It's My Life
It's My Life7 mins 24.8K 7 mins 24.8K
Happy Birthday to You.
Happy Birthday to You,
Happy Birthday to You, dear Nani/ Mummy/ Bhabhi/ Didi/ Aunty
Happy Birthday to You.
The glow from 50 candles lit the faces of all the people who had come to celebrate my birthday. They were all smiling, clapping, singing. Waiting for me to blow out the candles and cut the cake. But I wanted to hold onto this moment a little longer. When would the entire family be gathered in one place, to celebrate me? Maybe never again. It was so wonderful to see them all; to know that many of them had traveled a long distance to make it to this celebration. It felt good to be wanted. To be loved.
And yet, was it really? When they were singing my birthday song, none of them addressed me by name. Mother. Sister. Sister-in-law. I had a relationship with all of them. Did any of them even see me as a woman? A woman with hopes and desires of her own?
I caught myself on time. This was a dangerous path to travel down. 'Today is your birthday', I sternly told myself. 'Today, you will not think morbid thoughts. Today you will be who you are expected to be.'
I took a deep breath and blew the candles out. Someone switched the light on. I cut the cake, and gently easing the first piece out, looked around for my husband. He smiled, and opened his mouth to take the first bite. Then held my hand and guided the piece to my mouth. We held that pose for the obligatory photographs.
My relatives descended on me and offered tiny pieces. I took a bite and guided the piece back into their mouth. It was a Belgian truffle cake; my favourite. I would have loved to sit down and attack a large piece, but couldn’t refuse any of them. I had to keep talking those little bits.
My son was the last to approach. With him was the pretty girl I had noticed. The girl with the kind eyes.
“Mummy, this is Apeksha. She is my friend.”
“Just a friend?”, I asked. He blushed and looked away.
“Happy Birthday, Aunty.”
“Thank you, Beta. I am glad you could come. Please don’t run away. I would love to spend some time with you after the party.”
I moved around, meeting and greeting all the guests. Making sure they were eating well, asking about their life. Making them feel at home. How many times I had played this role since I came into this family as a young bride. This was a role I played perfectly. The perfect daughter-in-law. The perfect wife. The perfect sister-in-law. The perfect mother. The perfect aunt. I was defined by the many roles I played.
I wondered if anyone even knew my name. I was always defined by a relationship. Even when I went for a morning walk with my friend, we referred to the others as ‘So-and-so’s mother’. Not that we didn’t know their names- we did- just that we had got used to the relationship.
“You should make Bade Bhaiya take you to Europe”, my sister-in-law said with a wink. I hadn't even realised I was talking to her. “It will be so romantic. Just the two of you. In the Continent of Love.”
“Actually, I am leaving for Gharwal next week”, I told her.
“Gharwal? Why Gharwal. There is nothing to do in Gharwal. You can see everything in three days. You should make Bhaiya take you to Europe.”
“I’m actually planning to-“, I began, but my husband materialised beside me and interjected. “Europe will be such a great idea, won’t it? Perhaps we can plan something next month.” He beamed down at me.
I opened my mouth to contradict him, but one look at him, and I held back my words. “Let's see", I told my sister-in-law. "If we go, I will certainly ask you for help.”
The party went on till late, but eventually the guests all left. It was just the family that was left. My husband, my son, my married daughter, and Apeksha. Even my son-in-law had disappeared to put my grandchild to bed. Apeksha made to get up, but my daughter motioned her to stay. I noticed that. My kids were always very close, and clearly my son had confided more in his twin than in me.
“Mummy, what nonsense is all this”, my daughter began getting straight to the point. “Papa tells me you want to take Sanyas and run away to the mountains.”
“Not at all. I just want to move to hills and live life for myself.”
“What do you mean? What’s wrong with your life here.”
“Nothing. But all my life I have been doing things for others. Finally I want to do something for myself.”
“So you run away to the hills? Why can’t you do something for yourself here?”
“Well my classmate and her husband run a SHG for women in Kumaon. She asked me if I would like to train the women in basic literacy, numeracy and financial management.”
“What rubbish is all that? You don’t even know anything about teaching.”
“I think I know a little bit about teaching. Don’t forget who taught you and your brother when you were small, and neither of you has done too badly.”
“Mummy, you can’t!!!”
It went back and forth for hours. I tried desperately to make them understand why after a lifetime of doing what others expected me to do, I wanted to be myself. I wanted to explore on my own. Make my own way in life. Make mistakes. Experience life. But no matter how hard I tried, I could just not make them understand. Or maybe they were worried about what people would say.
“What about Papa?”, my son brought out the Brahmastra.
“What about him? Anyway he is traveling most of the time. Even when he is here, he comes home late most of the time. He will manage fine without me. When he's ready to retire, he can move to Gharwal with me.”
“But nothing. I have discharged my duties. My family doesn’t need me anymore. Now I want to live for myself.”
“You can’t do that, Mummy. I will not even see you when I come for holidays. Is that what you want?”
“No. I can come down during your holidays, and cook you all your favourite food. Or you can visit me. Bring Apeksha also.” I turned to include her in the conversation. “You will visit, won’t you.”
“I would love to, Aunty.”
“What do you mean, Apeksha. Don’t you know what you are saying.”
“I know exactly what I am saying. Just like we want to get to know each other better before we decide if we want to get married, Aunty wants to get to know herself better. And I agree with her.”
I could have hugged the young lady.
“But, Mummy. We love you.”
“I love you too. And I will always love you. But I have never had a chance to do what I want, and now that I have discharged most of my duties, I want to do it while I am still healthy.”
“No buts. I have made up my mind. I leave for Gharwal next week whether you like it or not. But I would certainly like it if I leave with your blessings.”