Here are two chapters of the autobiographical novel, A Beautiful Mistake, by Maya Khandelwal. The author says, “These are two of my favourite chapters from my novel that beautifully describes my relationship with my father.” This is part of the special feature of Different Truths on Father’s Day.
Every column of my mind was occupied by Aditya. I looked imploringly towards the heavens and hoped my prayers wouldn’t go unheard.
Tears surged in my eyes.
The pain of loving someone was intense!
I was swept along by fears and insecurities.
I sat at the verge of losing love or filial trust.
My parents had given me everything I asked for without expecting anything in return except
that I abided by certain codes of discipline they prescribed for me.
I felt guilty.
The clash between mind and heart ripped my frigid self apart.
I could see that opportunities were meant to be grasped. I had often dreamt of subduing all adverse situations by the dint of my will power but I knew there would be no looking back. It was like setting off down a road whence a number of other roads might divert but not the one back home. If I threw cautions to the wind, I would be running on my own risks. Apart from the fear of losing social esteem, the greatest fear that haunted me was whether or not the guy be there to support me for the rest of life.
What if he woke up from the prolonged dream of love and found the responsibilities too hard to shoulder?
We couldn’t obviously renounce all social contacts and build a universe of our own.
He was right!
We needed our parents’ blessings to live happy.
‘Where’s Mansi? She’s rarely seen in the house!’ I heard my father demand.
I quivered with fear.
‘She lives in the same house with us but prefers not to involve in any of the family matters. It’s always she, her friends and her books. What’s the use of so much learning that one should become a recluse in one’s own home?’ Mom, as usual, spoke something that didn’t chime with the situation.
‘Call her. ’ Dad asked Di.
‘Let me see if she’s awake. She’s been working hard these days to clear the entrance test.’ at least Di showed some consideration for my poor sake.
‘Why don’t you look for a suitable boy? I’m afraid once she reaches twenty five, it’d be difficult to find a suitable groom.’ Mom spoke with much concern.
‘Huh!’ he evaded the assumption.
‘Is that all you have to say?’ Mom asked.
‘She’s still too immature to marry.’ Daddy summed up.
Dad would never approve of whatever Mom proposed and vice a versa. Had Dad wished to get me married at an earliest opportunity, she’d have, for sure, stood against the idea with a fearless heart.
Well, as long as Dad thought I was still too young to be settled, I could shout out loud I was happy.’
‘Where’ve you been? I hope you aren’t tiring yourself too much?’ he asked, concerned.
His arms bordered my shoulders.
He had never expressed his love so openly!
I didn’t really know how to react.
What else could daughters ever ask for?
They only demanded your love.
‘Hey! What happened?’ he asked, cupping my chin.
I nodded my head in negation.
‘Why do I see tears in the eyes, otherwise so full of dazzling dreams? Did Daddy make you cry?’ he smiled.
‘N-n- no Dad. ’ I brushed aside the unruly tears.
‘See, your Dad can’t boast of being the wealthiest or the happiest person in life. He never was. He never had lot of money to invest. He only invested love and care; built all his hopes upon his children.’ he caressed my hand tenderly.
Sudha Di stood mute, her eyes welled up.
‘Know what? I received a letter from Sameer. It seems, he harbors certain grudges against me till date; says I never loved him enough or I failed to express if I did. He dotes on Daisy today because he wishes to make up for my slip-ups as a father…’ his throat went choked.
‘…you see; I am a simple man who doesn’t perhaps know how to express love. Your Mom might feel the same way. Frankly speaking, I’d have breathed my last the day I shouldered my son’s corpse but for your happiness and well- being…’ he wept like a child.
‘I have been a co- sufferer. I don’t have any grudge against anyone. It is all as designed by Him. I didn’t belong to any rich family. I hope I adjusted here well. My greatest concern was to see my children settled in life. Even I have survived the loss of my son whom I carried for nine months in my womb and brought him up with care and love for twenty years!’ Mom sobbed hard.
The maternal grief that lay locked up for years had resurfaced.
‘Ma, we can see well the intense pain you’ve been through.’ Di supported her.
‘Daddy, you know what? The day the doctors declared him as no more, was the darkest day of my life. I rushed outside the ward and cried like anything! I felt like screaming out to the world that we were good and simple people and we didn’t deserve such a blow of fate, we really didn’t!’
‘…I was too grieved to care if someone clicked his tongue and pitied me, whispering that my brother had just breathed his last. I felt stabbed in hot blood! I was calling his name knowing it was the last I called his name out.’ I couldn’t contain myself.
Hiding my face with palms, I clung to my Daddy’s chest.
He patted me. He patted me as though I wasn’t his grown up daughter but a toddler who had lost her pet or something dearly loved.
I wanted to hide from their presence. Di didn’t however allow me to. She hugged me tight and let me cry till I felt tranquil again.
Daddy supported Mom.
She had a fit!
The painful memories associated to the departed soul leapt out from nowhere and made us catch our breath until we were able to cope up with the present once more.
The façade of aloofness that Daddy had maintained so long, at-once collapsed. He had somehow managed to keep the pain in check knowing that he was to serve as the backbone of the family.
As the flood of emotions had exhausted itself out, we all felt calmed down.
We’d realised well what death was…
It was not just news to be gulped along with the morning tea and biscuits if the headlines told that so and so had died in an accident…
We had learnt that ‘so’ and ‘so’ could be ‘a brother’ or ‘a son’ or ‘the one you loved the most’!
It was not simply the death of ‘one’ who ceased to live under the sun.
It was the death for an entire family.
Dad took me to the STD booth nearby.
‘Hello Mom, how’re you? Settled well? When are you coming Mom? I miss you so much!’ I uttered breathlessly in the phone.
A girl of sixteen or so in blue jeans and orange top paused to look at me. She was doing her homework as well as running the family shop.
‘Has your Mom gone somewhere Di?’ she asked kindheartedly.
‘She’s gone to assist my sister at her new job.’ I answered pitying myself.
‘Hullo Sudha! Are you okay? How’s the staff?’ Papa asked Di.
‘I can’t think of living away from my Mom even for a single day. Moms are so good, no?’ the girl in blue jeans and yellow top asked me.
There lay a Reynolds pen sandwiched between the two orderly set rows of pearl white teeth. The pen was left with miserable marks as a testimony of the inhuman treatment it often was subjected to.
I nodded a ‘yes’ with wet eyes.
‘Have you talked to the landlady about the rent and all?’ Dad asked Mom.
He listened, his eyes keenly fixed on the displayed bill.
‘Oh! Mansi is absolutely fine, misses you however. You may come here for a couple of days. You see, I intend to come there in person to get assured of everything. I’ve got my ticket reserved. I must put down the phone.’ Dad said, stealing again a quick gaze at the damned machine.
We walked back home. I felt very stupid when his hasty steps left me behind despite my fastest walk ever. I had to catch up by running a bit in between. I was scared lest I should lag behind with not a soul on the road!
I looked like a dwarf compared to his magnificent frame.
His shadow engulfed mine.
Neither my steps nor my experience could match him ever.
I was doing mischief right under his nose!
I wasn’t just able to resist his phone calls!
I had resolved so many times but the need seemed so massive and my resolutions so frail!
How I wished to be friendlier with Dad so that I could lay my heart open to him!
Except for the squealing of pups shivering in cold, there was none else walking on the road. The locality we dwelt in wasn’t plush at any rate. I never invited my college friends home. Behind our house there lived potters and laborers. The low life they lived made the scene a degraded one. As the dark gathered and the street was desolated, their kids would sit at the edge of drains to relieve themselves. That was the scene as we neared the house. Dad shooed the shadowy kids away with a frown. I felt very awkward. I looked everything from Aditya’s point of view and wondered what his reaction would be if I invited him home.
Before we sat for dinner, Dad told me that Mum would be back the day after next while he’d be leaving for Udaipur early morning next day.
I was kind of okay with it.
While packing his bag, I made plans how to utilise the special day most fruitfully. I might be able to persuade him for a meeting…No! That would be crazy. I’d rather ask him to go home and talk to me on phone for as long as he wished, undisturbed by the hubbub of the working place…
I’d tell him how lonely I felt without him and how I longed to see him.
‘Mansi, you should take a leave tomorrow. Someone is needed to be home in my absence…God knows if they’ve arranged things well or not. The place has to be safe for Sudha. God bless her!’
‘Amen.’ I said with a comforting smile.
We were getting friendlier bit by bit.
‘The food is so tasty that I’m licking my fingers,’ he flattered me.
‘You must be pulling my leg.’ I took a spoonful of the vegetable to assure myself.
‘No, I am not!’ He sounded childish.
‘How’s the college going on?’ He was sober the very next moment.
‘Fine!’ I answered, tearing next bite of chapatti.
‘You look puffed and bleary. Just clear up and leave the utensils for tomorrow. Sleep is a must.’
‘Yes Daddy!’ I said, licking my finger.
As I entered the kitchen, Dad rang buaji (paternal aunt, Dad’s sister) up to inform her about the proposed journey.
‘Bahinji, I’ll be leaving for Udaipur early morning. I just wanted to make sure that you’ll take care of Mansi in my absence…oh yes! I’ll be back in a few days… moreover your Bhabhi is coming the day after tomorrow…you see, there is none else to rely upon… of course! She’ll be at home…I am …so sorry to have bothered you at so odd an hour. Okay, good ni…..’ he yawned.
Hearing this, my face wrinkled like the dish cloth I had in my hand right then.
Dad was relaxed having given my charge to the most reliable person on the earth as far as keeping an eye over me was concerned.
I slyly slipped out into the drawing room to snatch the perfect moment to call Aditya but then I thought I had better wait till the next day.
I was about to relapse into my dreamy world when there was a slight tap on the door.
I called out Dad.
‘Arrey! Bahinji aap!’ he exclaimed.
‘I had to.’ she said, yawning.
She looked sluggish. She usually had had a sound sleep before others might realize it was time to sleep.
‘I said I’ll be going tomorrow!’ Dad reminded her.
‘I remember so.’ she rolled her big eyes.
I narrowed mine.
Something was wrong.
‘Remember how she exchanged looks with me the other day?’ Buaji asked, highly upset by the thought.
‘Oh, come on Bahinji! She’s a child!’ Dad said.
‘Sorry I can’t take charge of a girl who has no manners to talk to her elders. I haven’t forgotten the insult this so called child heaped upon me.’ Her tongue tore things apart!
Dad looked exasperated.
Her eyes rested on my face.
‘Just move out of my sight!’ She wanted to scream as though.
She moved two three steps ahead towards Dad.
I sensed danger and moved in, of course eavesdropping on their conversation.
‘Do you know…Bhaiya? Someone told me …she’s been…seeing a boy these days!’ she whispered in Punjabi.
There were lines of strain running across his forehead.
‘What if I take her into my custody and she slips out,’ she asked, widening her eyes.
She knew well she had very safely placed the bomb.
She waited for explosion with a thundering heart.
Dad looked depressed.
‘I’m thankful to you for this important piece of information and would see to it that I’m never mistaken again as to whom I should give custody of my daughter.’ Dad said in a firm voice folding hands before her and shut the door.
‘Hey Ram! He sighed.
He came directly to my room.
Completely shaken by the scene, I was crying silently.
This was a promo only.
So much left to be staged further!
With a burning heart I waited for the succession of slaps to be landed over my cheeks.
Dad stroked my cheeks!
‘I’m observing how our well-wishers seek occasions to snatch our peace of mind,’ he said, his gaze shifting between me and the door he had slammed on her face a moment ago.
‘I’m sure my children would never let me hang my head in shame, right?’
I sobbed hard, powerless to utter a word.
A sense of guilt stabbed me.
Dad looked into my eyes probing if there lay anything unpredictable that his eyes failed to perceive.
‘Daddy…’ I neared him.
‘I …I…won’t do anything wrong, I promise,’ words came out with great effort.
‘Know why your Grandpa wore a turban?’ He asked, beckoning towards the large photo frame that gracefully hung upon the wall. It was an impressive black and white photograph of my grandpa in shervani and safa, his eyes brimming with confidence and authority.
He had deep blue pair of eyes.
I wished I’d inherited the same from my Dad as he had from my grandpa.
‘No idea! Perhaps it was in fashion then?’ I guessed, wiping away my tears.
‘It was an emblem of dignity. My father’s good reputation inside and outside home was never questioned. He never made much money and wasn’t valued in the world as a Sahukar (big trader, money lender) but due to the ceremonious life he lived plus his moral conduct, he won many hearts over to him.’ Dad wistfully continued.
I was all ears to him.
‘I, however, am not so sure of myself…never therefore wear it.’ Dad hesitated.
His blue eyes swam in tears and his ambitious head a little bent.
‘I have invested all I had in bringing you up. Now, repay if you can. I want to go out of this world with the honor due to a poor man who has lived by moral values. I couldn’t fulfill all your demands but I do remember how I had sewn dresses for your functions overnight! I do agree, they might not be as attractive as your friends’ but so much of love and care went into the making. Am I wrong?’ he smiled through tears.
That was long past. We were kids then. But how could these sweet little things escape my memory? I was going to adore him for those little gestures of love for the rest of my life.
‘Thanks, Dad!’ I bit my lips.
‘You have been a sensible child. In fact none of you grudged about the compromises you’d to make in your childhood. Here, in fact lies my richness…I didn’t fulfill your demands at once even if I sometimes could… for… I always wished to imbibe the virtue of patience in you.’
Dad said wistfully.
Physical as well mental fatigue had been subduing me.
I couldn’t take the strain anymore, nor could he.
‘Go to sleep now. It is very late.’ he blinked his wet eyes and left.
I felt torn between mind and heart.
I tossed on my bed for long unable to close my eyes.
The jigsaw pieces of a shameful episode kept dancing across my mind. Aditya had one afternoon visited my house. I’d given him a back door entry. He, on a whim, had kissed me the moment I had shut the door…
… I’d put the tea pan on gas while he was surveying all the rooms in my house.
I could easily recall the very words exchanged between us.
‘It is nice!’ he said.
‘I know it’s not. It is just okay. Thanks, anyway! ’
‘Where’s the tea you invited me for?’
‘Cool down till it boils.’ I laughed.
‘Why waste time?’ he moved his fingers through my curly locks.
‘Your hair was straight, I suppose?’
‘I got them curled.’ I lied.
‘Dad allowed you to go for a thing like this?’ he asked, surprised.
‘Kidding. I actually did it myself.’
‘Reynolds pen on wet hair; you fool!’ I laughed.
‘Arty!’ he laughed, slowly pulling me to the circumference of his arms and then gently pushing me on bed.
‘Gone mad or what?’ I protested.
‘Don’t panic! I’m doing nothing. Just…’ he mumbled, throwing himself on me.
He buried his face under my chin. His breath was on me. I was hypnotized. I grew so twitchy under his masculine weight that I at once removed myself away from him.
We breathed hard. So hard that the aroma of tea reached our nostrils.
‘Tea! Tea must be ready!’ I sprang up at once, pulling my dupatta close.
‘Do you think I’m a puppet to dance to the tune you play?’ He asked a trifle annoyed.
‘Hey! Take it easy!’
‘Don’t ever call me again to meet you. Meeting you is no fun!’
‘I’ll remember next. Tea?’ I rushed to the kitchen.
There was a lump of smoke leaping out of the kitchen to cover the small house very soon.
The mixture had all smoked out of the pan. There was nothing left in it except for the burnt residue of tea leaves.
I coughed ceaselessly.
Aditya coughed too.
‘Shhh!’ I cautioned him.
‘Can’t I even…?’ he asked in a whisper.
‘Buaji is next door! I told you!’
He indicated towards the exhaust fan.
I smiled, switching it on.
‘Shit! The power cut!’
‘Remember me by the burnt tea pan. I must leave now,’ he seethed.
‘You shut up!’
‘No bye!’ he had left pretending displeasure not however forgetting to give me a parting little kiss.
I sank in my bed and cried in silence till sleep overtook me.
Pic sourced by author.