Beep Beep…!!Buzzed the despised alarm, shattering the morning silence. “What? I just slept !” muttered Jyoti complainingly. Gradually increasing pitch of the alarm pestered like a crying baby, who could be comforted only with the whole house standing in attention. However, today the target of the noisy baby was only Jyoti, as she was alone since all her housemates had gone home for the Diwali break.
“Work comes first”, said Ravi, refusing Jyoti’s week-long holiday requisition. Jyoti complied, as she did not want to displease her boss. Her first job as an executive at the well-established Accountancy firm in Mumbai was an important break and she was determined to excel at her new office.
Jyoti had recently shifted to Mumbai and fortunately found a new apartment to stay along with three other housemates. Even though the rental of the apartment was steep and ate away a lion share of her humble salary, she knew her mother could support her financially, until she stabilized in her new life.
Fair-skinned, charmingly petite, Jyoti brightened her surroundings with her wide, befriending smile. Straight long hair, which she had recently streaked brown in colour, framed her fresh, dimpled, attractive face. A small-town girl from Jhansi, Jyoti had moved to Mumbai to fulfil her dreams and carve a name for herself in the corporate world.
“Why? Are there no jobs available in Jhansi?” protested Kamla, Jyoti’s mother. She had been unhappy with the idea of parting with her favourite child.
Kamla, a hardworking, single mother, had a strong influence on her children. Running around household chores and managing a full-time job, Kamla was no short of a wonder woman, who even managed to pursue her hobbies. “Ma, you surely have a special clock that gives you bonus hours in the day,” said Jyoti, surprised at her mom’s superpowers. Jyoti, being the youngest of the three siblings, was most protected and loved one. As a child she tailed Kamla like a shadow, eating and even sleeping with her. With one hand on Kamla’s stomach, and feeling her warm breath, Jyoti made sure she touched her mother’s body while sleeping.
“When you marry, I will send you off with your groom” chuckled Kamla, teasing Jyoti, who would make a glum face and hug her mom tight. The thought of leaving her mom and living alone in Mumbai was unnerving for Jyoti too. But she knew, it was time she flapped her wings and took the plunge. Reassured, that her nest would always wait for her, Jyoti was ready to fly far and high.
After a quick shower and a ceremonious bow in front of the lone picture of Krishna God in the living room, Jyoti was all ready to dash out of the house. Eerily a thought crept into her mind. It was her mom towering over a 10-year-old Jyoti, coaxing her to eat breakfast before she could leave for school. Kamala’s word echoed clear and loud, “Breakfast is the most important meal”. Experience told Jyoti, that her mother would not budge and instead of the door, she made a dash to the fridge to gulp down a glass of milk and wrap a quick sandwich so that she could get an exit without her mom nagging her the whole morning.
Radiant face, a bright smile and gleaming eyes, sparked the little corner of Jyoti’s work desk in the otherwise drab and overworked office. Greeting all seniors and colleagues, Jyoti darted to her desk, not waiting for their delayed or muffled responses. What mattered most to Jyoti was that she was radiating positive vibes. Through all the difficult times and the darkest days, she had seen her mom collecting her broken self and reflecting back radiance. “The best way to cheer yourself is to try and cheer somebody else up “, repeated Kamla, often to her kids.
As part of the morning ritual, Ravi met the team in his cabin. Blurting out orders, he instructed them to be ready with the tax statements for their prime accounts. One such account was ‘Agarwal Enterprise’, which he handed over to Jyoti. “You must study the Profit and Loss statement, expense sheet and I will advise you further on the balance sheet”, instructed Ravi. Excited on being entrusted a big account, Jyoti toiled on it for two days and proudly handed over the statements to Ravi. Mulling over the document, for half a day, Ravi scanned each and every entry closely.
“Fake some purchase entries, show non-recoverable debts and inflate running expenses to reduce the tax liability” instructed Ravi. “We need to reduce the tax to a quarter and need to manipulate entries”, said Ravi. Jyoti, gaped at him in disbelief, assimilating the instructions slowly, as her brain was overloaded with prying questions. Just out of college, with idealistic goals and undistorted work ethics, this conversation was an eye-opener for her. As the blatant truth of the corporate world was thrust on her face, her righteous principles were rudely knocked off balance. She was so unprepared for the challenge thrown at her of exposing her moral values bare, so soon in her work life.
Visibly disturbed, Jyoti returned to her desk. The question, knocking hard was, ‘Why? Would Ravi want to do this?’ Samir, almost two years senior at the workplace, smiled slyly as he decoded her confused look.
“Kickbacks, my dear, Ravi gets a commission from his client for all this “added Samir.
“Really! Does Mr Seth, the top boss know about all this?” enquired Jyoti curiously.
“C’mon, if Mr Seth, had an inkling about it, he would have kicked Ravi’s back out of office, for all those kickbacks”, smirked Samir jokingly. Jyoti now knew that she was being made part of a misdeed.
Lying on her bed, staring out of the window at the full moon shining brightly in the night sky, Jyoti pondered hard about the challenge at hand. Her tired, sleepy eyes silently drifted into thoughts where she saw her mother walking out of her marriage with three kids tagging behind. Fresh as yesterday, Jyoti remembered how her mom had chosen righteousness and integrity over financial security and familial bliss.
“The salary cheque got credited in account ten days back, now what is all this money?” enquired Kamla hesitatingly. Evading a confrontation, Ramlal pretended to be engrossed in TV. Jyoti’s father, Ramlal, a short built, ordinary-looking man, worked in the state electricity department. The areas under his purview were the industrial zones and adjoining commercial areas. Owing to his position, Ramlal often obliged industrialists with free electricity and tampered with the meter readings to help reduce their energy bills. In return, Ramlal enjoyed handsome commissions along with the usual festival gifts. That day Ramlal had brought a packet with five lakh rupees cash and had casually asked Kamla to put it under the mattress. Kamla did not approve of Ramlal’s misdeeds and often checked him. She reminded him that all his fair-weather friends’ would abandon him and the only thing true to stand by him would be his integrity and character.
“You must not misuse power, as you are failing miserably in this test of character,” said Kamla, reminding her husband that their kids would grow up seeing the wrong values and will exhibit the same later on.
“I do it for our family’s comfort and future. You see there is not a single man in the department who could claim of complete honesty. Why, should I not make hay while the sun shines?” retorted Ramlal in defence.
Jyoti remembered a long heated argument had broken out between her parents and finally Kamla had threatened to leave the house with the kids. Blinded by power and easy wealth, Ramlal refused to budge. His bloated male ego fed by the junk diet of abused power, could not disagree more with the idea of fasting, which Kamla suggested.
Kamla had a stable, respectable job in a private company and had confidence in herself. She was determined to not let her kids bloom surrounded by the grime and muck of corrupt money. For us, our mother was the world, as she successfully filled all roles. A mother, father, teacher, friend and guide, she mentored us all through. Detached and disinterested, Ramlal never bothered about the family and five years later, news came that Ramlal had been fired on charges of corruption and had lost his job and honour. The family was already broken and he somehow never belonged to the nest.
A whiff of cool breeze swayed the curtains and caressed Jyoti’s face as if whispering something in her ears. She knew her mother was reminding and guiding her today. Jyoti somehow did not want to call her mother and discuss her predicament. She wanted to face the challenges single-handedly just like her mom had done throughout her life.
Though it required some guts, Jyoti went ahead and submitted the final Tax Returns of ‘Agarwal Enterprises’ without any changes suggested by Ravi. She knew that her action spelt open defiance and insubordination, but she was not ready to get her name looped in with Ravi’s misdeed. Foreseeing the consequence of her bold action, Jyoti prepared herself to find a new job and dropped her resignation letter on Ravi’s table, stating some personal problem as the reason.
The next morning being Diwali, Jyoti did not need an alarm to wake her up. The excited shrills of the neighbourhood kids and the buzzing excitement of a festival morning pulled her out of the bed. Jyoti, relaxed and calm, stood at the window absorbing the smells and sights of Diwali. Jyoti missed bitterly her mother’s handmade sweets, the rangoli at the door, and the overpowering smell of orange marigold around her house.
In the glare of the morning Sun rays carrying the haze of the dancing dust particles, she saw her mother walking with her three kids, with sweet boxes in hands. The youngest girl pranced with excitement, breaking into a galloping gait. Turning around with a big beaming smile, the little girls’ face became clearer. It was none other than the 8-year-old Jyoti prancing along with her siblings.
Keeping up to the custom, Jyoti visited the local orphanage on Diwali afternoon and shared sweets and smiles with the poor kids. She was filled with immense gratitude and empathy, after spending time with them. “Love only grows with sharing and great satisfaction comes from giving” reiterated Kamla to her kids on every festival.
Jyoti decided to celebrate Diwali like most Mumbaikars on the Marine Drive. She had heard from many friends that the glory of Diwali was best seen from the Queen’s necklace as it lit up alive with crackers, lanterns and the buzzing crowd. Indeed it was a breathtaking sight with lights and sky-high fireworks, enlivening the whole place. Sitting by the beachside, absorbing the innumerable sights and smells engulfing her, Jyoti saw her little self, running with a sparkler, chased by her brother closely. The warm thoughts soaked her through, as a high wave showered her with fragrant memories of childhood. The rise and fall of ocean reminded her of the nights when she watched her mother’s bosom move, as she slept.
Ring… the phone bell swept away the sandcastle she was making in her thoughts. Shaken out of her reverie, Jyoti reluctantly answered the phone. It was Samir.
“I have some great news to share” shouted Samir. The deafening noise of crackers made it hard to hear one’s own voice. Samir excitedly told Jyoti that ‘Agarwal Enterprises’ manager had barged into the office late yesterday. Upset, seeing the tax liability he had come complaining loudly. By chance Ravi was out of the office and on hearing the loud commotion, Mr Seth had called the irked client inside his chamber. Agarwal’s manager, unaware that Ravi was taking bribe undercover, complained to Mr Seth of bad service, even though they were paying high commissions to the company. Shocked and surprised Mr Seth pacified the upset client and assured him of full support. Later he called Ravi for a full enquiry and announced publicly, that inappropriate behaviour against the interest of the company was unacceptable. He asked Ravi to leave the office with immediate effect. Mr Seth also called out for Jyoti and asked her to join back immediately.
Jyoti could not believe the Diwali blessings pouring in and thanked God and her mother for guiding her always. Filled with pride and satisfaction, Jyoti stared at the sea roaring loudly. She realized that just like nature was always communicating even in silence, her mother was always guiding and talking to her everywhere. No matter how far they were, she was always in her mom’s reach.
Jyoti remembered the famous lines of Rudyard Kipling ‘God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers’ and felt blessed at having her’s so close, at all times.
Mumbaikar- people living in city Mumbai.
Rangoli- an art form, where design is made on the floor by rice flour and colours.
Queen’s Necklace-Marine Drive, an inverted C shape concrete road bordering the Arabian Sea. It is also known as Queen’s necklace due to lights shining in the night.
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