It was a tunnel. Or perhaps wasn’t one. It seemed too green to be a tunnel; too illuminated to be a tunnel. It was a long way forward. Too fast and blinding. There seemed a light at the end of the tunnel. But the pain that I felt was way beyond my endurance to actually know the distance between myself and the lightning light. I heard some voices. Damp voices, muffled voices.
“Open your eyes. OPEN your eyes”, one of the voices seemed to command. Or was there a tinge of request? I tried to open my eyes. Though I didn’t want to.
“Mrs. Srichandra. What is your surname please?”, this time there was a definite softness to the voice.
I opened my eyes. My eyes opened to a blank white wall. Somewhere next to the blankness a picture stared at me. My vision seemed too hazy to recognize the picture. I blinked. The blink took ages to become a BLINK. This time I could recognise the picture. Sri Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa. A sense of contentment was just seeping in when I heard the voice again.
“Your name. What is your name?”
“Srichandra”, I answered. Rather my lips whispered. I seemed to have no control over my lips.
“Perfect. And your full name?”
“Srichandra Venkataramanan”. I took ages to spell out those two words.
A smiling face now appeared within my line of vision.
“Congratulations. It is a baby boy”.
I’ve almost always spoken or written about her daughter. Her trials and triumphs. I’ve hardly ever written about my son. That is because to me my son is more like a friend than my son. When I conceived him I was fresh out of my college. I was too young or more immature perhaps to understand the gravity of my role. So much so that I hardly told anyone that I was pregnant with my first child till it was too visibly obvious in my sixth month. The reason for this was strange. I was too shy to share the news! So, unlike many girls I didn’t have a gala announcement -no balloons and sweets for the announcement, no doctor informing a host of eager relatives-“Mubarak ho, apki bahu/beti maa ban ne waali hai” (“Congratulations, your daughter-in-law/daughter has conceived”). Thankfully I did not even have the usual pregnancy symptoms for others to understand. And it was but natural that my post delivery symptoms bordered on non-motherly mommyhood. I would openly feed my baby which was strongly criticised by many, I would insist on sleeping on leaving my hungry son wailing, I would throw tantrums at par with my child and would feel utterly jealous of the attention showered on him. This went on till in his second year when my little son decided that ‘enough was enough’ and found to his comfort that his grandma was a better mother material than his own mother. So, from then on my mother became his ‘Maa’ and I became his ‘Mummy’. That is how we almost ‘grew up together’.
Unlike my daughter, he was born in extremely positive situation and circumstances. He got the best gifts, best smiles from relatives and best of attention. On his first birthday we had a huge Dennis-the-menace cake, a baby synthesiser, biriyani, people, smiles, laughter. By the time he was two he had a toy car of his size which he could ride. We would go for weekend trips, taste food from different food courts, go for vacation trips; while he would floor people with his childish laughter. By the time he was four, he had a really, real Casio keyboard. We also employed a private music teacher for him. Life was beautiful. There was everything a child could ask for. And suddenly, one day he had none. None meant nothing. None meant No One.
On his fifth birthday his life became different. We had just zeroed in on one of the best schools in the town. Among 300 students applying, he was among the only 30 lucky to be selected. We were almost ready to purchase his school uniform when his father’s professional life received a massive setback. Overnight our lives became different. Tough and different. While his sister had a tough life being born in this phase, his life was tougher because he had to adjust from a situation of ‘Have’ to ‘Have Not’. All of a sudden what was easily available to him, became hard to get. Overnight he had to be admitted to a small, middle class school in a far away corner of the city. We were apprehensive that perhaps the changing situation would be a jolt to him. But what he gave us in return was a surprise to us. Overnight he stood tall. Tall enough to comfort us in turn. He would happily clap at my shaky attempts to make a birthday cake. “My mommy is the best baker in the world’, he would declare triumphantly. He would sync himself with any and every situation. So much so, that by the time his sister grew up, he became my comrade. He would cycle around the neighbourhood for the best deals in vegetables, milk and other household items. One day a neighbourhood shopkeeper called my husband and spoke to him. “Is that your son, Sir?”, he asked. My husband nodded. “In all my life that I have been a shopkeeper, I am yet to find a young boy like him Normally boys of his age would buy chocolates, ice-creams or chips with the spare money; he buys strange items – packets of tea leaves, sachets of shampoo, a small thing or two of household item. Even if I offer him something, he politely refuses, saying he would buy the item if he required it. You are a lucky father”. That day I learnt that sacrifice has no age. As parents we often speak about the sacrifices we undertake for our children, but there are moments when their mammoth sacrifices dwarf ours.
In all his life, he has offered such stunning moments which has made me believe that contentment and virtue comes from within – no money in this world can buy those. Once, after many days of request, I had given him a ten rupee note to buy an ice-cream cup for himself after school. He came back from school – happy and content. “So, are you happy now?”, I asked him. “I am”, he said. “But I am sorry mummy. I couldn’t buy an ice-cream. There was a old lady begging for food outside my school. So I bought two biscuit packets and gave her”. I couldn’t respond immediately except for a feeble pat on his back.
We couldn’t afford his music teacher beyond six months, but he clung on to his passion for music. He tried. He let his fingers play on the reed. He failed. He tried again. But he didn’t give up. That Christmas was a special service by the kids. “I would play the piano”, my son declared. “Would you be able to?”, I was apprehensive. “Ofcourse”, he beamed in confidence. As his turn came I could hear my heart beat. I closed my eyes. He placed his little fingers on the reed. “Silent Night, Holy Night”- the lilting tune wafted from his piano. That silly lump crawled up my throat. I stood up in sheer joy. That day I learnt that money or lack of it cannot affect one’s talent. It is the passion that matters.
As he grew up, he coped with the challenges of an unequal world. Not only did he cope, he coped with his head held high. That December we were trying to tide over a very tough situation. The resources were limited, the wants were many. And amongst this act of balancing we had failed to notice when a small hole in his school shoe became gapingly large. Being one of the School Prefects, it was easy to spot him and his left shoe. The Vice Principal hauled him. “Antariksh, this is too shameful that being a Prefect, you have such a huge hole in your shoe. Can I expect to see a new pair of shoes tomorrow?”. “I am sorry Ma’am. Not tomorrow. Give me time till Christmas. I shall ask for a new pair of school shoes from my grandma as Christmas gift. Till then, please excuse me Ma’am”. There was perhaps a sense of conviction in his voice. Strangely, the Vice Principal relented. That day he taught me a very vital lesson. Faced with challenges, the best way to overcome is to look straight into the eyes and tackle head on. There can never be anything as convincing as honesty.
With him, my journey became the one of daily learning – of evolving as a stronger human being. He is the one who helped me believe that beyond the story of the hole in the shoe is the story of a new pair of shoes.
So, my dear son, thank you. As you grow up I do not wish you become the richest man or even the most famous one. All I wish is that the dreams you stack up in the attic saying “One day I shall” , come true. For your sake. I do not want you to prove yourself to the world, not even to us or yourself. I just wish you get to live your dreams – however odd or strange those might be. The other day as you pointed to the bright expanse of green, blue, purple, orange on the computer screen, I could see the glitter in your eyes. “Aurora Borealis”, you had spoken in gleeful whisper. I wish one day you stand face to face with your dreams – health facilities for the poorest, a car which runs on green fuel, fusion music band, making movies or even witnessing Aurora Borealis. I wish atleast one or all of these happen to you – for the immense strength with which you faced the challenges of life, for your immense positivity of believing that the best shall happen one day, for those moments of comfort that you had offered, for giving birth to the strong woman in me and definitely for the sake of the hole in your shoe. Happy Birthday!