A short story
The house was abuzz with chatter, music, laughter and the aroma of jasmine flowers added to the festivites. It was Ritesh’s wedding day. The youngest of the cousins which meant that the next wedding in the family was years away.
Everyone wanted to enjoy to their heart’s content. Ritesh was busy adjusting his bridal sherwani and looking at himself in the mirror. He was getting impatient by the minute as the pandit would arrive any minute to start the pooja before the baarat departed and the ladies of the house were still not ready. The dhol wala and photographer had not come and the driver just called in sick. Who would drive the wedding car? Being a bridegroom is not easy, he mused.
A message from his fiancé lit up his face. Rashmi and he met at a party 2 years back and who would have thought life would lead them here. As he looked at the message and smiled, the door was pushed open and his sister Ridhima came running in asking him to come and greet the guests. “What are you dreaming about?” She looked surprised as she started chasing him to get ready soon. Panditji is here and so are some of the guests. Mummy’s friends are here and our cousin Dimpi is also here with Chachi and Chachu. Buck up.
Ritesh took a final look at himself in the mirror and sprinted off to meet panditji and the guests. His cousin Dimpi jumped up and scooped him in a hug and Chahcha Chahchi looked on affectionately. He touched their feet and went to welcome panditji and the other guests.
As he looked around, the smile on his lips suddenly froze. What the hell is he doing here? He fumed, the zeal that had surrounded him, faded and he gave some excuse and walked back to his room.
On the way back he looked at his Mom Seema who was seated at the dressing table and was being fussed over by the makeup artist. She looked radiant, a Mom of 2 grown up kids, one of whom was getting married- no one would guess that. She was enjoying every moment of the celebrations- right from swinging her waist to the tunes of “london thumkada” to having a drink at the sangeet- and choosing a professional make-up artist for her make-up and hairstyle for the wedding- she did it all to her heart’s content.
She looked happy and the glow showed on her face- for a moment Ritesh forgot why he was in a foul mood as he looked at her and was intermittently drawn into the past.
He was just 10 years old and Ridhima was 8- a freak accident which claimed the lives of the 60 passengers and their father was one. Seema their Mom was too young, she was shattered but did not allow herself to sink into the abases of her grief. She looked at her kids and made a firm resolve that she had to put up a brave face and be happy for them. To set the right example before them.
And the 3 of them began their life as a family. She became the Mom and Dad- while she continued her bank job in the day, evenings were dedicated to studies, playtime and conversations over Bournvita. Weekends meant outings to the ice cream parlor or some event for kids in the city or sometimes just laze around at home chattering away. Ritesh and Ridhima grew close to their Mom, she was more like a friend. They seldom felt the dearth of a father.
As time progressed, they grew up and Ritesh moved out of home for his further studies. He could still remember how much he cried when he left home for the first time. The outside world was bright and beautiful, new friends and college kept him busy. He loved Bombay for its liveliness and spirit. And wished he could settle down in this city. He was overjoyed when he got placed through campus in a reputed company in Bombay.
Seema and her daughter continued to live in Hyderabad. Ridhima on her part was a multi-talented and ambitious young girl. She dreamt of becoming a neuro surgeon and relentlessly worked towards her goals. Her hard work paid off when she secured admission in one of the most prestigious medical colleges at Delhi. She left home to pursue her dream. She was worried about her mother and coaxed her to move to Delhi but Seema had her job. There were just 3 years to retire and she felt its pointless seeking a transfer now. Besides she loved the city she had moved to 25 years back when she got married. It seemed a strange place then then but was home to her now. She decided to stay back.
The kids spoke to her daily over calls and face time, exchanged messages and came to visit at times. She too went to Bombay and Delhi and spent time with them. But both had begun to notice that she looked a bit pale. They were worried she might be facing health issues but the tests confirmed everything is fine. Empty nest syndrome is what hit Ridhima then. There was not much they could do, they had their jobs. Mom had a limited friends circle. She had taken early retirement by now as the new boss at office had been difficult to deal with and was making people’s life miserable.
When they were at their wit’s end about how to deal with this, they started noticing a change in Moms behavior, The paleness was gone, the face shone now, she laughed more just like the olden days and she has become quite a regular one posting updates on Facebook about the movie she watched or the Italian cuisine she tried out at the new hep restaurant in town and the pic with the orphans- she always wanted to work with less privileged kids but her responsibilities at home and work stopped her from pursuing this. The kids were pleasantly happy by the new change. A new friend they thought and they were thankful for this.
Everyone was happy now when one fateful day Ritesh got a text from one of his school friends – it was a WhatsApp message from Shruti his childhood friend who was still in touch. On opening the message he saw a picture of his mom and a man – he may be around 50, he looked well maintained, smart and they both were seated at a cafe , cups of coffee in their hand as they were laughing – the rofl types where you are suddenly inflicted by the a laugher spell and can’t stop. “Was at Starbucks today and saw Aunty she looks happy and young”.
Ritesh decided to ignore it but couldn’t get it out of his head. He called Shruthi at night and she told him the man was Brijesh Verma. He was a divorcee who has moved into their neighborhood recently. Seems Seema Aunty and he had become good friends and often hung out together. He was also involved in some charitable causes like a child care home that his trust was managing and seems Aunty and he went there often.
Ritesh was perplexed. He could not make sense of what he heard. His mother had a male friend. At this age? What would people say? Was it morally correct? He was in a state of conundrum and the best person to talk to was Ridhima. He confided in her.
Surprisingly she was calm and said they should not think much. “Mother has not confided in us about this – maybe she has similar fears about our acceptance. Let’s not ask her and not think much. This could just be a platonic relationship- don’t overthink and stop being judgmental bro.”
Ritesh shrugged and decided to try and put it aside. He was consumed by work and had no time to think about this. Then Rashmi entered his life and life took a beautiful U turn. This thing gradually faded from his mind till today when he saw Brijesh Verma in person and everything came back like it had always been there- hiding somewhere and now it had risen its ugly head.
Ridhima gently placed her hand over his shoulder and he was jolted back to the present. Even without his telling she knew what bothered him. She held his hand and took him aside.
“What’s he doing here who called him?” He hissed. “What if Chacha/ Chachi or someone asks who he is? What will we say? Meet Brijesh Verma- our Mom’s boyfriend. Its my wedding day goddammit she can at least have the audacity to intimate me in advance”.
“Calm down Ritesh- dint you tell me and Mom- call whomever you want- friends, colleagues, relatives let’s have a good crowd as it’s the last wedding in the family. How come the rules change so abruptly now? Tell me Ritesh don’t you have girl friends? Shruti is still one of your closest pals. Once you get married will you sever all ties with her? Or when you grow a certain age and have kids would your friendship cease to exist because your kids may feel embarrassed? I have friends who are from the opposite sex and some of them are my besties. Unless we have seen things for ourselves we cannot misinterpret and assume that just because it’s an elderly man and a woman- the relationship is illicit. And what is illicit by the way? Two people who are in the phase of life where they have fulfilled all their responsibilities towards their kids, their family and now when its time for them to sit back and enjoy life and live for themselves- they are held back in the name of: is it morally correct? Both have lost their spouses due to different reasons and they met by chance and found solace in each other’s company. Maybe they found love, I do not know but if they do I will be happy for them. Rather than see my mother die a painful death each day as a lone widow, I would be happy to see her laugh in the company of someone whom she relates to and I don’t care a damn what people think. Where were they when Papa passed away? Request you to wash off the dust that has clouded your vision and look at her as an individual, not your mother. You will then be able to relate to what I say.”
With that she hugged him and left the room.
Ritesh had no words, when did that little girl in a frock and pony tails grow up so fast he thought. I was wrong, I was being selfish. My first thought was what will people think? Rashmi, her parents, the guests.
How can I be such a coward? Those who matter will understand, those who don’t understand, well do they matter is the bigger question then? He thought of how Seema would have struggled to bring them up each day, it wasn’t easy for a single mom. She deserved a second chance at happiness dint she?
As he stepped out of the room, his mind lighter and the smile wider, the dhol wala started beating the drums and Ridhima and Dimpie started dancing to the beats- he held out his hand “hello Brijesh uncle it’s nice to meet you. I am Ritesh”.