Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Different feelings

Anjana Khande stood at the window of her daughter Siddhi's room overlooking the road and the building garden. She noticed a lanky man deposit a paper in the bush near the grill and walk off. Minutes later, Siddhi was seen picking the paper. It was 4p.m. Siddhi came to her room and got dressed muttered something to the effect that she would be back for dinner. The same thing was noticed the next day by the matriarch of the Khande family. The Khandes had now established themselves as industrialists with due recognition.
It was time to ask Siddhi some straight questions. As it was the case, Siddhi's two brothers and the stiff upper-lipped father did not like Siddhi's style of existence.Her appearance was like a hippie and mannerism of a social rebel and that certainly did not become a family of status.
Two days later, Anjana asked Siddhi a point blank question: "What is this all about? Picking up notes from the compound, walking off and returning late?" The 23 year old fine arts graduate and an interior design professional had half anticipated the question.
"Well, I wish to marry my classmate Deepak Vyas. He's a struggling commercial artist but a nice guy. Now that you know what I want, please break the news to the male supremos of the house." Not a hint of politeness, not even a bit of hesitation, thought Anjana.
The news was broken with care. The three males, as expected did not approve of such banal relationships. The father had stormed into the living room fuming, "Have I built this empire to face such indignation? What have I not done to fulfill all her wishes?"
Siddhi did not express anger or remorse. She sat there as if there was no option left before them but to get her married to this 'artist'.
It was a quiet affair. Deepak's house was just a two room apartment in Josgeshwari.The Khandes knew that Siddhi's tryst with this middle-class home would be short-lived. Very little gold was parted with.Not much was discussed in social circles except that both Siddhi and Deepak wanted a very quiet wedding.
Occasionally, Siddhi rang up to talk to her mother. There was virtual silence from the father and the brothers. A few months after her marriage, Siddhi landed up to announce that she was pregnant. Anjana was obviously not pleased at the breaking news. Soon, the clumsily clad girl sank in the low cane chair and confessed that Deepak was away to Ahmedabad and the baby was not his. Anjana paled. "How are you going to tell him?" mumbled the shocked mother."Just want to abort it. But please give some cash. I don't have enough for the operation," came Siddhi's reply.  Anjana found herself hitting her forehead. She went to the safe and took out some notes and put them before her. "Enough now. For God's sake, we are a decent and respectable family. We have really earned our respect, mind you. That's the last I can put in your begging bowl." The reply was loaded with hurt, anger, pity and hatred. Will this girl ever see some sanity, she wondered.
A year or so later both Deepak and Siddhi went to the family court for a divorce by mutual consent. Half a year later, Siddhi was back in the Khande household totally alone and isolated.She had started working on some sites and simultaneously looking for some opening abroad. She finally got an offer from Sweden to take apprenticeship in design of modern furniture. It was a huge package of money.
Siddhi put the proposal before her brothers. They just heard her out. The father called her to the office where her two brothers were sitting like dummies. The senior Khande spoke with a kind of finality. "You have been let loose a bit because you're the youngest and our only daughter. But you have failed us on every count. We had expected you to go to USA for MBA but you chose to pursue fine arts. You got married against our wishes and got divorced putting us in shame. You have continued your flirting flings with many. It's time now that we snap ties. I am giving you five lakhs of rupees and will pay your Sweden fees directly. That's all. Full and final settlement. I don't want you to be known as my daughter in future. Hope all this is crystal clear." The subsequent formalities were handled by her brothers with minimal communication. The mother was feeling the wrench but this was the only way out.
In the cold Scandinavian country, Siddhi had found a bed and breakfast arrangement with an old lady whose son was a naturalized American. She lived alone and rented out a small room with a cooking range and an access to the bathroom. Siddhi was now used to being alone, isolated, alienated, in a strange land with no support of family or friend.
Two years passed and only business-like letters came from her younger brother who seemed to have softened his stand. One letter notified her of her mother's death due to cardiac arrest. A few tears rolled down her cheeks but she knew how helpless she was. She could not go back to Mumbai even to be with her family. They had 'snapped ties.' She shared the news of mother's death with her land lady Gunni. Every Saturday, Siddhi brought groceries for the old lady and also accompanied her to the market occasionally.
A letter of appointment came from a London-based company and Siddhi shifted base bidding a tearful farewell to the matronly landlady. She had not stepped on the soil of her motherland for nearly five years and she was homesick. But where was the home?
Siddhi decided to give it a try. She applied to some joint ventures being set up in Pune and landed up a job there as a coordination manager overseeing their design unit. At least luck favoured her in this phase of her life. She called her younger brother Sujay just once to tell him that she was in Pune for good.  He was cautious in his reaction. "OK" was the only answer she heard.
From her rented apartment in Kothrud, she travelled on her two-wheeler to the industrial belt, frequently suffering from coughs. She was still in the category of an uneventful, hand-to-mouth existence. Occasionally, she went out with her colleagues for a frugal lunch. She steered clear of the bunch called 'relatives'. She was now accustomed to the anonymity she had chosen.
Siddhi was now in her mid-thirties.She could not take any more risks with her life now but had to be content with what she was earning. A meager bank balance would not take care of her old age or illness. When alone, she had every reason to be depressed but she could not afford to sit back and even think 'positive' like her colleagues advised her. Reality was the truth and positive thoughts were just thoughts and not a reality.
It was early December and the weather was getting cooler in Pune. Siddhi had wanted to take a week off and travel to some place away from the city. She was through her first cup of morning tea when she heard the doorbell ring impatiently. Could be the sweeper. Had forgotten to keep the bin out. She hurried with the bin in hand and opened the door. Three men stood there staring at her. She was taken aback. One of them asked, "Siddhi Khande? I am inspector Salve from Kothrud police station." She was white. What had she done that there should be policeman at the door. The second man introduced himself:"Advocate Saraf." She walked a few steps into the house and let them in.
Saraf spoke with the confidence of a lawyer. "You had lived in Sweden, madam and stayed with a certain madam called Gunni Jonsson? Right?" Siddhi nodded still scared.
 "I left Sweden almost a decade ago and have not been touch with her. I had sent her X'mas cards for two years after I left her home," Siddhi tried to defend herself. Saraf shook his head and waved his hand in the air.
"No, no. It has nothing to do with when you left Sweden, etc. We had a tough time finding your whereabouts as the Swedish lady had your address of your passport. When we went there, we were told that you stayed somewhere in Kothrud. The inspector was very helpful. Coming to the point, madam, I have come here to tell you that a Swedish law firm has got in touch with us. Please come to Bombay as soon as possible to complete some formalities. Bring your identification papers with you. Here's my card. That Jonsson madam passed away in June. She has bequeathed half her assets to her son in America and the other half to you!"