Shalini was looking at her reflection in the huge antique mirror of her exquisite family suite at the Taj Vivanta resort, Goa. The Satya Paul designer saree, a gift from her son Nikhil looked nice on her though she would have much preferred the traditional Maharashtrian Paithani. The makeup was something to match the designer saree and good enough to hide the wrinkles on her face. The jewelry and hairstyle were in sync with the saree and the overall style of the wedding. But all this paraphernalia couldn’t just camouflage the layer of grief on her face. It was just a few hours before Nikhil would take the wedding vows with Natasha. And Shalini was yet not sure if she was happy about it.
She had felt the same way some 10 years ago, when Nikhil had got admission in BITs Pilani for Computer Engineering after his HSC. Everyone in her family was ecstatic but Shalini was the only one anticipating the evident pain of separation with her son. It was Nikhil’s first flight. But was it also the beginning of the drifting apart ??
Nikhil, born five years after Shalini’s marriage had always been an intelligent child. Being the only child, Nikhil got pampered from his father Bhaskar, grandparents, relatives and friends as well. But Shalini very consciously ensured that the pampering did not go to his head. She gave him an honest and balanced upbringing and always taught him to be respectful and considerate of other’s needs. Even Bhaskar was a mature father who explained Nikhil the value of his culture, tradition and family. Together they made sure that Nikhil turned out to be a modest, disciplined and intelligent boy well connected to his roots.
Nikhil excelled in his studies and was one of the merit students in SSC and HSC in Maharashtra board exams and also secured a seat in the prestigious BITS Pilani College. Bhaskar believed that they had good colleges in Nagpur, why to go to Pilani so soon?? Even if Shalini believed it herself, she thought its Nikhil’s life and she should not come in the way of his dreams and ambitions. So Nikhil went to Pilani and both Shalini and Bhaskar bid him good bye with heavy hearts.
The first few months were extremely painful for Shalini, yet she curbed her feelings thinking that Nikhil is happy and pursuing his dreams. When he returned for the first time during vacations, it was like Diwali – the festival of lights and happiness. Shalini spent all the days cooking and feeding Nikhil all his favorite dishes. Nikhil, starved of home food, gorged on it and also took back a bagful of snacks with him to last for a couple of weeks.
A couple of years passed by with similar excited vacations. But later Shalini realized that Nikhil was not happy when he visited. He usually spent his time on internet or working on some assignments. The three four week’s vacations were now short for just 4-5 days and those also were less frequent. Shalini sidetracked her doubts and supported Nikhil thinking that its tough to manage the difficult curriculum. She didn’t push him much now on the phone calls. Even the calls had started to reduce in time and after the initial pleasantries, Shalini realized that Nikhil would get irritated if she asked something trivial about his life, studies or life in general.
After the final year, Shalini thought now Niklhil would at least get good time to spend at home without worrying about studies. But Nikhil was immediately placed in an IT company and had to join work in one week. He didn’t make it to home and Shalini cried for the first time in four years. She felt Nikhil was drifting away from her somehow but she didn’t know how to pull him closer now.
Nikhil’s new job was extremely demanding and being a fresher, he had to give his hundred percent. Shalini wanted to be the emotional support for her son. Yet whenever she called, Nikhil would be irritated and didn’t share anything with Shalini. “Just leave it Aai. You will not understand” was his standard reply. At such times Shalini wanted badly hurt. Yet she kept mum and decided to give him his space. She was somehow hopeful that her son will come back to her when he was in a better state of his mind.
Days changed into months and Nikhil didn’t visit Nagpur for two years. Nikhil was transferred to Singapore now on a long term project. Shalini was proud of his achievements but she was shocked with Nikhil’s changing attitude now. Whenever she talked about coming back to Nagpur, Nikhil would unabashedly say that he doesn’t want to come back there. “What’s there in Nagpur? Its so hot and dusty. Besides, I don’t have any friends left there now. I will get bored. Why don’t you come to Singapore Aai?”
At such times, Shalini felt extremely lonely and abandoned. Why has Nikhil become emotionally distant from her? Was she a bad mother? Has she missed out on her son’s emotional needs and sensibilities? What exactly she missed out? Or it is the same with all the other mothers whose children have high dreams?
She started talking about this with some of her friends and sisters whose children were also learning or working in some other cities. But unfortunately, apart from sharing and crying over the fact for a couple of minutes, anyone couldn’t do anything else in this matter and Shalini was left with dealing with her pain all by herself.
After almost five years that Nikhil shifted to Singapore, he called to inform Shalini that he had found his life partner and wanted to get married. Till now Nikhil had shown total apathy towards getting married and repetitive attempts at asking him about it had failed miserably. So the mere thought of his marriage relaxed Shalini and she didn’t even feel like asking about the girl. Finally she felt happy after a long time and started the preparation with great excitement. She was also hopeful that may be she would establish the broken communication with the help of her daughter-in-law.
But that never happened. Nikhil never arranged for any meeting between his mother and his fiancé Natasha nor did Natasha ever call Shalini. Neither there was any meeting between the two families. Nikhil didn’t want any engagement. Before Shalini and Bhaskar could even start any discussion on the topic, Nikhil declared that it is going to be a destination wedding in Goa at the Taj Vivanta hotel. Even Bhaskar was deeply hurt by Nikhil’s behavior. Bhaskar wanted to have a grand wedding in Nagpur will all of their 500 relatives and guests. But Nikhil had declared “Only 50 people. Not a single more”. The wedding shopping was done partly in Singapore and partly in Mumbai. The little excitement and happiness that Shalini had felt also evaporated when Nikhil didn’t even call her for shopping. He directly told her to do away with their own shopping in Nagpur. It was the most painful day of her life – she couldn’t understand what she had done to not even get a consideration in her own son’s wedding preparation. Heartbroken, frustrated and sad, she somehow dragged the days to the wedding.
Finally it was the day of the wedding. Looking at herself in that antique mirror, she realized the hopelessness of her situation – she had somewhere lost her son. He had become independent and grown his own wings. The small and modest emotions of his parents did not matter to him anymore.
Even while thinking this, she could not fathom where exactly she went wrong. If given a chance, would she change anything in her parenting? She didn’t know the answer. She realized that she has now become an older generation – one with irrelevant values and rusted thinking. The thoughts she had were no more relevant to her son. In the process of holding on to the roots, she had forgotten to grow herself. The designer saree, the make-up, the hairstyle couldn’t hide the modest middleclass Maharashtrian woman looking at her so clearly.
She was a misfit – an outsider. Nikhil did not connect with her emotionally anymore, because even if she loved him so dearly, it was not enough to understand the emotional upheavals and turmoil he had gone through in his formative years. She was not able to support and console him as per his needs and that had driven her away from him.
She could now remember many of the incidences when Nikhil had tried to express and share his experiences and she had dismissed it because she wanted to ask him what he wanted to eat. Even during his vacations at home, when he tried to explain her the various subjects, topics and tests he had to take in his college, she had told him that she doesn’t understand it. She wanted to make up for all of it and talk to her son before his wedding, but she realized that it was too late now.
Finally, she went ahead with the preparations and the events with a sad heart and an artificial smile. Everything was beautiful and perfect and all seemed to be enjoying the wedding except herself. Both Nikhil and Natasha looked beautiful together and when she looked at Nikhil, she could see a beautiful spark in his eyes, filled with love and affection for Natasha, something which he had for Shalini some years ago. She was extremely happy for her son, if he is so happy with this girl, definitely she must be good. Finally, it was time for her to let go of her emotions and attachment to her son and move on in her life.
After five days of festivities and events, it was the day when Nikhil and Natasha were to fly for their honeymoon. Others had already left and it was just the six of them left – Nikhil, Natasha, Bhaskar, Shalini and Natasha’s parents. Shalini went up to Natasha and asked her to take care on the trip and keep in touch. Natasha also smiled back and hugged her and asked her to visit Singapore whenever Shalini was free.
At the airport as Shalini saw Nikhil’s flight take off – she felt a strange sensation in her heart. Her journey of motherhood had not yet completed – the climax was just starting to open. She now had to walk back on the path she had walked so many years ago when Nikhil was born. She now had to start untangling her sentiments from her son. She had to unwind and had to free her son. Just giving wings to her child was not enough, now she had to let him take his own flight. And at the same time she had to learn to just watch from a distance. It was going to be the most difficult test of her motherhood. But she was prepared to try.