I didn’t talk to my father, because I had my own reasons not to. It was none of Arjun’s business to accuse me like that. I was so mad at him for being so mean and nasty. But there was a bit of truth there wasn’t it?
Why is it ok for me not to talk to Appa and not ok for Arjun not to talk bad about him?
What is wrong with me? Appa and I are related by blood, half of my genetic make up is from him, we even like the same music, not only that he even sends me money every month. He doesn’t have to send me money. I am already 18 and there is no law that says father’s should support their children financially once they reached the age of majority. He is still supporting me financially and I have been nothing but mean to him. My idea of keeping in touch with my father was by sending a letter to him every month. I don’t even bother to read the letters he sends to me and yet I was so upset when Arjun called him names. Hypocrite! That is the word I should call myself.
I looked at the clock. 5.30pm. Must be about 4pm in Dubai. I took my wallet from my lab coat and walked out. I didn’t want to call Appa’s house again. So I dialled his office number.
“Hello” I heard the familiar voice. It felt so good to hear my father’s voice. I suddenly felt like a Daddy’s little girl!
“Hello” I spoke
“Who is this?”
“It is me Appa, Nina”
“Why are you calling me? You want more money right?”
“No” I felt so indignant knowing that my father thinks the only reason I would call him up is for more money
“What do you want?”
“I just wanted to talk to you Appa, that is not a big crime is it?”
“Where is your mother?”
“I asked Where is your mother?”
“Appa, I didn’t call you up to talk about Amma, I just wanted to hear your voice. Why are you asking me about Amma, when you should be asking how I am?”
“You are just like your mother. You have the caustic ‘Kottayam tongue’. If you don’t change your attitude, like your mother,you will also destroy a poor, innocent man’s life”
Poor innocent man, my foot! I know how he has treated my mother all these years. I remember clearly each and every time he hit/kicked/punched her. I remember each and every time he threw her out. He had the nerve to call himself innocent. I could feel the anger surging through my veins. I wanted to strangle my father to death. Poor innocent man. Does he even know what that means!
“Bye Appa” I didn’t even bother to hear his reply. I slammed the phone down.
I hated myself for making an international long distance phone call during the day time, that costs me 118Rs, I hated myself for feeling guilty for not trying hard to make the father daughter relationship work, I hated myself for getting angry with Arjun and more than all that, I hated myself for feeling sorry for my father.
I collected the balance from the phone operator and walked out of the phone room. Arjun was standing outside. He must have heard my conversation with Appa*
“Nina” He was looking at me.
I didn’t respond. At that moment I was still angry. Angry with my father, who only thinks about himself.
“I am sorry” He reached out to hold my hand
“Don’t touch me” I hissed
“Nina, I am truly sorry. I know you are having a tough time with your family. It wasn’t right for me to judge you to win an argument”
“I am trying ok? I am really trying, You think I enjoy being isolated from my family like this?” I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my eyes
“Nina, I am so sorry”
I didn’t need his sorry, for that matter I didn’t need anyone’s sorry. I didn’t give a damn anymore.
“Arjun, I am not in a mood to talk” I walked off
A part of me hated telling Arjun that my parents are separated and I don’t talk to my father. If I didn’t tell him, then he would have asked a million questions about my family and there were too many ugly secrets that I could never reveal to anyone.
When I was little, I always wanted to tell someone all the secrets. I wanted to unburden the secrets I am forced to carry.. But now I realized, it is not possible. There is no way I can tell someone all the secrets that I am carrying, because when they need to, they can and would use the same secrets to attack me!
What I am is irrelevant. I would be judged because of my family. It didn’t matter that I am honest, kind and caring. What mattered was I didn’t call or speak to my own father, thereby I am a terrible person! Guilty by association!
I learned, my secrets, they have to stay with me. That is the only way I would come out of my family unscathed. I also learned that I should stop depending on Arjun, for that matter anyone. I have to learn to stand on my own two feet. I need to be independent.
Arjun was waiting for me at the bus station in the morning. I thought of asking what happened? Didn’t his parents buy him a bike, because they knew he would never get up on time? So it is possible that he can get up early in the morning!
I sat down by the window seat and he came and sat next to me
“Hi” He said
“Hi” I replied. Much as I wished to,I could never be rude to someone.
“I am going home this evening, do you want to follow?”
“ok” I too said ok, while trying to figure out, why exactly did I say ok?
“Here” He passed the news paper cutting
“Thanks” I took it and mumbled
“You are welcome”. I didn’t want to open it. But he was looking at my hands to see what I was going to do. I could have showed him my spite by putting that paper cutting in my lab coat pocket. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I opened the folds to see
“love is…. liking her for what she is”
I couldn’t prevent the smile from coming to my face. What are the odds that one can find a cartoon that matches the occasion?
“Glad you liked it” He spoke
“hmm” I mumbled
“Coming home with me tonight?”
“No Arjun. I need to study for the Pathology practicals. I can’t remember any of the slides”
“Oh Nina, why are you worried? The slides are so easy”
“No they are not. I can never remember which one is squamous cell or basal cell or blah blah”
“That is because you are not looking at the right places”
“What do you mean? I look through the eye piece”
“Don’t Oh Nina me” I almost screamed
“Sorry!” He looked at me apologetically. I almost laughed seeing how worried he was when I yelled at him
“It is like this Nina, You need to look outside. If the slide has a cut in the right corner and the smear is like a cauliflower, then it is a squamous cell one”
“Aiyyah, our seniors have already marked the slides, so we don’t have to struggle remembering each and every points to identify the slides. All you have to do is just learn the 5 points to identify each slide, look at the slide from the outside, if there is a cut in the right corner, you know it is squamous, then write the 5 points. Bingo, you get everything right”
“What about the other slides?”
“Each one has a special identification point”
“Are you sure they keep the same slide for exams?”
“Of course, they have 2 sets of slides, one set is only kept for exams. One of the seniors paid money to the lab attendant and marked the slides. He passed on the list to his juniors and now I have the list!”
“Doesn’t the professors know?”
“Of course not. The exam slides are kept under lock and key!!!”
“oh like that ah!”
“Still not coming home with me?” He looked at me. I could see the hope in his eyes.
“Not this time Arjun, may be next week”
Arjun left for home around 5pm. He tried at least 2 more times to convince me to follow him home. I refused. I watched his bike leaving and I was relieved when he and his bike disappeared in the evening traffic. I could now peacefully look for someone else. That someone who would make my heart miss a beat by simply looking at me.
I walked inside the canteen and ordered
“bhaiyya, one Torino”
“How is your fever madam” Canteen operator asked
“Oh it is gone. I am better now”
“See I told you. old wisdom! it always works”
“Cheers to that” I lifted my ice cold Torino and said cheers
He looked really pleased to have cured my non existent pyrexia! May be he too was suffering from guilty by association syndrome. Being in the midst of all the medicos, may be even he wanted to be a doctor.
I ordered a plate of egg bhaji, eating it slowly, hoping against hope that he would come.
I waited and waited, after eating two plates of egg bhaji, I could no longer eat anymore. With a heavy heart, I walked back to the hostel.
I saw Caroline standing near the entrance with 2 heavy bags on the floor next to her.”Going home?”
“Yeah, My cousin is getting married. I am going home for a week.”
“Gangamma, Gangamma” Caroline was screaming.
“Yes Ma. coming ma” I watched Gangamma running down the steps. Her saree was wet. She must have been cleaning the wash rooms.
She was struggling to breath when she reached where we were standing.
“Gangamma, help me to carry the bag to the main gate” Caroline pointed the bags to Gangamma and started to walk.
Gangamma took the sling bag and placed the strap on her shoulder. She tried to carry the duffel bag and I could see that it was heavy.
Caroline could have held one end of the handle and help Gangamma to carry it. She didn’t bother.
“Hurry up Gangamma, I will miss the train”
Gangamma turned and looked at me. I could see her eyes. I could see the pain and frustrations in her eyes.
I knew how unfair this was. I knew I had a mouth and could tell Caroline to carry her own bag. But Gangamma still needed this job. She has a asthmatic husband and an alcoholic son at home waiting for her to bring the money, one for medicine and one for the alcohol each day. She needs to work till the last day of her life, because India isn’t a welfare state and people like Gangamma will starve to death if they don’t work.
When your parents are well connected and are in the hospital boards, small fry’s like Gangamma can lose a job in an instant. I wasn’t going to risk the job security Gangamma has right now.
I watched the scrawny body of Gangamma struggling with the bags and trying to keep up with Caroline’s pace, while her wet saree tried to cling on to her feet.
Is it right that an able bodied person, can make someone who is not so strong to carry her bags for few Rs?
Is it right that we as a society justify our actions by making people like Gangamma, who had no chance of gaining an education, who struggles each day to keep the fire burning in their house, carry our bags because we can afford to pay a few Rs as porter charge ?
*Phone booths of my youth didn’t come with the plexi glass booth that offers privacy!