“Beta, when are you coming back to India? It’s been 2 years now since I have seen you”
“Maa, how many times should I say this? It’s not possible to take leaves at this moment. Tumi bojhona kaino, I have so many other important things to do.” Saurav exclaimed.
He continued in a frustrated tone, “It’s not just about my job; I also need to consider Debartho’s school. I don’t want him to suffer because of someone else’s useless emotions”
Mrs. Banerjee was still holding the phone in despair. She wanted to say more but Saurav had already cut the line without waiting for her to reply on his statement. Mrs. Banerjee kept staring at the wall with dry eyes for one long minute. She had already forgotten when was the last time she had laughed. “Bhalo thakish baba!” she murmured to herself and sat down on the sofa with a blank face.
Mrs. Banerjee was a cheerful and kind lady living with her only son in Kolkata before he left for United States 4 years back. She was a head strong woman and knew exactly how to keep a firm grip on her family. After the untimely death of Mr. Banerjee, she had taken charge of her home and did all that she could to educate her son Saurav and make him stand on his feet. On the other hand, Saurav was never close to his father and thus his death didn’t matter to him much.
Banerjee’s were financially stable and thus money was never a concern for them despite the sudden death of Mr. Banerjee who was with Indian Railways at a managerial post when he died. A strict and conservative person, Mr. Banerjee always believed in savings and was against unnecessary spending. It was this nature that was responsible for an increased disrespect and displeasure in Saurav towards his father. After the death of Mr. Banerjee, Mrs. Banerjee also followed the same ideology to some extent.
After getting married to his school time sweetheart, Saurav shifted to United States to work with Deloitte, Arlington-VA. He had visited Mrs. Banerjee just once in last 4 years, the most recent visit being two years back when he had some legal work to do regarding his ancestral property.
“What the hell!!”
“I am just fed up of calling Maa and listening to the same old things over and over” Saurav yelled while fixing his Ralph Lauren necktie.
He kept blabbering, “People don’t understand this simple thing that travelling from another part of the world isn’t that easy!”
“What happened now??” Sharmishtha, Saurav’s wife, asked in amusement as she entered the bedroom to see her husband blabbering to himself.
“Nothing… as usual. Maa amaar matha kharab kora bondo kore na!”
“Every time the same thing…when are you coming? I am missing you all” continued Saurav. “I just don’t feel like calling her now.”
Sharmishtha didn’t react on this and calmly handed a crisp dark blue blazer jacket to Saurav. She always avoided saying things to Saurav whenever he was in a bad mood.
“She just doesn’t understand, I have a family and I can’t keep hopping to and fro.” Saurav paused for a moment expecting to get some reaction from his wife.
“Will you say something or you just don’t have your own opinions?” Saurav felt neglected.
“Can’t we shift Maa here permanently?” Sharmishtha asked in a low voice.
“Please!! Think twice before you say anything!” yelled Saurav.
“Loktar matha kharab hoye gaiche!“she thought..
Saurav put his blazer on and adjusted his necktie for the final time. He made sure his diamond studded Tag Heuer was clearly visible through his sleeves. He glanced at himself in the mirror to check everything was looking perfect. “There you go!” he said to himself and stormed out of the bedroom with one quick glance at Sharmishtha, but was back within a quick second. “Can you please stop wearing those cheap looking bangles for God’s sake…You know how much I hate them.” “That’s Sha…” Saurav had left the room before she could complete her sentence…”kha pola Saurav!”
Sharmishta was a post graduate in Bengali literature and strongly believed in Bengali cultural values. Though she had been living in America for the past 4 years, her roots were still deeply rooted in Bengali soil. She had grown up in a middle class Bengali family and inherited all the cultural values from her parents. She was a simple no-nonsense woman who believed in simplicity. On the other hand, Saurav was a typical brand conscious man who loved to show off all his valuable possessions. He had this bad habit of judging people from their appearances and the valuable things they wear or carry.
Sharmishtha continued her household chores after Saurav left for office. But all the while she was thinking what kind of a cold and emotionless son and husband Saurav was.
Saurav on the other hand while driving his Bimmer was thinking…”What kind of emotional fools I am living with!”
Mrs. Banerjee still couldn’t gather the strength to get up from the sofa and prepare her dinner. “Where have I gone wrong in raising my child?”
“I should call Maa in the evening. It’s too late now. It must be so heart breaking for the old soul to suffer all this at this age. Disheartened Sarmishtha couldn’t stop thinking about the miserable state of her mother-in-law. They were too close to each other and Mrs. Banerjee had never treated her like daughter-in-law, Sharmishtha had been more than her own son to Mrs. Banerjee.
Mrs. Banerjee was awaken by the sudden ringing of phone which she was still holding in her hand. She had fallen asleep on the sofa itself while thinking of her son. She answered the phone with a heavy voice “Hello?”. “Maa, ami bolchi. Kemon acho?” It was Sharmishtha on the other side of the line. Mrs. Banerjee was still gathering her consciousness and it took her a while to reply. Her right hand had become numb and lifeless from holding the phone for so long.
“Ek minute beta” she replied somehow.
“Hein bolo Sharmishtha… How are you?” Mrs. Banerjee enquired as she tried her best to sound normal. She very well knew the reason for Sharmishtha to call her…her daughter-in-law had been more than a daughter to her.
“Tomar shorirta bhalo nai ki? You are sounding unwell” Sharmishtha was little concerned now.
“Naa beta…I am absolutely fine. Just feeling tired a bit” Mrs. Banerjee tried to cover up the situation though she pretty well knew Sharmishtha must have already guessed it.
“I know your sufferings Maa. I will fix this soon.” Sharmishtha tried her best to assure her mother-in-law that she was not like her emotionless son.
“Leave it beta…let’s not get into it now. I have so many gossips to share with you.” Mrs. Banerjee quickly tried to change the topic as she was already exhausted of thinking about the same thing all night. She didn’t want Sharmishtha to get stuck in the tug of war between mother and son.
“You do remember Chattopadhyay’s bou right? You know oo ki koreche?….”and mother-daughter got lost in their momentary period of happiness.
“Accha Maa, ami rakhchi and I promise I will visit you pretty soon.” Sharmishtha felt relieved after speaking to her mother-in-law.
“Where are you going?” Saurav questioned with a puzzled expression as he stepped into the room.
“Was speaking to Maa…” Sharmishtha answered without willing to share much details.
Saurav’s expressions changed instantly and he picked up the phone to call his mother.
“Please Saurav, don’t! ” requested Sharmishtha. But Saurav ignored the request and called Mrs. Banerjee. “What is this Maa? I told you very clearly in the morning that we won’t be able to come. Why are you trying to influence my family?” Saurav was too furious to listen to anybody. “Just remember one thing Maa, we are not coming… I would have thought of coming someday, but now I promise I will never ever come back!” Sharmishtha tried to stop him but Saurav simply overlooked her and continued stinging his mother with his sharp and heart-breaking words.
“Now it’s all over…okay? I won’t even call you again and I will make sure no one from my home calls you either.” and he hung up…
“What’s wrong with you Saurav? She is your mother. We don’t talk like this to even our maid” Sharmishtha exclaimed as tears started rolling down her eyes.
She continued. “How could you be so insensitive? You are here because of you mother today. Do you even remember that?”
“Shut up! Tumi kichu janona…” replied Saurav still fuming with anger.
“I have spent my youth begging for every little single thing” Finally Saurav started spilling the beans. “All these people were equally insensitive towards me. I was a joke back then.” Saurav sounded calmer now as he settled down himself on a nearby couch.
“But it was all for your good. You know how Kolkota changed lately. Where are your so called friends now?” Sharmishtha tried to defend her mother-in-law.
“See, I don’t want any discussion on this topic henceforth. I need a peaceful life and that is only possible when we stay away from all these people. ” Saurav was not in a state of mind to listen anything.
“End of the topic for me. Get this fact fixed into your head that you have no one apart from me now onwards.” He ended the discussion.
“As I promised, I am going to visit Maa…with or without you.” Sharmishtha was determined when she said this.
Saurav had never seen this side of Sharmishtha and that instantly hurt his ego. He turned towards Sharmishtha and yelled. “Don’t try to cross your limit Sharmishtha. Remember this, you are nothing without me. All the luxuries that you have been enjoying in your life is only because of me.” Saurav shouted towering down on Sharmishtha.
“Have you ever understood my needs Saurav?” Sharmishtha had already decided she will not surrender today.
“I don’t understand your needs?” exclaimed Saurav with a surprised expression. He had never thought Sharmishtha could say something like this to him and so the question was a shocker for him. “If you feel I don’t understand your needs, you can leave my house right now! You will soon learn how harsh the outside world is.” Saurav growled. Even he was not ready to back off.
The droplets of tears had now turned into a continuous stream as Sharmishtha raged back, “Yeah sure, even I don’t feel like staying in your house now. As it is, I feel suffocated in here.” none of them was ready to give up tonight. “It is Debartho who has held us together till now else our relation would have ended long back Saurav. In fact, the essence of our relation died years back, what we share today is plain formality.” Sharmishtha said with deep regret in her voice as she wiped away the stream of tears from her cheeks.
Saurav had never seen this avatar of Sharmishtha which was frustrating and surprising at the same time. He had not realized that his wife held so much regret and frustration within her. Their heated arguments continued for a few more min and at one point Saurav lost his control and slapped Sharmishtha hard on the face.
“This is the end Saurav!” cried out Sharmishtha, still trying to revive from the shock of the slap. This was the first time throughout her married life when Saurav had dared to slap her and obviously it was something unacceptable for Sharmishtha. “You have crossed all your limits today Saurav. I am leaving this weekend for India with Debartho.” declared Sharmishtha with raging eyes. This time her decision was firm and nothing in the world could have changed it.
“Dare you step out of this house Sharmishtha. You will regret your decision all your life.” exclaimed Saurav.
“There is no scope for regrets left for me now Saurav. Remember you just hit me. If I decide, this could be the end of your American dream forever.” Sharmishtha warned Saurav. “Now I dare you try stop me from going to India and you shall regret it all your life!” The argument had suddenly come to an end since Saurav was out of answer this time.
From whatever little he understood of Sharmishtha, he knew it pretty well that she wasn’t joking at all. He was also aware of the consequences he would have to face if she decided to go to the police. “What the hell! I feel so helpless…” thought Saurav.
On the other hand, Mrs. Banerjee was devastated by Saurav’s call. She knew, this was the end of her hope of meeting her son and grand-son someday. Now she would have to live through the misery of her remaining meaningless life each day.
It had been almost 3 days since she had received a call from Sharmishtha, her only ray of hope. Mrs. Banerjee was fully convinced that her son must have warned Sharmishtha from calling her and being an obedient wife, she didn’t have much a choice than to accept Saurav’s decision.
Mrs. Banerjee was still lost in her thoughts when the doorbell rang. It was an odd time for the doorbell to ring as she was not used to having visitors during that time of the day. She had not kept any contacts with the outer world since long and liked to live in her own small world of thoughts. The doorbell was now replaced by a loud knocking on the door, as if someone was frantically waiting for the door to be opened. “Arey baba aashchi!!” Mrs. Banerjee shouted in a frustrated voice.
She slowly opened the door and was shocked to see the person standing in front of her. It was Sharmishtha with Debartho!! She couldn’t speak a word out of shock and kept staring at both of them with startled eyes. She was sure that she was day dreaming and her old eyes were playing games on her. Finally Sharmishtha broke the silence, “Bhetore ashbo ki maa?” and they both hugged each other tightly as tears started rolling down from their eyes. Debartho was too small to understand these emotions. They held each other for a long moment, trying to comfort the other with their warmth. It was a long awaited moment of happiness for both.
“Saurav kothay Sharmishtha?” Mrs. Banerjee enquired as she shifted her gaze to Debartho who was waiting in silence for his turn to be hugged.
“Mother will be mother no matter what!” thought Sharmishtha.
“I will be everything to you from now on Maa! And I am not going to leave you ever” Sharmishtha explained in a crisp and clear voice.
Sharmishtha had felt the vibration of her phone in her purse numerous times so finally she thought of checking it. 25 missed calls and 15 messages!! It was Saurav. She switched off the phone and kept it in the drawer.
“Chattopadhyayer bourer problem solve holo ki maa?” Sharmishtha asked Mrs. Banerjee with a wink and their laughter echoed through the empty house!