Sometimes in a whirlwind of happenstances we come to such crossroads from where life seems impossible. And more often than not, without any conscious negotiation or acquiescence we end up spending an entire lifetime on the crossroad itself: indecisive and unhappy. With this thought in mind, I leave the third house on the fifth street of Partap Nagar. The hour long conversation that preceded this thought has forced my perspective into a summersault and I need to write it down to retain my senses. So here goes a story- tapped out of the ocean of tales yet unheard because of the facade of the beautiful waves. Seema Raj was once a young girl, living with her immediate and extended family in the Ghaziabad village area on the outskirts of Delhi. Her father was a village mukhiya- a decision maker in the village setting. Her mother was a housewife with little experience in the matters of the world beyond her kitchenette. Despite being a girl in a rural mise en scene, Seema was a pampered kid. "I had never even picked a glass of water for myself in my house" she used to tell her children. This description of her childhood will most unintentionally prove to be a serious shock to Seema's neighbours in the Partap Nagar slum area. After all, for them Seema was a hardworking, protective, miserly and conspicuously unhappy housemaid. Understandably, there had been a sudden and somewhat unwelcome transition which had changed her life to this extent. Seema was married to a seemingly educated and well settled man; a man - a supposed manifestation of self sufficiency, free will and independence. Unlike all perfect love stories that end in a marriage, Seema's life story began after tying the knot with Rajesh Raj, a government employee. Rajesh was a perpetually dissatisfied man who seemed to have major issues with his destiny. This dissatisfaction grew miserably to become his inability to stick to a job. This in turn led to never ending financial tussles in the house. The multiple and much glorified reservoirs of patience that Seema had held close, exhausted. She decided to go out and work. Like others in the neighbourhood, Seema took to cleaning houses and clothes in order to pay for the mounting expenses of her growing family. "Money was the only problem. Otherwise everything was fine. Paisa makes life so hard sometimes, madam" says Rajni, Seema's daughter. Even though Seema sent all three of her children to school, times when she simply couldn't pay the fees were not uncommon. The otherwise inviting sight of books, tuitions, and uniforms became a nightmare for Seema. "We were scared of rushing to her with our demands. She didn't scold us. We just dreaded the defeated look that crossed her eyes when we came up with lists and lists of things which other people have" recalls her younger son, Manav. Rajni also recalls incidents of domestic violence and delayed regret as common sights in the house. Apparently, Rajesh never did anything wrong intentionally. He regretted everything he did almost immediately. All three kids remember their father apologising earnestly to their mother for all his wrongdoings, and doing them all over again. "We were young and innocent. But our minds were impressionable. I still struggle for nights at length to take those childhood images out of my mind." Indeed, some people do not have the luxury of childhood memories to fall back on. Seema's work and the kind of lifestyle it assigned to her was a constant source of regret and unfounded remorse. She did not want to raise her little ones in the slum that she lived in. She was extremely wary of the forced maturity she saw around her. "'I don't want you to leave the house.' She used to say to the three of us. It wasn't just Rajni on whom these restrictions were placed. We were victims of those too", recalls Chander, Seema's elder son. In fact, Seema never held Rajni back. She invested more on her education than she did on the boys'. In times of confidences, she told Rajni plainly, "They'll find a way just by being men. You need to do something more and work harder." While I was talking to Rajni about the household scene in those years, I noticed a shadow lurking in the corners. It was Manav. I summoned him in too. His eyes were wet. On being sufficiently persuaded of the manly nature of natural emotions, he confessed his deep regret of always loving his father more. "I never understood what was going on. For me, Baba was the breadwinner, the hero. I didn't know what he did when he went out. I just knew he went. That was enough for me." Sometimes memories are to make up for the regrets long forgotten. The final success that Seema achieved by making her children capable enough to fend for themselves and by finally driving them out of the slum and into the daylight of tomorrows is truly commendable. "Hers was not a philanthropic life. Her love and courage were boundless yet selfish. We all felt like the last bites of the best kulfi faluda when she proudly introduced us as 'MY children'. She was a princess, a queen; ready to build her own kingdom from scratch.", says Manav, who seems the most philosophical and poetic of the three.Chander, Rajni and Manav are still lost among the lines their mother drew, not looking for a destination at all.
I still don't know why I went to her house that day. I do not know why she opened her heart and her house to me. But there was something in those moments which made me forgrt the jingoism and the jargon of my academic tongue. There was something which made realise the noise which whispers could make. Here it was- a living example of sisterhood. My ears could not have helped her economically, but our parting hug conveyed a slight change that had occurred in both of us. Makes me wonder if we do not sometimes skip over our own immediate realities, living in bubbles of comfort, thinking about the 'larger' issues we need to deal with...Are we looking hard enough?Marching Onward Together