She envies people who look back at their childhood with nostalgia . For her it is a period that she keeps locked away in the darkest dungeons of her memory. She does revisit it sometimes – To draw lessons from it to teach her children , to empathize with troubled people she meets and sometimes even to gloat over how far she has come in spite of everything that happened. As long as she goes back with a purpose, in charge of her emotions – It is not unpleasant, these peeps into her past. But she hates it when it creeps upon her unexpectedly, catching her unprepared, off guard, throwing open a floodgate of unwanted memories. Like it did today!
He had died.
‘Finally’ she heard herself say and then immediately kicked herself. What kind of a horrendous person says something like that for a dead person? She considered herself to be a compassionate person. Someone who believed in forgetting and forgiving.
She had learned to accept that perfectly normal people do all sorts of horrible things in their lives for whatever reason . She had learned to think of their horrible acts as anomalies and focus on the otherwise usual roles these people played as fathers, brothers, bread winners, husbands and yes even uncles. This was a particularly useful lesson for her to learn because most people who did these horrible things were related to her. They were parents to much loved cousins , trusted siblings to her dad and devoted children to her grand parents. How could she wish evil upon them knowing that anything bad that happens to them will cause grief to everyone she called ‘family’ . So she chose to cut off their ‘ misdeeds’ from them. Looking at those as something they did in another part of their lives. Choosing to believe that now many years later they were no longer accountable for their actions and since she turned out ‘ fine’ no real damage was done.
This may seem magnanimous to an outsider but she knew that it was more an instinct for ‘self preservation’ than anything else. Anger, revenge, acting out, vengeance were not really options, not for her anyway. She was better off believing in forgiving and letting go.
And for many years she did manage fine. Earlier when the wounds were still fresh and she hadn’t yet mastered the control of her feelings she used every possible trick to get out of facing him. Skipping meals when he came to her grandma’s home, lying that she had to meet a friend and spending the day on the road when everyone was expected to visit his place. But with years as her age and maturity increased she became more in control. She was able to sit in the same room as him and in time even to hold polite conversations without showing any outward signs of the squeamishness she felt inside. Over the years she was able to ‘forget’ what happened. His failing health and increasing age made him very different from ‘that’ person who repulsed her. She had managed to cut him off from his past and view him as another cog in her nonfunctional family.
Then came the court case. Even sitting on the opposite side of him in court she always touched his feet and wished him respectfully. She bore him and his family no ill. She chose to believe that his past experiences had scarred him and made him who he was and that it wasn’t personal . Admittedly she did sometimes worry for his daughter – T. T was a beautiful, chubby faced baby hardly an year old when he had adopted her. She was present for the ceremonies. She still remembers the conflicting emotions that had engulfed her 11 year old mind that day. On one side there was relief that she was off the hook now. On another she felt a bit distraught like she was being abandoned again. The idea of being the center of his attention wasn’t a pleasant one and yet maybe it was in some ways better than not having anyone to fuss over her. But as T grew she worried if he would show his love to T in the same way or had that been something that he had reserved only for her.Whenever she met T she was extra watchful for any signs of distress on her face. Once she came upon a teenage T crying – softly into her pillow and she felt like asking her if all was right? But what could she really ask without revealing her own secrets?
So she kept her worries and secrets to herself and had never intended on spilling them until one day when he went personal. Accusing her dad and her of doing something he knew very very well she had not done. She saw him make her dad helpless , saw him team up with ‘ the family’ and mock at them mercilessly. That day she couldn’t hold it in anymore. It came out – a little hysterically , loudly, publicly but anyone who heard it had to know that every word she said was true. Simply because it wasn’t possible for anyone to makeup a sordid tale like that.And yet no one budged. She may as well have been speaking gibberish. No one acknowledged what she had said.
And that was the day it hit her. She need not have kept quiet for so long. She could have said what she felt any day, anytime and nothing would have happened. there would be no repercussions because no one would have cared. Most people have a way of listening to things that are convenient for them to listen to. Her revelations – whether true or false were not convenient and thus best ignored.
She cried for a long time that day. There was nothing very odd in that. She was a girl who was moved to tears quite easily. She cried in movies, She cried when she saw people cry – even random people she saw in hospitals , at funerals or temples. Others sorrows and grief always moved her to tears. But she never cried in front of anyone for herself. Those tears the ones she shed for herself were very private and she shared them with no one. But that day she curled herself in a plastic chair and sobbed publicly. It was as if a dam had broken and nothing could stop the flow .
After that day she stopped touching his feet. She stopped visiting his home and gave up the facade of normalcy. She decided that since no one else was going to side up with the little eight year old girl whose trust he had violated she would have to stand up for her. she decided that she no longer owed anything to him or the ‘family’.
And for five years she kept to that stand. She ignored him in courtrooms and did not make appearances in family gatherings. She didn’t know if it mattered to anybody else but she felt good about making a statement. She felt like at least she was standing up for her eight year old self.
But today when she heard he was no more she gave up. She set aside the little girls hurts and went to visit her aunt (his wife). Her aunt seemed genuinely glad to see her. And she felt satisfied that she had done the ‘right’ thing. She heard silently while her aunt glorified the guy. Heard her talk about how much he had cared for her as a child and how heartbroken he was when she had stopped coming home. She wondered if her worldly wise aunt was really that foolish as to not understand what had happened. Maybe she had genuinely been unaware of what was going on under her very nose all those years back but even she could not have missed what had been said so publicly five years back. But she kept quiet and let her aunt go on. She didn’t want to say anything hurtful to the grieving woman who was mourning her husband of sixty years.
And then as she got up to leave her aunt told her she must bow before his picture and ask for his forgiveness. She! Ask for his forgiveness – Why? What had she done? Who was to ask for his forgiveness ? The eight year old whose hurts were fresh even now more than thirty years later . Or the forty year old woman who had come to pay her respects thinking that It was time to lay the demons to rest and to truly forgive the man at least in death? Every part of her raged at the injustice of it. A million comebacks came to her lips but she bit them back knowing they would only cause hurt to the old woman in front of her.
Instead she bowed her head in front of an ostentatiously garlanded picture of the man.She didn’t pray and she certainly didn’t ask for forgiveness. But she did what she was good at doing. She kept her aunt’s heart.