Many-Splendoured Love/Decision

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Right from the morning Anupama was on edge. The only reason was that she was going out of town for a few days, and that too, not by herself, but with Shiuli. Is that why she was so restless, so eager? Or was it that she was shuddering due to a letter that came by the morning post? She knew right away, from the hand-writings, as to who had sent it.

This letter - after all this time? When she was writing letters, and sending them, not one was replied to. Even after years, the bruise of that neglect had still remained on her memory.

Suddenly why had Dhananjay written a letter? Holding the envelope in her hand, she kept looking at it for a few moments. But she did not have time to read it just now. Besides, she did not want to show it to Shiuli either. Should she take it along, or read it after coming back? This was the struggle going on in her mind, and perhaps the tension was because of that also.

Really speaking, Anupama had been feeling mixed emotions, of some nervousness and unimagined joy, ever since Shiuli agreed to go with her. After many months, very slowly, Anupama had got her daughter back. She was afraid lest she might lose her again.

How difficult had been that time, but Anupama had remained patient. She still remembered herself at that age. When she was twenty-one did she have any understanding at all? And the ability to think for herself was certainly not there.

At that age Anupama’s marriage had been finalized. She was not able to object to that either. She had consoled herself that ‘it is all right, at least the in-laws’ house is near by’. Nobody had told her that Dhananjay was going to leave for America right away. He had started arrangements for the wife’s visa, so that only the signature would be needed to get from whichever young woman became his wife.

Anupama did not want to leave even her city, let alone the country. Her father had refused to hear her objections. Her mother also advised her that only a girl who is stupid would not want to go to America.

In all these thoughts from the past, she did not realize when it was that she had sat down, forgetting all other chores. She did not even realize when Shiuli opened the door with her own key, and entered the apartment. Shiuli called out loudly, “Where are you, Ma? How long do you need? Are there still things to be done?”

“Oh no, I am ready”, Anupama said. That very moment she made up her mind not to take the letter along. Shiuli took her suitcase and went out. During that time, she quickly slipped it inside the drawer by the telephone, and hurriedly closed the door Shiuli was very keen to go to Greece, and especially, to see the famous Santorini and Mikonos Islands. For the first time going out, like this with the daughter, was happening. Anupama had not wasted any time thinking. Immediately she had sent in the request for a leave, and had decided to give this trip as a gift for Shiuli’s twenty-first birthday. Oh, now on, all twenty-four hours for seven days, Shiuli was going to spend with her. Actually, Anupama herself was the one getting a gift.

After this all the time - in Athens as well as on those two islands - both of them spent going to museums, peeping in shops, walking through narrow lanes. At the end of the day, sitting at some quiet place to have dinner, they celebrated all the evenings and colourful sunsets. And at nights? Instead of going to sleep, they talked. In the midst of random talking, there was meaningful conversations also. Shiuli did remember her father, but even more, bit by bit, she kept becoming aware of the conflicts her mother had gone through.

Anupama stayed conscious about not doing any injustice to Dhananjay. It was not that he had shown mental cruelty to Anupama deliberately. He had behaved according to his own understanding. There may be many to whom Anupama appeared selfish, but after spending many years as an Indian woman and just as a wife, one day she had felt that she was becoming a person. It seemed to her that to have rights for her own life was also necessary.

In the mean time twenty-six years had passed by, living in America. All that she was forced to leave at twenty or twenty-one was certainly long left behind. She had to leave absolutely everything - country, city, parents, family, friends - everythig that was dear, and familiar to her, At the same time, she had lost trust in Dhananjay.

In the beginning he had assured her, in fact he had promised her, that in two or three years they would surely go back to India. After that Anupama had kept weeping, and pleading with Dhananjay. He would coax her, reason with her, insult her, laugh at her, get angry at her, would bang the door and go away for hours. She passed those five and a half years with a sad heart.

During that time though, she made a few good friends, became a good cook, learnt to use the computer, developed a taste for Jazz music - although she would listen to it only in Dhananjay’s absence. When she became pregnant, she insisted on learning to drive. At first Dhananjay was firmly against it. “When are you going to need to drive?”, was his argument. At the end, she learnt it with the help of a good friend’s husband.

Anupama had still not become aware of her own journey, but something had started sprouting in her mind. The perception that was stuck at the horizon so far, had begun to expand towards the sky. Were the changes occuring in her mind due to the changes in her body? After six years of marriage, she was experiencing real happiness, both mentally as well as physically, She was thankful to the child, even before it was born.

Dhananjay had not been able to hide his own disappointment. For months he did not even touch the child, but for Anupama, the birth of a daughter was like a big blessing. The Mother Goddess herself had arrived in her life to save her. Dhananjay wanted to name her Kajol, Anupama preferred Shiuli. The first name meant Soot, its reference was to dark colour. But this child was fair-skinned. Soft pink and white, just like the delicate ‘shiuli’ flowers. Perhaps for the first time Dhananjay did not have his way.

One evening in Greece, listening to Anupama, Shiuli had said, “I am glad that you did not give in about my name. But Ma, would you never go to India now?”

“ Oh, It is not like that at all. I will go, but when I feel like, and when it is convenient to me. I did go when I was needed, and that too, for the first time after seven years here. My mother had taken very ill. I could not take care of her, but I am content that she got to see you at least. She did like your name a lot, you know.”

“Four years later when I went back to India, taking you with me, your grand-mother was not well. Your uncle and aunt have jobs here, in U.S., and could not get leave from work right away, so I had gone. I did my duty perfectly. We stayed there for four months, and got her well - the doctors and I. But my mother had passed away by then. As if that loss was not enough, during this time, my father also died suddenly. After this I lost total interest in staying there. From then on, there is nothing of mine in India. Country is there, and the city also, but parents aren’t, nor are any close friends left there.”

Anupama sighed, but for her, the whole past, all those years from birth till marriage, had become like a well-ironed bed-sheet. There was hardly a crease of past memories on it. No regrets, or even tears, had been left-over any more; and they were not needed either. Now the complete meaning of Anupama’s life was only Shiuli. From the very beginning Anupama wanted to raise Shiuli in America, and as it is, Dhananjay was not keen to go back to India any way.

“But Ma, How did you think of going back to school?”

“Because of you”, Anupama said. “When you started going to kindergarten, you would tell me, ‘Ma, why don’t you also come? If you don’t study, you would not know anything.’ And Shiuli, once you had told me, ‘It is all right, Ma. I will teach you.’ Your child’s talk really showed me the right direction.”

When Shiuli joined Primary School, in order to be with her Anupama started giving time there as a helper to the teachers. She got to learn a lot that way. Along with the daughter, she herself started growing. From there it was suggested that if she does a diploma course, she could get a paying job also. This suggestion opened her eyes, and she joined classes for a diploma. This was the second biggest step she had taken after learning to drive. It was as if the pores of her brain were opening up as well now, and something luminous was enetering within herself.

Her very first job was in the school itself. Then on she got other opportunities. After she passed a State-level exam, she got a position as a school inspector, and she liked that work. Slowly she became friends with several Americans there, and visited them at their homes also.

Once Shiuli finished college, like many other youngsters, she also wanted to work for a while, before studying further. Moreover, she wanted to stay in a flat with a friend of hers. Anupama had no objections to any of this; in fact, she always encouraged Shiuli to be independent. But Dhananjay wanted to get her married.

“Get her married so early? And that too, in India?”, Anupama was shocked. “Only in India one would find good families and good boys”, he would say. Anupama would argue, “How can a girl who is born and raised in America be married away without her own willingness? And that too in India?”

Now Dhananjay’s argument was that, “ You were the one who always wanted to go back to India. Now when I am prepared to take you back, why are you creating these objections? What is good for them - how would children know?” He had added, “And childern have to obey their parents, of course.”

Anupama could not decide whether to laugh or cry; or to ridicule the husband or keep arguing with him? It was twenty-five years ago when she had pleaded with him to take her back to India. At that time he had discarded the promises made earlier. Does Dhananjay want to drag her back the same way now, the way she was carted here, like an animal? Does he believe that it is possible? Does he really think that she is the same as she was then? Does he have no idea about her journey of last twenty-five years here?

Anupama could not figure out what solution there could be either. If he did want to go back to India, and insisted on taking the wife and daughter along with him, was there any way at all to stop him?

Dhananjay put the house in the market to sell. As his luck would have it, his office was merging with another company, and so, people in high positions were getting a chance to get huge bonuses, even after leaving the job. If he left the job of his own accord, Dhananjay was likely to receive a fat bonus plus full six months’ pay. This seemed a lot to him, because there surely was some other savings as well. And more money will be coming from the sale of the house also.

Just then he got the news of his mother falling very sick again. Now it was not possible for him to wait for the house to get sold. He said to Anupama, “It is all right. We will leave from here a little later. You and Shiuli start sorting out what to take, and what to discard etc. I will come back, and then will take care of the rest.”

But everything happended very fast. Before the house was taken off the market, a very nice offer came from a buyer. There was a lot of profit to be made from that. The senior accountant John from Anupama’s office advised her to sell right away. This had angered Shiuli a lot. That John, who was he to decide? For not waiting for her father to return, shiuli had a big fight with her mother. Anupama tried to pacify her saying that whatever she does will be for the best, and for the advantage of the family. But Shiuli had walked out in anger.

Anupama had searched deep inside of her heart, and had tried to figure out what was the best for them. Then, at one moment it was like a strike of a lightening, and everything seemed to become clear. Yes, this was the solution. She will sell the house, then she will buy a small flat from some of the money, and will put the rest of the money in savings. That will be only for Dhananjay. She was confident that she will be able to support herself from her own job.

If Dhanjanjay wanted to come for a visit or something, he will be able to stay in the flat, but she and Shiuli were certainly not going to wind up everything and move to India. A lot of water had emptied out from Ganga as well as from the Hudson river. It was not possible to go back to that flow any more. This was the pristine decision made by Anupama’s heart as well as her intellect.

Arguments, fights, tears kept going on; and then a period of no communication. Even in the middle of busy work, Anupama’s heart felt intense pain. Shiuli was angry with her, but she did not understand or know that Anupama was shielding her from aggravation. Anupama had not even told Shiuli what Dhananjay had been planning - go back to India, marry Shiuli off there etc. Why upset her?, she had thought.

After several months, Shiuli herself had come running, had hugged Anupama and cried in her arms. “Why didn’t you tell me anything, Ma? I got to know it from Mina Kaki just now. She also did not know that you had not told me all this. Even Rita Aunti is not going back to India with Vinod Uncle after all these years here. Mina Kaki was mentioning some other aunti as well, who has decided not to go back.”

With this outburst, Anupama’s world became colourful, as if touched by a rainbow. Shiuli had understood that a woman who is a wife and a mother, is also a person. The decision that had caused Anupama to suffer months of oppositions and insults was not regrettable - Shiuli’s comment proved that. Now Shiuli herself was saying, “The life of a place, where a person spends many years progressing and gaining maturity, becomes one’s own. Insistence on leaving that place can really be called atrocious. Ma, I am hoping that when the time comes, I could also become just like you - mature, confident, patient and brave.” She had tightly hugged Anupama.

Coming back from Greece Shiuli went to her apartment. Anupama dropped her off first by taxi. Both had to get ready for office tomorrow morning. Reaching home Anupama washed her hands, put a kettle on to make tea, and then turned the answering machine on to hear the messages. Out of all of them, three were of any importance - one from Mina Kaki, another from her close friend Rita, and the third was from Dhananjay, from India.

Dhananjay had hoped to get a call from Anupama right away after she got his letter. In that letter he had asked for forgiveness from Anupama. Now, by phone also he had said the same thing. He had also said, that it had taken him these many years to understand how selfish he was etc. During the vacation Anupama had just forgotten about that letter. Now she got the message from his phone, so she would write a reply to the letter in a day or two. That would be just to ask as to how he was. She did not want to put any emphasis on his apology at all.

Taking a cup of hot tea in her hand, she went to turn the radio on, as usual to the Jazz station, but remembering something she opened her hand-bag, took a C.D. out, and inserted it in the player. Within moments, Greek singer Haaris Alexiu’s velvety voice filled up the flat. The song was in Greek language, but there was English synopsis in a booklet.

The title of the very first song was ‘Coming back Home’. Very softly the singer was singing, “I do not have expensive possessions, but I am surely rich. This little home of mine is my world, and just see, the whole big world has become my home.”

Resting her head on the sofa-coushion, listening to those soft musical notes, Anupama’s eyes welled up, and slowly a content smile spread on her face.