The Mother

The Mother

Nalini relaxed on her bed.  After days of tireless errands, she breathed a sigh of relief.   A major task was done and dusted. The day for which every mother yearns for, came in a jiffy and passed by.  Her son Vedant got married.  All the ceremonies were completed.  The guests were gone.  Now the house would get accustomed to a new normal.  With the additional member in the house, every member of the house will involuntarily and unknowingly ‘adjust’. 

She now carried the tag of a ‘mother-in-law’.  She vowed herself that she will try her best to be a ‘mother’.  After all, the longing for a daughter was fulfilled now. 

Vedant was Nalini and Akash’s only son.    Vedant was born after three miscarriages and hence was the precious baby.  After his birth, doctors had advised that a second pregnancy would be risky.  

Nalini had always longed for a daughter.  Today, all her desires were fulfilled.  She was a mother again to a loving girl Preeti.

Preeti was an acquaintance of a distant relative. When Vedant finished his post-graduation from the best university, proposals poured in.  Nalini waited for a few years, until she felt Vedant was ready to take the responsibility of another person.  

When the proposal of Preeti came in, Nalini found her to be a simple girl with humble background.  

Things worked out and Vedant and Preeti got married. 

Preeti was a fresh graduate.  Before she could think about her career, her conservative parents got her married to the first proposal which came their way.  Their wedding took place amidst much pomp and show.

Nalini’s favourite place in the house was the library.  It flaunted books of various genres of her choice.  Nalini was a voracious reader and spent half of her days buried in books.  

The library was a small room. One wall of the library was covered with open wooden shelves. All the shelves were full of books, old and new.  Books were arranged neatly according to different genres.  The shelves contained books on fiction, mystery, horror and self-help books. 

The other corner of the room had a small wooden two-seater table.  A comfortable chair with soft cushions was on one side of the table, while an armchair on the other side.  The table also boasted of an antique table lamp.   

After a few days of their wedding, Nalini called Preeti to her library.  Preeti was already awestruck by the number of books.  She had never seen such a huge in-house library.  She looked around the room and her eyes fell on the open book on the hands of Nalini.

It read Future Friend.

Nalini was seated on the chair which had cushions on it.  She beckoned Preeti to have a seat. 

Nalini was forthright, “You are very young. Why don’t you pursue a post-graduation course? This way you can think about your career.”

Preeti was dumbfounded! Her parents had never asked her whether she wanted a career. Her mind had never run in that direction.   She came from a family where careers were discussed only for boys.  Girls were trained to shoulder the responsibility of running the house flawlessly. 

She answered, “Mummyji, I have never thought about it.  I was never allowed to think like a career-woman.”

Nalini declared, “In that case, you will need time.  Think about it.  Think about your likes and dislikes.  Pursue something which you enjoy doing.  Anything done forcefully will not yield good results.”

Preeti argued, “But I am not keen in studying further.  I have already finished my graduation.  I can work now too.”

Nalini was adamant, “Pursue some course.  Higher education will fetch extra income and respect.”

Preeti nodded obediently and replied, “Give me some time.”

Preeti left the room and pondered. 

The first thing that came to her mind was that Nalini had the final word in the house.  Nobody opposed her. Her decision was final.  Be it the menu, choice of tapestries, furniture, etc.

Vedant’s father Akash had a minimal say about anything in the house.  It was as if he knew that his opinion will be useless.

Preeti talked about Nalini’s suggestion to Vedant.  

As anticipated, Vedant said, “If mom says, then you better pursue some course.  Anyway, you’ll get bored sitting in the house all day.  Use your time and learn something.”

As Preeti had expected, no one dared to oppose Nalini.

A few days later, and after having lengthy discussions with the family members, Preeti showed inclination towards human resource.  She wanted to pursue post-graduation course in human resource management.  It was a full-time course of two years.

Nalini said, “Good.  I am very happy about your decision. You have already started flying high.”

Preeti hesitated, “Mummyji, if I join this course, I will have to attend full-time college.  I won’t be able to shoulder the responsibility of the house and its chores.  I am the daughter-in-law of this house, and I am expected to handle the household chores.”

Nalini smiled, “You are my daughter first.  I want to educate my daughter.  And that is the best gift I can give you.  I am still capable to take care of the house.  You can take the responsibility once you are ready.  No hurries.”

Preeti felt blessed! She wished her parents had such thoughts. She knew it required lots of courage and self-less attitude to be a woman like Nalini.

Two years passed in a jiffy.  Preeti devoted her time in studies and topped her batch.  When she was awarded the ‘Best Student Award’, she gave its credit to Nalini.

She confessed, “Mummyji, I could reach this level only because of you. You were my pillar of strength during these two years.  You acted more than my parents.”

Nalini said, “I don’t need any such glorification. You topped the batch because you were worthy of it.  I am just trying to make you independent.”

Nalini continued, “Now, apply in corporate offices and start your career.”

Preeti said, “Jobs will again demand full-time working hours.”

Nalini replied, “I know. Apply and let me know.”

Preeti revealed, “I have already received an offer through our Institute.” 

Nalini exclaimed, “Super! This is good news.  I am proud of you.”

She called Vedant and ordered, “Preeti has received an offer for her first job. Follow up and check about the firm.  If everything is fine, let her join as soon as possible.”

Vedant agreed.

Preeti stepped into the corporate world with her job.  She worked very hard as she enjoyed her work.  Working in the corporate sector was a great exposure. It was a continuous learning process.  She was glad she chose the HR field, as she loved to communicate with people. She enjoyed analysing different types of people and their faces.  If anything gave her joy, it was her work.

After a few months, Preeti and Vedant declared that they were going family way. 

Everybody in the house was happy.  Nalini made special delicacies for the occasion.  

After the dinner was over, Nalini sensed Preeti’s glum mood and queried, “What’s the matter, dear?”

Preeti answered, “Mummyji, it’s not that I am not happy.  Trust me, I want to become a mother.  But new responsibilities will demand more time. And you also need help in the house.  How will I manage everything? 

I have just started working.  I enjoy my work.  I don’t want to quit working so soon.”

Nalini assured, “Why do you think I had sowed the seed of a career-woman in you?  I won’t let you quit.  

Why are you thinking so much? Go with the flow right now.  Don’t take any unwanted stress and enjoy this period.  Leave the rest to God.

We can always hire a full-time maid if required.”

Preeti smiled when Nalini suggested Vedant to take her out for a long drive.

Preeti realised Nalini truly considered her as a daughter.  She had left no stone unturned to make her feel that way.  

Nine months passed by, and a cute little baby-boy Aadi was born. Nalini had taken complete care of Preeti during those nine months, and even after Aadi was born.  Preeti didn’t go to her parent’s place.  She preferred staying with her mother Nalini.

After her maternity leave, Preeti resumed work.  

The relation between Nalini and Preeti grew stronger each day. Nalini became her pillar of strength.  The same love was reciprocated by Preeti.  She came closer to Nalini.  She preferred Nalini’s company than her own mother’s.  They were the enviable couple of the family.  The decision of hiring a full-time maid gave them extra time to spend with each other and specially with little Aadi.  

Years passed by.  Aadi was ten-years-old.  Along with Aadi, the bond between Nalini and Preeti grew to another level.  They became the best of friends. They could read each other’s mind.  Both used to go out on shopping sprees and for dinner dates.  They were themselves in each other’s company.  They became the best of friends. 

Though Preeti never read books, she always made it a point to buy them for Nalini. 

Once Preeti asked, “Mummyji, you read every genre.  Are you a reader since childhood?”

Nalini answered, “No dear.  I was missing something.  That’s when I resorted to books.  Now, when you are with me, I don’t miss anything.  But my reading habit doesn’t leave me!”

Both smiled contentedly. 

Once when they were window shopping, Nalini asked, “What did Vedant say about your last shopping?  Did he like those new trendy clothes?”

Preeti frowned, “Vedant didn’t have a look.  Since he has started his new business, he doesn’t have the time for anything.  We hardly talk now-a-days.  He is always busy in his laptop.”

Nalini went into deep thought.

After a few days, when Nalini was reading in her library, Preeti came in.  

Nalini questioned without looking away from her book, “What do you want?”

Preeti read the title of the book on Nalini’s hand.  It read Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus.

As an afterthought, she turned to leave the room.  The title of the book half-answered her doubts.

Nalini looked at her, “Wait.  You come to this room when you have questions.  Shoot.”

She asked, “Mummyji, what do you do when your husband is so busy that he doesn’t even know what his son is doing in school?

I feel starting a new business was a wrong decision.  Vedant was doing well in his last job. He also had time for his family.”

Nalini closed the book and removed her reading glasses.  She placed both neatly on the table. 

She opened her mouth to speak but found herself at a loss of words.  

Not sure what to say, she assured, “Everything will be fine. Let his business settle. Wait for some time, then I’ll talk to him.”

Preeti nodded.  She left the library while Nalini’s mind drifted into her past.

After that day, Nalini could feel the distance between Preeti and Vedant.  They hardly sat together on the dining table.  Preeti tried to avoid Vedant’s presence.  She retired to her room early giving the excuse of being tired.  Nalini hardly saw Preeti smile.

Nalini was sure something was wrong.  

It is useless discussing this with Akash.  I will have to find out myself.  But how?  Whom can I approach? 

This went on for some days. When Preeti avoided shopping with Nalini, Nalini decided it was time to confront one of them.  The beans had to be spilled!

That night, she called Preeti to her library. 

A distressed Preeti entered the room. With swollen eyes, she eyed the title of the book on the table.  Big Little Lies.

Nalini inquired, “Preeti, you know why I have called you here.”

Preeti was silent.

Nalini declared, “I can feel the tension between you and Vedant. I am sure something is wrong.”

Preeti looked down.

Nalini pushed, “I have always considered you as my daughter.  Today, as a mother I am asking you something and I want an answer.”

Preeti’s eyes were moist.

Nalini persuaded, “I can sense there is some problem.  I want to know what it is.”

Preeti broke down. 

Nalini got up and hugged Preeti.  Preeti hugged back tightly while sitting on the chair, as if she needed a hug. 

Nalini wiped her tears.

After a few moments, Nalini sat on her chair. 

Preeti finally spoke, “I have not talked about this to anyone. I am opening about this to you, because you are my mother.”

Nalini waited.

Preeti spoke hesitatingly, “Remember I told you Vedant is very busy?  I decided to check his phone.  When I opened his message box, I saw intimate messages with another woman.

I am shattered and lost.  Little Aadi can sense the conflict between us.  I don’t know what to do.”

Speechless, Nalini closed her eyes.  

Preeti continued, “When I confronted him, he confessed about his relationship with another woman.”

Nalini was lost in her own thoughts.  She didn’t seem to hear the last sentence.  Her mind had already travelled back a few decades.

Preeti waited for some time, then said, “I am sorry. I shouldn’t have broached this subject with you.”

She left the room. 

Nalini opened her eyes and let the tears spill out.  She couldn’t help visiting her past.

***** 

Nalini had a simple background.  Her super conservative parents didn’t believe in educating the girl child.  Hence, Nalini couldn’t complete her graduation.  They had started searching a match for her.  When the proposal of Akash came in, they agreed immediately as Akash was from a financially strong background.  

Akash and Nalini fell madly in love the day they had set their eyes on each other when their parents had arranged their match.  Living in different cities, they could meet just a couple of times before their wedding.  After their wedding, they frequently watched movies and plays in theatres, visited parks and nearby tourist places by road.  Travelling was their common interest.  They enjoyed their married life.  That was their golden period. 

When they planned a family, Nalini had to face some physiological issues, and she could deliver Vedant only after three miscarriages.  Needless to say, Vedant was a precious and pampered child. 

Nalini never kept Vedant out of her sight, till he started his school.  After his school started, she used to take extra care of him.  

She was particular about feeding him a balanced diet, and about his eating and sleeping schedules.

She gave her full attention to Vedant.  Vedant was the centre of her universe.  She busied herself in his upbringing.  Her sole purpose in life was to imbibe good values in Vedant. 

During that period, Akash had changed his job, and therefore he used to come late. 

By the time Akash used to come home, Nalini used to be so exhausted that she couldn’t even inquire him the reason for coming late.  

This went on for a few months. 

Thus, the distance between Akash and Nalini grew. 

When Vedant was five-years-old, Nalini suggested, “Akash, let’s go on a self-drive holiday. Let’s plan a road-trip and explore a few neighbouring places.

This was on our bucket list since long, but circumstances didn’t allow us.  Now, as Vedant is five, and has become a bit manageable, we can plan this.” 

Akash immediately replied, “It’s not possible in this month.  Workload and end of year pressure!  I’ll see when we can plan this get-away.”

Nalini kept reminding him of this plan, but he kept giving excuses. 

After six months, Nalini became impatient. 

One morning she argued, “Why are you avoiding our much-needed trip.  I am tired.  I haven’t left the house since years.  I need a break.”

Akash gave the same old excuse, “I have some urgent work to complete right now.”

Saying this, he left for office.

Nalini became suspicious and decided to check his pockets.

That day, Nalini was apprehensive.  She waited for Akash to come home and go to sleep. She then silently got up and checked his pockets.  She couldn’t find anything. She checked the bin to find any clue but was unsuccessful.  She checked his shirt for any signs.  There! She found a strand of long black hair on it. 

She woke up Akash and asked for an explanation. 

Akash confessed about his relationship with another woman. Heated arguments followed. Nalini threatened to leave the house. 

For the sake of Vedant, Akash asked for forgiveness and promised that he will not repeat this again.

Nalini couldn’t accept the fact that the person whom she had trusted more than anything in this world, had betrayed her. While she was nursing little Vedant, he was having fun with another woman.  He was not only betraying her, but also Vedant!  Only a ruthless person can leave his wife and little son alone at home and have fun somewhere else! 

Their relationship was never the same again.

Few weeks passed. 

Nalini felt Akash was still cheating on her.  Life had taught her the cruel habit of checking Akash’s pockets.  One day, she found two movie tickets.

Once a betrayer, always a betrayer!  How can he do this to me? He is still sticking to that woman!  I can’t continue living here. What values will Vedant learn living under his shadow? In fact, he doesn’t spend time with Vedant. I am anyway living like a single mother. Vedant misses him and will always miss him. He doesn’t shoulder the responsibility of bringing up Vedant. 

She felt lost.  She had to take a decision.   She wanted to talk to Akash’s parents, but on second thoughts, she felt it was better to talk to her parents first.

Next morning, by the time Akash got up, she was ready with her bags. She informed Akash that she was leaving him for good. 

Akash was shocked to see such a reaction from Nalini.  He had never expected her to take such a decision.

Nalini handed him the movie tickets and proclaimed, “I don’t want any explanation. You will not change, and I can’t live with you.  I am not able to digest the fact that you are careless about your son.”

She reached her parent’s place and declared that she had left Akash for good. 

Her parents were shocked.

To see their daughter return from her home was not acceptable to them. 

Nalini wept. But her parents were more concerned about the society.  They didn’t want their daughter to carry the tag of ‘a divorcee’.

They explained, “We can’t let you live with us forever. After getting married, a girl’s address is where her husband lives.”

Nalini reasoned, “But how can I live all my life with a betrayer? I don’t feel like looking at him.  I can never forget what he has done to me.”

Her mother answered, “Time heals everything. Time helps us forget everything. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.  We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”

Nalini shook her head, “What if I am not able to forget?”

Her mother replied, “Your son Vedant will help you forget everything.  His responsibility and your love towards him will help you forget the past.  Akash will also forget that woman and will give justice to you.”

Nalini wiped her tears and went into deep thought. She could never forget those two movie tickets and that strand of hair on his shirt.  She can never again imagine her life with Akash. She knew nothing will be same again even if she returns. 

She wanted to live independently, but she was not educated enough to earn a decent income.  She couldn’t feed herself and her son.  Her parents had not prepared her to become financially independent.  They had never believed in educating the girl child!

She had never found herself more helpless.

She didn’t have any other option but to follow the decision of her parents.  

Her parents made several talks with Akash on the phone to reconcile.  They made him realise his mistake. Akash promised to stay in his limits.  Nalini’s parents threatened to discuss this matter with his parents, if something like this is repeated.

After two days, Akash came to pick up Nalini and Vedant.

With a heavy heart, Nalini left her parent’s house.  All along the way back, her tears didn’t stop.  She didn’t bother to look at Akash.  She only thought about Vedant.  It seemed Akash wanted Nalini and Vedant back to save his so-called image.  Somewhere, did she want Akash to father Vedant?

Nalini entered her house, but her heart was not with her. Somewhere along the way, she had left the old Nalini.  The Nalini who entered the house was someone else.  Her heart was void of any emotions.  She became oblivious to almost everything except Vedant.

She made Vedant her world and tried to be happy in that space.

Akash made many attempts to reconcile with Nalini, but she wouldn’t budge.  

Once she told him, “I can’t see your face.  I can only see ‘betrayer’ written all over it.  I am here only because of Vedant.”

Deep down she knew she could have handled Vedant alone, only if her parents had supported her. 

After that day, Akash stopped persisting.  He was not able to show her his face.  Guilt was his new companion.

Nalini hardly talked to Akash.  Their discussions were limited to Vedant.  On all other matters, she gave her decision, and Akash never opposed.  

As Vedant grew, he too gave in to the decisions of Nalini.  No one objected her.  Vedant got married to the likes of Nalini.  Right from the interiors of the house to the daily menu, Nalini had her final word. 

Vedant grew up in such an environment and fathomed this as the norm of their house.

This was the time when Nalini discovered her new love – books.  She found solace in reading.  She immersed herself in the world of books. She read, read and read. She read to gain knowledge.  She read to kill time.  She read to explore the world in books.  She read to stay away from Akash.  But most importantly, she read to flee from the reality of her world.  Books were her only escape.  She preferred to laugh and cry with the imaginary characters of her books. 

When she proposed to convert one room of their house into a library, Akash had to bow down.  She flaunted her library, as she was proud of it.  An in-house library was not something which every house possessed!

When Preeti entered the house, the first thing which Nalini wanted to do was make her financially independent.  So that, if need arises, she doesn’t need to depend on anyone.  She had already bore the brunt of it.  The best she could do was help another woman to climb higher.  

She persuaded Preeti to study further and make a career.  Preeti was humble to follow her advice.  Though at that point of time, Preeti might not have realised its importance, but today, after so many years, she would definitely realise it. 

*****

Nalini had not forecasted this day.   She had not prepared Preeti for this cruel day. 

Vedant proved to be his father’s son!

Nalini was a woman first, and then a mother.   Her decision would support a woman.  She knew the pain of betrayal.  She didn’t want any other woman to bear it, even if her son was involved.  

Nalini had always tried to imbibe good values in Vedant. She had taught him to respect every woman.  Before his wedding, she had a talk with him.  She had explained it clearly to him that a new member was entering their family.  She was leaving her own family, her relationships and everything behind.  It was their responsibility to keep her happy, so that she doesn’t miss what she had left behind.

The house had always longed for the hustle and bustle of a girl.  With Preeti, that wish was fulfilled.

Vedant seemed to be a sensible boy.  Nalini had never expected this from him.  Now, when she knew the truth, she was not in a dilemma.  She was quite sure what to do. 

She couldn’t sleep all night.  She was sure Preeti also might be awake all night.  Next day early morning, she went up to Vedant and Preeti’s room and knocked the door. 

Preeti opened the door. She had dark circles underneath her eyes.  Nalini glanced around the room.  Aadi was asleep on the bed with Vedant.  She looked at Vedant’s peaceful face. 

Men have the habit of sleeping peacefully by ruining women’s sleep.  

She hugged Preeti who broke down.  Sometimes you know when your loved one needs a hug!  She held Preeti’s hand and lead her to the library.  Nalini sat on her chair and Preeti sat opposite her.     

There was an uncomfortable silence for a few moments.

Nalini spoke, “I know what you are going through.”

Did you talk about this to your parents?”

Preeti shook her head.

Nalini suggested, “Take a break and visit your parent’s place for a few days.  You will feel better.  Till then, I will talk to Vedant.”

Preeti nodded.

“Pack your bags now,” Nalini ordered. 

Within a few hours, Preeti had left with Aadi.

When Vedant got up, he came out of the room in search of Preeti and Aadi. 

He headed straight for the library.  He saw Nalini sitting on her chair and staring at her closed book.  

He cleared his throat. 

Nalini glared at him, “You couldn’t take care of her? Didn’t even think about Aadi?”

Vedant returned to his room without uttering a word. 

After two days, Nalini visited Preeti.

Preeti wept.

Nalini consoled, “Crying is not an answer.  Be strong and face the situations you are in, and find a solution.”

Preeti’s mother interfered and said, “I have explained her many times!  She should not have left her house like this.  Time is a very big healer.  She will soon forget everything.  Aadi will help her forget everything and move on in life.  She should not stick to one episode.”

Nalini’s face went blank.  Her mother’s words echoed in her ears! 

We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.  We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.

Her mother was wrong.  She had never forgotten anything.  Years passed but her love had scarred forever.  She realized that one can forget the love, but never the betrayal.  One can never forget something which has a traumatising effect.  

Her life had changed forever.  She had learnt to live a loveless life.  She had learnt to share the same room and bed with Akash, without looking at each other.  She could never forget the sleepless nights and endless tears that Akash had given her.

Preeti’s mother interrupted Nalini’s thoughts, “We have explained her that a married woman has to live with her husband.  She cannot stay with us forever.”

Nalini replied calmly, “You don’t need to feed her all her life.  She can take care of herself, Aadi and even you if required.  Have you ever asked what she wants?  Have you ever tried to peep into her mind?”

Preeti’s mother was silent.  Preeti gained confidence and looked into Nalini’s eyes.  For the first time she felt she was not alone.

“Take your own time and decide what you want.  I am always with you and your decision,” saying these words, Nalini left.

Nalini reached home and headed straight towards the library.  She rested her elbows on the table and covered her face with her palms.  Vedant came in the room.

He inquired, “Ma, I know you had gone to meet Preeti.  She is not picking my phone.  Please tell her to talk to me once?”

Nalini looked at him questioningly, “You still have the courage to face her?  Have shame on yourself!”

Vedant held his head down and left the room.

Preeti pondered over what Nalini’s words.  

After a few days, when Nalini went to meet her, she said, “Mummyji, I thought a lot over what you said yesterday.  You have made me financially independent, and I don’t have to rely on anyone.  I can take care of myself and Aadi.   I don’t need to turn to Vedant or for that reason to anyone to sustain.”

Nalini listened silently.

Preeti continued, “I can never forget what Vedant did to me. In fact, I won’t be able to look at his face where ‘betrayer’ is written.  I cannot ever imagine living with him again.  Hence, I have decided to separate.”

Nalini hugged Preeti and said, “I expected this from you.

How much ever you try, you can never forget the betrayals.  That will remain a part of you throughout your life.  So, its always better to chop off such relationships.  Your life is your life, and you should live it on your terms.  I am always with you.”

Preeti was in tears, “You will always remain my mother.  The mother who is not related by blood, but the mother who educated me, made me independent, and who is constantly with me. And most importantly, who always supported me in taking the right decisions.

Fortunate are those who are blessed with mothers like you.”

Preeti touched Nalini’s feet.

Nalini was overwhelmed, “I didn’t make you independent for this day.  I had least expected my son to do this to you.

I will always be your mother.   I’ve always got your back.  Though not through blood, we share a special and indescribable bond.”

Nalini hugged Preeti and whispered, “I will miss you!”

Both wept. 

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