Aayush was 4 years old when we shifted to Canada from India. After 15 years, coming back to one’s own country was like moving to a new place. Although we didn’t sell our house and our families were still here. “Nothing much has changed, Aruna,” said my husband Avyukt while opening the cupboard. He was making space in the attic to keep the big suitcases.
The moment he opened the cupboard I started coughing. “Hey, Bhagwan!” “You don’t want a maid to help you, and you can’t even tolerate the dust,” Avyukt picked up the broom and said. Standing near his long legs, I held the stool with one hand and wrapped my face with the other.
“This is dirty.” He looked down at me and said. A drop of sweat trickle down his sharp nose. His wheatish complexion gleamed, and he was sweating badly. “Come down! I will do the rest.” I tied the cloth to my face and mounted the stool.
Apart from the dust, there were a few cartons too. One by one I handed the cartons to Avyukt. While doing this one carton completely tore apart. It was filled with (a) few old clothes, toys of Aayush and an old camera. “Hey, Aruna do you remember this? I thought I had lost it,” Avyukt picked up the camera with glee in his eyes.
“Of course !! We bought it when Aayush was born.” I dismounted from the stool and took the digital camera from his hand. It was not working, but there was this memory card in it.
With the help of a card reader, I managed to download the data on my laptop. “Oh my god! I thought I’d lost all these photographs,” We kissed each other as I ran my fingers through his thick salt & pepper hair. He got his hair from his mother. “Avyukt, I envy your hair.” On hearing this, he laughed and said “I wish I could say this the same for you,” Avyukt pulled my thin ponytail. He used to do the same thing in school and then in college and even after marriage.
Along with the pictures, there were some videos too. The camera was an emotional purchase for us. “You know we should print these pictures and dedicate one wall for memories, what say?” I asked. “I am ready with the drill machine, thin lips!” Avyukt laughed. He started to kiss me again when one such video started with a scene of a floor “Isme kuch nahi hain,” I was about to stop it. “Arre! Kuch toh hoga” he grabbed my hand and bit my long slim fingers.
The video finally showed something that we never thought could ever happen to us. I tried to stop the video, but he motioned me not to no. There were emotions of anger, disappointment and shame on his face. He went out of the room where Papa was trying to hang Ma’s photo on the wall.
“Leave it! I will do it.” Avyukt grabbed Ma’s picture from his hand and hanged hung it on the wall. Papa, unaware of everything anything, stood behind him.
“Avyukt,” I called, dreading that he would say or do something. At once he turned towards to me and went outside the house without a word.
“Let me give you a hand.” Papa strolled towards me. He came into the room, looked around and said “Thumari saas kehti thi, mere Avi ka saman hain, rakho kabhi zarurat pad sakti hain.”
“Hmm!” Papa took a deep breath at the stuff kept in front of him. It could be useful for some needy people, but for my MIL they were memories. “Main kabaddi wale ko bula raha hun,” Papa gave a final look and was about to leave the room when his eyes noticed something familiar. He moved towards the bed to get a closer look at the camera. He picked it up, moved to the window stared out. “I thought I had lost the camera,” I threw the broom on the floor and said. “Thik hain camera?” he turned towards me and said. “Nahi,” I removed the memory card from the card reader and showed, “But we could retrieve the data from the memory card.”
Papa gave the camera to me and said, “I am going home.” The whole house was empty, and the sun rays crept inside the drawing room as he opened the door to leave.
In the sunlight, his shadow appeared like that of a man with a small frame and drooping shoulders. His walk was different from what I saw when he had come to receive us at the airport. He had almost run to hug his son. On reaching home, I realised that Papa’s house was still the same. After years of Ma’s death, I still felt her smell. “Papa, you have kept the house as Ma had always kept. Ekdum saaf!” I removed my sandals outside the house and said. “Thumari saas ko dhool se nafrat thi. Naa ghar pe na Yaadon pe,” Papa, removed his handkerchief and cleaned the little dust on the photo album kept under her photo frame.
Avyukt was back home; it was evening. He had brought food with him. We ate without talking to each other. After a long time, I saw him smoking. “Papa saw the camera,” I took the cigarette from his hand and took a puff. “I used to think that Canada is the country which has no culture. But….!” He gave a deep sigh.
A week passed. A sudden quietness had crept between us. Avyukt answered only what I asked, monosyllables mostly. We used to share drinks, but now he started to drink all alone. The news was watched without being discussed. The whole house was up, but we both were unsettled. Aayush called after a week, his exams got over, but he wished to stay in Canada for a little longer before settling down with us in India.
“Avyukt! Aayush will come soon. Do you care to talk it out?” I hung up the phone and said. “What do I need to talk?” He snapped. “Okay! If there is nothing to talk then why I am suffering someone else’s wrath?” I snapped back.
“It’s nothing like this. You are overreacting!” Avyukt continued to work on the laptop. “God! Do you think I am blind?” I got up and went to the other side of the bed. He closed the laptop and walked out of the room. “Yeah right! Since days we haven’t talked,” I followed him, furious.
Any trouble and Avyukt goes into his shell. But this time the shell was darker and thicker than ever before. I hadn’t heard from Papa for over a week. I don’t know why he was behaving like this.
I am not sure about Papa’s bonding with Avyukt as we stayed with his parents for a very little time. Very soon, Avyukt and I realised that it was difficult for me to share a room with his mother. She was ultra- possessive about Avyukt and never liked him talking about his problems to me. I don’t know how Papa passed all these years.
It was 10 days, and the silence was deafening. I called up Papa, but he was not at home. Suddenly, the doorbell rang “I was calling you, and your maid said you are not at home,” I closed the door behind us. “It’s your Ma’s death anniversary.” Papa gave me Prasad and said. “You went to a temple?” I took the Prasad and said. “Every year! Where is Avyukt?” He walked through the drawing room towards the bedroom.
Before I could say anything, Avyukt came out. Papa gave the Prasad, and he took it without greeting him “Yeh natak kab tak chalta rahega?” Avyukt asked. Papa looked confused. “Kya natak?” Papa looked at me and then Avyukt. “You never loved my mom and now this pooja and all!” Avyukt was angry.
Avyukt got the laptop outside, played the video and showed him. “Are you mad? How can you watch this?” I tried to shut the laptop screen. “You are disturbed because I am watching, what about him?,” Avyukt pointed towards Papa who was standing in front of us.
Avyukt continued to play. I could hear the giggling of Aayush. He was 4 when he recorded this video. Many a time There were many scenes of floors and ceilings in it. It was that time when we were running to and fro for our Canadian visas. Morning time was a time when Ma used to lock herself in the Pooja room and offered prayers for hours and hours. The maid used to clean the house and Papa either used to play with Aayush or do his work. In the video he was sitting on the sofa, reading the newspaper and the maid was mopping the floor. As soon as the maid came near Papa’s feet, Papa spread his legs, and the maid left mopping. All this happened in front of my child. “Dadu!!” Aayush called. Papa pulled up his shorts and hurried towards Aayush.
Avyukt turned towards Papa. His eyes were blood red, and his silence gave a loud cry. “I can explain this,” said Papa.
“Why you did this to my mom? She was a good wife!” cried Avyukt.
“You could say this for your mom but not for my wife?” Papa looked straight into Avyukt’s eyes.
“What do you mean by that?” Avyukt looked quizzical.
“Your mom and I dragged this relationship on because of many reasons which I now think were in my head, only.” Papa kept his hand on Avyukt’s shoulder and stood up. But Avyukt shrugged.
Somewhere I had an inkling of what Papa was going to say. Ma once shared that she was not happy in her married life, but she left complaining long back. She believes in this Guru a lot, and finally, she found solace there.
“Don’t try to reason out your sin,” Avyukt shouted at Papa.
“Avi! I am not a sinner. I am a human with all kind of needs,” Papa turned towards him.
“So you will sleep with anyone for that. Not even once you thought of Ma, Sheee!” Avyukt, threw the remote at him which was kept on the centre table.
Papa got hurt on his head, and blood started to ooze out from his eyebrows. “Avi! are you mad?” I shouted at him. Papa fell on the sofa with a thud. I quickly got the first aid kit and asked Avyukt to bring an ice pack. He didn’t move and turned his face.
“Avyukt, your mom is dead, and bygones are bygones,” I got the ice-pack from the freezer.
“It’s easy for you to say. Your dad has not cheated on your mother,” Avyukt hit the sofa and said.
I could understand what he was going through. We hold our parents in such high esteem that we often forget that they are men and women with needs.
“Avi! For once listen to me like a man and not a son,” Papa kept the ice pack on his side. The blood flow became slow but did not stop. “Papa, you need to visit the hospital, first!” I pressed the ice pack back on his wound.
“Avi! Your mother was a selfish lady,” Papa ignored me and continued to speak.
“What rubbish!” snapped Avyukt “My mother was a lady with a big heart.”
“From day 1 of our marriage, she wanted everything her way,” Papa got up and stood strong in front of Avyukt. “If she had a big heart then why do you have no attachment with your only Aunt and my dead parents?”
I knew why Bhua never visited us, but I used to be puzzled at seeing Papa’s behaviour of not complaining about it.
“She never liked respected my family. We used to fight a lot and once I asked her to leave my house.” Papa turned towards me.
“But her father, your Nanu, passed away,” Papa gave the ice pack to me. The blood stopped, but I could see the swelling. “Your Nanu’s death and the news of her pregnancy came together,” Papa turned towards Ma’s photo, “She was expecting you, Avi!”
“Everybody advised that a child changes everything. I started hoping the same. But she started blackmailing me in your name.” There was anger in Papa’s voice.
“She knew I love you more than I love anyone,” Papa held Avyukt by his shoulders and said.
Avyukt, stood confused and sad. He couldn’t believe what he was listening about his mother.
For the first time, I saw them like this. Papa and Avyukt never fought with each other, but there were a lot of disagreements between them. When Ma was alive, she often used to take Avyukt’s side, even though Avyukt was totally wrong. Once Avyukt invested a large chunk of money in shares and Papa advised him not to do so. I was also a little scared and tried to make him understand. But Ma shouted and said, “Beta, I am with you.” He lost all the money. Papa got a little furious, but Ma said “Beta inki mat sunno! Zindagi bhar toh kuch kiya nahin.”
When we decided to go to Canada, Papa was pleased. “Take him Aruna beta. He will go far from his mother, and he will prosper.”
The droplets from the Ice pack started to drop on my feet. The cold drops shook me, and I found myself standing in front of Papa and Avyukt. “I completed all her demands. But, she tried all her means to put me down,” cried Papa.
“Do you know she tried to commit suicide?” On hearing this Avyukt got flummoxed.
“To stop her from doing all this, I had to hit her many a time” Papa turned towards me “I know for hitting a woman you must be hating me, Aruna.” He sounded apologetic. But I was not left with any other option,” said Papa.
“That’s why you slept with other women. Shameless!!” Avyukt turned his face.
“You don’t even know the amount of frustration I had. On top of all this, your mother used to use sex as punishment for me.” Papa sat down on the sofa. “We had nothing in common, Avi! But we are living in a society,”
“Oh really! So you realise that” Avyukt taunted. “Yes, I do!! Do you even realise how difficult it is to continue like this?” Papa shouted. “Yeah, I understand you need variety on in bed!” smirked Avyukt.
“You are holding me guilty for this. But what about all the things I have done for you, your mother and for this house?” Papa pleaded in front of Avyukt and me.
“What you did was your responsibility.” Said Avyukt. “You left me, Avyukt. What about your responsibility?” Papa said meekly.
Both were silent. I did understand what Papa meant. After we discovered the camera and the video, Avyukt became distant. I couldn’t tolerate this silence. Papa and Ma lived with each other’s silence for long. Ma found solace in hours of Pooja and Papa in something that was not acceptable.
“I hate your mother for not giving me a life that I dreamt for myself. I am also tired of this natak!” Papa unmounted the photo and threw it on the floor, “I had no guilt that time, and I am not guilty now!” Papa shouted.
“You!!!” Avyukt pushed Papa out of the house.
Avyukt picked up his Ma’s frame and hang hung it back on the wall.
A few days after the incident, Avyukt’s Bhua called up and informed us about Papa’s health. He had suffered a stroke and was hospitalised. I had to drag Avyukt to the hospital.
Papa looked small and pale from the ICU window. Avyukt stood outside the room with an expression as cold as dry ice. I saw Avyukt’s Bhua(Aunt) sitting on a bench outside the ICU room.
Bhua! Another important person in our family but was only seen on at family functions and family funerals. Ma never liked her and avoided her at family functions too. She was a principal of a school and hold commanded a sign of respect in the entire family. She had two children and divorced her husband after the birth of her second child. Ma did mention about Bhua; all marriages have complications, but one cannot just end. Aunt was the eldest in the family. Papa and Bhua had a camaraderie which was rare in siblings. Together yet two individuals.
During such occasions only I learnt about Ma and her relationship with her in-laws. I knew that Ma was educated but never knew that she was highly educated. She was the only daughter of her parents and a pampered child. Ma never got the same attention from Papa and not even her in-laws. It seemed her in-laws were enamoured by their daughter only and couldn’t see anything else.
Not getting the due attention from the inlaws led to the deterioration of Ma’s relationship with Papa. It is said that after the divorce Bhua stayed with them. She used to leave her 2 children with Ma and her parents.
Ma always feared that Bhua would get their house in her name and Avyukt’s father’s salary was spent behind on Bhua’s children. Whenever Ma used to raise such issues, the entire family along with Papa used to fight with Ma.
It was such a pitiable thing that due to misunderstandings and insecurity two highly qualified women couldn’t support each other.
Today I see Bhua sitting outside the ICU room for her brother. She looks old, very old. Just like Papa, she too has a small frame but possesses a strong personality.
“Avyukt, your father told me everything,” said Bhua amicably. Avyukt was silent and didn’t meet her eyes.
“Avyukt, look around. She did what every mother is expected to do,” Bhua looked at him and said.
“Bhua, don’t try to save your brother,” Avyukt joined his palms in utter frustration and said.
She smiled “He also did what every father is expected to do, and you are also behaving in the same manner.”
“He also did something that I never thought my father would ever do.” A tear rolled down from Avyukt’s eyes.
“What’s the use of education if you cannot see beyond the realms of relationships and social framework?” Bhua held his hands and pressed.
“Nahi dekhna mujhe! I cannot forget, and I cannot forgive him,” Avyukt turned towards the long stretched of a corridor of the hospital.
“This is not about forgiving your father. It is about understanding and accepting the grey in everyone,” Bhua said and went inside the ICU room.
Not once did Avyukt turned back and looked at his father. We left the hospital. Bhua was right. Ma lived her life and left. Papa also lived his life and holding grudges would only poison Avyukt. Amidst white floors and walls, the greyness appeared loud and clear. But the social colour of the relationship was so dark that Avyukt couldn’t see and accept the grey.
What if Papa and Ma had accepted the truth of their married life and parted ways, mutually?
What if the camera was found when Ma was alive, questions could be answered?
What if Avyukt could accept his father’s past and continue to see his mother in high esteem?
After 2 days Aayush came back from America, and he was taken to the cremation ground straight from the airport. Just as Ma, Papa’s truth also went with him. The grandson knew nothing and the son shared nothing. The mourning ceremonies took place in our house and whether Avyukt liked it or not he had to do everything. He may have cried too. The frames of Ma & Papa occupied space on one of the walls of our home. They both looked good, and everyone around them said nice things right about them.
“They were a great couple.”
“Avi’s father became very lonely after Bhabhiji left.”
“Till the time Bhabhiji lived she took care of every small thing around her.”
“She was a spiritual lady. Never complained and never fought with anyone.”
“Avi’s father was a polite and sensitive man.”
Avyukt listened to everything without showing any expression. In Aayush’s eyes, the respect for grandparents increased manifolds.
We never talked about that video again. Aayush got the carpenter from outside, drilled and hung all the pictures on the wall.
Just like Papa, even Avyukt does Pooja on their birthdays and death anniversaries. Bhua was right, we all are doing what is expected of us, and under the burden of truth, we just manage to breathe.