Stories Apne Apne by Raj Deepali Pandey

The car sped through the highway. Avani was sitting on the backseat, her heart racing since she received the call from the grandmother’s attendant from the village. “Her health is constantly falling down. She wants you to come here and stay with her till…” and she stopped midway, making her statement obvious. She couldn’t wait after hearing these words. Her grandmother was the only one whom she could call her own in her parental home, her ultimate support and saviour. What if something happens to her? These thoughts sent waves of tears in her eyes, and she started reminiscing her memories.

Kalindi, a woman of over seventy years of age, with a stern look and an aura of authority around her. Judging her by her face,  one would suggest that the lady had no soft corner in her heart for any person. A lady who lost her husband while her children were still young and dependants, would frown if someone referred her as the “poor lady”, “damsel in distress” or similar stereotypes. That was justified by her strong will and a strong sense of self respect and self reliability. But for Avani, she always possessed a heart that melted away at her sight. Being the only girl among the generation of grandchildren, she held a significant position when it came to over- indulgence and mollycoddling. Right from her childhood to her adulthood she enjoyed special privilege in her family. But destiny had other plans. All the hell broke loose when she got married at twenty two by her father’s choice, to an man of an affluent and influential family.

A message popped up on her phone. It was from Akshat, her husband. “Did you reach safely?” A smile appeared on her distressed face, and she replied “Almost reached there” as she looked out of the window and spotted the mango orchards. A little further, she spotted the familiar houses. The landscape gave her the nostalgic vibes. Even when there used to be no electricity supply in the village, her grandmother’s home was the perfect abode for her during her vacations.

The car stopped before a big house. The one they portrayed in classic movies- huge, painted in white with strong pillars, a swing outside which the village kids enjoyed to their privilege. As she stepped out of the car, a middle aged man came running to greet her. A helper perhaps, she thought. He helped the driver with the luggage and ushered her inside. As she entered the house, the pace of her heartbeat increased, as she imagined her dear grandma bed ridden and sick.

Upon entering the house, she was taken by surprise. The scene was contrary to what she expected. Grandma was sitting in the open veranda, mixing spices in the freshly cut raw mangoes, with her house help sitting beside her and occasionally getting a tantrum thrown at her for being a naive in making of pickle. On seeing Avani a wide smile appeared on her wrinkled face.

“Dadi, I thought you were unwell.” Avani questioned her.

“Uhh! Nothing much dear, at this age sickness becomes a part of life.” Grandma smiled mischievously.

“But I received a call that your health has deteriorated a lot, and you wanted to see me as soon as possible.” She gave a suspicious look to the maid, and she hung her head in guilt, trying to suppress her giggles.

“It’s ridiculous. How can you simulate an illness so lightly? You scared the hell out of me.” Avani was red with anger.

“Are you not happy seeing your old grandmother in good health? Do you really want me to die?” Kalindi giggled as she washed her soiled hands.

Before Avani could say another word, Kalindi  hugged her, and smothered her face with kisses. “My little princess, always fighting with your poor old lady”. Avani’s anger gave way to affection towards her dear grandma, and she hugged her back. “I am sorry dadi, I didn’t meet you since one year.” “It’s okay now, you’ve come at the right time. Take the mango pickles with you when you go back.” Kalindi wiped off her tears of joy.

“You need to control your intake of sugar”, Avani said in a commanding tone as Kalindi added two spoonful of sugar in her tea.

“My sugar levels are completely normal, the bitter gourd juice helps a lot. I don’t need to abstain from any kind of food.” Kalindi retorted like a little kid.

“What happened to your eyes, they look red and swollen?”

“Nothing dadi, just a little infection.” Avani said sipping her tea.

“It was bound to happen. Girls these days are obsessed with cosmetic products filled with harmful chemicals. I’ll give you a homemade kajal, it’ll soothe your eyes and will make them look more beautiful.” She said as she patted her cheeks lovingly.

“Your father called a few days back, asking for your number.” Kalindi said casually, sewing flowers into a garland for the evening offerings to Gods.

“Yes he called me. But I didn’t talk to him.” Avani replied indifferently.

“Beta, you should….”

“Dadi please!” Avani cut her sentence mid-way. “I really don’t want to. Where was he all the time when I needed him the most? Cutting off all the chords and then trying to rebuild relations again at his own convenience- is this expected from the parents?” Avani was furious. The wounds from the past came back afresh in her memory.

“Think of your mother at least. What was her fault? She had to obey your father’s instructions”

“What was more important for her? Being an ideal wife or standing with her daughter in the toughest phase of her life? Well, she had her priorities. So there’s no point discussing about it. I don’t want to talk about it. I am tired.” Avani was adamant.

Kalindi knew it was worthless to stretch the subject. “Go take a nap, you must be exhausted after the journey.”

Avani was tossing restlessly on her bed. Her tired body was unable to co-ordinate with her restless mind. The past came back haunting her to the core, all that took away her peace and happiness. After a long struggle her exhaustion made her drift to sleep, but the sequences from the past continued to play in her dreams.

“My little Avani, you have forgotten your dadi since you are married.”

“No dadi, I always miss you, ask Maa I always enquire about you.” Avani hugged her. They met for the first time after Avani got married.

“I told you to come along with your husband.”

“He wanted to come along, but some sudden work popped up, so he couldn’t make it” Avani disguised it perfectly.

“Better tell him to come and meet me, before I leave for the village again.” Kalindi said lovingly, and held her hands warmly. The bangles slipped upwards on her wrist, revealing the slit marks, and Kalindi spotted them instantly

“How did you get injured Avani?” Kalindi asked with great anxiousness.

Avani wasn’t prepared for this situation. She hid her marks hurriedly with her bangles, and responded, “The bangles broke while I tried to wear them, happens every time.”

Kalindi knew that something was not right. “Tell me beta, you can share anything with me.” “Dadi why are you thinking like that. I am completely fine.” Avani tried to cover it up  but tears started welling up in her eyes.

“Okay so tell me dadi, my birthday is coming in a week, what are you going to gift me this time?” Avani desperately tried to change the subject.

It was too much to bear for Kalindi. She knew her intuition couldn’t betray her. Her eyes turned moist, and anger was visible on her face. With determination on her face, she held Avani’s hand firmly and replied, “A divorce lawyer.”

She woke up with a start. It was dark outside. Sighing, she got up and went to the window and saw Kalindi chanting hymns and offering incense sticks to the basil plant. Avani’s gaze was fixed on her grandma. How this lady, who went through a lot in her life, managed to stay strong throughout the raging storm, and also stood for her grand daughter alone against her abusive marriage when her own parents refused to do so for the fear of stigma of the society. Even after her failed suicide attempt her father’s heart didn’t melt for her. Instead, they covered up the incident in a hushed manner, leaving her more broken and shattered. For in a society where domestic violence is a personal matter of a family, marital rape an oxymoron and extra marital affair of the husband is regarded as a failure of the woman as a good wife, the best relief an aggrieved lady gets is the namesake mediation between the families, where the girl’s family is treated as the wrongdoer, she had no hopes left for a better life. It was only when Kalindi’s doubts turned out to be true and she made Avani spill the beans on her marital life that she took the matter in her own hands. Her decision to support Avani to get her divorced came as a bolt from the blue for the family. For who thought that an orthodox lady, bound firmly to her ancestral roots and age old traditions, would support the divorce of her own grand daughter.

One of her friend’s grandson who happened to be a lawyer, agreed to represent her. But the worse was yet to be seen, when it became clear to Avani that her husband was not ready for a mutual divorce. She had a tough time dealing with the legal proceedings. Allegations were hurled upon her in the courts by her husband’s counsel for being a lady of easy virtue, a rumour strengthened by the fact that her own parents didn’t stand by her side as she was ostracized by her own family. But Kalindi stood like a pillar with her, trying her best to make a difference. After a year long struggle, they succeeded in getting a divorce.

With the help of a friend, Avani got a job as teacher in a school and started living in a rented house, even after insistence by Kalindi to live with her. She thought it would be better if she started living independently than being a burden on someone. Being busy in her life, she started healing emotionally and came back to her old self.

Her life once again took a beautiful turn when Akshat, the lawyer who represented her in the divorce case and was now a very good friend of hers, proposed her for marriage. She couldn’t refuse, as she was the one secretly wishing for it. Again, her family was shocked by this decision. Her father, who never talked to her since her divorce was granted, called her only to reprimand her and tell her to drop the idea of remarriage, as it would strengthen the belief that the divorce was the outcome of her immoral character. Avani’s anger crossed all bounds. She wanted to vent it out on her father but respecting the relation between them, she chose to remain silent.

That was the last conversation she had with her dad. Two years passed since her second marriage. She got a happy home, just the way she expected. Akshat being the most caring, affectionate and supportive husband, was all she could ask for. The only thought that haunted her was the brutal truth that her own parents left her alone in times of crisis. Even her mother blindly obeyed her father and never bothered to even talk to her. Only the thought of her grandmother who always stood by her side soothed her.

“Did you sleep well?” Kalindi came to her room, holding a cup of tea.

“Yes I did, and why did you make the tea, you should have asked me, I was awake since a long time.” Avani took the cup from her.

“I like to be active, resting too much at my age makes the body weak and fragile.”

A minute of silence followed. Kalindi held Avani’s hand, and in a very composed manner said, “talk to your father, forgive him, he has realized his mistake.” 

Avani withdrew her hand in shock. “Never. He can’t ask for my forgiveness according to his convenience.” She snapped in anger, tears gushing out of her eyes.

Kalindi sighed. “Remember Avani, you once scribbled on your father’s very important official documents, and he scolded you a lot, and didn’t talk to you for days. And when he  got a new car, and you were cycling inside the premises and accidentally collided your bicycle against the car. Your mother thrashed you, and you were not allowed to ride cycle for many days until their anger calmed down. But they forgave you, didn’t they?”

“Dadi, how can you even compare my childhood mischiefs and mistakes with something my parents did to me as adults?” Avani was flabbergasted.

“Look Avani, I can’t compel you for anything. I understand you have the right to break all chords with your family, after what they did to you. And I am not justifying their actions. All i want to say, that for parents it is easy to forgive their children, as they understand that children are immature and inexperienced in life. But for children, it is very hard to forgive their parents for the decisions which affect their lives. They are unable to digest the fact that the discretion of their parents turned out to be wrong, that too, in the matters of their children’s life. And I believe that it’s never the fault of the children, for we, as the parents have been planting the belief in the minds of our children that whatever we decide for them is the best, and their decision, if in any way contradicts ours, then that decision would surely ruin their life. It’s our superiority complex and condescending attitude which makes our mistakes unforgivable. Though our intentions are always to protect our children from the perils of life, we sometimes fail in our judgments and expose them to more perils.”

She stopped, and looked at Avani. She was pensive, but listening intently to her. Kalindi continued, “Your father grew up with a patriarchal mind set, something which is my and your grandfather’s fault. He always wanted the best for you, and for him, getting a girl married in a good family is the highest duty of the father. When he came to know of all the tortures you went through, he feared that keeping you with him would stigmatise you, as this society never accepts a divorced lady. He always tried to mediate with your in-laws, trying hopelessly to make your life easier, but failed. I know what he did only worsened the situation, but according to him it was the best thing to do.”

“As for your remarriage he feared that if it happens people would believe the allegations levelled against you during the court proceedings, for being unethical and an immoral woman, that too while you were going to marry the one who represented your case. I know for him your happiness should have mattered first, not the society’s thinking. But he did what he thought was best for your reputation and well being.”

“Will things be the same again in the family?” Avani asked, with a hint of doubt and hope in her eyes.

“They will be, but you need to try for that.” Kalindi assured her.

Avani sighed. After a minute, she picked up her phone, and dialled her mother’s number.

Hearing her mother’s voice, she broke down and cried like a small baby. She spoke nothing, just sobbed, letting go of all the piled up emotions in the waves of tears.

After a while, her mother asked, “Do you want to talk to your father.”

Avani came back to her senses, composed herself and said, “No, I’ll talk to him later.” Saying this she disconnected the call.

“Maybe I have to fake another illness to witness the complete family reunion,” Kalindi whispered to herself with a smile and gleaming eyes, content with her efforts.