Her heart skipped a beat. She had just read the Whatsapp message. She gazed at it again, this time pausing after each word. It read “Can I still drop?” She felt dizzy for a moment. This time she could feel the finality of it.
It all had started three months back. On the day JEE MAIN results had been announced. In one swift stroke it had done its work. It had sucked the spirit out of the son and put the seeds of disapproval in the parents’ hearts. The beauty of this transformation was in the fact that none of them revealed its extent to each other.
Days passed. The parents watched in dismay as the emptiness of the spirit started showing its presence. Many other entrance tests were attended to perfunctorily. Late night walks on the terrace with 10MB of data consumed in a week by the son were enough to speed up the seeds to grow into very vile vines that were ready to lash out anytime.
"We have to talk to him about this" She said to him. "It’s so painful to watch him ruin his future. It happens to so many; do they all just give up on other tests? Children half his brains are practicing every day. Why can’t he be just practical about it?"
"It is all because of you spoiling him! He thought he was so great, now he knows the truth and he can’t accept it" he said in a matter of fact tone.
"What nonsense, It’s always you, who spoils him. I have always been the strict one. All this is the fault of his coaching classes. They kept calling him ‘boss’ and that went to his head."
"You always keep blaming others for your son’s faults. It’s because of the coaching institute he got even this rank. We should be thankful to them."
"What do you know about it sitting in Kashmir? After all the hardship I had to go through alone for these two years…and now to see this." tears of self pity welled in her eyes.
Next day almost drew to an end uneventfully. But it so happened that the three went to a nearby café after a trip to the market. After placing their orders and waiting for the mocha and brownie to arrive, He, always an optimist started out animatedly,
“You know, when we are young we think that we understand everything that we study. But we truly understand them only after many years, when we are much older.”
She added quickly, "Yes, so all this competition become useless after sometime."
“Yeah, I know." the son said. The parents exchanged a knowing look. “I think I want to take a break for one year.”
There was a moment of deafening silence. The waiter might have as well served a shot of poison ivy and none would have cared.
With mounting anger and disbelief the parents watched their son. This little fellow.. all of 17… thinks world is a dreamland and life is a cakewalk… how dare he.. to even think this way…
“And what will you do in this one year?” He shot back.
“I will work on my concepts and get them right.” the son said.
“ And do what?” He exploded.
“Nothing, I just want to gain more knowledge”
“How much more is more? Have I been talking to the stone here? knowledge can never be complete”
“But papa, that coaching class people didn’t let me study “
“ What? do you realise how much more competitive it will be next year? Do you think all those who wrote JEE MAIN will go to IIT?”
“No, who wants to go to IIT? I want to improve my concepts.”
Clearly the failure has made him lie to himself they thought. But surely they can’t let him drift away like this.
“ But Kanna, you can join a college and still improve your concepts.” she said.
“No ma.. you don’t understand… If I don’t build my base now, I will not be able to achieve my goals. I have created this beautiful…huge…foundation. I have carefully designed each and every little detail in my mind. If I go to college now I have to scrap all of it and have to start it all over again. It will be a building alright, but nowhere close to this grand design I have in my mind.. not to mention the pain and anguish it will cause me throughout my life.”
A few days later He had returned to Kashmir on duty. For her and the son, it was an every day debate on whether to join college this year or not.
“I am tired of this discussion everyday. If you are so sure please write on this paper and sign it saying it was your decision” She had said, exasperatedly.
“If you feel so bad about it please tell your papa, here take this phone.” was another salvo.
After about a month, the test results had been declared and the parents were jubilant that the son had secured admission in one of the prestigious colleges. The mother and the reluctant son went to the college, finished the admission process. There was a celebration among the extended family. Father had come down to leave the son in hostel and take her along with him to his place of work. The parents congratulated themselves over a job well done.
Little did they know that it was an unfinished job. The son didn’t take phone calls most of the times and when he talked, the words oozed pain and anger. Though she had sensed something amiss she had attributed it to the new environment.
Ten days later, the first message arrived “My heart is not here, can I come back?”
It had plunged them into agonising days filled with arguments over “Where did we go wrong?”, “Who is responsible for this?” and “For what are we being punished like this?”. This was followed by the lambasting of the son by father over phone beginning with how he cannot give up now to how his future will be plunged into darkness if he leaves his course. There was a brief lull for a week.
Now this... Oh my God, this is a never ending nightmare; we should have let him follow his dreams..She thought. A spate of spirited advice on Whatsapp followed, but this time with little effect. The parents knew that their son had made his decision. They had no choice but to accept it.
A year later as they dropped him to his hostel and travelled back to their home one question kept coming back to her mind, “Ma... you keep saying you’ll do this and you’ll do that. But every morning you set out to follow the same routine. Have you ever wondered what you could do if you dared to follow your heart?” The uncomfortable niggling at her brain it caused just refused to fade away. Was it too late for her to take a second chance? she wondered for a millionth time…