Memoirs Of An Ungrateful Child
Memoirs Of An Ungrateful Child39 mins 418 39 mins 418
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Although its form is that of an autobiography or a memoir, it is not one. Space and time have been rearranged to suit the convenience of the story, and with the exception of public figures, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. The opinions expressed are those of the characters and should not be confused with that of the author’s own.
Chapter 1 – Childhood –The Father
Born in what was then considered a middle-class family, never saw my father till I turned Nine. I’m the youngest of three siblings, each two years apart, my sister being the eldest. All we knew about our father were the choicest adjectives, mostly from our “Dida” (maternal grandma) and “Mama” (mom’s elder brother). A few of those adjectives went like – “bewda” (drunkard), irresponsible, “Haramzada” (bastard), and many I either can’t remember or simply choose to forget.
We (brother, sister and me) were also addressed with the same adjectives with the prefixes of son of/ child of.
Nevertheless, it was a social taboo being a child of separated parents those days, especially if the kids end up living with the single mother. So, we were obviously never allowed to go out and play with the other children. I missed so much playtime!
Thankfully, that situation changed for me by the time I turned Nine. Guess Why? Lo and Behold, Mr. Banerjee, the honourable patriarch appeared from nowhere to be our saviour!
But my bad luck! among the three of us, I was the only one still in primary school which ran in the afternoons so I couldn’t meet him at all on his first few visits as he probably had some fixation with visiting the house only in the afternoons and leave well before I could get back home.
And then one fine day after a few weeks had passed since his first sighting, it was announced that he’ll be visiting us on Sunday. I couldn’t hold on to my excitement all week, Sunday seemed a life time away!
Finally, the hour of reckoning arrived! And I for one, had absolutely no clue about how to greet him, what to say, how to behave, I was totally lost! Anyway, let’s cut to the chase – the first encounter was a total disaster, I couldn’t make any impression on him. My brother and sister got all the attention; and I was left high and dry…he didn’t even bother patting my head or hugging me. I didn’t realize what crime had I committed, but that was only until my wise and sagacious Dida brought my attention to the fact that I was too “kaalo” (dark) for his liking.
Huh? No problem. I went to my mom and pestered her to buy me a tube of Fair & Lovely (Popular Indian Face Whitening Cream!), so my “Baba” (that’s what we used to address our dad as) would love his forsha (fair complexioned) son.
Fair & Lovely seemed to either work too slow or not work at all! Every subsequent visit was one disaster after the other. Worse still, my brother had learned a few abuses and he let go a few once while we were at dinner. What I didn’t realize was that he had somehow aced ventriloquism too; the only problem was that I came across as his patsy. So there! forget about getting any love and attention, I was badgered verbally by my father for something my smart-ass brother uttered. And no, I wasn’t given a chance to appeal for my innocence. So much for that!
A few months passed by with similar incidents inevitably culminating in my shaming while it was always someone else’s doing. By then, both my siblings had new monikers also bestowed upon them – “Amar Maa” (my mother) for my sister and my smart son or something to that effect for my brother. No, don’t feel bad for me, I still had the Kochi (my actual nickname – meaning tiny) and Kaalo (Darkie) titles firmly in my grip.
I’m sure you’re wondering by now, “But Why?’. I’ll get straight to the point, here’s why – my father apparently never considered me his own seed and attributed my superior genetic makeup as a gift from a man belonging to nowhere, who blessed my mother one fine day – or night! Who cares? I don’t…. I made peace with it ages ago…at least I’m my mother’s son, my brother’s and sister’s brother and that’s all that matters. I’ve never bothered asking about this to anyone else ever and I never ever will!
And yes, the above was made amply clear to me by my sagacious maternal elders even at that tender age!
Nevertheless, as naive and as rigid I was, I didn’t want to give up on my quest to please him. Luckily, May vacations arrived and we all packed our bags to go to Baroda (big city in the state of Gujarat) where our father was stationed. If I were writing a novel, I would’ve narrated a zillion misadventures that took place there, invariably bring my stock price as a son to newer lows each time. But let’s get back to the more important story. That month was living hell for me, so I spent most of time by the Tea Stall downstairs owned by “Nattu” Uncle – my Saviour!!!
Cut to about a year later – my dad was diagnosed with Jaundice coupled with a concoction of infections including tuberculosis (yeah, we knew all that even at that tender age because our great Dida was an MBBS Doctor, but missed honing her guardian skills), and admitted to a hospital for over two months where children weren’t allowed to visit. So, we waited expectantly for his return, and finally he was back; but frail and weak, and looked half the person than he used to be.
By then, my Dida and Mama had successfully managed to turn my brother and my sister against our dad. Obviously, she didn’t feel the need to do that to me. But I became cunning as ever and saw this as an opportunity to win him over…Yeaaaah!
I massaged his feet countless times a day, I was ever ready with a glass of water or cup of tea whenever needed, and man, was I happy or what!
My happiness was short-lived though…mom, my brother and my sister ganged up on dad and they had a big fight after a few bed-ridden weeks of his at home. He fell further ill and had to be taken to the hospital again…for the last time!
Guess what his last words before leaving were? “I left this house because of “Bana” (now I remember, that’s what he used to address me as – the less than handful times that he addressed me that is), and I came back for these two (pointing at my brother and sister)”. I didn’t understand what that meant, whether it was a compliment, sarcasm, no idea….no idea back then, no idea till date!
The only saving grace was this statement from my mom a couple of days after he passed away, “Kochi, you know when I was at the hospital the day before he passed away, he told me that he misunderstood you and that you are his best child”
I was only eleven for heaven’s sake – what is there to misunderstand; but I was also eleven enough to tell a truth from a lie.
I never believed her then, and I never ever will…But I wanted to believe in what she said, I wanted that so bad…. but I chose to believe in her as a mother, rather than believe in what she had to say!
So, should I say that it’d been better that my father never came back at all or should I be glad that maybe in a small way he helped my mom and me bond stronger?
Should I be upset with his constant hate and taunts, and be depressed? Or should I thank him for showing me exactly who I do not want to become?
Was his hatred strong enough to drive me do something disastrous, cause myself harm in the process? Or did his hatred actually awaken a resilient fighter within me who’s alright with all the hatred, he’ll get by – tough as a nut?
Guess what! This is just the tip of the ice-berg…. you have so much more to hear……
Chapter 2 – Childhood –The Mother
***I have to say something about the previous chapter before I start with this one. If you’re wondering whether I hate my father…. the answer is a big No! Hate is too strong a feeling for me to harbour within the frail walls of my heart! Having cleared that, let’s move on***
There was no greater person, no mortal, no legend, no god, no superhero…bigger than my dear, beloved and incredible mother! I was totally in awe of her as a child! Even at the tender age of Six, I used to be amazed by how much this woman could do!
By the age of Twenty-Four, she already had three kids. Three kids fathered by a man oblivious to her pain and struggle, gay in abandonment. Yet each morning this amazing woman woke up way too early for anyone’s liking, quickly made whatever little breakfast for us in the limited time that she had, rushed to her job Eight miles away at a public school (a school whose state was worse than that of a public toilet by the highway), gave tuition after tuition going from home to home all day long, attended a teachers’ training at an evening college another 12 miles away from home in the other direction, and yet by the time she got home she still looked fresh as a lily! That’s my Mom…that’s how I saw her, I loved her so much. But all of that changed…changed for the worst over the next few years! How I wish I could go back in time and change everything!
The First heart-break…
I was in Class One (just like most six-year-old kids are) and used to travel by local bus to school. School was about three miles away from home, and my brother was always there for company on the way to school. But on the way back, I had the freedom to travel back on my own. And I used that freedom completely to my advantage every single day. Now see, back then we had “limited route buses” (LTD) and “standard route buses” (STD), and the fare difference between the two was a whole FIFTEEN paise! But the problem with the cheaper option of STD bus was that I had to wait really long at the bus stop for one to arrive. But I’d never give in. In fact, even if I walked to the next stop (those were the days where the distance between two stops were about 800-1000 meters compared to less than half of it today), I could still save fifteen precious paise! So, on days that I was tired, I’d wait patiently and other days it was the long walk to the next stop.
The flip side of this money saving venture though was that my brother used to be home a lot earlier than me and would wipe clean almost all the lunch meant for the both of us! Him being elder and built slightly stronger than me, I had no reason to object and invite his wrath! So, I used to let go, and make do with a few bits of whatever was left to eat. But no, I’m not giving up saving that Fifteen paise…precious fifteen paise!
Now, why exactly did I want to save that money?
Here’s why – so I could buy some chikki (Indian confectionery), lozenges, and my mom’s favourite masala-coated peanuts!!! The quantity of masala-coated peanuts I got for that money would never cross twenty pieces. Problem was, I loved them too, but how can I have all of it? After all, I save the precious money so I could buy them and keep them safe for my precious mom and hug her and hand them over to her when she’s back home at night. How I resisted my temptation to swallow them all is an excellent example of iron-strong will.
Anyway, straight to one of those nights when the lovely lady who I called “Ma” is expected to arrive…. any time now….
I see a woman crossing the road coming toward our house…is that her? No, wait. There’s no bus that passed by across the road…can’t be her. Oh no, I can’t keep my eyes open. Let me trudge back to the main gate of our building, it’s getting late and shame on me, I’m all of six years and yet so scared to be out alone at 9.30 in the night, that too just outside my building? Pity!
But I’ll sit by the steps at the main gate a little longer maybe. Oh! these wee little eyes are filled with sleep. No, I can’t go to sleep yet! I want to give her the tasty masala peanuts (or chikki, or lozenges) with my own hand. And maybe she’ll share one or two with me, that way I wouldn’t have committed the sin of robbing from her share and yet get to eat a few extra ones! Thinking about all this, I don’t realize that my tiny hands are clutching on to that big “pudiya” (packet made of paper) so tight that my sweat has moistened the paper that holds the day’s treasures.
9.30 turned to 9.45, and then somewhere between then and eternity and a few winks of sleep, she arrives. There she is, the most beautiful being on earth. I run…I run with all my might and hug her slender waist (that’s how far my hands could reach at that time) with my open arms, and I’m the happiest boy in the world!
But wait! What? Why? She just pushes me off and scolds me for bothering her and walks straight into the house to her own beloved mother. This happened over, and over and over and over every single day. I lost count…don’t know how many nights after nights I relived the same experience and I wept hiding my head under a tiny pillow each night…A pillow so tiny that I could easily mistake it for a sanitary pad today!
The Second heart-break…
After all those lonely, melancholy filled nights I somehow kept myself happy reading school text books of my brother n my sister. I experienced immense joy from having not only understood everything that was there in those books, but also having solved the questions at the end of each chapter (that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but even reading books four classes above yours as a six-seven-year-old is clearly something I could be proud of!). But alas! I had no one to share my joy with.
That’s how my vacations went usually, besides staring outside the bedroom window and admiring the stately Gulmohar (flame of the forest) tree standing tall, in absolute flamboyance, and me being smug believing that the tree knew I would watch her all through my holidays and generously turned all scarlet just in those months between April and June. The prettiest birds would perch on its archaic branches, and I actually tried counting them…one thing I always failed at…but never gave up in a long, long time…. That tree is gone now, and so are the wonderful birds and with them, some little joys of life!
It was time for school to reopen, along with the arrival of my beloved monsoon! I’ll have some friends to talk to finally, maybe soak in the rain a bit on my way back from school. I was excited that I was now in class Three. Studies weren’t ever a problem, always a cakewalk. I wasn’t the best but always in the top five. Not bad, considering that no one at home really cared!
And then came that fateful day…I remember very well; it was mid-year exams. Dressed in my school uniform – lime yellow half-shirt and navy-blue shorts. I checked myself in the mirror, fixed my tie, and I knew I looked dapper! And for a change, I didn’t have to wear my brother’s hand me downs as the school uniform had changed that very year. Thank you “Universal English High School” for that!
Coming to the point now. After being satisfied with how I look, I sat down for lunch. It was around Twelve noon. Being examination time, my brother and sister were already home – they were in secondary school at that time, so they had morning school. We all sat down for lunch, along with Didi (yeah that’s what we used to call our Dida, I had almost forgotten) and Mom. I don’t know why Mom was home at that time that day, but she was…and I so wish she wasn’t!
While I was lost in my own world trying to revise important dates and events (it was history paper you see), I was suddenly pulled by my arm and it rained blows on my body…. half-chewed food fell from my mouth and rolled on to the floor soiling the tiny blue pants on its way. Within seconds that crisp lime-yellow shirt was awash with tears. And all I could hear was, “how dare you tell your Didi ‘jaa mor (go die)’.”
Say what!!! Huh?
I was too timid a child to object, yet I made a feeble attempt to explain myself; in return, I was rewarded with a heavy barrage of whack after whacks on my back and my chubby little cheeks.
To this day, I don’t know who said that to her. She’s (my Didi) gone years ago and I never bothered asking her why she lied that day or did she actually hear me say it. I know for sure that I didn’t say it, I didn’t even speak, I was so bloody lost in my own la la Land! Was it my brother then? Maybe. But he was sitting across on the other side and surely you cannot mistake which direction the sound came from. I didn’t hear a thing, sure as hell! Then again, I seldom was aware of what went around me. Blissfully ignorant!
With a pair of moist eyes, a broken heart and two shaky legs, I plodded my way out of the house. Clutching my writing pad and compass box firmly with those miniature hands, trying not to tremble all through my journey, I eventually reached school.
I obviously couldn’t get that event out of my head. Those two hours at that history paper exam for Term 1 in Class Three is a total blackout period in my memory. No clue what I did in those two hours, not then and not even all these years later.
Anyway, then came a few more papers, then Diwali vacations, yet the scar remained! School reopened and in a few days, it was “open day”. Mom was never involved in these things; it was always my grandmother.
Enter “Usha” teacher. She was a fairy, a goddess! Tall, sharp nose, beautiful eyes, long thick black radiant hair always neatly pleated and just about managing to avoid touching the ground. Above all, her skin seemed bathed in sunlight. And she always wore a wonderfully fragrant gajra (jasmine garland tucked on the hair for women) neatly tucked into her hair. I used to secretly wish that she was my mother. But she wasn’t, she was my history teacher. And right now, the was one person I didn’t want to be around.
After all, she had just shattered my life by showing me a 12 out of 40 in the biggest font size on my history paper. As if that wasn’t enough, her beautiful eyes suddenly grew bigger than the size of my face.
She was a sweet woman though, didn’t raise her voice, and only showed concern. She encouraged me with her kind words, while taking a commitment from me to work harder and top the class in the next history test…. if you’re wondering whether I managed to fulfil that commitment…no I didn’t, but I was definitely back at my best. That’s not important here, what’s important is the fact that my wily old Didi pretended to be the nicest grandmother on Earth then, but the first thing when Mom was back home in the evening, she apprised mom of the situation with some special seasoning to ensure adequate instigation.
I almost peed in my pants anticipating an immediate threat to my diminutive physical existence. This time though, the woman I called Ma chose the higher ground. She didn’t hit me at all. All she did was…. very generously hurled the choicest of abuses and said things that hurt me so deep that I was pleading from inside “please hit me as much as you want, even kill me if you’d like, but don’t say this, or don’t say that, I’m not like that, I swear I tried!”. But who would listen to my inner voice, when my outer voice itself remained perennially unheard?
Carrying all the pain in my heart, I hit the bed that night with the resolve to show them that I can score better in the next test. But deep inside, a massive whole in my heart was formed from knowing that I had failed…for the first time in my life I had failed….failed in a test…that too in my history test …it was my favourite; reading history gave me the pleasure of forgetting the present and transporting with my imagination into charming old worlds full of brave men and women, of palaces and castles, of seas and ships, and everything that wasn’t the world that I lived in. But I had failed, I had failed and I felt hollow, I had failed and I was embarrassed, I had failed and I was thoroughly ashamed of myself! No matter what I achieve all my life, I cannot go back in time and erase that failure!
The Fourth heart-break (Yes, it’s Four before Three in My World!) …
By the time the fourth heartbreak arrived, the Third one had done enough damage for the impact of this one to be even remotely significant to my emotional well-being at the time of its occurrence. Yet it has impacted my entire life, my career, everything that I wanted to be, everything I dreamed to become, everything I could’ve become…but couldn’t!
No, I’m in no way unhappy, sad, or disappointed with my career and achievements. If anything, I’m only proud of whatever I’ve achieved till now (though I know I could’ve and should’ve done much better), and I know I will in future. But, I’ll forever rue the fact that I didn’t get a chance to exploit my capabilities to scale much higher peaks in life…that hurts, it still does and will do forever, as one thing that I can sure as hell not do…is go back in time and change any of that!
The Third heartbreak was the biggest hit and had the most dominating influence on how my relationship with my mom shaped up for the largest part of our lives. So, it obviously deserves to be saved for the last and that’s why for now, let’s look at how the Fourth heartbreak went…
It was about a couple of weeks prior to the first paper for preliminary exams that would apparently test our readiness for the main SSC (Matriculation) board exams scheduled about a month after the end of this one. It was a year when the entire curriculum had changed and even the most astute of teachers seemed to have little clue about the many mysteries the new syllabus brought with it.
Coaching classes had just come into vogue at that time; fate had smiled upon them, very generously too. It was no longer a social stigma for a student to attend coaching classes or even take private tuition. On the contrary, all those self-righteous students like me who took immense pride in not having attended a single day of external coaching or tuition were being targeted by teachers across classrooms and publicly shamed. Those were dark times for so-called nerds and bookworms like me, we had no choice other than joining ranks with the mighty coaching and tuition union and lose ourselves in the crowd.
But I always had to be the odd one out, of course I had to. How else would I live to tell these incredible tales?
I was publicly shamed by a couple or more of teachers as well as our school supervisor for being the one black sheep among a Hundred and Twenty total sheep in Class Ten that fateful year. I was told that the school will not be responsible for the outcome of my results and my fate was in the hands of my family who probably are not concerned with the possibility of me failing the most important exams of my life (Pfft…. what do they know???). Big deal anyway. I was so used to being humiliated by then that I didn’t feel a thing – either that, or I actually felt weirdly proud thinking to myself that maybe about Ten or at most Twelve out of the 119 others will outscore me, and then I’ll see what these idiots have to say!
To be absolutely honest, it was an uphill task for me – not only had my marks started to drop in the past Two or Three years (I was still okay, from being an 80+ kind of student, I managed to float in the early 70s), but I also found some of the stuff in the textbooks very complex. Remember, this time around I didn’t have the luxury of reading these books Four or even Two years in advance? I began to think to myself, “When fate wants to screw you…it will” – I don’t think like that anymore…. thankfully!
I feel the need to mention though that life at school wasn’t all dull and depressing. I was enjoying the company of my crazy bunch of friends with whom I used to walk all the way from Malad to Juhu and back, at least once every Two weeks. People who know Mumbai well would tell you – the one-way distance is about Fifteen long kilometres, yet those walks remain one of my fondest memories. On days that I could afford to get my bicycle out, I’d ride double-seat (doing several stunts on the way – what’d you expect? We were Fifteen) with one friend who lived near my house (strangely, after so many years…once again he does!) and then meet the other Three conquistadors near school and continue walking from there…. Little Joys of Life!!!
Also, I can never forget my English teacher – Ameer miss! One of the handful of teachers that visited our house at the condolence meet post Mr. Banerjee Senior’s demise. She was strict as an army captain, stern and scary to the bone. But I was the apple of her eye. Guess why? She was super impressed with my essays, and the one she spoke to me the most about, was titled, “Should mothers be working?” – Ironies of Life! She had awarded me an Eight on Ten for that essay, never happened before in the history of our school apparently. Anyway, she constantly encouraged me with my studies and was one among the very few teachers at school (besides my dearest bunch of crazy friends) who kept telling me and believing in me that I have it in me to score exceptionally well in the main boards.
Thanks to their support, my numbers were more than impressive in the Term examination that took place about Three months before the prelims. I was back in the high seventies. I was now in relentless pursuit of a newfound purpose in life and for redemption. I had even planned ahead in terms of which colleges/institutes I’ll apply to, that I’d be scientist or an engineer one day (in hindsight, either our whole country or perhaps a few engineering companies escaped potential disaster!).
Coming back to that fateful day which I began to mention and then got a bit nostalgic and verbose about school life.
I was trying to focus on my studies that morning and was ordered by the lady of the house (read mom) to get some provisions, key among them “Wheel” brand washing powder. Yes, given that as timid as I was, I was the chosen one who was bestowed upon the exclusive privilege to execute all chores and errands of the household. It didn’t matter what time of the day, didn’t matter what I was up to. I was bound by the imperial code of the household to be at their disposal in a flash when summoned.
But this time, the teenage rebel in me chose to interject, “I’m studying. Can’t you ask someone else please. Or if you can please wait for fifteen – twenty minutes till I’m done with this part?”. I basked in the glory of my newfound courage. I had done it, yes, finally!
I got that steely, demeaning look once again from her. The look that I was accustomed to by now, and mostly afraid of. It failed to make any impact on me this time though. After all, I was in pursuit of a larger purpose in life. I was pursuing my dream, a dream that was supposed to be the foundation of my whole life ahead. Nothing else mattered!
Gladly, the physical violence had reduced to almost nil some time back. After all, who would take a chance against a teenager towering over you by a good six-seven inches at least, and more importantly one with excess reserves of raging but suppressed hormones. Well! Grownups are grownups, they always know better.
She kept blabbering and ranting, uttering the meanest things and hurling the choicest abuses. I was seething, the anger within was about to explode any minute. But I tried to keep calm and stay focused on my book. She wouldn’t stop, she just won’t stop! Her monologue went on for what felt like an eternity and a day. It was perhaps just a few unbearable minutes if I leave exaggeration aside.
I once again tried to reason, and asked her to give me just ten minutes stating that I’m studying for my prelims. Pat came the response. A response that invoked a reaction so strong for me that it kept haunting me for a long, long, really long time in my life. A reaction that damaged my life too much, for too long…. not anymore though. The response was, “You’re not doing any favour to anyone with your studies. You’re studying for your own self, not me”.
In a spur of a moment, I hurled the book out of the window using every iota of strength I had and told her fine, she’d have what she wants. I went out, bought whatever provisions she needed, including the “Wheel” brand washing powder. Then I went out for a walk, a walk so long that it was way after dark by the time I got home. I hoped for a recourse; didn’t happen that night, didn’t happen for years after. I still don’t know what made me react the way I did, was it the words? The tone? The intention? Or the sheer insensitivity of the individual in question? Maybe all of it. Maybe none of it, and it was meant to be!
I only picked up my books on the eve of my first board paper. But I only picked book after book after book till the end of the exams, never read, never studied. This event scarred me so bad that I had lost complete interest in studies and most of my college life I bunked lectures, didn’t buy most textbooks, studied almost never. I eventually dropped out of degree college in the second year (this happened because of a combination of factors…but about that, I’ll let you know later).
I secured ~68%-70% in my SSC (Matriculation) as well as HSC (Inter – Commerce), eventually dropping out of college. I’m still exceptionally gifted (yes, it is a gift…not something I’ve ever had to work hard on) when it comes to observing, collecting, absorbing, assimilating, evaluating, analysing and eventually presenting knowledge and information (That’s why I do I what I do for a living now).
Now you decide for yourself if a capable child with the possibility of a bright future was violated brutally or not??? I have managed to make peace with it though!
The Third heart-break…
This is going to take some writing, but I’ll try and keep it crisp.
It was a couple of months since our father had passed away. My sister was in Class Ten; and she was the one child that was deeply affected by this loss. After all, she was very attached to him. Perhaps because she got to see him at an early age a lot more and had fonder memories…I’ve never asked, and I don’t t think I ever will. However, this was an important year in her life thus far! The most important event of her life was just a few months away – her SSC boards. She wasn’t the brightest, but she definitely was very hardworking. She was totally focused on doing well, maybe she had this fervid determination to do well in her beloved father’s memory.
The unfortunate and unexpected arrival of a stranger who eventually wrecked the already disjointed family did not help her cause the slightest bit. But she was a fighter, still is. She eventually surprised everyone with a First Class in her boards! But let me not get ahead in the story yet.
By this time, our Mama had already fathered two beautiful daughters and moved into his new house with his family. Sadly, our newfound space and freedom in the house was short-lived with the arrival of this stranger who monopolized the very room that retained our best friend in the house – the Television set!
It’s also important for me to mention at this point that how thankful I am that society has considerably progressed from its narrow mindedness back in the day. Our household was devoid of a male patriarch now, an inevitable and inescapable mandate for any household to remain in congruence and compliance with the society at large. This void had to be filled, and perhaps that’s why any potential suitor who could masquerade as a relative who was now the patriarch, would be welcomed in the house with open arms. I may be wrong in my judgement, but this was and still remains my logical assessment of why this complete stranger suddenly became the alpha-male of the family and we two boys were declared persona non grata.
Nonetheless, enter Mr. C (Yeah…you may consider that letter to stand for anything that you can think of…You’d mostly be right!)
Freckles over his cheeks, sparse but curly hair, a pencil moustache that seemed to have forgotten to grow just before the edges, and yet he obstinately stuck to sporting it on his rodent like face. He was probably in his early to mid-forties and except for his rubicund face, he didn’t have much going for himself on the looks front.
Now this was a Bong (Bengali, originally hailing from West Bengal) from New Delhi; a deadly combination of two factors that we three siblings somehow abhorred for quite some time in our lives!
Now, don’t let me mislead you with my personal projection of this character. He was quite a magician when it came to winning people over with his guile and charm. Though he was of less than average build and also carried a paunch that arrived everywhere a few split-seconds before the rest of his body; he possessed a silver tongue that could enamour people of him within a matter of minutes. He was also an epitome of sycophancy; he always got his way around. And got his way around he did – to Mumbai this time!
He was introduced to my family by one of mom’s close friends who met him on her trip to somewhere in the north I can’t remember. I guess mom and grandma must’ve spoken to him a few times over the phone. No, we didn’t have a telephone connection at home. It was the typical sweet next-door neighbours of the bygone era who generously allowed their number to be distributed as “care of” for some of us. Barely a couple weeks and a few telephonic conversations later, the indecorous gentleman arrived at our humble abode one fateful day. And several weeks after (we had no respite), he turned into a permanent fixture within the house. Playing the harmonium and practicing songs and hymns in his cacophonous voice, no respite even on early mornings on weekends!
I was too young and too naive to gauge his treachery and his ulterior motives. Come on, I was just Eleven then…What’d you expect? I was oblivious to the duplicity of lascivious men then (actually until years later too – it took me forever!). And just like my mom and grandma, I too was totally in awe of this panderer. My brother though, absolutely loathed this man. He’s actually been very good all his life at recognizing people’s inherent dubiousness. I wish I had some of that, would’ve saved a lot of time, money and heartburn!
Anyway, let’s give credit to Mr. C for his apparent accomplishments in the field of devotional music. Those were the good old days of audio tapes, and our Man C had managed to release a few albums dedicated to a handful few among the 330 million plus gods and god-men and god-women who’ve blessed our legion and religion…. whatever!
He was now on what seemed like a promotional spree for his newly launched album dedicated to some mother-mother “Sharadamuni” …. phew! I wonder how and why I remember that.
One of his promotional acts was to be held on AIR (All India Radio) on some early morning show. Me being the youngest, was reluctantly dragged with mom and the despicable Mr. C to the AIR building that also housed the guest lodge.
I don’t remember much of what happened that evening and the morning after, except for that one event that ruined and damaged my relationship with mom irreparably. I can still remember the wonderful aroma of the freshly ordered “chana masala” (chickpea curry) and also the berating I received from Mr. C for hastily squeezing lime over it. I had added another tormentor to my list, yet I was way too hungry to care any less. Nonetheless, I quietly let tears roll down my eyes down to my mouth and ate the delicious and freshly re-salinized food, looking forward to hiding my face under the pillow and falling asleep.
And then came sleep time, and with it that ghastly event’s occurrence. I don’t remember what month it was or what season, I guess it was December. It was just one room. I probably got too cold and woke up shivering, but didn’t have the courage to move, fearing what, I don’t know! My mom must’ve realized that I was cold and tucked me in with her sari. In that moment, realization struck me that if that yard of cloth known as sari was what I was draped in now, what was she wearing then? I tried to turn my head slightly but was too scared. My eyes fell on the wall across me which displayed silhouettes of unclad bodies entangled – an image that left an indelible mark on me, though I shut my eye within a split second…the damage was done…for life!
I’m sure that after reading through the entirety of Chapters One & Two, most of you must have felt immensely sympathetic towards me; probably even had tears in your eyes, felt appalled at my misery, hell…even cursed my parents with all your might. But when you read further, I’m sure as hell that I’d be able to change your perception of at least one of them. Remember, so far, you’ve just been on a journey with me, with my ears, eyes and words, my feelings, my side of the story, my emotions!
Chapter One: I cannot contribute too much here. He came and went into my life like a speeding train, damaged a few things with the wind speed and left a few dents. Nevertheless, he once wrote a letter to my mom and all three siblings and appreciated my intelligence and academic abilities (though he couldn’t refrain himself from criticizing my dirty handwriting in the same line). I’d like to give credit to that one line of his which is the cause of my handwriting remaining to be the ugliest sight ever appearing on any piece of paper across the universe; but more importantly that bit of appreciation from him in that same line remains etched on to my subconscious and that’s why I can do things mentally that most people would struggle with!
So, Thank You Dad (I have no choice but to call you that) for the encouragement. I have no grudges, only grateful for that one line on a letter long lost – it made me believe strongly in my mental capabilities and achieve wonders in my life. Couldn’t have done it without your kind words!
I do not like boasting and I’m not doing that right now – but it is relevant here, so I’ve got to tell you. I’ve been a member of the International High IQ Society since 2010; please don’t ask me why not MENSA (just 3 bloody points away from my grab), but soon maybe (Actually I don’t care anymore…I fear I may have lost half my IQ over the past few years, and want not to be faced with such reality!)
Yes, I felt the pain of being treated as a second-hand citizen in mom’s world. Yes, I felt the pain of rejection, a pain I carried for a large part of my life. Yes, I felt unloved and unwanted, and Yes, I’m sorry that I was too young to understand her predicaments. But I cannot ever be sorry enough for not realizing soon enough after growing up, and even after realizing, not apologizing and not correcting my follies!
So yeah, it was upsetting that she pushed me away although I waited beyond my sleeping hours with little delicacies saved for her. It was also upsetting that she repeatedly ignored her innocent little son, running straight to her own mother each night. But when I grew up, I had realized why it was the way it was. Back in those days, for a single woman traveling at that time of the night or even evenings were like going through living hell (It isn’t ideal even today, but I have hope that we men will keep evolving into better beings gradually). I can imagine how many lecherous men’s lustful eyes may have made her cringe; who knows, what other agonies those lewd perverts may have subjected her to. In fact, years later I came to know that on one particular night, someone had skilfully cut through her handbag and swiped out her entire month’s earnings. What was she to do? She had three little kids and an old mother to feed and manage. She even had the tyrant, woman-and-children-beating elder brother to deal with. My heart shrinks in consternation even at the thought of what she might have gone through, imagine she had to live through it. Let’s be honest, she was never the brightest and that’s why she always had to work that much harder than others, making her life all the more difficult. She was the daughter of a very rich man, a rich man who got carried away by his wealth and left his lovely family on the streets in utter poverty (more about that later…. or maybe never!), she must’ve never thought growing up, that she’ll have an irresponsible husband and three kids (with the youngest aged Six), by the age of Thirty. Carrying all that pain and anguish, all that uncertainty and stress and yet managing to raise Three kids! I should’ve been in total awe of her all my life, I should’ve worshiped her like a goddess…but what did the selfish, self-centred me do? Curse her, bemoan her existence, even kept my interactions with her to mere formal greetings for years together, never bothered asking her about her day. I’m ashamed of myself when I look back, but I’m also proud that I had the courage to open up to her an apologize profusely for me being me. She gracefully and nonchalantly let that moment pass and I’m happy she did.
Yes, it was unfair of her to have hit me that bad, that too when I was eating and was supposed to go appear for an examination immediately afterwards. Yes, I was only less than Ten years old, and she and her conceited mother should’ve known better.
But do you know why she was home that afternoon? I mentioned that that was unusual, didn’t I? Because she had just lost her job! She had no job, and no idea how she’ll manage the household. No, no one revealed this fact to me; I just accidentally figured it out one fateful day, several years later. She was under tremendous stress that afternoon, and knowing my grandma, I’m sure my mom wouldn’t have heard the end of it. It’s only human to let go of your frustration somehow, sometimes all it needs is a trigger (my grandma’s false allegation) and an unsuspecting victim (me). It was my bad day, I’m sure my brother and sister must’ve had their bad days too. I hope they did, I don’t want to feel so unfortunate either!
Now seriously, it was just sheer anger and frustration out of heart break number three combined with raging teenage hormones that made me react that way. And I conveniently blamed her all my life for ruining my academics and taking me away from my studies. She was absolutely right in telling me that I was studying for myself. Tell me, was she wrong? And honestly, all the provisions (including the godforsaken “Wheel” washing powder), were they meant for her? Wasn’t she washing everyone else’s (including mine) clothes? After having slogged hard all week, she’s still washing clothes for us, cooking or at least attempting to cook food for us. And me? I was just studying for myself, just myself and nobody else!
Don’t worry mom, you know how far I’ve reached with my academic and professional achievements, career and life overall. I blame myself now, for having achieved certain things perhaps just that little bit later than I could ideally have. It was never your doing; it was all me and my stupid ego. I could’ve simply learnt from your sarcastic, yet absolutely practical monologues and gained so much more. But I know you’re proud me, I can see it in your eyes when you tell someone what your son does. Funny thing is, you don’t understand jack of what I do and always end up giving people the wrong signals. But I’ll never correct you, I’d rather enjoy observing your excitement and enthusiasm and pride for me, than get pedantic!
Most ridiculous of all. Agreed I was only Eleven. But I was Eleven enough to think that they were wrong, I was Eleven enough to judge, eleven enough to assume what transpired in that room that night! Eleven enough to label her in my head, thinking how could she do that just a few months after her husband had died. Yeah that same dead husband of hers’ that I couldn’t care less about.
But I wasn’t eleven enough to understand the dubiousness, hypocrisy and misogynistic standards of our society. I wasn’t eleven enough to understand the loneliness and emptiness suffered by a woman whose husband had abandoned her for years and only reappeared later to cause her more pain and die, and leave her all alone once again (thankfully abandoning her permanently this time!). I wasn’t eleven enough to be happy for her thinking that she’s getting some, finally. I wasn’t eleven enough to stop assuming and minding my own business. I wasn’t eleven enough to have the common sense that a woman can do whatever she likes with her body, more so when she’s been all alone for so many years and drowned herself completely in raising her three kids, one of which was being thoroughly insensitive and judgmental at that point in time and thereafter for several years to come!
I’m sorry mom for having been judgmental and presumptive. Heck, I’ll tell you honestly that I wasn’t even sure of what I saw back then and kept reminding myself of, several years thereafter. I sincerely hope you got some action that night and sorry for not being able to realize how difficult it is (maybe that’s why I’ve been cursed with minimal action all my life…serves me right!), do hell with me being in the room. I was only eleven, supposed to be sleeping, I had no business waking up.
I cannot roll back those years, those moments, those stupid assumptions I made and all those years wasted in apparent misery that was actually a creation of my own stupid self. But what I do know is that I can make it better each day. I’ll talk to my mother one day for sure about this and I’ll ensure that I apologize to her for being a total prick for so long, judging her. I’ve cleared all other such grudges and stupid notions and heartbreaks with her, thankfully. But this one will need more than the usual Two small pegs of Old Monk (our favourite brand of dark rum), perhaps Four will do it, may be more. But I’ll do it, I owe it to her…the most beautiful, wonderful, incredible, powerful, practical and responsible woman I’ve ever known, but missed knowing for so many wasteful years of my life, although she was right beside me all the time!
Mom, I know you hate reading and I really wonder how you managed being a teacher all your life despite reading being your pet peeve, but if you accidentally happen to read this – please understand that you have several flaws too and sometimes you’re like the most irritating creature on earth – But I still love you very much, always will!!!