best possible treatment to save our baby. But there was only so much that an ordinary executive in a private company could do”.
Saying this, Abhayankar closed his eyes and remained silent. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he cried his heart out, silently though.
Vasundhara remained quiet. Where’s the God in all this?, she wondered.
The silence was broken by the beeping of Abhayankar’s phone. It beeped continuously. But Abhayankar did not bother to pick it up.
Vasundhara looked at him.
“Are you not going to check your phone? Could be something important.”, she said bluntly, feeling dumb. But she had to get him out of his present gloom, distract him somehow.
“It’s my wife. She’s been messaging me since yesterday”, Abhayankar said, wiping the tears off his eyes. He looked around, as he sensed the presence of some people around him for the first time. Some of them were watching him and Vasundhara with a quizzical look on their faces, like they were untouchables. But that didn’t matter to Abhayankar. And the rest were busily buried into their cellphones.
“Then why are you not messaging or calling her back? Please let her know you are okay. She must be worried.”, Vasundhara said.
Abhayankar smiled, “No, she won’t be. We haven’t spoken in a long time now.”
Vasundhara was surprised. She could not understand.
Abhayankar replied after a pause, “After Neena’s death, we simply could not let go of her. Life was not the same. We saw Neena everywhere. We were going mad with our grief. So we started focusing on work to distract ourselves. But, for me, that became such an obsession that I started working even on Sundays. My wife worked as a teacher at a private school in Borivali. She found her mental peace in attending art and bhajan classes during weekends. But our individual lifestyles eventually drove us apart. Soon we found that we had lesser and lesser to say to each other, and no happy moments to share.”
Abhayankar continued, “Soon one day, my wife Rucha received an offer for a teaching position at a school in Raipur. She had applied for it without my knowledge. She told me that she wanted to leave this place as she was constantly reminded of Neena here. I too did not stop her from leaving. This was an year ago. We have been living solitary lives ever since, only messaging each other from time to time”
Vasundhara remained silent for a long time. She never knew what it felt like to be in a family. So, she did not understand much about relationships and breakups, though she knew in her heart that it must be very painful.
Summing up her thoughts, she looked at Abhayankar and said, “Look, I do not know much about you and your wife. I don’t even know what being in a family feels like. But that’s exactly why both of you should not give up; because there are people like me too in this world, you know, people who dream about having a family but are rudely woken up, and denied even the right to dream.”
“I was orphaned at an age when I could not even call out to my parents, to beg them to not leave me alone. I could only cry. And I have been crying ever since; craving for belongingness, love and affection. My sadness and happiness were just mine, with no one to share it with. But I soon realised that no matter how others treated me, I could still be a happy person by striving to make others happy, even if only in a small way”
“I can understand how hard it must have been for you to lose your daughter and the blow it would have dealt in your lives. But you can never run away from your grief if you allow it to stretch itself across your entire life. Rather, please try to find even the tiniest bit of happiness in the fact that you and your wife still have each other, and both of you can together make the lives of other people better, even if only in a small way.”
Vasundhara stopped with that, suddenly conscious that she might have spoken too much and crossed that invisible line. She feared that she may have angered or hurt Abhayankar. But Abhayankar looked at her calmly, his eyes still wet with tears. It seemed like he was gauging what to say.
After what seemed like eternity, he spoke “Vasundhara, like I said before, I am so glad I met you today. It must be destiny.”
Vasundhara stared at him quietly, her eyes welling up. She had never mattered so much to anyone before.
By then, the train had reached Churchgate, the last stop.
As Vasundhara got up to leave, Abhayankar asked “Vasundhara, can you please give me your contact number? I want to talk to you again if that’s okay with you?”
Vasundhara nodded. She wrote down her number in a piece of paper and handed it to him. However, she did not ask for his number. She was still afraid of all the emotions that any relationship could possibly bring. She quickly got down from the train and walked off.
Abhayankar smiled to himself as he watched her go. He picked up his phone and read through his wife’s messages. Then he closed his eyes and sat for a while, not alighting from the train.
Dear God, your ways are strange indeed, he thought.
At about the same time, in a school at Raipur, Rucha paced about impatiently in the staffroom. She kept shooting fervent glances at her mobile on the desk, hoping that it would ring and end her infinite wait. As much as she wanted to forget her husband for the moment and focus on her work, her thoughts kept going back to the anxiety of not having received any communication from him. It had been more than two days since he had messaged her. Though they had not been in speaking terms for a long time now, the unsaid agreement between them had always been that they would keep messaging each other, letting each other know that they were fine, so that peace of mind prevailed in their self-imposed solitude.
So why had he not messaged her? Was he alright?
As these questions weighed down on her mind, the wait was becoming unbearable. Just as she was giving up hope, she heard the phone beep. She was alarmed and relieved at the same time. She nervously picked up the phone, hoping that the message was from him. It was. In fact, there were lots of messages from him! It was so atypical of him. Quickly her anxiety began to give way to anger towards him for having worried her so much by his silence. But as she read through his messages, the anger was soon replaced by perplexity.
What was he saying? Was he being serious?
Calming herself down, she once again began to read his message from the beginning. A wave of emotions began to wash through her as she read each word slowly.
His message read, “I don’t know how to say this. Or even how to begin. Speaking has never been easy for us since Neena’s death. But leaving things unsaid would probably be worse.
I never thought I would ever find a moment of happiness in life without Neena. So I shut everyone out of my life, including you, for I never could look beyond my own grief. I thought I was living through the saddest story in this whole world, never once bothering to see that there were others around me whose lives were equally miserable, if not more. I wish I had seen that truth soon enough. Then I would have realised that the emptiness that filled my life had filled yours too.
I am so sorry I was not there for you when you needed me.
I want to meet you and talk to you. I want to sit next to you, hold your hands, look into your eyes, and believe, even if only for a moment, that there were no sorrows at all in our life. I want to tell you about this wonderful, scared yet courageous girl I met today who made me realise that it is in the hour of darkness when we must hold hands and walk together into the light; that we have to hold out our hands to help others who are still in the darkness. Maybe it is our Neena, who is holding out her hand, reaching out to help us get up and walk on. And maybe we too should find our happiness in holding out our hands to this girl who has no one in this world to call as family. Something we should talk about as we pull our lives together and be there for each other.”
Rucha had this strange feeling that, though she could not understand his words entirely, she could still make sense of everything at that very moment. And, she started crying.
Vasundhara’s eyes were welled up too as she walked. But these were tears of joy. Someone had finally treated her as a person; respected her thoughts. And she finally seemed to understand what being in a family felt like; what making someone happy really felt like; what being there for someone felt like.
Many times in life, she had questioned her existence and wondered if she will ever have a place in this world. She wondered if she will ever find the courage to walk with dignity in life and prove that she had every right to live in the society as anyone else. With each passing day she realised that she could find the strength within her to love and help others, and be a useful member of the society. She felt more confident now that she could dream on, more than ever, about becoming the first transgender IAS officer and her dreams were within reach; and she mattered in this world.
That was all she ever wanted.