Sunday, August 1, 2010

someone to talk to

Today my husband took me out shopping, after months of my asking. We got back tired after having bought half the mall and dinner at the fancy new place. Both of us were glad the evening had ended. I was dying to get to my lap top but he looked like he wanted to talk. It’s actually a pain to know someone so well that you can know what they want without their having to ask. “Who is rahul?” he asked casually. I could feel the colour rise to my cheeks.
“Just someone I met online”, I tried to make it sound casual. He shrugged and smiled the smile that I once used to love. “Well, he certainly creeps into your conversations a lot these days”
I looked away but actually wanted to tell him that he is the one who kept me going for the last eight months. While you were always too busy.
Rahul and I met on a social networking site. It was uncanny that we liked exactly the same things. His views on most things were exactly mine. We got chatting.
It seemed ok since we lived in different parts of the country. Till date we have not exchanged phone numbers but what we have exchanged is an integral part of our lives.
Rahul is special. There is no attraction or love. Any desire to meet either. Just a bond between two lonely strangers. We both know everything about each other. Maybe the anonymity makes it easier to open up. Maybe the fact that we are not in any relationship makes the expectations and the baggage that comes with it, vanish.
Maybe if we did meet and discovered flaws in each other we would be devastated.
What my always absent husband does not know is that part of my patience with him comes from the fact that I have someone to talk to. Someone who cares to listen, despite having a high profile job himself. Maybe rahul’s wife complains of the same neglect but like I have learnt from her husband, a little bit of selfishness is needed to survive. So I am not complaining.
In fact I am grateful that this stranger has come into my life.
Sure we fight, sulk and call each other names sometimes. Like normal friends do.
We also care a lot. Yet neither of us has voiced the need to be there for each other in the physical sense. Even if you are ill and alone or hurting after a bitter fight with the spouse.
Will this last? I honestly don’t know. I am practical enough to know that it may not.
I can’t afford to lose what we have worrying over what will happen in the future.
Maybe he is part of my life for a reason. A lesson I need to learn. When I learn it he may just vanish. Without a trace.
Today is what I have. And today seeing him pop up on my friends list makes me happy.


The first person I wanted to call when I felt my world crumbling around me, was my mom. I had a great career which I had lost interest in. I had a super marriage and had today discovered that my husband had been cheating on me for the last two years. And who did I want to call? Mrs Alka Shrivastav. The woman, I had hated most of my adult life. Who I hadn’t spoken to for the last two years. It just didn’t make sense. This wasn’t even a situation I could blame her for, or could I?
When I was a teenager, like most of my friends I hated parental control. I rebelled against every rule, I had brilliant grades in school so dad had no issues. Yet mom found fault with me all the time. If bhaiyya and I made the same mistake, I would be yelled at and he’d be forgiven. Her double standards got to me. What made things worse was that my best friend’s mom was so cool and went dancing with us. All my mom did was look sad and scared.
When she made feeble attempts at speaking in English or cooking Chinese food I cringed in embarrassment. I didn’t go out with her any longer and didn’t get friends home. They drooled over her cooking so I made her cook and took food to my friend’s homes.
When I started working I did feel awful about the way I had behaved and for a short while I did work on our fractured relationship. It helped that she was so proud of my achievements as a journalist. She kept every newspaper article I wrote, told everyone about the sarees I got her. I noticed that the only time she smiled in the day was when she opened the morning papers and saw my byline. In a rare moment of togetherness she confessed that it had been her dream to be a journalist. To her credit, she never pushed me to take to writing, it was something I wanted to do.
Yet once I got promoted and busier, we started having problems again. She didn’t approve of my timings, friends, haircut, clothes and the fact that I was now openly smoking. The same oft repeated lectures of how women have to know their limits and adjust. It made my blood boil. Finally I one day asked her what she had achieved by adjusting so much? I knew my father had not been loyal to her, I knew that we kids weren’t exactly proud of her and that she had no time or resources to do what she felt like. For heaven’s sake she couldn’t even go to see her sister whenever she felt like.
The fact that I was a splitting image of my mother, made matters worst. I dreaded inheriting her personality too. I refused to do anything she wanted me to, even if it was good for me. Till date, I don’t eat fruits because she used to insist I eat them. She started showing me pictures of prospective boys and I would tear each one without looking. The same drone about adjustment would come up. The more I read, the more I was convinced that she was jealous of me.
When I met Ronak and we fell in love, I told papa and bhaiyya, not her. When we decided to get married she still got excited and ensured I had a picture perfect wedding. Yet when she again suggested I live with my in-laws and adjust, rather than rent our own place, I lost it. I yelled and said awful things. I refused to speak to her again. We moved to Bombay so I didn’t need to meet her.
Yet today when I was at my lowest I yearned for my mother’s lap and hesitatingly I called her. She sensed that something was amiss before I said a word. I broke down and told her what Ronak had done. She was silent when I wanted her to talk. After what seemed like eternity she only said, “Sunaina, please don’t adjust this time. Don’t make the mistake I did....”


Kusum and I were really the best of buddies. And as we flopped onto the sofa in the restaurant, with tons of shopping bags we must have looked like some silly school girls. Well, we were anything but that! Kusum was a 62 year old successful surgeon and I, Kamna am a 30 year old investment banker. She lived in delhi, I in Bombay and we were currently catching up in Bangalore.
We couldn’t stand each other’s guts the first day we set eyes on each other. Yet we knew we couldn’t wish each other way since we loved the same man. Her son and my to-be husband, Sankalp. The concept of a mother in law scared the daylights out of me. Kusum was also sceptical of me, since I was from a different city, came from another part of the country and above all, she would have to share her son with me.
Post the wedding we made an effort, both of us did. Neither of us wanted sankalp to feel like he had to take sides. To kusum’s credit she never said anything to my husband to colour his perception about me. I can’t confess to the same, I did crib to him at times that she didn’t like me. Once she was with us in delhi and sankalp had to suddenly travel abroad, it was just the two of us for a weekend. We bonded and how! We loved the same books and movies. We had such fun singing songs! I taught her a couple of Punjabi dishes, she bought me gorgeous handlooms sarees. I got tips on how to handle a man, she got advise on safe investments.
After that sankalp said he felt left out whenever the three of us were together! I turned to her and not my mom when I had a miscarriage. She told me about an interesting man she had met and asked me not to tell her son.
We spoke pretty often but as I took on more responsibilities at work, time was a huge constraint. Sankalp was rising fast at work too. We barely saw each other. The time we decided to take a break and go to see mom, she told us to go to goa instead and spend some time with each other.
When I got to know about sankalp’s affair, the first person I confided in was Kusum. It was the ugliest time in my life. For four months I was begging and pleading with my husband to not walk out. Finally kusum asked me to let go and not demean myself any more.
I was devastated and so was she. She tried very hard to make her son see sense but he was too smitten to care. Before leaving he accused me of turning his mom against him. I felt sorry for him. Work was a great help. My family of course blamed me in their ignorance. Kusum was the only one who stood rock solid by me.
We met and never spoke about sankalp or his new love. Our relationship made it through the storm that wrecked my marriage.
It’s been two years now. Of course she and sankalp have made peace. She can’t stand his lover but only mentions it in passing. She keeps me persuading me to find love again. I tell her I will be fine by myself, just like she has been.
At the restaurant, after yet another giggle fit, we realised how loud we had been and immediately got sheepish. A lady, who had been observing us, walked up and said she wished she had a daughter like me. Kusum held my hand and said “Not everyone is as blessed”

not just a mother

Fixing myself a cup of chamomile tea, my favourite singer serenading me on the stereo and a blank canvas becokining...this was life. As I stared out of the french windows I couldn’t help smiling. The simple joys of life were so attainable, why did it take me 60 years to realise that?
Till 3 years ago I was just Mrs Sharma and Bindi, Bela and Bhupesh’s mother. I was very happy and content. I had been a great wife and a wonderful mother and I knew that. Life was a roller coaster and I didn’t have the controls. My husband was rising fast in his career and was soon a prominent lawyer. Bringing up the kids was something I did almost singlehandedly. From pta meetings to illnesses. Birthday parties to keeping a check on their reading material, I didn’t have a moment to spare. It was only when they fared well in academics or won accolades in other spheres did I feel like it was all worth it.
Before I knew it they had grown up and didn’t need me too much. Of course I was still involved in their lives but to the extent they allowed. Bhupesh came to America for higher studies, Bindi got busy with her banking career and Bela was stuck to the computer and excelling in graphic design. I did set the rules at home but there wasn’t really much to do. Till it was time to get them married, first Bindi got a good match and then Bela married the neighbour’s son.
What happened next was painful. Opportunities and dreams led them all one by one to America and soon it was just the two of us. How much could you talk on the phone? I got net savvy so I could chat with the children but it really wasn’t the same. I kept telling Kapil to slow down and plan a holiday to see the kids but you know how husbands can be. We just kept postponing our retirement and peaceful holiday plans. Then one day he was gone...just like that. The first heart attack proved fatal. I was devastated and despite the kids insisting I stayed back in Bombay.
In a couple of months I realised how utterly lonely I was. Other than my family, I had nothing, no career, no friends, no hobbies. I was too old to start again and soon I found myself watching trite television soaps and hated myself for doing that.
A year later, I gave in to the kids and agreed to move to Philadelphia. Bhupesh was marrying Clara and it was my first real exposure to a foreigner. She was a lovely child and spoilt me silly. Her mother Karen and I became friends. We were the same age but so utterly different. I honestly didn’t like her smoking, drinking friends who used cuss words so calmly. Yet something she said made me think. She said “Vidya, why don’t you just get a life? The kids don’t need us any longer”
So I stopped badgering my children and their spouses to make me grand children. Instead I started doing things that I had always wanted to but never had the time for. I went for walks, visited art galleries and museums and realised I loved it. Soon I was taking the tube and going by myself. It was such a high to do that. Thankfully none of my kids laughed when I told them that. Instead they set up a studio for me in the basement of Bhupesh’s house.
Finally I could spend time doing what I felt like, without feeling guilty. For practical reasons I took to wearing jeans...and that was so so liberating. Like becoming another person. The first time I applied for an art competition online and was called in, it felt almost as good as it did when Bela topped in college.
I was now at art workshops every wednseday and I was known as Vidya there. Just plain Vidya. Karen came to visit and said she had never seen anyone transform so much in six months. When I sold my first painting and got paid for it, I could have danced on the streets. I took the kids out to dinner and on Sunday I organised lunch for children at the orphanage.
My kids are so proud of me and I suspect they are also relieved that they don’t need to baby sit me any longer. Sixty and single is not such a scary space you know...