It was a serene and beautiful day, I was doing gardening in our indoor garden. That was when I heard the bell ringing, and Maya, our maid, went to open the door. There she was standing. I never forgot her. Her words 25 years back still echoed in my mind. Those words still echoed in my ears and thanks to her, I am where I am today. But today, seeing her in that old washed-out salwar suit, her grey hair looking so ruffled, eyes which are, so sunken and sad, gazing at me with yearning. I walked towards the door not taking eyes off her and said with a shaky voice
“Hi Satya, How are you?”
She looked at me in shock and that was when I realized that she doesn’t remember me.
“Hi mam, how do you know my name? Has someone told you about me?”
I shook my head no.
She looked confused and asked, “Then how did you know about me? How did you know my name?”
“Because we have met before and not because someone told about you.”
“Have we? Do we know each other? How and when?”
“Mmm, that is not important. Tell me why you came looking for me?”
Within a second, she forgot that we have met before and immediately started,
“Mam, I wanted you to recommend my son’s case to Vaali sir. I am only able to talk to his juniors. To date, I have not met sir.”
“First come and sit down.” Pointing the chair in the foyer. “Maya… Please bring water.” Satya with consciousness sat down. I could see she was not expecting a seat to be offered.
“Tell me the details” thinking this lady was the main reason for Vaali to be what he is today. I was determined if her son really needed help, I will make sure he gets it.
Maya came with water and placed it on the table, which was between both our chairs. “Mam, shall I make tea?” “Yes, make tea and serve it with biscuits.” I knew Satya would be in no mood to eat or drink. But I felt if she drank tea, it might calm her.
I did not utter a word and waited for her to drink water, which she desperately needed.
“Now, tell me about your son. Rishi, right?”
“Yes, Rishi is my only son. We were from a wealthy Dewan Bahadur family.”
“So, as you can see, we are from a huge family. I got married to an equally big family. My husband’s family is head of a local village. We have not had lots of agricultural land. Our paddy field in our village is so vast we were exporting rice. And My husband was the only son in his family. So, he was the line of the progeny of our family name.”
She took another sip of water before continuing.
“So ,when my son was born, the entire family was super happy. He was the jewel of our family. When he was five years old, there was a huge flood in our village, and we had to move to the city after selling our land as we encountered a huge loss. We had enough money to buy a house in Chennai and settled here. My husband started to work for an MNC as he had done BE. Everything was going fine. But my son, due to his friends, had picked bad habits.”
Meanwhile, Maya came and placed the tea and biscuits.
“Satya, first have some tea” Satya now was comfortably sitting in her chair and took a sip of the tea. She was so poised. The way she handled the cup showed her culture and background. She was more like a royal dressed in rags. I come from a very humble background. My father was a schoolteacher, and my mom worked as a clerk in a government office. I never was exposed to these sophistications until I married Bala, an IITian from Mumbai who became a professor at IIT,Chennai.
Satya saw me lost in thoughts and called me back, “Mam, Sridevi Mam.” As she called my name, I looked at her questionably as she remembered me. She understood my thoughts. “I came to know your name from Vaali Sir’s Junior.”
“Sorry, I was lost in some thoughts. You were telling me about your son. Please go ahead.”
“Rishi was such an intelligent and fantastic child. He was such a good child. But it was our mistake to bring him to the city from our village.”
I did not like her for blaming the city for her misfortune. It is always a myth that city bread would be spoilt. Once again, I did not share my thoughts. I warned myself not to be judgmental, listen, and see things from her angle.
“He was good till he was in his early teens. Once he came to class 11, he became more withdrawn from us. He did not share much with us. Unlike other parents, we did not leave to his will. We loved him more than other parents, and we know he is more special than other kids.”
She took another sip. It was 15 minutes since I started talking to her. But till now, she has yet to reach a point why she was looking for my Vaali. What does she want from me? I took a deep breath and thought about how Vaali used to complain the same about me that I never come to the point immediately and this thought bought a smile to my lips. Satya did not notice that I was smiling and she kept continuing with her story.
“We did not leave it just like that. Every day we emphasized that he needed to study hard and become No.1 in whatever he was doing. I was very hopeful that he would become leading software Engineer or astrophysicist. I couldn’t believe that when he passed his 10th, he scored so poorly. And I knew it was all due to his friends. Because he scored so low, the school offered only a commerce group for him. His dad and I had to pay extra donations to get a science group. We were worried what would happen to his life if he had taken commerce ?” she looked at me. I couldn’t hide my surprise and murmured, “A leading Lawyer.” Once again, I said to myself not to be Judgmental and listen to her. But one thing was for sure. She had not changed a bit.
Satya continued, “But unfortunately, he did not see our efforts. The computers and, once again, his friends were influencing him. Rishi did not even eat chocolate when he was small. As a child, I never allowed him to go out or play alone with his friends. Unlike other parents who were careless by allowing their child to go to their friend’s house at such a young age, we did not do any of it. We wanted to make sure his friends did not spoil him. Till he was 15, we told him he couldn’t have a room of his own. We were trying to be the best parent anyone could ask for. But all due to this city environment and his friendship with the wrong people, he became more aloof from us due to this influence. But somehow, despite all these difficulties, he cleared his board exam with decent marks. Imagine he would have even become a topper if he had not been with such a friend’s gang. We found him a place in a decent engineering college with our connection. But we could only get him chemical engineering seat. He dropped out in his second year.” A sudden guilt passed her face and, in a second, turned into anger, “If only his father could have put more effort in getting him a computer steam, my son would not have been in this position today.” This attitude of hers made my eyebrows rise. But once again reminder to myself mentally, “No Judgement, No, No No.”
“Because he had dropped out of college, even his father started to hate him. He was mostly in his room and listening to loud, heavy music. Me, unlike other mothers, did not give up on him. I showed him I was there for him. I made his favorite dishes and gave him money as he was an adult and would have needs too.” When I listened to this, I couldn’t stop asking her, “So what happened to his friends?”
“oh, Mam, don’t even get me started with it. Those clever cunning guys got my Rishi spoilt, and they all scored good marks and settled in nice collages. They cheated on my poor Rish and did not even bother visiting us once they joined college. These kind of letdown from his friends, who my Rishi trusted got him more depressed. I think this was the main reason why he got addicted to drinks. Because he felt backstabbed by these cunning guys.”
“ok, Satya, you still have not told me why you are here? How did you think I could help you?”
She looked at me puzzled and said, “I told you, Mam, I want you to put a word to your son to take this case. As he is leading lawyer in this city and I am sure he should be leading even of this state too.”
“ok, but you have not told me what your son did yet?”
“Oh, I am coming to that. As Rishi was at home most of the time, and his father was too hard on him, to forget how even his own father did not understand him, he drank more. Pity no one understood him. He was all alone. As his mother, I did what I could. I also have my limits. My rearing was in a small village. I never spoke against my father. At the same time, as the only daughter of my house, I was treated like a princess. If I had not married my husband and married to a different family, I would have been at a different level.”
I couldn’t stop saying, “But I thought your husband also was from a rich family?”
“oh, that he was, but not now. If any other girl were in my position, they would have found it difficult to adjust to what I had to go through in Chennai. Thanks to my dad’s upbringing, I did not leave my husband during the difficult time and could adjust in small apartment.”
I was in no mood to listen to her story now, so I redirected her to “What happened to Rishi?”
“Oh, my poor Rishi got addicted to drinking and suffered a lot when he did not drink. But my husband did not understand my son’s emotions. He wanted to send him to a detox center. I was like, what will society think of Rishi if they come to know he went to detox or rehab center? Which family will give their daughter to our Rishi?”
“ya, they would prefer to give it drunkard over a reformed person from the rehab center,” mockingly I said.
My mockery missed the target and she took it literally. “Exactly. See, this is what I told my husband and put my foot down and did not send him to rehab.”
By this time, my patience was running thin. How can a person be so unaware of her wrongdoing? I told my mind, which was cautioning me not to judge. “get off, I will judge. I need not feel guilty for judging her.” Then I reminded myself not to lose grace or stature and told in a dry voice, “Please tell me how my son or I, can help Rishi. Do you want a divorce from your husband?”
“Oh, no, no” Now she was shocked and could slight anger in her eyes when she said, “In our family, we don’t get divorced. I wanted your help because as Rishi got used to drinking a lot, one day, he did not know how much he was drinking and, I think, drank to a point where he lost complete control of his senses. Generally, after drinking, he would call me or my husband to book a call driver to bring him back home. But that day, the poor thing should have been so intoxicated that Rishi forgot to call us and drove back himself. On the way, he hit four people, of which three died on the spot, and one was critical. I feel sad and sorry for them, but Rishi did not consciously or with motive like some psychopath who kills for pleasure. He did due the alcohol intoxication. The next day police arrested him for DUI, took him and booked an FIR against him. He has been in Prison for the past three days. He has his hearing next week. I wanted to find the best lawyer to defend him. But his father refuses to do any such act. If he had not made us move to the city, all these things would not have happened. He doesn’t even have that guilt. On top of that, he is refusing to help my son.” She started to cry for the first time.
I was like, should I be angered or pity her for Amoral and Apathy attitude? “Mam, can’t you see it’s not my son’s fault? I often requested my husband to let me buy drinks at home and let us allow him to drink here. That way, he will not go and find trouble. But my husband never listened to me. Please, Mam, I request you to recommend my son’s case to Vaali Sir. I heard he hardly lost any case. Please, Mam, from one mother to another mother, please tell sir to take Rishi’s case.”
I was in a conflict of mind to say prison may do good to your son, as he is away from your influence. I looked at her and asked, ” Are you sure you do not remember me? My son’s name is Vaali. Still, you don’t remember me?” I could see a flash through her eyes, and then I could see she did remember me.
“Yes, parenting is like rocket science. Any wrong parenting can ruin a child’s life. It is not about how strict we are. It’s about knowing where we need to be firm and where we need to let go. I think you have got this formula completely wrong. Your focus was on education needs, and you completely forgot about his emotional needs and development. Sorry to say this, but You have not taught him of his responsibility. My son may have been named after a bad character in a story. But it is not the name that makes you good or evil. It is your character which matters. But thanks to you and your words 25 years back, I ensured that I bring him up as a good child, so his name comes out his values he hold.” I politely told her to leave by saying, “Sorry, my son will not take this case as it would not be right for those people and families who got affected by him.”
25 years ago.
Sridevi was sitting for admission to a school that was considered prestigious in the city. Her son was 6 yrs then.
“Vaali Kanna, don’t climb on those rods. You will fall, please come here, darling.”
Vaali was trying to climb a monkey bar which was not for his age. A lady next to Sridevi said, “You are not firm enough. My son, if say I something, will follow it immediately.”
Sridevi looked at the lady, and she introduced herself, “I am Satya. We are a Dewan Bahadhur family. My son’s name is Rishi. I think they both will be in the same class. But we are not sure if we should accept this school offer as we have an offer from another school, who are good at making engineers. I heard this school is more liberal, and they have too many extra circular activities.” She went on and on about the school.
Then suddenly, she laughed insensitively and asked, “Why did you name your son Vaali, who was a bad guy in an epic?” Sridevi immediately looked at her son and could see hurt in his eyes. Before Sridevi could answer. She said, “You need to be more firm with your son. Parenting is not rocket science, but at the same tiem not all get it naturally.” She made Sridevi feel as though she was doing lousy parenting. Then she looked at her son, who looked at her anxiously and asked, “Am I a bad boy? Is it why you named Vaali?” “No da Kanna, Vaali is my favorite poet, so I kept you his name as a tribute. Second, the name does not determine , if you are bad or good. It’s only your action and behavior. You make your name a hero’s name” That day she made a resolute that she will make sure she will bring her son up with values and responsibility and guide him to make name in whatever he choose to become.
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