( I'd like to dedicate this story to Sister Tamarack Verrall for implanting the idea of writing a story based on the joys of independence for a woman. I seek her blessings to be able to write many such stories to promote women empowerment and equality, in the days to come.)
Sitting down by her father's bed, Siksha looked at the frail man, looking all so pitiable. She was meeting him after sixteen years!
"I've always been wrong about you, my daughter," he said with tears streaming down. "I thought women even in the twentieth century were useless, anything but independent. They only made life hell for their men folks," he was panting as he said this.
"Baba, can't we talk about this later? You are unwell and need complete rest. So said doctor kaku," Siksha interrupted her long ailing dad.
"Don't stop me tonight, my child, for I don't have much time left. I am a sinner, my daughter. I didn't even realize what a great human being I's blessed with." His voice feeble, was being almost indistinct. Siksha looked askance at Rishab, her husband, standing on the other side, looking all so concerned.
" The only reason I called you today is to tell you…" he was almost crying out, with his chest heaving up and down like there was a cyclone going on inside the sick body," that I'm proud of you, Siksha. You've shown me what women of the twenty first century can do. Forgive me, my daughter, if you ever can." The man turned his head, tried to fold his hands near his chest in an attempt to show his respect and then, he was gone.
As Siksha sprinkled the ashes in the Ganges, after the final rites were performed, where she had to put the burning log on the pyre with her father's deceased body at the top - her mind went back to the days she decided to distance herself from her dad. The crimson sun was going down at the western end, leaving the sky and the waters of the holy river on a golden glow.
She was nineteen when she decided to rent a room on her own. The night before she had a scene with her dad, Sanjoy Babu. A strict disciplinarian, Sanjoy Babu, was back home recently after his long stint abroad as a lecturer. He started finding faults with his daughter over almost everything. She was a glutton. He had rarely seen a more greedy girl. She was unbelievably lazy. She didn't do a thing like washing, cooking, cleaning. She didn't know how to do this or that. In short, she was the most ill-bred girl and his wife, Mrinalini Devi was responsible for her turning out the way she had.
Siksha was aghast. The truth was while her mom continued working non-stop, she found her dad resting and haranguing his daughter and wife twenty four hours a day. He spent most of the time on phone talking to his sister, who was his definition of an ideal woman. All he ever did was to eat, drink and sleep.
That Saturday when Siksha came back home, she found her dad in a foul mood. Without any preamble, he asked her about the picture she had posted on her Facebook status. He had seen a boy standing behind her in that group photo. He asked her who the boy was. Siksha told her the truth that he was a college friend. But Sanjoy Babu didn't believe her. There must have been something between the two of them. Siksha felt so ashamed having failed to convince her father of the plain truth. As the argument went on and the suspicious nature of her father became more apparent, she began to loose her cool.
"What's wrong if I'm seen with a boy in a photo?" she asked her father.
"In our culture, young girls are not supposed to be seen together holding hands. That's bad manner," he thundered out.
"Baba, this is the twenty first century. Today we talk about women empowerment, equality, liberty and emancipation. Women don't stay caged up like they were during my mom's time," she replied back.
"Don't you teach me about modern women or emancipation. If women are given any more power, they will turn out to be a spoilt brat like you are. Let's not argue any more. I don't want you to be seen moving around with boys holding hands like that any more. And my decision is final. You understand that?"
"No, I don't. You can't control my life anymore. I'm after all, twenty. I can take care of myself. If you go on threatening me like that, I may have to end up, tying the knots with Rishab.."
That's when Sanjoy Babu went berserk and hell broke loose in the Sen household. The short of it all was Sanjoy Sen asked his daughter to get out of the house.
Uncomplaining, Siksha left her ancestral home that very night. She spent the night at her maternal aunt's and the very next day, rented a room for herself. She was already earning money giving tuitions and working as an invigilator for TCS (Tata Consultancy Service) during the weekends. She was academically a bright student and when she secured ninety percent in the final semester of her engineering course, lots of job offers started pouring in. She finally decided to join Wipro as a Programmer.
The very next year, she married Rishab after her mom came over and started living with her. She was nearly kicked out by Sanjoy Babu under the suspicion that she had soured relations between him and his daughter.
Siksha and Sanjoy along with Mrinalini Devi, moved to their new home bought on a loan six months after their marriage. Their cup of happiness was full when Sourabh, their first child was born. They had another four years later. Simron added further joy to their lives. In the work front, Siksha's career graph was on the rise. From a Manager, she rose to be a Director of Cognizant, an MNC.
Sanjoy Babu though kept his distance from all these happenings. Then she received the unexpected call from her father today. She was slowly being overcome with a sense of forgiveness and calm.
The silvery moon was coming up and casting an inexpressible spell on the waves of the Ganges as they crashed noisily yet gently against the shore.
A long-forgotten scene of her childhood suddenly flashed in her mind as a relative handed her a new sari to wear before going back home.
"Baba, I slapped a boy when hr was bullying Jharna. You remember her, don't you?" She was breathless while narrating the incident, sitting on her father's lap after school.
"I do, my angel. I'm sure you did the right thing. So proud of you, my doll. Be careful not to harm others unjustifiably though," he concluded, looking relieved.
Siksha got up slowly. She still had lots to do.