“So this is it?”
There was a sense of disbelief in Preethi’s eyes. Raj found it difficult to meet her piercing glare, but managed to say “Yes Preethi. “
“And I also want you to know that this decision is not based on performance. As a part of our global strategy to cut down resources in the wake of the current recession, we had to make the cuts across all levels. In India, since the business growth has slowed down considerably, we can no longer afford high flyers like you. And with your long and successful tenure with us, we are waiving off the layoff procedure in your case. That is, you won’t see a security waiting outside to escort you to your cabin to collect your stuff and leave. You can be in office today as long as you want, and leave when you feel like. The office will know this as something which came from your side, due to personal constraints, and not from us.”
“Oh, thanks for your concern Raj,” was all Preethi could manage as she was dumbstruck with anger, frustration, helplessness.
She walked back to her cabin, as in a trance, not registering anything in front of her. Yes, she knew layoffs were going on in the company, and no level was immune to it. It was a global decision to cut down task force by forty percent, but never in the wildest of her dreams, she was a victim of it. Is this really happening? She wondered. How can this happen to me… Preethi Menon, the most successful lady in her part of the world. She had worked her way up from the bottom of the ladder, with the fastest career growth among her peers, from a trainee to a Senior Director in a span of 12 years, who successfully manages her home and career.
She sat in the car, oblivious of the storm that was ravaging the city, unusual for the summer. The driver was struggling to maneuver the car through the waterlogged roads, where fallen trees had caused big traffic pile ups. A bigger storm was going through her mind, which still found it difficult to accept the sudden situation she found herself in. Unemployed from tomorrow………..
She, the jet setting career girl, from a small town in Kerala, who has established herself in this big city, with determination and grit. She was lost without her laptop, her constant companion in the car. As she looked out, she realized, it was going to be a long time before she reached home, at the other end of the city. Emotions, swelled up like a flooding river, waited for their chance to pour out from her eyes. With a sigh, she leaned back on the seat and closed her eyes. Not yet, I am not yet ready to cry, she defended herself. I was always like this, Preethi thought, averse to tears, ashamed to show the real emotions, always wearing the mask of a toughie……… Yes, to succeed and become what I am today, I needed that. But what now? Has all this come to a naught? Was my entire struggle headed towards this mighty fall? How will I cope?
Preethi Menon……. University rank holder, placed in one of the best IT firms through campus placement, winner of the best new comer award, first trip abroad in less than one year of joining which was a record of sorts, from the first trip to the USA to countries all over the world, literally the jet setter. Senior Director in just 12 years, with one foot already in the next rung of her career ladder. How could all this slip through into oblivion, just in a moment? Philosophically you can say, Life’s like that babe……… but this is my life and I cannot just let it be like that.
What is my identity from tomorrow? Preethi Menon, housewife?? Wife of Mohan Menon, mother of Ayaan and Anisha….. that’s all? That was the first time she thought of Mohan and her kids, in that eventful day. What will Mohan say? Another jet setter, Marketing Head of a leading product company. As friends used to joke, they were literally a couple who used to meet at airports. Will Mohan be happy that she will be home when he comes after his frequent trips? Will he be sympathetic or sarcastic? Maybe his male ego will be satisfied at her fall and be happy that there is no more competition at home? How are the kids going to take it? Their mom being a good for nothing, stay at home mom? Weren’t they proud to tell their friends that their mother is so and so, and show off the gifts she brings from her various trips? Now when they come to know mom is just going to be home always, will they ridicule her? Will she be a loser in their eyes?
“Madam, you are home”, her driver’s voice woke her. Legs gone weak, she struggled to drag her body out of the car, and felt strangely odd, walking in bare hand.
“Mamma!! You are home early!! “ Anisha came running and gave her a big warm hug. “Will you come down to the play ground with me? I can cycle now without training wheels. And Mamma, you have to tell Nitu that she cannot throw sand in my hair always”
“Anisha! Let your mom sit down and relax a bit. She has had a long day in office” That was Nalini, the governess.
“Here’s your tea, madam”, Bhagya, the cook brought in steaming hot tea.
“Where’s Ayaan?” Preethi enquired. “Mamma, you don’t know, he has basketball practice in school till 6 PM. He is one of the best players in school and sir is very keen to take him for state level competitions. He is so tall and fast and beats even the tenth standard boys” It was Anisha again, the little chatterbox, overexcited at the sight of her mummy home so early.
A slight smile came to Preethi’s lips, and lingered there, doubtfully. She sat down with her tea, with Anisha jumping all over the place. Ayaan, my little son, when did he grow so much? Eighth standard? And in my mind he was still a small boy. Does time go by so fast, Preethi wondered.
“Come Anisha, let’s go to the playground, your friends will be waiting.” Nalini was calling Anisha.
“I want mamma, then only I will go”. Anisha was stubborn. Little tear drops were threatening to fall down from her cherubic eyes, anytime.
“Today, you go with Nalini, let mamma take some rest. Tomorrow I will come with you, promise!” Anisha didn’t seem to buy that promise, as she thought her mom would have vanished to some office somewhere, by the time she woke up tomorrow. Nevertheless she thought it futile to force her mom and left reluctantly with Nalini.
Preethi slowly climbed up the stairs to the bed room. “Are you home for dinner, madam?” Bhagya asked from down.
“Yes Bhagya, make something light”, Preethi smiled sadly to herself.
As she was putting on some fresh clothes, her mobile buzzed. It was Mohan.
“Hey, where are you? What time are you coming home?” He sounded excited.
“I am already home, Mohan”, Preethi said.
“Oh good! My Mumbai trip for two days got cancelled last minute and I am heading home now. Good that you are also free for the rest of the day. See you Preeths”. That was typical Mohan.
It was quite an effort Preethi to maintain a straight face for the rest of the evening, while still seething inside, attending to her daughter, answering her zillion queries. Thankfully the governess had left for the day and Bhagya the cook cum maid was busy preparing dinner, now that Mohan was also expected to be home. She was also wondering why Ayaan was so late. Neither Bhagya nor Anisha seem to be worried so she assumed it was normal. Around seven the doorbell rang and expecting Mohan, Preethi rushed to open, but it was Ayaan.
“Hi Mom” he nodded curtly and vanished into his room. “Hi”, Preethi could only manage that much. She was expecting a similar reaction like Anisha’ s and was a little stunned at the aloofness. “Teenagers!!” she thought. And waited for him to freshen up and come down. Soon she heard music blasting from his room and she decided to meet him in his room.
“Ayaan, how are you dear? How’s school? Anisha said you are basketball champion!”
”Oh yeah whatever” Ayaan answered with no interest. He was not even looking at her.
“Take bath and come down for dinner” Preethi told him.
“I will have it here, mom. Tell Bhagya to get it here”.
Preethi was surprised . “Do you eat in your room every day?”
“Sort of” came the reply. By that time Anisha had materialized there and she picked it up from there. “Mamma, you don’t know anything. Ayaan is a big boy no. He has lot of things to do. So he eats here”.
“Papa is also coming home for dinner. Let’s all eat together today”. Preethi just ignored the roll of eyes from Ayaan, though she felt little hurt by his attitude.
By eight Mohan was in. As he was changing, Preethi told him as casually as possible. “I got laid off from work today”.
“How I wish if you were really laid off” Mohan quipped, taking it as a joke which she made up for being home early.
“Really! You don’t want me to work?” Preethi questioned.
“I would be happy to have you receive me like today every day, with tea in your hand and a smile on your face. That will make up for all the stress I go through the whole day in office. “.
Preethi could not hold it any longer. All the pent up frustration and anger flowed out through her eyes. A surprised but concerned Mohan gently guided her to the bed and made her sit. “Preeths, are you serious? What happened? Tell me everything”.
And Preethi went on about the whole day. She herself could not still believe that her company could do that to her. She had thought herself indispensable.
After Preethi calmed down a little bit, Mohan reassured her that finding a new job will not be a problem with her experience. Still, he suggested that she take a break for a month or two and enjoy being at home with him and the kids, now that an opportunity has come. She can always get back on her career after that. He urged her not to take him wrong that he wanted her to sit at home, but he felt that she had missed out a lot on family and this was an opportunity to make up for that. Now that they are settled comfortably financially, there was no need for her to panic and try desperately for a job. Let it take its own time. Mohan suggested that Preethi think this over and decide for herself.
Feeling a bit relieved, Preethi freshened up and went down for dinner. At the dinner table, Mohan broke the news to the kids that Mamma is going to be home for some time as she is taking a break from work to enjoy time with them. Anisha was overjoyed and she came around and hugged Preethi. “Mamma, you are dropping me to school tomorrow”, was her first reaction.
Ayaan was silent and didn’t show any emotion. Preethi was a little concerned but Mohan patted her hand as if to tell its fine. As soon as dinner was over, Ayaan went back to his room. Anisha, on the contrary, was literally glued to Preethi’s side, showing her colouring books, chatting about her friends and enemies in school etc. etc.
After Anisha slept, Preethi went to the kitchen to see Bhagya about the next day’s breakfast. Before she could talk, Bhagya told her it was really good that Preethi decided to stay at home. She was worried about Ayaan, she said. He seemed to be always quiet, never talking to anyone in the house. He always had a lost look as Bhagya tried to put it. Preethi wanted to tell it was normal as he was turning a teenager. But when Bhagya said that recently some of his friends have started coming home and they always lock themselves up in his room, and how one day Mohan came and found out that they were watching bad things on computer. Preethi could not believe what she was hearing.
She found Mohan reading in the bed room and confronted him with what she heard. Mohan was silent for a while. Then he said “Preethi, when I said I would like you to take a break and be at home for some time, I was serious. With your jet setting career taking you places, I was not sure how to tell you all this, but now with this Godsend opportunity, I feel all these problems will be solved. Our kids have got all luxuries in life, except the time with their parents. They may not want all these gadgets and fineries, but maybe craving for a little attention from us. No nanny or maid can replace us in their lives, Preethi, and we are a little late to realize this. Ayaan is still young and need our time and help. You would have noticed his behavior towards you today. It’s the same with me as well. But we are too busy in our careers, calming our guilty minds that we are doing this for them, but they are missing the parent’s touch in their lives when they need it the most. After one or two years, Ayaan will go his way, for higher studies, job etc. What is the point if we sit at home that time, waiting for him? Anisha is still too young and it is not late to make her realize that we are there for her always.”
Preethi could not sleep that night. Her mind was pulled in all directions, calculating and recalculating and retrospecting on her life till then.
The morning dawned all fresh and Preethi got up, her mind made up. She quickly bathed and went down with a smile on her lips and spring in her steps. She woke up Anisha and Ayaan. She made Anisha ready for school, fed her breakfast and announced that she is dropping her to school. Anisha’s joy knew no bounds and she was laughing and running all around the house. Ayaan came down ready for school and as he sat down for breakfast.
He said “Good Morning Mom”.
Preethi kissed him on the cheek much to his embarrassment but didn’t say anything. She served him his favourite idly/sambar and said she will drop both of them to school. And she told Mohan that she is planning to meet some of her old friends over lunch. Mohan smiled and nodded his agreement.
When Nalini came in, Anisha’s face went down, thinking that mamma will leave now. But Nalini had a story that her husband who was in her village was ill and she had to take leave for a month. She had come very apprehensively but went back happily. As for Preethi, it was one worry less. As she met her friends for lunch and told them her decision to take a break, they all cheered for her. They said she is taking the right decision at the right time and she felt her mind getting a little lighter.
On her way back, she noticed a poster announcing a class in baking and cooking, and her mind went back to her college days, when she was passionate about cooking and how her cakes were always relished by her friends. On a whim, she went and enrolled for the class. It was for 4 weeks, in the mornings, when she can conveniently go after leaving kids to school. Back home, as she waited for the kids to return, she went through the old albums, and was so taken aback by how much her kids had grown up.
Ayaan’s birthday came by and Preethi surprised everyone by throwing a party exclusively for him and his friends, with music and games and all that a teenager would like. She earned the ‘cool mom’ title among his friends. She started spending time with him discussing topics of his interest, guiding him towards his future, talking to him openly about girls, sex , relationships etc. as if to an adult. He also started opening out to her, trusting her like a friend, realizing that she was there for him always, whether it was for good or bad. He himself told her one day about the porn watching episode and how his father caught him and how he was surprised that he wasn’t scolded or reprimanded. Preethi told him all that is part of his phase of life and how it is essential that he uses his judgment in choosing friends and finding out what is right and wrong.
As the days went by, Preethi realized that career was not the defining word of her world. Life has much much more to offer than a brilliant high flying career, and it all depends on what we put our priority on. She thought she was a fool to walk around blindfolded, to having missed the wonderful family which was craving for her attention. Mohan also seemed more cheerful, and their relationship also flourished like never before. During the winter break they took a family vacation to Munnar, and spent a week enjoying the wonders of the hill station. Preethi thought about all the vacations they had taken earlier, to exotic locations worldwide, but none was as happy and content as the one they just had, in the small town of Munnar. It seemed as if the coolness of the mountain mist has spread inside her, giving her a fresh new feeling.
It was almost six months since she was out of her job, but Preethi hadn’t missed going to office even a single day. One day when they were preparing for bed, Mohan suggested applying for a good position which has come open in a competitor firm. Preethi walked to him and sealed his lips with her fingers. Her eyes told him what she felt inside and he embraced her warmly, hiding his welling tears from her. Her old boss Raj, who was also a family friend, invited them over for his housewarming party and Mohan said they will go only if Preethi wanted to.
Preethi said “Why we shouldn’t go? I want Raj to see how happy I am and I should thank him for showing me this side of life.”
The kids also supported her and they all went together. Raj greeted them warmly and Preethi had mixed feelings when she saw her old colleagues. All of them congratulated her in being bold enough to take such a brave decision and her lady colleagues said they were quite envious of her. They all commented how well she looked and how her face glowed with happiness and contentment. They had a good time at Raj’s party and as they were bidding goodbye, Raj told Preethi that there is some opening where he can take her back in, but before he could complete Preethi told him that she is as happy as could be and doesn’t want to lose this happiness with her family for the most well paid job in the world. She didn’t seem to notice the two men exchanging smiles, or maybe she chose not to notice…