Shadow Of My Past
Shadow Of My Past
For a father, his daughter remains his most prized possession throughout his life. It’s not that they love their sons any less, but a father-daughter bond is something which cannot be described in words. I share a similar bond with my daughter Piyali. She is and always has been my little princess with her mother’s doe-like eyes and my cherubic face. Even though she is now a teenager, my memories of her as a newborn are still as fresh as ever. With zero experience in handling a baby, how I managed to come this far is still a mystery to me. After my ex-wife and I decided to go our separate ways, I had to take full responsibility of being both her father as well as her mother. Piyali was just 3 at that time. My parents supported me throughout my lone journey all these years.
My ex-wife and I had an arranged marriage. Except for the first few months, the rest of my married life was a disaster. Unlike other couples going through divorces, we didn’t fight any custody battle for our daughter. Piyali’s mother chose to hand over her custody to me without any arguments. Trust me, I wasn’t surprised when she announced her decision at court. I couldn’t have been more thankful to her; as I didn’t trust her one bit. Once our divorce proceedings were over, she moved to the United States without her family and chose to never look back. It’s been 14 years and I haven’t heard from her even once to enquire about the well-being of our daughter.
No visits, no phone calls and no messages. Her parents call once in a blue moon and nothing more than that. Even though we had a bitter divorce, I always tell Piyali good things about her mother. It’s best for her to know only the positives and not the negatives as she barely remembers anything about her. Years later, I remarried when I felt Piyali was mature enough to understand the presence of another woman except her mother in my life. She shares a good rapport with my second wife Nitya and our little Agastya unconditionally. Frankly, I couldn’t have asked for anything more from life.
It took me years to get over my past as a bad phase and move on. Even though I was broken from within, I had to be strong for my daughter. The love I received from her was pure and boundless. I always thought that I was Piyali’s backbone. Only after all these years have I realized that it had always been the other way around. With her, I have travelled all the ups and downs; the highs as well as the lows. She has always been my biggest supporter as well as my harshest critic. Nitya entered my life unexpectedly when I had almost given up on love. She healed my broken heart by nurturing it. Her simplicity and humbleness won me over in no time.
It wasn’t easy for her family to accept our relationship as I was a divorcee and a single parent. She was unmarried. Nitya had a hundred reasons to leave me and start her life afresh. Yet she chose to be with me and accept my daughter as her own. Her feelings for Piyali haven’t changed even after the birth of Agastya. In fact, they are more like friends now.
It was easier understanding Piyali when she was a little kid compared to now. She was more expressive of her emotions back then. Since the past few days, she had been acting pretty distant towards me. There are no problems with Nitya and Agastya though. Well, we do have our father-daughter tiffs from time to time. Since she thinks I am an oldie and I don’t always approve of her teenage choices. I tried talking to her many times but she didn’t allow me to delve into her thoughts. The best option left with me was to give her time and express her emotions whenever she is ready. Like she usually does.
I thought that this, too, was a phase and it will pass. Since me and Piyali had actually been through worse. One call from my cousin Mahesh took me back from where it all had started. I was shattered and couldn’t believe my ears. He seemed tense over the call and so was I on hearing what he said. Had he told me that Piyali was secretly meeting a boy behind my back, I wouldn’t have worried much. I wish it had been a boy and not my ex-wife Mugdha. I felt betrayed. Why wasn’t I aware of this recent development in my daughter’s life? Why had she been hiding things from me?
The thought of losing my daughter forever after all these years didn’t allow me to sleep well for many nights. When I discussed this issue with Nitya, she advised me to be patient. Just a year away from turning eighteen, I had to treat Piyali as an individual who can take her own decisions and not as a kid. Even though I wanted to barge into her room and demand answers, I decided it was best to keep quiet for now. When she will feel the time is right, she will come to me herself and tell me. Or won’t she? Why didn’t I see this coming despite noticing her changed behavior towards me?
Piyali’s behavior turned normal as the days turned into weeks. Either the matter wasn’t as serious as I had assumed or a big volcano was about to erupt any second. She still hadn’t confided in me and neither had I asked her. It felt awkward as we never kept any secrets with each other. She always confided in me. I was scared to know the truth myself and I chose to hurt myself rather than hurting my princess. When Nitya and Agastya weren’t at home one day, Piyali came up to me. It was a Sunday, just a week before her HSC board exams.
“Dad.” She called me out from her bedroom door while my eyes were glued to the TV. “I need to tell you something.” Her usually confident voice seemed nervous and it made me nervous too. I wasn’t ready to hear her out. So I responded back without moving an inch.
“I don’t plan on increasing your pocket money any sooner. So don’t waste your time trying to explain things.” She barged into the hall, her footsteps shaking the ground beneath her.
“This isn’t about my pocket money. I am serious, Dad.” I smiled at her while she looked at me with a worried expression on her face.
“Do you like a boy in your class?” Piyali seemed annoyed with my stupid assumptions. But it was for the best.
“Don’t you think there’s still time for that?” She held my hand in hers and sat next to me. “I met Mom a few weeks back. She came to my college with Nana and Nani.”
“How did it feel meeting her after all these years?” I spoke in a soft voice. She looked at me, confused.
“Aren’t you angry that I met her?”
“Why would I be? She’s your mother. She deserves to be in your life just like me. And I came to know a few weeks back. Mahesh uncle had seen you with her.”
“If you already knew, why didn’t you ask me about it?”
“I trust you, dear. And I wanted you to tell me yourself when you were ready to speak about it. You still haven’t told me how you felt after meeting Mom? How is she now?”
“She is okay. Meeting her after all these years felt overwhelming.”
“So, what did you guys talk about?”
“Frankly, I haven’t met a woman as selfish as her. When we met the first time, she kept telling me how much she missed me and wanted to know everything going on in my life. After gaining my trust, all she did was try to poison me against you. Does she think I’m a fool to believe everything she says?”
“She is your mother, Piyali. She has given birth to you. You need to show respect when you are speaking about her.”
“Right. You don’t even know the lies she spoke about you. Yet you want me to be respectful towards her. All these years, you have never spoken one word against her when you had the chance. All you did was praise her. Even though she doesn’t deserve any of it. And she is trying to make me believe that my father is a domestic abuser, a wife-beater and a dowry demanding man.” The use of words by my daughter gave me the chills. I couldn’t believe Mugdha could stoop to this level again. I thought, with time, she would change. Even today, she blamed him for the crime he had never committed. Despite being proved innocent at court years ago, she still wanted to prove him as a criminal. That too, in his daughter’s eyes.
“How do you know she wasn’t lying? Maybe she was saying the truth.” I couldn’t control my tears from flowing. Piyali hugged me as I kept crying on her t-shirt.
“I know you better than I know her, Dad. I can make out that she is lying. I don’t know what came over me. How could I even believe her in the first place? I didn’t treat you well for so long. How did I even trust a woman who was absent from my life all these years? Why didn’t she call me even once? All of a sudden, she remembers that she has a daughter and she decides to show her face. Why? Just because she doesn’t have any kids from her second marriage. Maybe if she had one, she wouldn’t have bothered to visit even now.”
“Enough is enough, Piyali.” I spoke in a stern voice, pulling her from my embrace. “I won’t tolerate you speaking bad about your own mother. She may be wrong. But you need to respect her for what she is, no matter how she is.” Piyali hung her head down, tears streaming from her eyes.
“I am sorry, Dad. I am sorry for keeping all of this from you. I am sorry for not trusting you enough. If only I would have realized Mom’s true intentions sooner……..”
“What intentions?” The word hit me like a rock.
“She divorced her second husband as well last year. She wanted me to move to the United States with her. I refused immediately. Not once, not twice. Many times. I don’t trust her. Frankly, no one can. All this while, she was just using me to hurt you and get rid of her loneliness. She was never right for you, Dad. Nitya aunty deserves you. You did the right thing by divorcing Mom.”
“I never wanted to divorce her. I wanted to work out our differences. I loved her even when I was signing the divorce papers. But she was adamant and wanted to end it all.”
“Do you regret getting married to mom?” I smiled at her while wiping Piyali’s face with my hands.
“No. Why would I? My marriage with Mugdha gave me you. The best daughter I could ask for. Thank you for choosing me, Piyali.”
“No, Dad. I should be the one thanking you. Thank God I came back to my senses soon or I would have lost you forever. This is my home. You are my home, Dad.”
She hugged me again and we both shared a father-daughter moment after a long time. Mugdha and I shared a bad past. A past which followed me wherever I went, like a shadow. I still think of her every day. Whenever I look into Piyali’s eyes, I remember her mother. I try to think about all the good times I spent with her rather than the bad ones. Even though bad memories of her exceed the good ones, I try to take the best out of it. Both of us were never meant to be. What happened between us is in the past and it cannot be changed. It will stay with me forever, no matter where I go. Despite many efforts of trying to run away from it, it showed up to challenge my present.