Dishevelled hair, strewn books, incomplete application forms, heaps of test-papers; it was a stereotypical teenager’s room engulfed by the worries of an insecure future.
Obviously, there were movie-posters, friendship bands and video games, for relief. But they lay untouched on one side.
‘I don’t want to join these new tuition classes you have enrolled me for!’
Her mother looked on. ‘Extra learning and knowledge never harmed anyone’, she responded.
‘Then why don’t you join it?’ Her mother watched bitterly upon her cantankerous attitude. It was not pragmatic to argue with a teenager; one would lose hands down! Her anger however soon dissolved in her sadness since she knew all this rebellion was due to the cut-throat academic competition and hence depression.
It was hard to believe that it was the same girl who once beamed with self-confidence and displayed obedience. And now, all of that was washed off by a blasphemous behaviour owing to the uncertainty of entrance test results. Nikita banged the doors behind herself to collect notes from her friend’s house as her mother looked upon helplessly.
She however returned back in better mood later. Her mother had laid the plates for dinner.
‘Beta, you can always share all your problems or anything with me. I will always be there by your side’. Her mother had always attempted to be a friend to her two daughters.
Nikita smiled in return. Mercurial teenage moods; they say. Her smile waned however with the guilt of how she had treated her mom earlier in the evening. But it was simply out of question to whisper a ‘sorry’. Teenager self respect! She munched upon the chapattis silently.
‘Let me tell you a story’, her mother mumbled.
‘Oh c’mon Ma!’ she retorted.
‘Once, there was a rich little poor girl.’
‘Pleasssseee….. I’m not a kid anymore. I won’t turn optimistic after hearing a story
with a happy ending.’
Her mom continued. ‘Poor in circumstances, rich in dreams!’ ‘Shutup Ma…..’
‘Dreams and ambitions to change her existing set of circumstances.’
This would be any other story of a poor making it big, but Nikita continued to listen since she owed an apology for her behaviour and this was one way she could express it.
‘Earthen tiles, unwoven cots, unsorted chaff; water seeped in the mud huts, which constantly blew away the flame of the rusted lantern. There was however one thing which refused to be blown off; her dreams. These were not hollow dreams. These were backed by undefeated determination and pure hard-work. This was a dream, to make it in the world completely by herself. It was irrelevant of the current situation she was dwelling in; in which she neither had enough money nor ample support. Government schools with basic fees, sacks as school bags; a village girl wished to study. This was irrespective of her elder sister hiding the candles in the night or the idea imposed on her by the rest of the family or even village that studying would get her nowhere. She had the courage which refused to be curbed and the will-power which could not be crushed by the people and circumstances she was surrounded with. She would walk to the school barefooted early morning and then come back in the afternoon to complete her predefined allotted labour of sorting the grains from the stacked chaff. Exhausted by the process, she would manage an afternoon siesta. Thankfully, there would be no one around during that brief time to disturb her, as all would be away ploughing or sowing in the fields. And then she would get back to studies post cooking and dinner.
Days flew past in this mundane routine and it was time for her to enrol herself in a college. This decision was received with complete opposition from her family. The idea infuriated her sister who slapped her in retaliation. But this time, she slapped her back! It was years of pent-up feelings metamorphosing into courage to do what she should have done a long time ago. Her father was her lone supporter for education. She packed her sparse items and moved on. She moved to a hostel from where she could easily commute to her college without much expenditure.
College was an awkward new world! She had two pairs of dresses; her friends had a wardrobe collection. She simply had face cream; her friends had make-up kits.
She had a pair of sandals; her friends had a collection, from boots to belles.
‘Hey, join the birthday treat’, someone would invite. She would have loved to. ‘I’m not feeling well,’ would be her response.
This was because, if she accompanied them, there would be a time when the others would be expecting her to render the same. And this, she was clearly incapable of. There were bouts of depressions but she was determined to not feel low and continue focussing on what she had gone there for. Not thinking much actually helped!
College was done and after plenty of applications, she took the first job which came her way. She had finally made it! She didn’t have the capability to receive it with crackers and parties but she had achieved her dream of becoming financially independent.
It was a Gypsy’s life. Never at a standstill! Beauty entwined in the uncertainty of
the wild, this was a forest officer’s job. Creepers encircled round the trees which were ornate with flowers, golden sunshine, unwieldy greenery…. This was heaven for a tourist while an everyday struggle for a resident. It had been a year in this wilderness and she had seen it all. Herds of elephants destroying all trees and huts on their way, no habitation could survive if they had crossed it. A leopard clenching the corpse of a hunted fox, crossing past the road: It was like experiencing ‘Discovery Channel or Animal Planet’, in person. However, her job comprised of preserving the wild and hence; it was the wildest assignment! Initially, it was pure adventure and thrill. She would complete her projects with complete sincerity and then come down to her husband over weekends, in the township; distant from this world. The wilderness was not allowing her to live life on her own terms. More so, because now, she was expecting and she wanted a life, less criss-crossed by the uncertainty of the wild woodland. Multiple job openings had been applied for and there were calls from a few but the interview dates were distant. Nothing was working out instantly.
Ninth month and her resignation with all its terms and conditions was complete. She moved to the town where her husband was working. It was decided; no more risks in the name of career. Life is not safe anywhere, be it in a forest or a city.
‘We however try to make it least susceptible to trouble. Or at least, we like to believe we have done that!’
The new-born ushered in celebrations at the hospital. It was time to take her home. As she moved back, she queried ‘Did I not have an interview call sometime around this date?’
‘You must be crazy!’ retorted her husband. ‘When is it?’
‘Day after tomorrow and you are not going!’ he declared. ‘I am feeling fine. Believe me!’
‘C’mon, you have to recover and the baby needs you. I don’t need to tell you that!’
‘I’m in high spirits! I don’t understand the problem.’ Her husband stared irritatingly at her.
‘And, you can take care of the baby for two days. That’s the solution. It’s for the baby!’ she replied. This statement made her husband give in. The baby looked upon curiously at the argument, off course unaware of the subject.
Bags packed and the train chugged. As she seated herself along with the study material; she realized that she was unable to concentrate. Her mind leaped back and forth around the little family she was leaving behind. But the decision was now taken. It was an adamant decision and not looking back was the only option before her.
The hustle woke her up at the railway station. Least had she realized that she had dozed off on her seat over the strewn papers. Her uncle received her at the station. He wasn’t her blood-relative but someone whom she had known and trusted for long. He had always encouraged and supported her through all her tough times. He was delighted to see her after a long time.
‘Congratulations, for your baby!!’ he greeted her.
‘Thanks!’ she responded touching his feet.
They hired an auto rickshaw to move to his home. Uncle was afraid to even mention the topic as to why she was travelling in this condition, for the fear of a debate on the issue.
‘There are four hours for the interview, and I need to hurry’, she responded as she headed for ablutions and leftover preparations.
‘Don’t worry. I shall drop you to the place. You look tired’. ‘Of course not! I’m all fresh and energized.’
This was more of an assertion she was giving to herself rather than to uncle to frame a positive mindset.
Brief written-test, Cleared. And it was the first round of Group Discussion. Participants were surprised to see a lady participating in the selection process. Those were times when this was a rare occurrence for them. Woman seclusion at workplace was not new to her. She ignored it completely. GD cleared and it was lunch-break. She was exhausted.
Her body ached while her head reeled. Her husband’s advice of not travelling, was now resounding in her ears. But he had been brave-enough to let her take the final decision and now it was her turn to be brave. She sat on the uncomfortable wooden chair sipping tea, which the considerate security guard had fetched for her. He was not allowed to move away from the office premises for long and hence was not able to bring food for her. As for getting it herself; she was completely drained out of energy. But still, she was just not willing to give up.
Round two of GD, was more difficult, as it was amongst the selected lot.
‘I have to deliver my best to survive’, she constantly told herself.
The GD turned more into an argument as it completed. This was followed by a short break. Time was moving at steadfast speed. The list of short-listed candidates was pinned to the board after some time and she was one amongst them. Interview was next. And after a vociferous round of the same, her session was completed.
She hurried past the passengers to board the train by late evening. Fatigued, she almost collapsed on her seat only to wake up at the destination station next morning. Greeted by her husband and baby, she was overjoyed.
‘Mad mommy, got a call from uncle today morning. You have been selected! The letter shall soon be delivered.’
A child is a harbinger of happiness, they say and it all proved to be true. She hugged her baby and hubby simultaneously bursting into tears. She had set-off in a ship of ambition and had anchored it in the harbour of success.
‘It was no cakewalk’, Nikita’s mother concluded. ‘So, it’s just about hanging on to your dreams and not giving up.’
Nikita now knew who her mother was talking about. It was her individual story.
‘Good Night Ma’, she went back to her room in complete guilt of her behaviour. She was unable to sleep unlike her younger sibling next to her. What her mother had narrated had grabbed her mind and was literally reverberating in her ears.
‘This was no cooked-up bedtime story. It was an absolute truth!’
Nikita could not help recollecting. Her earliest childhood memories went back to water dripping through the dilapidated asbestos roof. ‘We will have a better house’, her father had promised her. And to fulfil his promise, he had to be on constant travel, owing to his assignments. Her heart ached to see her parents’ brimming eyes as her father waved his hands from the moving train. He would keep waving and they would continue looking, till the train sped off and his face merged into the haze.
Dinners away from home, months away missing his family, missing birthdays and occasions…. He was however determined and strong; to be able to do this every time he went away on travel. Both her parents would never let their tears roll down to hamper anything. And life would simply feel normal for the kids.
Then, there was one evening when her mother was yelling at her maid for no reason. Nikita thought everything was proper. Then she realized what the actual reason was. Her mom had returned back from office, where she had received her transfer-order letter. This was simply misplaced anger; misplaced due the frustration of not being able to change it. She had written an application to the Managing Director to reconsider the decision. He had however declined stating that the rules were equal for all. And the only woman employee of the organization was hit where it hurt most; staying away from her children. Moving out the children from the current school at this stage was out of question as it would hamper their studies. The new location was far enough to not allow daily commutation. The silver lining was that it was close enough for her to be able to visit them over the weekends. She had already thought over the option to resign; but jobs were not easily available in these small towns. Big ones were bestowed with that boon, and life was relatively easy without as many compromises by its dwellers. It was the small towns and big dreams however, which required family separations without many options. Earnings mattered but kids mattered more than that. Her mom knew that nothing was more important than her children and that she would not separate from them. But this was when her father had stood rock solid and had helped her take a decision. He had reminded her of how she had always wanted to have an identity of her own. And more than that, if she would give up now; she would have to give up at every step; at every such situation big or small.
‘There is no end to sacrifices if you keep making them. You took care when I had to travel. Same rules apply now.’
He was in complete support for her to pursue her job. All arrangements were made. Her father worked out an option at his office of not travelling frequently. He made sure to not get involved in projects which required him to travel out of the city irrespective of the monetary advantages and gains in doing that. A reliable maid was found to manage the household chores. Her father would be there for everything else; from their morning glass of milk to tying of the mosquito-nets at night; he handled all.
He was certainly at the receiving end of ‘How come he let his wife work away?’ to ‘The kids are devoid of maternal care!’. He generally would be least bothered since he was secure enough to pay no heed to anyone’s gossip or owe anyone an explanation. But whoever questioned him directly would receive a mouthful from him. He would, in courteous language state that he was proud to assist his wife in pursuing her ambitions and was delighted of undertaking family responsibilities. He had the confidence to stand by what he thought was right. He portrayed the true courage and strength of a man!
Hunting eyes at the bus stand, multiple buses hurling dust and smoke, steaming kettles of tea, hanging packets of potato-chips; the waiting eyes would brighten up at the sight of their mother alighting from one of the buses. And this would be the most joyous moment for the family! Since the time was limited to just a day and a half; all of them lived these days to the fullest. From picnics to a carom game to eating out; all that would actually take a week was squeezed into this day and hence it was the most beautiful day of the week. The week would then again start painfully but the pain would be lost in school classes and home work. Her father would be busy in meetings throughout the day while narrating stories to them in the night. The brighter side of this experience was that Nikita and her sister had become self-sufficient. They were not mama’s or daddy’s girls. They did not need a supervisor to ensure that their homework was done sincerely or food was had completely. They were self-invigilators. They could adopt themselves to any kind of healthy food whether it was delicious or not. This definitely did not mean they could not differentiate between stale and tasty. What was cooked by papa was delicious while the other one was stale. They grew as close to their father as they had been with their mother. From cycling along the hillocks together to jogging to listening to daily news on television; their father was a participant in all. It’s a saying; People who are kids at heart are always true at heart. Her father very much fitted into that category.
The one who was unhappy this time was her mother; in an unknown place. She was staying with a friend she had known since college times. And every time she looked at her kids; she would be totally pre-occupied with the thought and concern of her children. On one weekend she had discussed it with her father whether resigning would be a good option. But her father was totally against it. ‘Hang On! I’m taking complete care.’
She had however decided to go for a daily commutation now. She would leave by four in the morning only to return by ten in the night. And it had gradually started hurting her health. Then, there were school-teachers at the Parents-teachers’ meeting asking her to stay back with her children. The world around her was crashing down and she was on the verge of giving up when; the Managing Director of her organisation was transferred. The newly designated MD considered her application and moved her back to her hometown.
‘God bless the soul!’ Her mother had put on a brave fight and emerged successful from the worst of circumstances.
The thoughts rotated in Nikita’s mind just like the fan above. Picnics, water parks, gifts, games, gadgets; there was no remembrance of any such time when she or her sister was deprived of anything. But everything had not just started this way. She realized what her parents had been through. There are people because of the circumstances. And there are those, despite them. Things were not given on a platter to her parents. No silver spoons, no good-luck had played in their lives.
They were self-made people. Each had thrived and worked hard to reach where they were. They had placed their children on priority, lived life tough and treaded the path of earnestness and goodness. They were Divinity defined! They had lived every word of the poem, ‘I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul!’
‘How could she complain at her existing set of circumstances? She must bounce back. She must hang-on even if she was on the edge of the cliff!’ With these thoughts in her mind, Nikita dozed off.
The next morning, she hugged her mother as an apology though she knew she was forgiven long time back.
This was first published on https://shilpakshahdeo.wixsite.com/kiosk