22nd October 2017, California,USA
Naina stirred the aloo matar curry vigorously, banging the spatula on the edges of the kadhai muttering angrily, 'Why doesn’t this cooking ever end?' She gave a look of disgust over her stained apron, 'I say goodbye to Shubham in this apron and greet him back in this apron. This apron is not just a piece of cloth. It is now my very identity, my existence and how much I hate this.' She sighed.
The kitchen was one place Naina despised but she trudged along for the sake of her husband Shubham and her son Shay.
As she hurried to pour the chai into two cups, she heard a knock on the door. ‘Please open it with your keys Shubham, I am pouring tea,’ Naina shouted from the kitchen window. Shubham fumbled for the keys, his shoulders drooping with exhaustion and the weight of the laptop bag. He entered grumbling, 'Is it too much for you to open the door? I have so many things already in my hand.'
'So, don’t I have so many things too? But I multitask and manage!' quipped Naina.
'Naina, don’t start it again! Your multitasking theory.'
'Oh yes! Shubham, what I say is theory and what you say is practical. You know what, actually whatever you say has to be right, you are the breadwinner of the family and I stay at home…doing nothing,' jabbed Naina.
'Nainaaa, NOT AGAIN PLEASE.' Shubham threw his hand in desperation. He did not want to ruin yet another evening in a talk which only brings sadness, agony, bitterness and hurt. But, he could see it coming. With her, for the past one year it came almost every day, sometime in small portions and sometimes a full-fledged battle. This one was geared to be a war.
The phone rang. Sensing the phone could be the perfect distraction, he handed the phone to her. ‘Mom calling-India’, it flashed. Naina waited for few seconds, took a deep breath, feigned a perky voice and said, 'Hello Maa. What’s happening? Where is Yati?'
'I have just put her to sleep. Today, Pooja will be late. She has an office function and your brother is out of town for work,' said Maa.
'Isn't it late for Pooja to come home? It’s unsafe in Patna. Isn’t it?'
'Oh!, she will come by company car. Her organization takes good care. You tell me? Chai done?'
'Almost, was having it and trying to write a post. I still have lessons to prepare for kids who will come tomorrow.'
'Is Shubham back? What did you cook?'
'Can you not ask me something else? About my writing, my teaching, my talent other than what I cooked or whether I am done with household chores?' screamed Naina silently but what came out instead was, 'Chapatti, baigan bharta and dal palak, sprout salad, what else?'
'That is quite a spread. Good, you have time to do all this. With Pooja being so occupied at work, it’s different. We don't object either. After all, she is working in a good organization, apart from money there is a status symbol attached and you know how your father feels about prestige, status etc.'
'Yes, but she has your support otherwise it would have been difficult. You never came when I delivered Shay all alone here. You were too occupied in getting Bhaiya's marriage materialized. I still remember what you said, “Many matches are coming right now for your brother, if we come during this time, we may lose out on some good ones." What’s the point? Forget it Maa.'
'You can’t be singing the same tune for 4 years Naina. We didn't ask you to go to America. Your father wanted you to be in Bangalore, keep working and it would have given us easy access to you. But you were desperate. The moment Shubham left, you resigned. You didn't even think once about your career, work and our dreams.'
'Maa, I was married to Shubham. He was leaving for 3 years. You expected me to be without him? You shouldn't have me married then. Joining him seemed the most appropriate decision.' Naina tried to defend.
'Anyway Naina, leave all this. You very well know where your decision has brought you. By the way, how many more students joined your Science coaching class?'
'I have 13, two more are joining today. The blog is doing great too. I earned $3000 from Amazon affiliate marketing program this month. Not every decision goes awry, you see Maa. So what if I dumped corporate? I have found my passion and my identity. It’s just that it does not resonate with you and Baba. You take care of Pooja. I will take care of myself. Bye Maa.' Naina sulked swallowing the ocean of tears swarming her eyes. Shivani, her sister, a manager in Punjab National Bank and Pooja her brother’s wife working for ‘Care India’ were less of extended family and more of an adversary for Naina. She was forever pitched against them, measured, gauged and then judged. ‘But I am academically better than them, I have more degrees and brand names in my resume', strutted Naina. Naina avoided talking to them lest she gets to hear from them, 'I am so busy, it is good for you in California at home.'
Naina banged the phone and gave a hurtful look to Shubham. He had now changed into fresh clothes and was sipping tea with worried expression over what transpired between Naina and her mom.
'Fresh clothes, evening tea, what more does one want in life?' The taunt was so clear in her voice.
'What is wrong with you Naina? You can't see me peacefully having chai? You say you left the world for me. Is this what it is?' asked Shubham wearily.
'No, I cannot see anyone peaceful when I am breaking from inside. But why am I even talking to you Shubham? You get everything on the plate for you. Who cares how I slog to make things work for myself? It's been 6 years Shubham and I feel so lost that I wonder if I will ever be able to find myself back?'
'But Naina, you are doing what you can do. You couldn’t work earlier because of visa constraints but now you are trying. I know the steps are not big leaps but …'
Naina cut him right there, 'There are no "but’s" Shubham. A St.Stephens graduate, XLRI MBA and a former 20 lakhs/annum, Regional Marketing head deserves a big leap and not baby steps,' said Naina.
'But there has been a gap,' said Shubham
'Hahaha! Courtesy you,' said Naina acerbically.
'Really Naina?You really think so? What about us? What about love?'
'Love? huh! love rob's, love cheats, love erodes. I was too blind to see what I am sacrificing only to join you here in America. For what? To lose myself, my identity, dreams, career, independence, and my very existence.'
'Did I ever make you feel that you are no one? Did I ever?'
'How does it matter whether you did or didn’t? I know how lost I am and it hurts Shubham,' Naina tried to raise her voice but the rivers brimming in the eyes flooded her throat. She fell on the kitchen floor, holding tightly to the dishwasher handle, tears making tiny pools on the dirty kitchen floor. Shubham sprang to her and took her in his arms.
'You know Shubham, it hurts so much that every time I log in to blogger, my stomach hurts, as if somebody has struck me hard with a knife. Do you know what it means to see 5 pageviews days after days? I hover over the comments section to see if anybody has shown enough interest in my blog post and all I get to see is “nothing to show”. Think of it, I do not even get spam comments. It hurts so much that every time an admin rejects my post, I go all the way begging and cajoling her to not block me. You have no idea how cramped this place is. I don’t know how to find my ground. My degrees, my hard work during youth, I thought, would help me stay afloat all my life, but, alas! It betrayed me when I needed it the most,' lamented Naina.
'I don’t think so? There are ways,' said Shubham
'There is no way. You conveniently came on H1 visa with a young beautiful wife. You got a good job role, the sun kissed California, dollars, and an American life. Ask me what this American life has cost me?' Naina looked at him accusingly.
'But it was your decision? Isn’t it?' said Shubham
'Oh! so you didn’t want me to join you post wedding?' her eyes dilated.
'I never said that. All that I am saying is that you wanted it and I supported you.' Shubham clarified.
'Yes Shubham, I wanted it. I wanted to be with you. It mattered so much to me. Isn't is strange? It took me 30 seconds to draft my resignation letter. It's strange how ambitious, talented, knowledgeable, smart young women do not give a thought before dumping their job just to be with their husband. I for sure was one of those stupid women, and see where I am?' said Naina bitterly.
'Where are you Naina?' Shubham asked.
'I am hanging, lifeless. Tears rolled down again her already wet cheeks. The wishlist on Amazon keeps increasing as I wonder the day I will be able to purchase? I am on Facebook under the name Naina Shubham Singh, so that no one gets to know Naina Singh and her plight. My dilemma is what to write in the bio section? Working at? Nowhere? My parents choose not to talk to me because they are disappointed in me. They do not respect my choices. My neighbor broils me with envy because she comes home every evening from work, exhausted and drained but resplendent with satisfaction and pride. I lie to her that I am work from home HR professional, I have 15 children whom I coach in Science and a paid writer who has a series of invitations pending. I lie to your father whenever he asks me ‘how many more students joined? Each day the same question, I increase one student in every call. I evade potluck lunch, Diwali parties because I must live my lie of being a working mom. Sometimes, when someone knocks at the door, I immediately open my laptop, throw some papers around and transform my expression to suit the lie. Once the door closes, I crash on the floor repulsed by my own game, huh! Funny no? I have an approved Google Adsense account with 2 dollars and an Amazon affiliate account at zero balance for the past one year. Every moment my mind is wondering, doubting, thinking: Do people not read? Do they not click on the Amazon banner? Do they not shop online? Is my timing of post wrong? How others are doing it? It will drive me insane Shubham,' sobbed Naina, crouching in Shubham’s arms, holding onto him tight, wetting his shirt with her truth.
This was worse than Shubham expected. He had squabbles with Naina before, but today she seemed truly broken. He wasn’t aware of the lie she was living. He wasn’t aware that the hurt was so deep now. He thought to bring in a different perspective.
'Naina, but look at all the good you have. Shay, our son, our biggest blessing, this house, this life, we together…isn’t it good enough?'
'Good enough? No!' Naina screamed fighting the phlegm oozing out of her nose. She smashed the chai cup on the floor leaving Shubham shocked, scared, and helpless. This, guess was the final nail in the coffin and now she had to be taken to a therapist to treat for her depression. She had been off and on pills but this required more than pills. Naina was as shattered from inside as the cup which lay broken on the floor, with some pieces under the heavy refrigerator, never to be recovered unless the refrigerator moved.
Few seconds later, Shay knocked at the door, 'Maaaaa, I want water,' Shay chirped in his singalong voice. Naina, wiped her eyes, gathered herself and rushed to open the door. Shay stood there drenched in sweat. Her little wonder, Shay was to turn 5 this December. He drank water and ran out to play with his friends.
Shubham held her close to his chest, 'Look at him. Isn't he a blessing? There is so much happening in the world which is so wrong. Are we not…'
Naina extricated herself from his arms, looked at him with fire in her eyes and retorted, 'No! we are not blessed. The ISIS might be destroying the world, people are shooting each other down, but I don’t care. It's good for you to come back to Shay after a productive day spent at work. I know the feeling Shubham. I worked in a high flying corporate career for 10 years. I exactly know how it feels. I stay with Shay all day and trust me, I feel like running away.'
The phone rang and Shubham signaled Naina to be quiet. His manager from Chicago wanted him to join for an urgent concall. Silence followed.
'Have your dinner Shubham. You look so tired,' said Naina worriedly.
'Yes, I do. What to do Nainu? I have been sent here to…'
Naina interrupted him, 'Shubham, come to bed on time. Had I been working things would have been different. Back then it wasn't about the work. It was about you. I didn't think twice,' mumbled Naina.
'I know it. I respect it. I was a party to that decision too,' added Shubham.
'Huh! come soon,' and Naina left.
11:00 pm, Facebook.
Moms of India group. Message for Naina Shubham Singh – “Dear Pallavi, Naina is our life coach and she will answer you query.”
Naina read the question and trembled…
Pallavi - 'Being a stay at home mom is a curse. I do such a thankless job. Now after 8 years no organization is ready to give me a break. I feel so depressed. No wonder people don’t respect me. Nothing gives me happiness anymore.'
Naina stared at the words and shivered. A series of supporting comments came from other women. Some called the existence a mere survival, some slavery, some bondage, and some imprisonment for lifetime.
Naina had to write, respond. She went to put Shay to bed who had fallen asleep in her arms, sat in the dark corner of the bedroom, and started typing.
I write to you because you are dearest to me. I hear you and I want to tell you that you are a brave woman. To pull each day, when the inside is so broken, is sheer strength and courage. It’s okay if people get disappointed with you when you try living your choice. It shows that their agenda and your agenda is not aligned. Let them be. People who truly care for you, who genuinely want you to rise and shine, will not be disappointed. They are going to be okay if you say you chose to be a Stay-At-Home-Mom, you feel happy nurturing your home and nourishing your family, you have 5-page views and 2 dollars…for they know you are doing your best, they want to see you happy. I want you to respect yourself and give yourself ACCEPTANCE. The world will not be kind to you unless you are kind to yourself. You are deeply affected by what others think about you. Why do you put yourself through such torture? What others think about you is not your problem. Whether you become a celebrity or someone worth a pity, people HAVE and WILL always talk. To write the story of your life with words carelessly gossiped by others is disrespecting yourself. Don't!
The choices you make in your life comes at a price. There wasn’t a choice that was ever made without a price tag on it. A working mom pays the price much the same way a Stay-at-Home-Mom does. OWN YOUR CHOICES AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE CHOICE. You cannot accept the choice and reject the price. And sometimes, you may land up making wrong choices. So, what? Its life and things happen. Life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set. How long will you let this war within destroy you and your family? You have been dead for few years now. Start living. We all have a short stay, so short that you cannot waste it on ‘others’ and life obstructing emotions. There wasn't a problem ever which doesn't carry an inherent solution. You have to find the solution, YOUR SOLUTION that works for YOUR life. Naina, it is your journey, your questions, your dilemmas, your despair and YOUR ANSWERS TO YOURSELF AND NOBODY ELSE. Lastly, don’t forget, while many were shot in the Vegas shootout, not a single bullet hit you or your family. Be thankful.
Naina pressed the submit button and logged off.
Naina logged in, still groggy with sleep, to see if Pallavi had responded. She had indeed. Naina clicked.
Pallavi - Thank you so much for writing to me. Your words are a solace to an aching heart. I feel better. Just a thing though, my name is Pallavi. You kept writing Naina. It seemed you were writing to someone else. May be typo error. Thanks anyway :)
Naina rubbed her eyes, and typed, Glad to know you are feeling better. Really? Ummmm...No, it wasn’t a typo error.
Naina looked at the morning rays filling her senses with the hope she had infused in herself.