I pressed the bell of flat- 302. The door opened after some time with a click sound. There, stood my father with that scowl on his face, which I had grown pretty used to by then. He forced a smile on his thick, dark, bulbous lips. I did not react; for I knew it was just to mask his disappointments, his failed hopes, which were continuously wilting his heart from within.
Maybe he still had hallucinations of a little boy, prancing about the house and he lifting him up and holding him mid-air to listen to his sweet gurgles. But I had stopped caring. I wanted to build a beautiful future of my own, with or without my father’s support.
“See! Who is here? Soma, Soma…..” called out father, trying to keep the pitch of his voice amiable. This brought mother right into the drawing room. She must have been resting, for her cotton sari was all crushed and her long wavy hair dishevelled.
“My God! Piya! You should have at least informed us. Your father would have made arrangements,” fussed mother. So many emotions played on her fragile face. It was disbelief, surprise, ecstasy, joy- all luminously visible. “No ma, I hired an Ola from the bus stand,” I clarified quickly.
Mother started helping me out in pushing the trolley in. She disentangled me from my backpack and two shoulder bags bulging from all sides with books, clothes and accessories. All the while, my father stood still in the room watching the spectacle.
“My Piya”, said, mother. She lifted her hand and gently caressed my head. “First in the family to graduate in computer engineering, I am so happy”, she continued. She squeezed my cheeks and held me really close. I could sense the pride and joy in her whole being. Undoubtedly, she is the sole driving force in my life. Without her presence, I would have been groping in the dark forever.
A fresh graduate in computer science and engineering from NIT Jamshedpur, I had secured my first job through campus interview with Accenture in Bengaluru. But my overbearing father was not at all pleased.
“Come home,” he said in an indifferent fashion. His tone sounded so flat and morose over the phone. I had a sure foreboding that he had something else designed in his mind for me. And I was right.
“What is your joining date?” asked father bluntly over breakfast, his voice laced with sarcasm. “4 April. I plan to reach Bengaluru by 30 March,” I replied obediently.
“What’s the point in relocating to Benga….. luru?” mimicked father, with a put on South Indian accent. “There are plenty of good companies in Kolkata itself. IBM, TCS, Technopolis. You may have to wait for a month or two. But look at the pros. No need to pay rent, free home food and relaxation. You will save your entire pay package. It makes sense. Doesn’t it?” asserted father dramatically, flailing his hands in the air and dropping bread crumbs on the table in the process.
“Gosh! He wants me to stay back in Kolkata, so that he can continue with his niggling behaviour towards me as before. As if mother is not enough. Today, she has no sense of self. She cannot go out of the house alone and always wrapped up in fear. I don’t want to be like her. No……. not me,” I pondered bitterly.
Four years of hostel life had emboldened me. I did not wish to be his prey once again. I clearly remember an incident when I was 16. Mother at my request, had purchased me a pair of shorts from New Market. I wore it and felt so new and comfortable .All my friends shared the same review.
“Piya, why are you moving around in shorts? If your pishi (aunt) drops in unannounced, she’ll be horrified. Go, cover your legs,” barked father brusquely. I barged into my room feeling embarrassed, humiliated and torn to shreds. The shorts must be still there, in some corner of my almira. The day was spent weeping, till my soft pillow turned damp with tears. Some incidents remain stocked in memory and the hurt lingers for a long time.
It is true; my father never cared to update himself. Countless girls in Kolkata, saunter around streets and malls in tight skirts, shorts, gaudy tops and flip-flops. He openly spurns them and concludes that they are “indecent.”It is also an open secret that father has great penchant for fair complexioned girls with pretty faces and docile demeanour. He views them differently and to add to my woes, I do not conform to his preconceived image.
My nose is round; my cheeks puffed out like a pair of chocolate muffins, my mouth is less than perfect and my legs, horribly shapeless. Vulnerable and confused, I dressed carefully, whenever I ventured out with him. But, my grandmother lovingly called me “Heera”, which means diamond.
Suppose I had a sibling- a sister perhaps- my childhood days surely would have shaped differently. I imagined about it once. We would have cycled to school together, come back together, ate and slept together, shared our toys and gifts, played hide and seek, and done many more exciting things together. Togetherness would have been my life’s core. Loneliness and forced isolation would not have crept close to me.
These unlived dreams have remained dreams. They never materialised. To take another risk, to raise another daughter like me! How naive of me to expect such miracles. After a third round of acrimonious spat between us, father showed a few signs of weakening. I was resolute, unbroken and determined to make a new beginning in Bengaluru.
Mother occupied the edge of the sofa seat. She has always been quiet and accepting. Half the things she does even today, is to preserve peace in the house. Staring wide eyed and bewildered at the two of us, she was unable to decide whom to support.
“If you disagree to support me, I don’t care. Dida (grandmother) gave me her jewels before breathing her last. She was the only one to love me blindly. I have enough to keep me going for a few years,” I shrieked loudly. Gasping for breath, I continued to pour out my grievances like unabated rainfall.
I was not afraid at all. “I want to live my days to the fullest. I don’t like people towering over me, ordering me around, dictating, imposing and forcing me to become what I am not. I need to get away and find my own self.”
The words escaped my lips with such force that I found myself shaking irrevocably. A muffled voice reached my ears .My mother was weeping. Perhaps she had never fathomed that her daughter would grow up to be so bold that she would not hesitate to speak her mind.
A heavy load was off my chest. My father stood flummoxed. He must have realised that it was pointless to continue with me any further. As he glared back at me, my mother intervened. Her suppressed voice, hardly audible.
“Abhi don’t be angry with her. She is very stubborn. I’ll try to put some sense in her head,” mumbled mother, with great difficulty. “Put sense!” yelled father, “The way you have been doing for the past 22 years.” Anger flared from his eyes like a hungry tiger on prowl. He held his lungi slightly up with his left hand and stormed out of the room. Mother sat quietly, deeply perturbed. I watched her intently with my lowered eyelids.
“When is your joining date?” asked mother calmly. Taken aback by her query, I walked up to her. “Ma, its 4 April. Are you not happy? Once I settle down, I’ll take you with me. You will like it. You have stayed in Kolkata for too long.” “People say the weather of Bengaluru is amazing,” said mother. A smile broke on her dry lips as she fought hard to hold back her tears.
“Yes Mom. Everybody says so.” I sat next to her on the sofa. “Where will you stay, Piya?” asked mother. “I’ll take paying guest accommodation,” I replied, suddenly feeling loved and understood. “My cousin Amit stays in Bengaluru with his wife and daughter. As children, we got along splendidly with each other. He bought ice-creams, chocolates for me with his pocket money. I think, he was the first one to point out that I need to open up with everybody. But …………,” she stopped, as if lost in deep reverie. “I will give him a call tonight. Surely, he will be glad to receive you,” said mother as a trace of colour sprang on her dull cheeks.
“Ma, the arrangement is fine for a few days, but eventually I will rent my own room and pay my own bills,” I retorted decisively. “Piya, at times you are too stubborn,” said mother. “Not stubborn ma, independent,” I responded in a sharp tone. “And a fierce one at that,” said mother, cupping my chubby cheeks with both her hands.
Two days passed off peacefully. It seemed the storm in the ocean had subsided. I sat on my bed with the laptop on. As I checked the cost of the air- tickets, I became aware of someone’s presence. Cigarette smells reached my nostrils. It was father. His eyes, I remember even to this day, were not the same. There was something different in them.
That arrogance and contempt seemed to have vanished somewhere. Instead, it seemed to convey something more deep. Was it acceptance? I don’t think so. The walls between us were too high to be brought down in a day. However at that moment, I had no wish to stir the smoky, overheated cauldron once again.
“Here, this is your flight ticket to Bengaluru. Jet Airways. And……..,” he hesitated for a moment and continued again “I have transferred some money in your account. New city. Expenses are bound to zoom high. Let me know, if any emergency arises.”
When I was in college, Tanya Banerjee from Kolkata was my best friend. Once, her father came to visit her. “Where’s mother?” asked Tanya instantly. “She’s in Delhi. Waiting for us to join,” informed her father gleefully. He appeared to create some suspense in the air for Tanya and was enjoying it too. “Delhi! Why?” squealed a startled Tanya. “Has something happened?”
“No, no, no………. Actually we are leaving for a trip to Europe?”
Tanya jumped so high that her head seemed to touch the ceiling. She screamed with boundless joy and threw herself on her doting father. He embraced his daughter warmly while his bald head rocked to and fro like a spring toy. I kept watching them all the time. A delightful duo indeed! Father and daughter….
He was not in the room, after I regained composure. So the prospect of screaming with elation and clinging to each other is out of question. The flight ticket was there, on the bed, tucked between the pages of an old issue of Reader’s Digest.
Outside, the sun was about to set. A pleasant breeze blew into the room from the open windows. Along with the breeze, floated in the popular hit single of Rihana’s Shine bright like a diamond. Pinku, the cranky boy from the next flat loved to jive to western singles in the evenings.