Piles of clothes, books, toys, shoes, trinkets, hairpins, and ribbons – God there was no end to the collection of the spoilt daughter – Tanya. A whole day had passed trying to sort out and Vibha was exhausted. She took short breaks to wipe a tear or suppress a sob. “I had spoilt the girl no end…” she thought. What was lacking that had made Tanya desert her doting parents? Vibha left the room and sat down. A few more days to go to settle the place and then she would shift to a smaller apartment or perhaps go to an assisted living community. She was undecided.
The phone rang and as expected it was her loyal friend Anisha. “Arre Vibha. Tomorrow I am going to Badlapur to our factory as I have to sign some papers. I have the car and Sarju – our old driver. Would you like to join me? We’ll leave after an early lunch…” Vibha agreed and said that she wished to be dropped at a particular spot on the way. On their return, they could pick her up. Anisha didn’t probe much and agreed knowing well what her friend of more than two decades must be undergoing in the present circumstances.
On their way to the factory, Vibha said that once she had accidentally discovered this scenic place and would like to sit there quietly for some time. “Fine dear,” said Anisha, “It would be about two hours or more for me to complete the work and come. Is it alright?” Vibha nodded, lost in her thoughts.
Somewhere at a barren spot, she asked Sarju to halt. Anisha too got down and walked with her. They walked down a small slope and found a beautiful verdant patch with some wild flowers swaying in the zephyr. “I didn’t know that this place was so scenic. Will you be ok sitting alone here?” a worried query. Vibha put her thumb up. “Honk when you come back. I’ll come up to the road” replied Vibha.
The place had not changed much since she had brought Tanya to this spot waiting for Bharat to return after filling petrol in the car. When he returned, he too sat on the grass gazing at a playful brook while Vibha held Tanya’s hand and took a little stroll. There was a cradle made of an old sari hanging from a branch and Tanya stopped. Vibha peeped in and saw a baby asleep. Tanya too smiled when a Lamani woman with a colourful skirt and silver jewellery came rushing. Vibha assured her that they were only admiring the baby who slept so blissfully. Vibha explained to Tanya about this wandering tribe. After spending, a while at the spot, the family had returned home.
Today, the brook was choked with garbage just like Vibha’s mind. The overgrown bushes blocked the path to the brook. The cradle still hung neglected and the cloth was frayed and tattered. There was no baby therein.
Could years of dedication as a parent reward you like this? After Tanya’s arrival, Vibha had left her plum job to be a full-time mommy while Bharat worked hard. Life was comfortable. Tanya studied in the best school and till middle school fared well. Thereafter something seemed to go wrong. Tanya lost interest in her studies. Her rude behaviour earned her bad remarks in the report card.
The school counsellor sent for Vibha. “Do you pressurize her for good grades?”, she asked. Vibha denied, “As a matter of fact, ma’am we don’t say anything about her wavering mark lists. We only say that she could do better as she has the capacity to do better. I don’t take her studies to avoid losing my cool.” The counsellor felt that the girl felt a lot of familial pressure to perform better as both the parents were high academic achievers. Advising her to check on her company, the counsellor told her to be cautious.
The defiance grew. Tanya now questioned why she should study when she was not a bit interested. The parents asked her to at least complete her school. Her truculent ways were unnerving for parents. They wondered if this was the same loving, respectful person that they had reared. They sought help from a psychiatrist, but it was of no avail. Vibha had asked her mother whom Tanya liked a lot to stay with her for some time. She too was taken aback by her obstinate behaviour.
From some neighbours, Vibha had heard of Tanya’s flirtatious ways and many a time she was seen at dubious places where some wayward boys stood and smoked avoiding parental watch. Vibha had tried her level best to get Tanya out of this. When Bharat came to know of this, he was furious but tried to convince Tanya that her behaviour was only spoiling her life. “I feel like a caged bird. I want to fly free from you both and be on my own,” Tanya had screamed one night after dinner.
“By all means fly,” said a choked Vibha, “but let your wings be strong enough to help you fly…” Tanya had kept quiet for some time and had barely scraped through her board exams. Both parents were scared to ask her about her further studies. She sat at home watching television and talking on the phone. Her dress sense was bizarre, scruffy, and now the parents were ashamed to take her out with them. Any family function was attended by either Vibha or Bharat.
On the pretext of finding some information about short-term courses, Tanya had disappeared leaving a note with one of the boys who stood at the smoking corner. The boy said that she had only asked him to give the note and he didn’t know where she had gone. The note warned the parents not to try and track her or inform the police. Their beautiful world was devastated. They were inconsolable. Tears flowed liberally. The parents were afraid that if they chased her, she would commit suicide. Each day was like an eon. Bharat too had grown aloof and rarely went to meet his friends. Both Vibha and Bharat continued to informally enquire with friends and relatives if they had spotted Tanya anywhere. All they got was damnation and ridicule.
One evening Viren, who was Bharat’s close friend called and asked him to visit him as he had got some fine wine from Goa and since he had sprained his ankle he was unable to deliver it to his house. Bharat went to Viren’s house. “Great to see you, Bharat. Shweta and kids have gone to Virar for a wedding and will return only tomorrow evening,” Viren greeted his friend. He limped and got him a bag and also got some cold drinks. “Had I known this, I would have asked Vibha to send some food for you,” Bharat said. Viren assured that all that was taken care of till the next day.
Bharat pointed to the swollen ankle. “Oh, I had gone to Goa for regional managers meeting. On the last day we shifted to a resort where I slipped. The house doctor immediately attended to me. By the way, that parcel has some cashew packets for Vibha and also some lovely candles which I know she likes,” said Viren settling in a high chair. “Now I have to take some physiotherapy. My good luck that there are no cracked bones!” he laughed.
After some casual talk, Bharat rose to leave but Viren asked him to sit down. “I was at the resort near the swimming pool sitting alone at a table Bharat, when I saw Tanya in a blue uniform. She came to my table, cleaned the table and then saw me. There was a flicker of recognition, but she went away hurriedly,” Viren paused for a moment. “I didn’t react. I was too shocked, I guess. I left very early the next day. However, I casually asked our travel agent’s rep to find out discreetly about this girl. He got back stating that she had quit the job and gone away,” Viren looked at Bharat who was cringing in sorrow. “These kids drive in a fast lane not knowing where it is leading and when they reach a dead end, perhaps they u turn…” Bharat shook his head and faltered, “Now don’t even try to follow it up, Viren. We have gotten used to life without her. Her reprehensive behaviour had left us really ashamed. It has been three years now. May be her life with us was only for those 18 years.” Viren held his friend’s hand knowing how the deep agony had made him so helpless. Bharat continued, “Her action has left us desolate. With her in our life we had found a meaning to live. Now, our world seems empty. We wondered why God-fearing and honest people like us be given this kind of fate. But both Vibha and I have decided to take each day as it comes and not allow sorrow and depression take over us.”
Two years later Bharat had passed away after a severe cardiac arrest. He breathed his last uttering “my little Tani baby”. Vibha was truly alone. That is when Anisha suggested that she could move into a smaller place and sell off her present spacious apartment. She would have more financial security too. Vibha had agreed and had zeroed in on a smaller apartment closer to Anisha’s housing complex. As it is her society members had mocked her when her name was proposed for the secretary’s post. “She could not take care of one child how would she take care of such a big complex?” Such insults were many, but she had swallowed them. She’d clear all the unwanted things and donate Bharat’s clothes and shoes to charity. She’d just keep a couple of things for the sake of memory. Tanya’s belongings too would be sent off similarly. The cord has to be cut, she thought.
She moved into her new compact apartment to start life with a clean slate. Now that there was not much to worry about except her own upkeep, Vibha had decided to travel extensively.
Vibha had managed several trips within India and now she was ready for an American sojourn which would include spending some time with her siblings. She returned after a good two month trip to the US. A couple of days later, the building guard informed her that a girl kept coming every now and then and asked about her. “Don’t send anyone in,” she warned him. You can’t trust anyone these days. Girls come pretending to be beauticians and walk off with whatever booty they can lay their hands on. And mostly such cheats target those who lived alone. Vibha warned the watchman about such happenings and said that if she was expecting a visitor, she would inform in advance.
A few weeks passed and Vibha had gone to the laundry to collect her clothes. A jeans-clad frail figure walked towards her and waited on the footpath… It took some time for her to register that it was the once bouncing Tanya. So, she had been tracking her! Was she really the same cherubic little Tanya who would prance and clap her hands and shout in joy when her father returned from a tour. Today, she looked marasmic, almost lifeless and wan. She seemed to have weathered many storms and trodden hostile terrain. Vibha looked away and began to walk towards an autorickshaw. Tanya followed and handed her a business card of some hotel in Juhu. It just said ‘Tanya- Assistant Manager, Housekeeping’. With the last disdainful look at the girl, Vibha stepped into the vehicle and was soon gone.
The author is a Mumbai-based journalist and has published several features in print and and digital media. She has worked with the Times of India Group and the news department of Doordarshan. She has also published three works of fiction: Beyond Belief (Amazon Kindle), The Pink Periwinkle (Short stories-Notion Press), The Dance of Destiny (Fiction-Notion Press).