Today again she did not even try to understand my problem before passing sarcastic comments on me and conferred the title “The irresponsible father”. This was not the first time when we had scuffle over the trivial matters. However my wife takes all those things very seriously which have less importance in my eyes. How would I have known that my meeting would be scheduled coinciding with my son’s train arrival timing? How would I have made my Boss understand the degree of my son’s happiness on my presence? How would I have made my wife realize that I also loved my son with the same intensity as hers? I also felt bad at my absence on most of the occasions.
In course of time my wife became habituated in replying to all the guests with her tailor made dialogues for me – “He is stuck-up in some official work”.
And I always came back with my favourite line “For whom am I working so hard ? For you people. I work hard so that you enjoy the life at the fullest”. A reason they found difficult to counter.
Usually I found it difficult to understand the reason behind my wife’s sudden change in her mood. This was not the first time when I had excused myself from not going to receive my son. How come she reacted like this? They all were accustomed to my quick change of decisions. Sometimes I stopped speaking with my wife for her erratic reactions.
My cell phone rang. My Boss’s number was flashing on the screen. I took a few seconds to prepare myself for informing my Boss about not being able to attend that meeting. Before I could communicate my decision, my Boss told me that the the meeting had been postponed. It was a big relief for me. No sooner had I come to know about the postponement of the meeting did I rush to the railway station.
I parked my car and stepped out hurriedly to reach the platform. I was almost running to catch up with my son. My entire excitement flushed out when I caught the fleeting glimpse of the electronic information board. My son’s train was three hours late. It was 5:28 pm in my watch. I was wondering what I would do during these three hours. All the people were busy with their works. Coolies were bargaining with the passengers. Hawkers were attracting the walkers by their garbs and glibs for selling their wares. Ticket collectors were alert in catching the ticketless travellers. There was much noise all around.
The hustle and bustle of the platform was making me sick. I wanted to run back to my office but I had a fear that if I got stuck in some work I would lose this opportunity. I decided to stay back there.
I moved towards the WAITING ROOM. On the way I took a few packets of snacks, a bottle of cold drink, some fruits and a newspaper so that I could dig myself in some current affairs as I usually got very little time to update myself about the current happenings in the world.
I had rarely been in a situation to see-off or receive anyone. This was the first time when I had to spend some waiting hours in the waiting room. I stepped in and scanned the room for a vacant seat. I was the only person in blazer. I was looking odd among them. Most of them were in casuals. People were busy in chatting among themselves. Some of them were playing cards. I was surprised to see their pre-planned waiting in that room. I went near a seat, looked stealthily around and quickly cleaned it with the newspaper which I had bought just a few minutes ago. I was finding little bit uncomfortable settling there. But I had no choice.
A few minutes passed. Suddenly I heard the scream “ Help…Help… please help…”. Out of reflex I rushed towards the source of that scream. Just a few steps from the entrance of the waiting room an old woman clad in a tattered saree was lying on the floor surrounded by a few passersby. Looking at her one could easily gauge the degree of her impoverishment.
“What happened?” I asked inquisitively.
“We don’t know ….” A voice came from the crowd “Her relative has just asked us to look after for a while till she comes back with the aid….”
I did not wait for the help to come. I shook that lady lightly, and offered cold drink. She opened her eyes slowly and took a few sips. I sat just besides her giving a damn to my inflated self esteem. Though it was unexpected of me I did not know why it was working like an antidote to my tension. I offered her snacks and fruits which I had bought for myself. She did not refuse a single thing. She took some and put the rest into her dirty bag. I was experiencing so many things first time in my life.
Within a few minutes I found that I and that old woman were sitting alone there and all the people who had surrounded her trailed off from there gradually. I was waiting for her relative to come so that I could go back to the waiting room. I looked at my watch. It was already 6:23pm. I wanted to ask her regarding that relative but she had dozed off. I was suspecting that her so called relative might not come back – he or she might actually have left her in this situation to get rid of her. My brain was advising me to take her to RPF (Railway Police Force) and hand her over to them whereas my heart was pleading with me to wait for another couple of minutes. The battle was between logic and emotions.
Suddenly a fair and rich lady clad in silk sari decked up with jewellery appeared in front of us. My eyes were wide open and mouth was half open, unconsciously. I could not think in my wildest dreams of the old woman to be her relative. I was gazing at her. I wanted to ask not less than hundred questions on how she could be her relative. She must also be looking at me with a surprise but God has given special characteristics to women so that they could hide their expression and feelings both at a time.
She stooped down to the level of that old woman and said “Masi …have something…”
“No bitiya…this BABU has given me so many things” and pointed towards her old and dirty bag.
I was feeling honoured. At least that lady remembered my help. Now a days even your own relatives don’t acknowledge your support.
“Thank you very much” She looked at me and said.
“For what?” I asked expecting to hear more from her.
“For the help you extended in my absence…..”
“Being a responsible citizen of this country…it is my duty to help a senior citizen” I said, with the intention to show my humbleness and responsibility.
She looked at me but did not utter a single word. The degree of curiosity within me was reaching the apex.
As if trying to ignore me she asked the old woman “Are you feeling better now?”
That old woman nodded her head slowly.
“Then let’s get inside the waiting room” She said.
I joined in their decision without thinking for a while and blurted out” Yeah yeah that would be better”.
We took that old lady inside the waiting room. Fortunately, there was some space vacant in the left corner of the room. By then it was 6:55 pm. But now I did not want the time to pass speedily. I wanted to talk with her but my male ego was holding me back. There was a fear that if she did not respond or reply properly my self-esteem would be surely hurt. But my heart wanted to take that risk.
The award winning question was still squirming in my brain. I could not hold back any more and finally I asked her “Who is she?”
“No one” was her curt reply.
It was difficult to continue the probing again and again and more importantly at this age. But I decided to make the last attempt making up my mind that if she would reply properly I would continue further otherwise I would wait for my son’s arrival at the platform instead of the waiting room.
“Good to see humanity still persists in this city” I said looking at her.
She looked again at me and then hung her head down.
“No…no, I mean it. Very few people take care of others….forget about help. People don’t even speak properly with others”.
She raised her head slowly, looked at me and said “ That’s true. I agree with you…but we should also try to understand on what situations they speak like that. May be they are frustrated…may be they are upset”.
Her reply boosted the energy in me to talk for another 24 hours. I exhaled a deep breath and said “I agree to what you are saying but not speaking to someone properly only because one is frustrated or upset is not fair”.
She stalled for a second and then blurted out the entire women’s frustration on me “You are saying this because you people remain outside the house and would never understand the expectations of women…how they adjust their lives as per their men’s life…how they compromise with their own dreams and aspirations…how they forget their own identity in bringing up their children”.
Her views reminded me of one of the woman activists delivering the speech on Women’s Rights. And when the question was raised about the men’s responsibilities how could I remain silent.
I jumped on this question. “Sorry to say but you know grass is always greener on other side. Women never try to understand that men remain outside the house to make their family happy. They would never understand how he strives hard every day to ensure his family gets everything. You people need to see other side also”.
“I understand what you are saying. But you people also need to understand that family does not require only money…they also need their quality time….the children wait in the evening for their fathers to come in the house little earlier so that they share their activities of the entire day spent with others, sometimes they want to share the praise of their teachers showered on them…sometimes they want to just crib in front of them…sometimes they want to cry in front of them. Is money so important in men’s life that it should be earned at the cost of their family’s happiness? I am sorry to say all this but men forget when the need culminates into obsession.”
I had been witnessing her frustrations since the beginning of our talk. I did not even notice when she finished her views on family values and basic expectations. But her views made me think for couple of seconds.
“Have I said anything unfair…” She dropped another sarcastic comment.
I looked at her and then said “No”.
“Then why men don’t understand?”
“Men understand but don’t express it….perhaps their male ego hold them back. They don’t want to become weak in front of their family. They don’t want to drag their families in their troubles. They fight alone with the world.”
“But what is the use of such struggle when neither you nor your family get even the small happiness?”
“Do you think all men are same?”
She stared at me for a few seconds before unfolding her verdict on men’s perception “Yeah…most of them are same”.
“I have seen. “
“In my relatives, in our housing complex, in the society and even my husband behaves in the same way”, she looked in my eyes and continued “His school of thought is same. He has buried himself in the office responsibilities and very smartly hands over all the responsibilities of house on me”.
The word “buried” itself was very harsh for any man to hear but any way you could not change the perception at that point of time. Perhaps the lava was getting accumulated for a long time which erupted out then.
“Being a mother, women have to take some responsibilities of upbringing their children. Don’t you think that women should not feel burdened in executing their duties?” I said, without looking at her. Perhaps I was not convinced of my own statement.
“Yes I agree…women have to take some responsibilities” she stressed on the word SOME. “But in course of time this “SOME responsibilities” boil down to total responsibilities. Men expect all the duties pertaining to the children lie with their mother only. Even today my husband had refused to come down to railway station for receiving his own son. Just see I am here to receive my son”.
“Hunnh…” I did not have anything to say so I smiled at her and took out my cigarette case. I lit the cigarette. I took a long puff on my cigarette and expelled the smoke slowly. I used to fag when I was in tension or something which irked me continuously. I was silently taking a drag on my cigarette.
She picked up her dark coloured leather hand bag looked at me and left the waiting room just after giving an artificial smile at me. I did not have the guts to hold her back. I did not even remember when I slipped off into my thoughts. I was very sincerely going back to my family life and was trying to peep into the gap which I had not even thought of. Suddenly the announcement broke the spell. I looked at my watch. It was already 8:45 pm.
“Oh God..again I am late”. No sooner had I been thinking about my son than his call came.
“Papa, where are you? We all are waiting for you at platform no 14. Please come fast papa. Niharika’s parents are in a hurry”. His exciting voice always soothed my ears.
“Okay..okay..give me 2 minutes’ time Beta”.
“Papa ..are you still in the waiting room or have come out from there?”
“Beta ..have patience…today I will not go home before meeting your would-be father-in-law. Okay?” I laughed.
“Papa….you know very well..I don’t mean that”.
“One minute…one minute…how did you know I was in the waiting room?”
“Oh ho papa…Mom told me that you and she had been waiting there for me for the last two hours. In hurry she left her spectacles cover there..please keep it with you”.
“Your Mom na…I told her not to disclose my arrival. I wanted to give you a surprise”
“Papa ..it’s really great that you both have come to receive me.. I am so so happy papa …I don’t even remember when the last time you and mom came together on any occasion”.
“I know Beta” I said in a low voice and hung up the phone. His grievance was the sign of growing up.
I moved fast towards the platform. From a distance I could see my son was waving his hand to draw my attention. I increased my stride towards that direction. All were waiting for me. I looked at my wife. She was smiling at me. We had a formal introduction with Niharika’s parents. We exchanged our visiting cards. Niharika was going to be my daughter-in-law very soon.
During conversation with her family she was looking a bit shy. The blush on her face was the proof that our Indian culture still exists. Though they both chose to be each other’s life partners but they did not forget to accomplish their relation with our blessing. I invited Niharika and her parents formally for the dinner at our house. My son was at the top of the world. I knew he wanted to spend a few minutes with Niharika alone. I signalled my approval with my eyes.
“Papa..you are so sweet…I love you papa”. He rushed towards the gate.
I looked at my wife “Thanks Renuka”.
“For managing everything. And I had actually forgotten that Niharika’s parents were also coming to receive her”.
“That’s why in the morning I was insisting you to take out time today but you reacted before listening anything. Rahul had personally requested me to send you to receive him. He wanted you to meet her parents”.
“Hmmm…my son has grown up. But tell me why he is becoming so impatient?”
“Oho…you don’t remember anything. Niharika will move abroad next month for higher studies and Rahul would move to Bangalore for his project. Where will they get the time for all these?”
“Oh, yes…what happened to my memory?”
“I know…this is the free attachment that you got from your job” She said sarcastically.
“I was stunned when I saw you outside the waiting room” I said.
“I was equally surprised when I noticed you there”.
“By the way why were you behaving like strangers in the waiting room?” I asked.
“In the morning you shouted on me. You asked me not to talk. You said that you had been spending life with strangers. So why should I initiate the talk?”
“Okay, baba…Okay…I am sorry. You know well sometimes I react but that doesn’t mean I don’t care you people.”
“But today I have realized one thing.”
“That I have been taking you people for granted always. I never looked at my responsibilities from your eyes before.”
“Thank God..at least you are realizing.”
“Do you know Renu, we are like a RAILWAY TRACK. We had been moving throughout the life parallel to each other but never met at any point.”
She smiled and said, “But we made our son reach to his destination. Very soon he would emerge out as a successful scientist and going to get married with his love, Niharika.”
I held her hand and said “You are closer to Rahul than me. Inculcate all the values in him which I couldn’t learn in my prime time so that they do not spend their life like a RAILWAY TRACK.”
She nodded. I was still holding her hand while we moved towards the gate slowly.