SOMETIMES ‘LISTENING’ IS JUST ENOUGH

“Want to go to Mumbai,” I said, as my Mom stood shell-shocked. “You know me and your granny will be alone. Your dad isn’t here anymore,” she whimpered into my ears, after a gasp, as I sat eating my lunch. My father had passed away on an early Valentine’s Day morning in 2015. Nine months had passed since then. We had struggled as a family to move on, with my mother the sole bread earner.

I was just completing my graduation and with a little luck – because of my partial journalism experience – a web portal from Mumbai had offered a job. We will also arrange for your stay for the opening month, the company from Mumbai had assured. I was deadlocked on my mind, “I will go”. This is the breakthrough I needed, my dream break, which I hoped will stabilize my family financially. It will give us a better life.

“Mama! Listen to me,” I called preparing to open up my grand plan to her. “We will not speak a word more on it,” came her reply in a stern voice. I grew up in a hostel – going there as a child and coming out a man – and although it’s a lame excuse to use, I often employ it to convince people, why I was a little emotionless.

By the time I had finished my lunch and gone on to wash my plates, I could hear my mother sobbing in a little corner of her bed. I shouted at her from outside “why do you always cry? Your tears won’t bring him back. Look at Rina’s mother” – Rina’s Dad had left them in their infancy. Her mother single-handedly brought up her two children – “if she can stay so positive, why can’t you?

I was desperate to go out. I wanted to work, to earn. To give my mother and us a better life. But I didn’t have money to go. She was my only option. When about 45 minutes later, she stepped out of her room, I was using my cellphone. “Listen,” she tried to catch hold of me and talk. Her eyes were wet, voice subdued. But I walked off.

“Perhaps you should listen to her,” a part of my conscience told me. Another was louder, “she didn’t hear you. She didn’t have time to listen to your plan.” I strolled out. “I am not in a mood to talk,” I told her in an angry tone.

We didn’t bring up the topic again. More because I was frustrated knowing the answer would always be ‘No.’ But the bridge in our mother-son relationship had broadened. I must tell you that I was never a family man. I grew up in a hostel and felt closer to the open world and suffocated at home.

Months later as India faced New Zealand in the 2016 T20 World Cup, I sat in a decorated, fancied canteen of a call center watching the match on TV. I would have still watched it on a television set, perhaps in a Mumbai office somewhere in Navi Mumbai, but the feeling would have been so different. I hated call centers. I had joined one in December.

After a brief grieving period, I engulfed myself into the job. I hoped it would help me fund myself, if journalism came calling again. But Call center duties are no easy and it consumed all of my week. Back home, my relationship with my mother was deteriorating. She would hardly talk to me, I would do the same. I returned home, asked for food, ate and slept. She only called my name when I was required to bring home groceries and go to the market for vegetables.

We weren’t listening. More so, we weren’t ready to listen to the other. Our own decisions were utmost to us. My grandmother stoked in between. She was the home post-lady. I could hardly afford time at home, making things so much worse for us.

My mother would often complain about my lack of time and communication to her. “On my week-offs, I sit at home. You can come and talk if you need,” I refuted back. If you were a stranger in the house, you would have mistaken us to be enemies. We barked at each other more than talking. Every time, I opened my mouth, it would be to point a mistake she had committed. She would do the same, but on lesser occasions.

Christmas was soon approaching. In the earlier years, we had a small community function at our home. We were having the same this year. I consider myself to be a good show anchor and have hosted multiple shows in the past. It was a no brainer that I was the undisputed host at my house function. I also often helped in decorating the hall.

But this year, I was doing none. “Would you not stay, it’s a home function, please understand,” my mother tried to reason. “No, I can’t. I have office,” I lied. I had initially taken an off intending to be present at the programme. But later changed my plan to humiliate my mother. I wanted her to feel the same, I felt when she refused to listen to my entire Mumbai plan.

“How does it feel now,” my mind asked my mother. A deceiving smile lighted my face. Beneath in my heart, I cried. I knew it was wrong. But I couldn’t help. It felt so right then. It wasn’t enough, I decided.

Another humiliation followed. On Christmas Day, I asked my mother to go alone to church. I will come later, I told her, citing a lack of proper sleep. I intentionally reached late, tucked up in formals. But my mother had enough of me. She couldn’t bear it anymore. And so, when she was given time to stand and thank the Lord for that day, she burst out crying.

Everything that had happened between us was suddenly out in the open. The Cold War of our home had bursted out. I felt ashamed but somehow kept myself sitting. When church ended, many people came and advised me for good. I wished all of them well. But deep inside, I was raging.

We went back home together in the same bus, but as strangers. It had reached a final point for me. I couldn’t shout at her. I wouldn’t. She was broken. I was too, but partially. I did not comfort her. My mother tried to, but I would not accept.

“I had a job offer from Mumbai,” I once yelled at her during an argument. “I had thought of taking both you and grandmother with me. We could have put this house on rent. We all could have been happy there,” I forced her to hear me. “But you weren’t ready to listen to me. You were busy explaining yourself and your sorrow for my dead father.” I knew I had hurt her, the moment I spoke those words.

“What about you? Did you ever listen?” She cried out. I have an irritating habit of listening to half of what others spoke. Before I gave them numerous examples to change people’s perception. I have never been a good listener. Like Aastha explained, patience while listening is the key – “To truly understand what the other person is talking about, we should have the patience to listen“. I was impatient.

Every-time my mother cried, I would bring up examples of numerous single mothers I knew, who moved on with their lives without much fuss. Most times I would do it to suppress her tears. I didn’t have the patience to listen.

But then she too was preoccupied in her sad thoughts. Scared and traumatised at the sound of me leaving her, my mother never listened to what I wanted about us. Years later, I still think if, so many things could have been avoided, had either of us had dared to listen.

Fast forward four years, I am finally in Mumbai. Employed in a top web-portal and earning handsomely. But is my mother with me? No. I left her back in Kolkata. The wounds of our cold-war have still not healed. It has never been the same since that November in 2015. But we are trying. I plan to bring her with me when we both are back to a normal mother and son again. I am sure we will be very soon.

We try and listen more of each other. She plans to first buy a house in Kolkata. I will help her, before re-proposing my grand plan to her. A plan I had devised four years ago, where we live as a HAPPY FAMILY…where  we LISTEN TO EACH OTHER.

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A WOMAN’S POWER TO RECONCILE

Quite staggering isn’t it, how a woman revolves her life around her biggest priorities in a way men seldom can. She’s caring and soft but she is also brave. A little edgy and wants to soar high but can also compromise. She can forgive and forget, trust and love.

We hadn’t met before and perhaps would have never, had it not been for a prank urgent call from a friend that ended up in me ghastly cycling my way to his house, for a reason I’d never find out. And as a consequence of his actions and more for my disregard for the college I was enrolled to, we decided to bunk that day.

It was there that I met Dempa – an abbreviation to save us time from pronouncing her longish name – when she stepped out of her room and greeted us with a smile. I had heard from Rohan that his sister was leaving for Nepal the following week. Therefore, mistaking her smile to be the excitement for a new journey, I gleefully queried how happy she was on starting a new life.

From what I had heard, it was indeed promising to be a new life for a girl, who would turn 23 the same day she would begin her journey towards a new destiny. Dempa worked here in a BPO sector, shared a flat with her still studying cousin brother and was the quintessence of most independent women.

But in a split of minutes, between which we conversed mostly on why she was leaving and her plans for future, my expression changed. She was still smiling though. I was certain that smile, somewhat forced, hid explodable sorrow. “But why now?”, I asked, recounting my mother, who after losing her husband on a fateful Valentine’s Day four years ago, rushed to the hospital next morning to help a neighbour, who didn’t know what to do and where to take his ill wife. Like really?

These women, they can give reality a resounding check and stand as brave to the outside world while their inner-depth moist with tears and you would never know.

Dempa was a month away from completing one year in the job. That would mean a slight improvement in her arrears, more experience and a higher band (BPO sectors usually have bands that increases with better performance and experience) which will increase her salary. “Because my grandmother is going,” she said. Dempa’s grandmother stays in Kharagpur in the house of her eldest daughter. That is where Dempa grew up alongside her aunt’s two children.

Her parents stay in Nepal. But Nepal has never been home to Dempa. It is only a holiday destination for her. “I find it very uncomfortable there,” she says. “That is why I only travel there for a few days and come back at the earliest. But this time I have to go.” “Why don’t you just drop you granny stay there for a few days and come back,” I suggested trying to find her options.

Rohan once told me that Dempa was the eldest child in her family. She had two brothers. Dempa was sent to India to stay with her grandmother. She would never live with her parents again and apart from a few holidays when one side travelled to visit the other, they would hardly meet.

“No! There is another reason,” Dempa responded refuting my suggestions. “What is it,” I asked, anxious. “My father wants me to come back.” “Ohh,” I said exasperatingly. “Joseph daa, Rohan must have told you by now that I stay with my grandmother since my cradle days. I missed my parents then. My Boju (grandmother in Nepali) has been my only parent. Now my father wants me to spend more time with him. He will support me, he said,” Dempa spoke cautiously.

“Ohh great!! What have you decided then,” I asked. “I will go,” she was crystal clear in her mind. “What about Rohan then? He’ll stay alone?” I enquired and argued. “I have spoken to him, he will understand,” she said stubbornly. All the while Rohan was busy with earphones tucked to ear. He was playing some stupid FIFA game on his desktop. I was frustrated with him. Here was I worried about him but he wasn’t bothered.

“Don’t worry about him. I have already found him another flat. He will spend the final three months of his fourth semester with one of my friend’s family. I know them too well. They have promised to take care of him. He doesn’t have to even cook,” she said reassuring me. “Why on earth did this thing not come to my head,” I thought to myself.

Oh God! Such a wonderful creation. They would think of your well being even before you’d think of your own. You can’t beat them on that. Caring and thinking for others are in their DNA.

Then there was a little pause. I prepared to go home. But she said, “You know… This is the third time my father is asking me to come back.” “What do you mean,” I asked. “You had gone before?” “Yes” her voiced mowed down. “I had gone in 2013 after completing my higher secondary. But he didn’t want me to study further. So I stayed for seven months, fought and came back to India.” 

“Then the second time what happened?” I asked, firmly stuck to my seat. Going home was now out of my mind. This was getting dangerous. She said that last year she had gone again. “But I could only stay three months.” “Why? What happened?” I asked again. “He was about to get me married off to one his friend’s sons. My mother helped me escape from home,” she said, her eyes lighted with perhaps tears.

Dempa…No! Don’t go.” I was already protective. (No, don’t praise me for that. Anyone would the same thing on the count of these incidents.)

“Don’t worry. My grandmother is there this time. My father has also promised me that he won’t do anything as such,” she said again full of reassurance. “But how can you trust him?,” I shot back.

She was willing to risk it. After all isn’t love, bonding and trust the greatest gift of God. A mother’s love couldn’t see her daughter getting forced into a marriage. She acted then. Here was Dempa ready to trust again. Ready to bond again.

But my constant refutes and her unshakeable confidence soon turned the conversation into a heated argument. Then she backed down because I wasn’t willing to. “What if he again does something similar,” I questioned her trust. “He won’t, I know,” she said in monosyllables.

So you have forgiven him?” I asked, hurrying myself to leave without waiting for an answer. I could hear her say, “Yes! Forgiven and reconciled” as I climbed down the stairs having forgotten to shut the door behind.

She was ready to forgive and forget for the third time. At that moment she had exemplified what I had grown up reading and hearing. Of course, I didn’t realise it then.

We met at a shopping mall approximately a week later – the three of us. I asked her immediately, “What is the final decision then?” “I am travelling the day after tomorrow.” She answered.