The circle of life

That evening was the first time in 15 days that Jayanthi and Anisha were at home – alone. All the funeral rites had been completed. All the relatives had returned.

Anisha, resting her head on her mother’s lap, was crying softly.

“Come now. Don’t cry.” cajoled Jayanthi.

“I miss daddy, mom.”

“I know you do… It’ll be alright. You’ll see.”

“That’s what everyone keeps saying. It’s not alright. Daddy is no more. It shivers just to utter that mom.”

“Sshhh…. It’s ok dear. Calm down.”

“Life seems so meaningless without him… To top it all, now I have to run the company too! What will I do without him, mom? I am terrified.”

“Don’t be dear. You have been running the company for a few years now; your father was just guiding you from here. You understand the business more than anybody else. Your father was always so confident in you. Besides, you will not be alone. There are so many trusted people in the company who will help you. You know that.”

“Oh… I don’t know. I wish he was here.”

Anisha spoke again after a few moments silence.

“Mom. Will you be ok? If I go back? You know the business needs me in Delhi… Why don’t you come with me?”

Jayanthi hesitated.

“I… This is all just so sudden. I … don’t know… Can we discuss this some other time?”

“Oh..Ok. Sure,”

That time arrived a few days later when Anisha realized she would have to leave shortly.

“Mom… Did you, by any chance, think about what we discussed?”

Jayanthi visibly tensed.

“Mom. I know this is hard. I get it. Just talk to me.”

“Anisha dear. What I am going to say might shock you. But…”

Anisha’s heart clenched – what was life throwing at her now?

“What is it?” she asked cautiously.

“I… I will not be coming with you to Delhi. I will not be staying here either. I will be going back to my village.”

Village?” Anisha was shocked. “What village? I thought you were from here.”

“I spent my entire married life here. That’s true. But I am not from here.”

“Mom. I don’t understand.”

Jayanthi took a deep breath, recollecting the talk she had rehearsed a hundred times. She was not prepared.

“What do you know about my parents?” She asked slowly.

“Your parents? Only what you have told me – that they died when you were about 20, before you got married.”

“They are probably dead. I wouldn’t know” Jayanthi drew a long breath. “I ran away from home, from my village when I was little… I don’t even remember why.”

“What?” Anisha lost her words.

“Yes, I did… A young girl on the streets experiences unspeakable terrors… I can only call it God’s kindness that I somehow landed up in a children’s home. I found a new life and became a nurse… You have probably figured out the rest of the story. I came to this house as a nurse – for your grandfather who was very sick at the time. I don’t know if he really liked me or felt that he was running out of time. But one day, he called your father by his side, pointed to me and said ‘She will be your wife’… Your grandfather had a heart of gold. But then without realizing, he had done his son a grave injustice.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your father didn’t like me. Never did throughout his life.”

“What?” Anisha was shocked.

“It’s true. He never told me if he liked someone else. But for sure, he didn’t want me.”


“He lived with me only to protect the family’s honor… I believe he was truly happy only after you were born. You were the only happiness in his life. In mine too.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier mom?”

“I couldn’t. Your father had prohibited me. Nobody could know that I had run away.”

“Then why are you telling this to me now?”

“So that you can understand when I tell you why I need to go back… Even though my parents may not be alive, perhaps their way of life is. Maybe the house I was born in is still there… God has been very kind to me. Now, it is time for me to give back. I want to go to my village and do everything in my capacity to make myself useful. I owe it to myself. I owe it to my parents.”


Honesty is the best policy

I stared at the letter; read it again. Was this really happening? Was this happening now? I stumbled back and plopped down on the wet floor; broken. I had known something was wrong when she hadn’t answered my calls all day. That’s why I had hurried back as early as I could. But then, I was still not early enough. She had left me; leaving my home, my life, completely dark.

Where had she gone? How could I find her? I had to find her; to tell her the truth; to tell her how much I love her; tell her how mistaken she is; tell her that I had made a terrible mistake and she would be my redemption.

I raced through all the places she could be and came to conclusion. She wouldn’t be in any of those places. I simply knew it. Suddenly, I went entirely limp, like all my vitality had been flushed down the drain in front of me. I sat there and cursed my luck. The best day of my life had stormed by and shredded it into pieces.

The day had started off much earlier than usual. Boss had wanted me to sweep and scrub the entire office sparkling clean before the special visit. It was not an unusual request and I obliged as usual. It meant I could get overtime money.

Bone tired after doing housework in 4 places, Nammu had still woken up at 4 to pack my lunch box. We never ate food outside. It was simply too expensive. It was an indulgence reserved for special times…

I remembered how she had stood there and waved to me from the front door of our tiny home, as she did every day. That morning smile had always been my only defense; the shield that I would carry all day long.

It was too early for the bus station to be crowded. Perhaps, that is why I noticed the bag. It looked like a child’s bag and I was immediately worried that some kid would be looking for it. I went up to it and opened it, hoping to find a name or address.

But what I found left me breathless. I had never seen so much money in my life. Trembling, I sat down next to the bag, unsure of what to do. I knew the right thing was to give up the money to the police. In all these years as a sweeper, it had been never hard to do the right thing. I had come across gold jewelry, phones, wallets and what not. Never had I even touched those. That day, however, my integrity broke. It was simply too much money. At first, I had been ashamed to even consider taking the money. But then, I convinced myself that if someone had been carrying so much money in a kid’s bag, they were not good people. They were trying to hide, to get away. Such people deserve to be double-crossed. I was not bad. I had only looked at the bag to help a child and I was only getting rewarded for my good intentions.

I carried the bag back home. Nammu had already left for work. There are not many hiding places in a poor man’s home; so I hid the money in the bathroom and started for work. I wasn’t going to do anything suspicious. I had decided to tell Nammu in the evening after work. God knows how she would have reacted over the phone.

And what a terrible, terrible mistake that had been! Two selfish decisions had landed me here, on the bathroom floor, weeping into her letter.

“You cheat! All these years you let me wallow in poverty. You never let me have even 100 bucks for anything. But you have been secretly hoarding all this money without telling me even a single word. How could you, you liar? How long has this been going on?

But then, I don’t care. I don’t want to live with a cheat. Don’t try to find me. You and your money can live happily with each other.”

I stood up, making up my mind. If selfishness had destroyed me, perhaps honesty can resurrect? I took the money to the police station. I also lodged a missing person complaint.


“Isn’t there just one thing you can do right? How can you forget to pay the bill when you know today is the last day?” she would say, making no effort to hide her anger.

“I am sorry Ma” I would reply meekly.

“This isn’t the first time, is it? When will you ever learn?”


“Every time I ask you to do something, you somehow manage to mess it up…. I don’t understand what more I can do.  I try and try so hard to make you a man your father would have been proud of. But it is just one grand failure after another.”

I would try to make myself disappear; compress my shape into the smallest space. Hoping, that perhaps then, that unforgiving gaze would miss me. But it never did.

“Don’t just stand there all dumb! It is the most useless thing to do” she would say in disgust.

I would hasten my retreat into my room; the small sanctuary where I could sit still with a restless mind that ran in circles about how absolutely worthless I was.

This was the shape of my life – an endless spiral of events that reinforced how embarrassingly inadequate I was. I wasn’t my father. That meant whatever I did, I did wrong and was solely responsible for the sum total of my mother’s misery. “Why can’t you be more like your father?” would have made a single line memoir of my entire life. And what did it mean to be my father – to be a man of highest morals, infinite patience, unsurpassed kindness, quick intelligence, great generosity and piety that can only be experienced.  A person so accomplished, that the events of his life were legends. Legends that had a way of sneaking in, unbidden. They would crop up in every bed time story, in every scolding, in every shared moment, in every casual comment. They would surround me with a voice so loud that they completely filled my reality. My own words had no chance, they simply drowned.

I did try my best to be more like the man I had never met; he was dead before I was even born. But then, it was an impossible ask.  You can only pray to a God, not want to be one. Eventually, I was tired of my futile attempts at greatness and settled for the mediocrity that I was destined to excel at. The only skill I managed to acquire was to navigate the forest of my father’s legends without being broken – for 18 years.

College happened and I started living by myself for the first time. Finally, my voice, though feeble, got a chance to be heard – by me. It taught me the overarching lesson that all the legends of my childhood could not – that most legends are never entirely true. It taught me that no doubt, my father was a good man. But he was still a man – like me. It made me understand who I wanted to be as opposed to who I was supposed to be. It made me drop out of college and do my own thing. I have been at it ever since.

Today, I am free – from the legends and from the bitterness. I have come to realize that the legends of the God man were just castles in which my mother lived, buttressed against reality and loneliness. She needed them for her own sanity. She was incapable of seeing how those walls imprisoned me.

Today, I am also an orphan. An orphan, who yearns to be imprisoned in those walls again.