A DREAM

And how it ended.

Woman's Era - - Contents - Pan­chali Maitra

We started for home. Vinod was hum­ming an old Hindi tune as he drove along the high­way in the wee hours of the night. I could feel his hap­pi­ness on see­ing his princess af­ter three years. Fi­nally, af­ter a wait of about 10 min­utes,we saw Renuka com­ing out of the ar­rival gate. She looked stun­ning in a denim blue jeans and black T-shirt. Her long black hair was even more shiny. See­ing us Renuka left her lug­gage and ran to­wards us. Her smile re­vealed her im­mense hap­pi­ness on re­turn­ing home af­ter years.

It was the day when Renuka re­turned from the USA af­ter grad­u­at­ing.

I heard Vinod call out “Aren’t you ready yet? Flight is on time. You know it takes al­most an hour to reach the air­port. Hardly half an hour is left for Renuka’s flight to land.”

I was fry­ing the chicken kababs which I had pre­pared to carry with me. Renuka never en­joyed the food served kababs and “What I placed packed that on in an was is board. it this?” the alu­minum in usu­ally a fried casse­role. asked hot foil Vinod. Renuka. “Some If snacks she doesn’t for like the food served in the flight she will be half starv­ing,” I replied. Vinod smiled. “Diya, your daugh­ter has grown up. She is stay­ing alone in a dif­fer­ent coun­try, trav­el­ling around the world. Do you think she will be re­ally starv­ing if she doesn’t like the food?” Vinod asked. “But she just loves her mama’s kababs so much. She hasn’t tasted a sin­gle one for three years!” My voice choked as I spoke. Vinod was about to say some­thing. But he stopped. We reached the air­port within an hour and hur­ried to­wards the ar­rival point. My eyes searched the flight in­for­ma­tion board. Yes… Flight No IF192 had ar­rived from New York. I couldn’t hold my tears. I would see my baby af­ter three long years. I stood at a cor­ner in the vis­i­tors’ zone and ea­gerly watched the pas­sen­gers walk­ing out with their lug­gage.

Fi­nally, af­ter a wait of about 10 min­utes,we saw Renuka com­ing out of the ar­rival gate.

She looked stun­ning in a denim blue jeans and black T-shirt. Her long black hair was even more shiny. See­ing us Renuka left her lug­gage and ran to­wards us. Her smile re­vealed her im­mense hap­pi­ness on re­turn­ing home af­ter years. See­ing her run­ning to­wards us with her arms stretched out and tear­ful eyes, I re­mem­bered her first day at school.

The first time I left her alone as she walked to­wards her class­room with trem­bling steps to face the world. She turned back once and looked at me with tear­ful eyes. It was then I un­der­stood the tremen­dous con­fu­sion that trou­bled her lit­tle heart. She wanted to ask me, “Ma, why are you leav­ing me alone? I can­not do any­thing with­out you. Who will save me if my teachers hurt me? Who will feed me if I am hun­gry? I am feel­ing afraid, ma. Don’t leave me alone.”

I pan­icked in fear as I

stood at the end of the cor­ri­dor watch­ing my baby en­ter her world all alone. But I couldn’t ex­plain to her that day, “Renuka, I am your shadow. I will al­ways be with you wher­ever you go, what­ever you do. My eyes will al­ways follow you whether you see me or not. My bless­ings will al­ways pro­tect you whether you feel it or not.” She was too young to un­der­stand this.

“Maaaa.” Then a jerk, a hug and tears of joy. I don’t know how long I stood there hug­ging tightly my baby, my life.

“Do you ladies have any plan to re­turn home tonight or will you stand here hug­ging each other and cry­ing the whole night?” Vinod in­ter­rupted.

“Baba, I missed you and ma so much.”

“We missed you too, my child.” I no­ticed the crys­tal drops in Vinod’s eyes.

We started for home. Vinod was hum­ming an old Hindi tune as he drove along the high­way in the wee hours of the night. I could feel his hap­pi­ness on see­ing his princess af­ter three years.

Renuka was too ex­hausted af­ter the long, te­dious jour­ney. She leaned against my shoul­der and closed her eyes.

“Oh” I re­mem­bered the ke­babs.

I took out the casse­role from my bag and opened it. Renuka sprang up in ex­cite­ment as the tempt­ing aroma of the hot ke­babs filled the air.

“Ma, I love you so much,” confessed Renuka as she grabbed the casse­role and fin­ished her favourite ke­babs one by one. I stared at her as she rel­ished the food just as she used to do dur­ing her school days when she re­turned home af­ter long, tir­ing hours.

When we reached home it was well past mid­night.

We all were too tired. Renuka wanted to sit with us and chat the whole night but she couldn’t keep her eyes open.

So we just fresh­ened up and went to sleep.

Soft morn­ing rays glowed in through the win­dow. I opened my eyes. Af­ter three long years it was a bright, happy morn­ing. My child was sleep­ing peace­fully in her own home, in the next room. Noth­ing could have been more peace­ful for a mother.

Hear­ing a soft knock on the the door I sat up.

“Ma, have you wo­ken up?” whis­pered Renuka.

I hur­ried to open the door wor­riedly.

And then… I couldn’t be­lieve my eyes! Renuka was wear­ing a beau­ti­ful red sari which I had gifted her on her eigh­teenth birth­day. Daz­zling golden neck­lace, ear­rings, ban­gles adorned her like a queen. Her long black hair was tied neatly in a bun.

See­ing me puz­zled, Renuka in­ter­rupted the si­lence be­tween us and spoke.

“Ma, since I have achieved the first rank from our univer­sity, I want to go to the tem­ple to of­fer puja. It will be a new be­gin­ning of a new life for me.”

I couldn’t ut­ter a sin­gle word. Renuka, who had never had any in­cli­na­tion to­wards re­li­gious mat­ters had dressed up in a sari early in the morn­ing to go to the tem­ple!

“My lovely princess. I never no­ticed when my baby has grown up to be a beau­ti­ful young lady.”

Renuka blushed at her fa­ther’s com­pli­ment.

“Even I want to go to the tem­ple. Af­ter many years we are to­gether again,” I said.

“Yes, let us be­gin this day seek­ing di­vine bless­ings,” added Vinod.

When we reached the Dak­shineswar Kali Tem­ple, it was driz­zling. The sky was shrouded with black smoky clouds. The weather was a bit colder than be­ing pleas­ant.

Dak­shineswar Tem­ple is a very fa­mous tem­ple in Kolkata. Peo­ple from all over the world come here to seek the bless­ings of Kali.

We bought flow­ers, in­cense sticks and sweets from the nearby shop and en­tered the tem­ple.

A feel­ing of di­vine hap­pi­ness and ec­static joy filled our hearts as we of­fered puja to the goddess.

The tem­ple is sit­u­ated by the bank of the holy river Ganga. We walked to the river bank and sat on the steps that led to the bathing ghat.

Everything around was calm and quiet. A few boats sailed lazily across the river.

It was a beau­ti­ful ex­pe­ri­ence of serene beauty away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of ur­ban life.

The sun was get­ting hot. We sat in the car. Vinod as usual was at the steer­ing whil. We started along the wind­ing way ad­ja­cent to the tem­ple. On both sides of the road were small, clut­tered shops sell­ing com­modi­ties for daily use. Gro­ceries, sta­tioner­ies, toi­letries everything was avail­able in the mar­ket. There were veg­etable ven­dors, fish stalls lined up along the nar­row lanes. Renuka was see­ing this usual pic­ture of Kolkata af­ter a long time.

“Ma, Kolkata has not changed a bit in these years. Though of course, the dirt and crowds on the streets have in­creased.’

“This is Kolkata, young lady. No mat­ter how con­gested, pol­luted it be­comes the city will never lose its spirit. The mar­kets will al­ways be crowded, the eater­ies will also be rac­ing even if the pock­ets of the cit­i­zens are empty.”

We smiled at Vinod’s de­scrip­tion of our home city which we al­ways found to be ever-charm­ing. As we drove along the busy streets Vinod sud­denly re­mem­bered.

“Renuka, we have a sur­prise for you.” “Sur­prise?” “We have ar­ranged a party at the Gemini Club this Sat­ur­day to cel­e­brate your ex­cel­lent achieve­ment.”

Renuka’s face turned pale. “Party? This

Time flew for the next few days. Renuka mostly pre­ferred to stay at home. She was ei­ther watch­ing pop­u­lar Hindi movies on TV or gos­sip­ing with her fa­ther. Some­times she talked to her friends over the phone.

Sat­ur­day? But, baba, I am leav­ing for the US this Sat­ur­day,” said Renuka.

I was more than shocked.

“What? This Sat­ur­day? You have come home only for six days? To­day is al­ready Mon­day!” I couldn’t con­trol my­self.

Renuka kept quiet for a few mo­ments.

“Ma, ac­tu­ally you know I have ap­plied for a job in a few com­pa­nies there. But I need to be present there for the in­ter­views. You know how dif­fi­cult it is to get a de­cent, well-paid job nowa­days,” Renuka fi­nally spoke.

“Well, in that case, I have a so­lu­tion,” said Vinod. “We can ad­vance the party to Fri­day.”

“Yes, baba. That’s a great idea! I will be able to meet ev­ery­body af­ter so many years.” Renuka seemed to be happy with this pro­posal.

So it was decided that the party would be held on Fri­day evening.

Af­ter reach­ing home Renuka opened the gift boxes which she had beau­ti­fully packed and brought for us. There were watches, per­fumes, shav­ing kit, sweaters, hand bags, cho­co­lates and so many other things.

Time flew for the next few days. Renuka mostly pre­ferred to stay at home. She was ei­ther watch­ing pop­u­lar Hindi movies on TV or gos­sip­ing with her fa­ther. Some­times she talked to her friends over the phone. Vinod had taken leave for a week to spend time with his daugh­ter and was util­is­ing it to the ut­most. Ev­ery evening Vinod and Renuka would go to the park for a stroll. They would re­turn with some hot potato chops and onion

pako­ras. We would en­joy the hot snacks with tea while watch­ing the evening news on TV. Some­times Vinod and Renuka would de­bate on the present po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion of In­dia and ev­ery time, with­out fail, Renuka would win. One day, Vinod fi­nally ac­cepted “Diya, no won­der our daugh­ter has ex­celled in Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions.”

I used to spend most of the time in the kitchen pre­par­ing Renuka’s favourite dishes. But my eyes were al­ways on the cal­en­dar as each day passed. My heart cried silently when­ever I thought I would be­come lonely from Sat­ur­day once again. Vinod was al­ways busy with his job, friends and par­ties. Of late, he had be­come very health con­scious and didn’t pre­fer to eat much other than soup, sal­ads and grilled meat. So I could only brush up my culi­nary skills when Renuka was there. She al­ways en­cour­aged me to try new dishes… And it doesn’t need to be men­tioned she loved ev­ery dish that I pre­pared. Even if it was not wor­thy to be eaten she would proudly say, “Ma, you are the best cook in the world.”

Thurs­day morn­ing, I was pre­par­ing break­fast in the kitchen when Renuka came and hugged me from be­hind. “Ma, I have an idea. Let’s cel­e­brate moth­er­daugh­ter day to­day. Only you and me will go out. We will go to the Vic­to­ria Me­mo­rial Hall, watch a movie, gob­ble street food, go for shop­ping and en­joy the whole day just as we used to do in my school

Next morn­ing, as we sat at the break­fast table, I brought up the is­sue. “Renuka, I guess within a few weeks you will start your work­ing life. A life you have never lived be­fore. You will have to take up tough chal­lenges, face un­prece­dented dif­fi­cul­ties, meet dead­lines, tol­er­ate the anger and abuse of your bosses etc.” “Yes, ma, I know it,” Renuka smiled. “But, child, there is yet an­other life which ev­ery per­son in so­ci­ety needs to live. It is mar­ried life. Hav­ing one’s own fam­ily is like hav­ing your own small world in this vast world.”

days when baba went on tour. We will have lots of fun.” She was very ex­cited. “But, Renuka…““Please don’t say no, ma. I am leav­ing on Sat­ur­day. I don’t know when I will be able to come to In­dia again. Let me go back to my child­hood and en­joy at least one day with you, ma.” Renuka turned away her eyes to hide her tears.

I had learnt to con­trol my­self.

That day we en­joyed our­selves like never be­fore. We went to the Vic­to­ria Me­mo­rial Hall, watched a pop­u­lar Hindi movie, had pa­nipuri, pao bhaji, road­side noo­dles and ice-cream till we couldn’t digest any­more. Then Renuka took me to a for­eign brand gar­ment store and to my ut­ter shock bought some western out­fits for me. I didn’t want to buy them but she in­sisted say­ing that I looked dull and bor­ing in loose In­dian at­tire. Renuka also bought some shirts and trousers for her fa­ther. We re­turned home af­ter hav­ing din­ner in a pop­u­lar Chi­nese restau­rant.

Vinod was doz­ing off with the news­pa­per in his hand. The TV was switched on.

Renuka dropped her­self on the sofa and put her legs up on the cen­tre table. Within min­utes she was asleep.

“Renuka, you are too tired, baby. Please go to your room and sleep,” I told her. “Yes, ma.” Renuka rubbed her eyes and was about to go to her room when Vinod ex­claimed. “Hi! When did you re­turn? Sorry I fell asleep while watch­ing the news. How was your day?”

“Baba, it was a fab­u­lous day. But I will tell you everything to­mor­row morn­ing. I am too sleepy now. I also have some sur­prises for you.”

“Okay, dear. Have a good sleep. We will talk to­mor­row,” Vinod smiled.

I sat on the couch be­side Vinod.

“Vinod, it was a great day for me. I en­joyed like this af­ter many years. We had a ride on the time ma­chine and went back to our old days. “I spoke the words inat­ten­tively while tak­ing out the new dresses from the shop­ping bag.”

“Good. But we need to talk to Renuka about some se­ri­ous mat­ters now. Have you asked her when is she in­tend­ing to get mar­ried? I will re­tire af­ter two years. Af­ter that we will have to de­pend en­tirely on my pen­sion and sav­ings. I want her to start her new life be­fore my re­tire­ment.” Vinod spoke in an un­usual tone which was not at all fa­mil­iar to me.

I felt very guilty for not think­ing about this mat­ter be­fore.

“No, Vinod. I didn’t think about it be­fore. But I will def­i­nitely talk to her to­mor­row morn­ing.” I was re­ally feel­ing ashamed for be­ing such an ir­re­spon­si­ble mother.

Next morn­ing, as we sat at the break­fast table, I brought up the is­sue.

“Renuka, I guess within a few weeks you will start your work­ing life. A life you have never lived be­fore. You will have to take up tough chal­lenges, face un­prece­dented dif­fi­cul­ties, meet dead­lines, tol­er­ate the anger and abuse of your bosses etc.”

“Yes, ma, I know it,” Renuka smiled.

“But, child, there is yet an­other life which ev­ery per­son in so­ci­ety needs to live. It is mar­ried life. Hav­ing ones own fam­ily is like hav­ing your own small world in this vast world.”

“But, ma, why do I need to marry? You and baba are my world.”

“Yes, now we are there. But who will be with you when we will be no longer in this world? At that time if your hus­band and chil­dren hold your hand and rub your tears you will never feel lonely in this world.”

“Ma, stop! Please stop. I don’t want any­one else in my life now. I will let you know if I ever de­cide to marry.” Renuka burst into tears and left the din­ing hall. The dis­cus­sion stopped there.

From af­ter­noon we got busy with the ar­range­ments for the party. We had al­ready decided to host the party at home in­stead of the club. Vinod was busy giv­ing di­rec­tions about the dec­o­ra­tions, table ar­range­ments, at­tend­ing the guests etc. Renuka was try­ing one dress af­ter the other as she could not de­cide in which out­fit she would look best.

I was very busy in the kitchen as it was Renuka’s wish that I would pre­pare the main course dishes for the party which would def­i­nitely in­clude mut­ton biryani and chicken chaap.

Everything was ready be­fore evening. I sat on the couch to rest a while. Then sud­denly, as I turned my eyes to Renuka’s room, my heart cried in pain. Half-packed suit­cases were ly­ing on the floor. Pass­port, visa, ticket all were on the table. Renuka was pre­par­ing to leave the next evening.

I knew I had to be strong. My child had a bril­liant ca­reer ahead. I had no right to stop her and ruin her life.

Sud­denly a gust of wind stormed through the win­dow and her ticket fell on the floor. I quickly ran to pick it up and then I no­ticed that in her ticket, the des­ti­na­tion was men­tioned as Lon­don. I checked again and again if I was mak­ing a mis­take. But no. It was a ticket for U.K.

“Oh good­ness! Renuka has bought a wrong ticket!” I was about to place the ticket on the table and run to in­ti­mate her when my eyes stuck at an email in her open lap­top on the table.” It read: “My dar­ling Renu, “I am miss­ing you so much. Why did you go to In­dia just af­ter the day we tied the knot? I couldn’t even kiss you prop­erly. Ev­ery mo­ment of my life is so lonely with­out you.

From af­ter­noon we got busy with the ar­range­ments for the party. We had al­ready decided to host the party at home in­stead of the club. Vinod was busy giv­ing di­rec­tions about the dec­o­ra­tions, table ar­range­ments, at­tend­ing the guests etc.

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