In the silent room, suddenly the loud ringing of the phone could be heard. It was strange to still have a telephone in times of cell phones and skype chats and what not, but Mr. Awasthi and his wife were creatures of old habits and traditions.
Mrs. Awasthi turned down the gas to a simmer, left the kettle boiling and went up to answer the phone.
The voice on the phone said something, and suddenly Mrs. Awasthi looked at the phone receiver and burst out in tears. And that’s how Mr. Awasthi found her 5 minutes later. He expected the worst!
“What is it, who called? Was it from the Army?”
A voice brimming with tears answered ‘Yes’. Mr. Awasthi thought his worst fears had come true. His young son….he couldn’t even finish the thought in his head.
At the same time Mrs. Awasthi thought back to the day when she had given in to her son’s choice after days of fighting. He had wanted to enlist since he was 18, she had convinced him to wait, but to no avail. Her crying, her blackmail… nothing had worked. His response had been the same every single time … “Ma, if every mother thinks like this, whose kid will go out and fight in the army… someone has to do it, might as well be someone who wants to …. Like me!”
And so resolute in his beliefs, supported by his father, he had gone ahead to take the profession with open arms.
Suddenly they heard a loud whistling sound coming from the kitchen. It was the kettle. Mrs. Awasthi rushed to the kitchen and turned the gas knob off. Mr. Awasthi entered behind her, still bearing the same grief stricken look… “Did they tell us how he…how he…how…” He couldn’t just complete the sentence.
Mrs. Awasthi suddenly realised what her husband was implying and slapped a hand on her face. ‘Oh my god, are you mad… don’t complete the sentence, God forbid may that never come true till the time I am alive, Arun is fine. Just fine! He was the one who called!!”
“What, then why the hell were you crying, can you believe what thoughts went through my mind in the last 5 minutes alone, why the hell were you crying?” He shouted.
And Mrs. Awasthi just broke down and said ‘because he told me one of his friends did pass away. And they were going to that guy’s family to give his belongings to his parents, and I… I…. I…”
“I was bloody happy that at least it was not my son. I was glad that if someone died, at least it was not me bearing the pain…. How sick am I!! That is why I was crying… because I was glad at another mother’s greatest loss… I was Glad Ajay, I was glad!” And saying this she burst out crying again.
Mr. Awasthi just held her and rocked her as she cried, too stunned to speak, because he knew, that what she was feeling guilty about was not that new to his own thought process….
Years later, when Mrs. Awasthi actually got the dreaded call, he broke down and cried. The whole family gathered for the funeral rites and there was not a single dry eye in the room, except for Mrs. Awasthi.
She felt that she had cried for all those mothers before, tears of sadness, guilt and in parts relief. She felt, she no longer had the right to cry those tears of sadness any more. And so she stood, silently watching the proceedings, and hoping in her heart that her son may forgive her selfishness in afterlife, just like he had done so when he was alive.
She could still hear the words “I don’t blame you Ma for loving me so much and wanting me to stay safe, but I am still going to do this…. After all you were the one who taught me the value of responsibility and following my heart …. And it’s ok to be selfish Ma…. I love you forever, but I am going to do this!”
And done he had…. Done he had!