Divya was standing alone on the platform. The big clock at the end was showing that it was quarter to eleven and she was late. It was either her imagination or the metro indeed was late today. It was still 6 minutes before the next metro was due to arrive. She had had yet another row with her mother minutes before leaving. She was now getting fed up of all these arguments. She did not want to think about what her mother had said and so tried to register the few passengers who were standing on the platform. An old woman was resting on the iron railing on the other side trying to cool herself off with the pallu of her saree. A few college students were loitering here and there, presumably waiting for some friend. A woman was walking up the stairs with her small daughter in tow, on her side of the platform. Divya began to look at her, not out of curiosity but out of sheer boredom.
The woman was carrying a number of bags in one hand and held onto her daughter with the other hand. When she reached the platform she settled herself on one of the chairs beneath the large clock. No sooner had she placed her bags on the chair beside her that her daughter began to cry. The woman tried to calm her down but the child seemed too adamant on something. The woman finally resigned and stood up. She picked up her daughter and then with some difficulty picked all her bags too. Then she began to walk slowly down the platform. The child stopped crying immediately. Divya felt surprised at how the woman was able to carry all the bags and her daughter all at the same time in her hands.
“It must be so difficult”, thought Divya “but then mothers are supposed to be that way, aren’t they? Always doing the most difficult things to keep their children happy.”
Suddenly Divya began to feel remorse for quarrelling with her mother. After all whatever she said was for her own good. Her mother had gone against the whole family to make sure Divya could follow her dream of becoming a dancer. And here she was always at loggerheads with her mother.
Madhvi had become a housewife the day she learned of her pregnancy. Her husband Keshav earned enough to support the family and sponsor a yearly vacation to some remote place. Her life was good. It was only fair that she quit her job when the baby was due to arrive. But she missed her job, her workplace. It felt like her life lacked purpose. Once Sana began to go to playschool, Madhvi’s restlessness began to grow. It was not the anxiety of a mother from being away from her child. It was an emptiness, a blank space in her heart. The feeling was particularly high today so she decided to step out and visit her childhood friend in Greater Kailash. The driver had been summoned at the office by Keshav so Madhvi decided to take the metro.
Soon she realised it was a terrible decision. Madhvi was carrying four bags laden with Sana’s toys, other essentials and a few gifts for Priya and her twins. It was already difficult managing all the bags when Sana decided that he could not walk anymore and Madhvi must carry her and stroll around. Madhvi felt irritated with her daughter. Sana would just not stop crying. She was about to slap her when her eyes fell on the young woman a few yards away looking at them. She restrained herself and picked Sana up. It was difficult but she knew she could not slap Sana here, not when that girl was looking her.
People judge. All they know is to judge others. Who cares if her daughter was indeed annoying her? Who cares if she could no longer find a purpose in life? All people knew was to judge, to say that she slapped her innocent daughter. Will they ever know what a brat her daughter is?
By the time metro arrived Madhvi was bitter. She entered the compartment and found a vacant seat. She arranged her bags before her. Sana climbed in the adjacent seat and began looking at the dreary scenery outside. The girl from the platform was sitting opposite her. Their eyes met and she gave her a pleasant smile. Madhvi too forced a smile on her lips.
She looked around at other women sitting in the compartment. She looked at their faces. Each looked at peace with their life. Madhvi began to feel more discontented. The metro halted at the next station. An old woman entered and just in tow was a veiled woman. The veiled woman was pregnant. The old woman looked uncertainly around the compartment and spotted a vacant seat in the same row as Madhvi. She asked other women to shift a little a make room for her daughter-in-law as well. The two women sat with some difficulty. The old woman was ranting about how women nowadays ran to doctors for the smallest problems. Soon she began chatting with the elderly lady sitting next to her. The old woman seemed to be obsessed with the idea of having a grandson. The woman was talking so loudly that Madhvi could hardly miss out any of her words. The old woman told the other woman that she had three grand-daughters and this would be her fourth grand-child. She was hoping vehemently that this time her daughter-in-law delivered a grandson. She had had enough of daughters in her house.
Madhvi began to feel pity for the veiled woman. What kind of life she had where the value of her whole existence was weighed by her capability of giving birth to a son. She looked at the veiled woman, sitting silently beside her mother-in-law, making no movement, no retort, silently accepting all that her mother-in-law heaped on her. She felt her heart ache. Suddenly she realised how fortunate she was. Her family loved Sana and Keshav’s whole life revolved around her. Madhvi, herself felt that her in-laws had become more protective toward her after she had given birth to Sana. And to her? To her she meant the whole world and beyond. She suddenly felt a twinge of guilt for wanting to slap her daughter. After all kids her age wanted, rather needed their parents’ attention. And it was not Sana’s fault that she quit her job. It was her independent choice.
Bhavri had faced many tribulations in life. On every step she had to bear the consequences of being a girl. She was taken out of school when she was eight and found herself toiling in the kitchen learning tricks of making sumptuous meals to please her prospective in-laws. When she was fifteen she found herself betrothed to an unknown man and only two years later she came to know that her husband’s name was Mukhiya Jadhav. Married into a family of twelve members, and being the eldest daughter-in-law Bhavri spent most of her next three years in her new home in the kitchen cooking, cleaning and tending to old grand parents-in-law. And then her child bearing years began. Her first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and during the second time she gave birth to a dead child. In the third attempt she gave birth to a girl. Her in-laws were not happy but they did not crib much as the girl was the first to survive. They took it as a sign that others would follow. She gave birth to two more girls before she had Bhuvan. She had to bear a lot of taunts and abuse until God decided to put Bhuvan in her lap. Her life did not improve much after that but the looming fear of a co-wife did vanish away. Subsequent years were difficult. After marrying off all her daughters to grooms her husband selected, she finally set on her quest to find a suitable daughter-in-law for herself. Her dreams however were thwarted when she realised her mother-in-law had already zeroed in on a girl from the neighbouring village. The girl now sat beside her.
Bhavri had a bitter life but she resolved that she wouldn’t let her daughter-in-law go through the hell she went through. When the first grand-daughter arrived Bhavri was overjoyed. She could see the shadow of her own daughters in the little one. She was determinant that her grand-daughter will not be neglected in the same way as her daughters. It was a blow when her daughter-in-law refused to breast feed the little girl calling her an unfortunate wretch. She wanted, she had hoped for a son and this girl had soiled all her dreams. Birth of two more girls embittered her daughter-in-law further. She distanced herself from her children. She came from a family of five brothers and in her growing years had heard the importance of bearing sons.
Bhavri’s daughter-in-law soon began to wane away. It was the fear of the worst which made Bhavri wish fervently that God put a son in her daughter-in-law’s lap. To keep her daughter-in-law happy and make her agreeable, Bhavri started reiterating her views. When the mother would be away, she would pamper the little girls and in front of her she pretended to scold them. How difficult it was for her nobody knew. Her family, too, found the daughter-in-law in the right foot. After all what good would it bring to love a daughter? Daughters only lighten their father’s purse.
The woman beside her had stopped talking. Bhavri began looking around. Her eyes rested on the little girl looking out the metro window. She reminded Bhavri of her own youngest grand-daughter. She looked intently at the little girl and was reminded of the promise she had made to her own grand-daughters to bring toys from the big city for them. The mother of the little girl suddenly bent forward and kissed her. The small scene between the mother and daughter filled Bhavri’s heart with light. Her eyes met with the eyes of the mother, she smiled at Bhavri. Her smile said a lot. Bhavri suddenly felt weakened and humiliated. She just stared back at the woman. And as sudden as the kiss between the mother-daughter duo, it dawned on Bhavri that she must stop pretending. She must stand up for the happiness of her grand-daughters who are so conveniently ignored by their own mother. She would not let history repeat. Her grand-daughters will not have the same fate as her own daughters.
She pulled her eyes away from the woman and looked in the other direction. A young girl was sitting across from her. A young girl, travelling alone, sitting independently this is what her grand-daughters will become. The girl suddenly looked up. Bhavri smiled at her, a smile of hope.
Divya smiled back.