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The mother i never knew, p.14
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       The Mother I Never Knew, p.14

           Sudha Murty
 
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  ‘Who?’ she asked gently.

  ‘I have to repay a debt, Vasanthi. Sorry, I have to go now. I’ll call you later.’

  Before she could ask any more questions, he said goodbye and hung up.

  As the train started its journey, Mukesh felt like the wobbly bogies himself. The very thought of Nirmala upset him. How could she have been so irresponsible? She had gone back to her life after delivering a baby, and had not cared enough to find out how her son was. He felt cheated.

  As he thought about her more and more, he recollected his television documentary about unwed mothers in India. The programme had been aired on BBC a few years ago. He himself had concluded that lack of sex education and job opportunities, and the strict norms of society made the life of an unwed mother and her child very difficult in India. But he’d never imagined in his wildest dreams that he himself was one of the children born of unwed mothers. Mukesh finally understood Nirmala’s predicament and calmed down somewhat. Still, he was sad. He did not know why he wanted to meet her now but he knew that he had to.

  After reaching Delhi, Mukesh surfed the Internet for information. Within half an hour, he learned that Brij Mohan was the minister for women and child development. He was married to Nirmala Kumari and had two sons, who were both in politics. One of his sons had been caught drinking and driving and the other had been accused of accepting bribes on behalf of his father. Finally, Mukesh found what he was looking for—Brij Mohan’s residence was on Prithviraj Road in south Delhi. Mukesh was easily able to trace his address and office phone numbers online, but knew that he would not be allowed to meet the minister without an appointment. The only way to meet him was through his media credentials. He would have to use his BBC background to gain entry into Brij Mohan’s residence.

  Mukesh dialled Brij Mohan’s secretary’s cell phone number. When the secretary answered, Mukesh introduced himself, ‘Hello, I am Mukesh Rao. May I have a meeting with the minister, please?’

  ‘No, he’s extremely busy,’ the secretary refused his request without a second thought.

  ‘I work for BBC and want to interview the minister’s wife for a TV series.’

  Hastily, the secretary changed his tone, ‘Of course, please come and meet the minister tomorrow at 8 a.m.’

  The next day, Mukesh reached the minister’s sprawling bungalow on time but was asked to wait in the visitor’s lounge, which was already almost full of people. The minister’s family was just waking up. While waiting, Mukesh observed the room he was in. It was disorganized and lavishly decorated with poor taste. There were plastic flowers in multiple vases in the room. A jade Buddha statue that had not been dusted for months stood in a corner and a painting of Lakshmi adorned with old and dry garlands was displayed near it. A dozen servants were moving in and out of the room serving tea, samosas and rasgullas to the visitors.

  After an hour, Brij Mohan came to the visitors’ lounge followed by his entourage who were carrying paan and files in their hands. The man was stout and short and dressed in a safari suit with his stomach bulging out. His eyes were swollen and it looked like he had had a late night. When they saw him, everybody stopped talking and stood up. Without looking left or right, Brij Mohan walked straight into the next room that had been converted to a large-sized office space.

  Mukesh thought, ‘Had Nirmala kept me with her, my fate would have been to become one of his entourage and carry paan and files for him; or if the minister had treated me like his own, I would have become another son getting into trouble with the law.’

  After another hour, he was invited into the office room to meet the minister. When Brij Mohan saw his business card, he remarked, ‘Ah! You’re the London boy who wants to take an interview—not mine, but my wife’s.’

  ‘Sir, this particular piece is about how the wives of famous men spend their time supporting their husbands and their careers.’

  ‘My wife does not speak English very well and she’s very shy too. Why don’t you ask me the questions and I’ll try to answer them on her behalf?’

  Mukesh was apologetic, ‘No, Sir, please forgive me. It is my duty to talk to the women and report the interviews. I’ll be happy to conduct the interview in Hindi.’

  ‘Well, there really isn’t much that she can tell you. My wife is a religious woman and spends most of her time in pujas. At other times, she accompanies me for appropriate events.’

  ‘Then it shouldn’t take much time, Sir. But I must talk to Ma’am.’

  The minister shrugged his shoulders, ‘That’s no problem, but please remember to steer clear of controversial topics. Also, send us your article for approval prior to publishing.’

  ‘Of course, Sir,’ Mukesh nodded.

  Brij Mohan called one of the servants and told him, ‘Bachcha, take him to Bibiji and tell her that I have sent him.’

  Mukesh followed the servant to the main house. He entered a living room that had leather couches, a huge television set and some exotic artefacts. A huge picture of a popular Swamiji adorned one of the walls. From where Mukesh was standing, he could see a beautifully decorated puja room inside. The smell of incense was everywhere. The servant asked him to sit down while he went in search of Madam.

  A minute later, a young boy appeared with tea, samosas and gulab jamuns, but Mukesh refused the food with a wave of his hand. He could not eat anything right now. He was about to meet Nirmala and suddenly felt nervous. A young man around his age came in with a cigarette in his hand and went into another room, without even glancing at him. ‘Maybe he’s one of Nirmala’s sons,’ Mukesh thought.

  After a few minutes, a middle-aged woman dressed in a silk sari with the pallu over her head walked into the room and sat down in front of him. She said in chaste Hindi, ‘Namaste, I am Mrs Nirmala Kumari, Brij Mohan ji’s wife. I don’t usually give interviews, but I’ve come because you insisted.’

  Mukesh simply watched her. She was his mother—a mother who had abandoned him within hours of his birth, a mother who had conceived him without preparing for the consequences, a mother who thought that teenage sex was enjoyable but did not know that it would result in a pregnancy, a mother who was dominated by the men in her life.

  He forgot what he had wanted to ask her.

  Suddenly, there was a lot of noise outside the living room. Brij Mohan was leaving the house. He and his entourage got into six cars and drove away accompanied by an escort. The visitors poured out into the driveway and the lounge became vacant.

  Mukesh heard the sudden roar of motorcycles and cars drifting further away, followed by an eerie quietness. A servant came in and told Nirmala, ‘Bibiji, both the Chhote Sahebs have left with Bade Saheb. They’ll be back at night.’

  ‘Fine, then clear the dining table, please.’

  The servant went away to follow her instructions.

  Mukesh asked her, ‘Ma’am, what are your hobbies?’

  ‘I love reading. It is my childhood passion,’ she answered simply.

  ‘If you don’t mind, may I ask you about your childhood?’

  She nodded.

  ‘Where did you go to school?’

  ‘In my village. But I took private tuitions for my tenth class examinations since there was no high school there. After my wedding, I came to Delhi and completed a correspondence course.’

  ‘Why didn’t you go to college?’

  She sighed, ‘My parents-in-law were old-fashioned and preferred that I didn’t go outside the home to study.’

  Mukesh gathered up his courage and finally asked, ‘Ma’am, do you remember Rupinder?’

  Suddenly, Nirmala’s eyes widened and her face became pale. She went out of the room to check if anybody was listening. Then she came back into the living room and closed the door. ‘Which Rupinder?’ she asked.

  ‘The same woman who had a farm next to a mango grove. She’s the one who gave me this gold chain.
Mukesh tugged on the chain around his neck.

  He saw that she was too scared to respond, and yet she could not stop staring at him. He reassured her, ‘Ma’am, please don’t worry. I haven’t come with any purpose except to meet my real mother.’

  ‘Was Rupinder the one who told you everything?’

  ‘Yes, she did, but only after I forced her to.’

  ‘When?’ she questioned him.

  ‘Yesterday.’

  ‘What?’ Nirmala was puzzled. ‘Didn’t you know about it all these years?’

  ‘No, I met her for the first time just yesterday.’

  ‘Oh. If you weren’t with her, then where were you?’ she asked, concerned.

  ‘God works in mysterious ways, Ma’am. He came to me in the form of Sumati and Krishna Rao. They became my parents and loved me as their own, gave me the best education that they could and built my self-confidence. I lost my father two weeks ago. That’s when I found out that Rupinder had given me to them when I was a year and a half old.’

  Nirmala started crying, ‘Beta, you must be very upset with me. I couldn’t do anything for you . . .’

  ‘I am not upset with you, Ma’am. I am thankful that you gave me away to Rupinder, who gave me to Sumati. My curiosity to see my biological mother brought me here. I promise you that this secret will remain with me. But I also wanted to know about my father. Will you please tell me about him?’

  She closed her eyes, ‘I don’t know where he is and I never tried to look for him. When I think of the past, it feels like a nightmare. Your father didn’t even know that I was pregnant—and even if he did, my father would not have allowed us to get married.’

  Nirmala gazed at him. ‘Are you married?’ she asked.

  ‘Yes, I am. You brought me into this world and I am grateful, but I know that you won’t like to keep in touch with me.’

  Before she could reply, he touched her feet. He felt wet teardrops on his hair. She caressed his head with a shaky hand. He was her past—her first child. She choked on her words, ‘I am happy that you’ve kept the chain with you till now. That’s the only way I can remain with you in this life. I used to think that Karan and Kunti only existed in the Mahabharata, but now it’s happened to me. My blessings and prayers will always be with you.’

  When he stood up straight in front of her, she folded her hands and said, ‘You must have heard about my children and their terrible reputation. It is better to remain childless than have bad children. You are far superior to them and I’m proud. Giving birth is simply a biological event but parents must move mountains to raise a child to be a good human being. I salute the mother who made you what you are.’

  A moment later, Mukesh turned around and walked out of the house.

  11

  What Matters in the End

  Mukesh never went in search of his biological father. There was no need any more. He must have settled somewhere in India with his children too. There was no place for Mukesh in his biological parents’ lives.

  Now Mukesh realized how much he missed his Amma. She knew him and loved him more than anyone else in the world. He was not a Jat or a sardar. He was a Brahmin from south India. He knew who he was now.

  Mukesh took the next flight from Delhi to Bangalore and slept like a baby on the plane.

  As he was walking out of the airport, he thought about Vasanthi. He had still not told her anything about what he was going through. This was something that had to be done in person. He hailed a cab and called her on the way home. ‘If you are better now, can you please come to Bangalore and be with me? I want to talk to you about something important,’ he said.

  Vasanthi was surprised. She said, ‘Of course I’ll come. In fact, I’ll be there by tomorrow. I’ve been waiting for your call. Amma told me about your sudden trip to Amritsar. She’s been checking on me every day since then to make sure that I was doing all right. Are you okay? Why did you have to go to Amritsar?’

  Mukesh was gentle, ‘Vasanthi, I’ll answer all your questions once you are here, but don’t worry. I am fine.’

  When he reached his parents’ house in the afternoon, there was a spring in his step and a smile on his face. He was home.

  He entered the house and hugged Sumati tightly—like he’d never let her go. Ever since he’d turned twenty, he had started touching his mother’s feet whenever he greeted her, but as a child, he had always hugged her. Today, he hugged her as if he was that small child again and said, ‘Amma, in the last few days, I have learnt that you are the architect of my life. I am your son and Neeru is my sister. Nothing can separate us in this lifetime.’

  Sumati was surprised. She kissed his head like she used to do when he was younger.

  He declared, ‘I’m hungry, Amma. Give me something to eat.’

  She kissed him again and went to the kitchen to make rice and rasam. She knew that he loved rice and rasam.

  Thirty minutes later, Neeraja also joined them in time for the meal.

  Sumati asked her son, ‘Munna, what did Rupinder say to you?’

  He answered between mouthfuls of food, ‘Vasanthi will be here in the morning tomorrow. I’ll tell all of you the whole story once and for all, Amma.’

  His mother ruffled his hair and nodded.

  Half an hour later, he went to his bedroom and fell asleep at once.

  *

  After Vasanthi reached early the next morning, Mukesh described his entire trip to his mother, sister and wife. Sumati was speechless—she herself had not known that he was Nirmala’s son. In the end, they all agreed that the secret would stay with the four of them.

  A few hours later, Mukesh and Vasanthi found themselves alone. She had not said much to him since she had learnt the truth in the morning.

  Mukesh knew that she needed some time and told her, ‘Vasanthi, you were married to me thinking that I belonged to your religion and community. I really don’t know what you think of me right now. If you still want to be with me, I’ll be the luckiest guy on earth. But if you think that it is too much for you to handle, I’ll back off and respect your wishes on what you want to do next. I won’t fight you.’

  Quietly, he walked out of the room.

  Vasanthi sat without moving. A few minutes passed and she tried to get her thoughts together. Mukesh was a great husband. He encouraged her to learn new things, loved her unconditionally and constantly tried to make her happy. It didn’t matter what community he belonged to. It may make a difference to her father, but not to her.

  She stood up and went to search for him. She found him standing outside on the balcony gazing at the sky. Silently, she came up from behind, touched his shoulder and put an arm around his waist. ‘You may be anybody’s son but you’ll always be my husband,’ she said.

  Acknowledgements

  An affectionate thank you to my trusted editor, Shrutkeerti Khurana, for the wonderful work and late-night sessions filled with creativity and fun.

  Thank you, Udayan Mitra, for the constant support and belief in me.

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  PENGUIN BOOKS

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  This collection published 2014

  Copyright © Sudha Murty, 2014

  The moral right of the author has been asserted

  ISBN: 978-0-143-42225-9

  This di
gital edition published in 2014.

  e-ISBN: 978-9-351-18730-1

  This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 


 

  Sudha Murty, The Mother I Never Knew

 


 

 
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