A short story I’d written some time ago:
Twenty year old Piya was troubled when she picked up the phone to call her best friend, Ramya Thiyagarajan. She knew she was in for a scolding as soon as Ramya knows what she was up to the past whole week. Piya herself wasn’t proud of what she’d done, but it probably needed to be done anyways.
“Hello?” Ramya’s aunt had picked up the call.
“Hello aunty, how are you?” she was a nice lady and Piya respected her a lot.
“Am fine, beta.”
“Aunty, is Ramya there?” Piya asked with a pounding heart, the feeling of dread returning to her.
“Oh, you didn’t call the past whole week. Ramya was hospitalized –“
“Yes, but she’s fine now. She’s been discharged a few minutes ago.”
“Am coming immediately, aunty,” Piya barely finished her sentence before banging the receiver and dashing out the door. She made a record time and reached by her best friend’s side in just 20 minutes!
Approaching the bed-ridden Ramya who looked quite pale and weak, Piya felt very bad.
“I’m so sorry I didn’t call you the past whole week,” Piya burst out apologetically, but Ramya flashed a forgiving smile.
“It’s okay. Come, sit. I’ve so much to share with you!” She suddenly had that peculiar spark in her eye which both of them shared when they saw each other every time.
“First tell me what happened—“ Piya asked concerned, but Ramya cut her impatiently as she declared in an excited voice:
“WHAT!!” Suddenly a lot of emotions flashed on Piya’s face, and Ramya jumped with excitement with whatever energy she could muster at the moment. The first emotion of shock that Piya felt was soon replaced with extreme joy as she also joined the little jiggle.
“Wow, Ramya, when did this happen?”
“A week ago. I’d have called you, but I didn’t want to miss this reaction of yours for the whole world!”
“And you couldn’t control your excitement enough to keep yourself out of the hospital?”
“Ah, I only wanted to lose some weight before my marriage,” Ramya explained.
“Some??” Piya looked her up and down.
“Yeah, yeah,” Ramya acknowledged the fact that she’d lost a lot of weight. “By the time I was done with my dieting, I couldn’t digest anything anymore – I had even started throwing up water, if I consumed some.”
“Ramya, there are limits to do anything!” Piya burst out irritably. “What did I tell you about NOT starving yourself in the name of dieting? That’s not going to fetch you anything except a hospital bed.”
“I know that, but this was important. I’ll only get married once, you know?” Then trembling with excitement again, she pointed to a photograph of hers on the side-table. “See that photo? That’s the picture the boy had seen before deciding to marry me.”
“Wow, Ramya, this is fantastic! You look like a heroin here!”
“He says he liked my teeth a lot.”
Suddenly the smile disappeared from Piya’s face. “Your teeth?” she asked skeptically. It was difficult for Piya to understand the attraction here. “Is he going to make a Jurassic Park movie?” and she immediately received a playful smack from Ramya.
“He says they’re like pearls in a necklace,” she explained.
“Really?!” Piya shot an astonished glance at the photograph again.
“Right?” Ramya agreed with her friend. “And we thought we were both ugly ducklings that nobody would like!”
“I’m happy that at least you are proved wrong!”
“Don’t worry; you’ll get your prince charming as well, some day.” Then remembering what Piya had said about her teeth, she teased, “But I’m going to tell him what you said about my teeth.”
“Oh, please don’t, or he’ll bust mine out with a punch.”
“Then I’ll give you mine, so he’ll have to make do with dentures,” and they shared a naughty giggle.
“Ah, but I must admit: there’s no telling what people may like these days! Tomorrow he’ll like your snout!”
“Oh, he already does like my nose.”
“I said snot, not snout,” Piya teased and stole out of Ramya’s reach before it was too late.
“But you didn’t tell me what he does?” Piya demanded. “You have his picture?”
Ramya immediately produced his photograph from under her pillow, and then shot a coy smile at Piya’s raised eyebrow.
“I see that you’ve met him?”
“I knew you’d guess that!”
“Of course, I would! What with feeling shy, keeping his photograph under your pillow and all, huh? Total filmy you’ve become girl!” But as soon as Piya cast a glance at the boy’s photograph, she became stunned.
“My God, you’ve caught yourself a hunk!” she declared. “What’s he doing with an ugly duckling like you?”
“See? My point exactly!” Ramya emphasized. “It’s not the looks that attract people; it’s who you are, and how you behave with others that does the trick. He first liked this photograph of mine, but we both know that I’m not that beautiful. But when he met me, he liked me more.”
“Hmm. You are a lovable person…” Piya reflected darkly… more than what was called for at the moment, and Ramya caught it instantly.
“What’s up with you? And where were you the past whole week? I was literally dying to see you with all this news-n-al!”
Piya quietly took a seat, so she wouldn’t have to look into the non-flickering gaze of her best friend, and then replied in a small voice: “I’d run away from home.”
“WHAT??!” Ramya looked more shocked than Piya earlier was. “And why would you do that?”
“You know how my Dad is, don’t you? You know I’d stopped eating in HIS house, expending HIS money n’ al…”
Ramya nodded darkly, bursting to know more.
Piya looked up with a hurt expression. “You know, he hadn’t even noticed that I wasn’t having meals with him!” and her voice clouded with emotion. Ramya was witness to the past many days that Piya had been earning her supper by winning bets with strangers. Piya continued, “So what’s the point of living under one roof?”
“But Piya, your Mom?”
Piya looked up again. “She’s the reason I returned back home.”
“I remember your mother calling me the other day. I couldn’t understand the purpose back then. But now I do. She did sound worried. Back then, I didn’t know you’d done this kand at home!”
“Before leaving, I’d told them I won’t be going to any relative or friend, so not to worry about their name being tainted. They could hide my absence with some story for as long as they wanted. As it is, we don’t have any neighbours – it’s all wilderness for 1 sq. kilometer around our house.”
“But then where did you go?”
“Where else? The wilderness around my house provided me shelter. That way, I could keep an eye on my family members as well. My brother tried to search for me, but I hid myself well. My Dad was toh cool – it was as if he thought that if I’ve taken the decision, then I’ll be responsible for the consequences. And he can’t be bothered with it. But my Mom was going crazy. I can’t forget her eyes, you know? They were so full of dread for me,” and Piya’s eyes brimmed with tears.
“So you know what you did was wrong, don’t you?” Ramya asked steadfastly. Piya only nodded without a word, still crying silently. So, Ramya continued, “But I’m proud of you for returning back home. I know that you’re a person who sticks to her decisions, no matter what. But you did change it for your mother, didn’t you?”
Piya nodded again, and then looked up. “As the sun set on the horizon, my mother became hysteric. So, I dropped my stubbornness and returned home.” She cried some more, then continued, “I haven’t talked to a single soul in the past one week and I still don’t know whether my father has noticed it. I’m starting to wonder whether I matter to him anymore or not.”
“And so, you holed up?”
“I wasn’t feeling like talking to anyone, and I was afraid you’d give me a nice whack.” Saying so, she gave a spurt of laughter through teary eyes and Ramya smiled back.
“Come, I’ll cheer you up. Let’s go shopping! YAY!”
“No ways!” Piya revolted. “You’ve become so weak; I’m not letting you get out of bed.”
“Oh, come on!” Ramya squealed irritably. “My marriage is in Chennai and I can’t get stylish sandals there. My only hope is Pune, and I’m leaving from here tomorrow –“
“WHAT!! So soon?” Piya forgot all about everything else now.
“Yeah. So now you know why I have to do the shopping today itself?”
“What if I do the shopping for you and you rest?” Piya offered.
“Did you look at my feet? They’re so crooked. Even the salesmen can’t imagine a good fit for me! I’ll have to go along. Moreover, my Mom has come to Pune –“
“Oh, wow! So, finally I get to meet her. Shouldn’t I go, say ‘hi’?”
“Ah, she’s not here at present, but she’d be home anytime now. Once she arrives, she won’t let me go anywhere. So, let’s hurry, and we could be back home before she arrives.”
So, the girls went out for shopping. But Ramya didn’t like any of the sandals she tried on. Moreover, she also lost her strength quickly, and they couldn’t cover all the shops in this trip. So, they decided to scour the remaining shops in the evening.
Once back to pavilion, Piya became overjoyed to see Ramya’s mother for the first time. But oddly enough, Ramya’s Mom neither responded to her greeting, nor to her friendly smile! She simply grabbed Ramya’s wrist and dragged her into one room. Astonished, yet silent, Piya followed.
“Where were you two?” her mother looked angry, and Piya immediately apologized.
“I’m sorry, aunty, I know she was weak and I shouldn’t have—“
“I said, ‘Where were you two?’” her mother cut-in coldly.
“Shopping…” Piya replied in a small voice.
“DON’T LIE TO ME!” suddenly Mrs. Thiyagarajan screamed, and Piya jumped with fear.
“Why would she lie to you, Mom?” Ramya jumped in to defend her best friend. “We’d gone to purchase sandals for me.”
“Then where are the sandals?”
“We didn’t like any!” was the simple and truthful reply.
“I know what you’ve been up to,” her mother declared confidently, and the two girls were mesmerized. She looked straight in Ramya’s eyes and accused, “You have a boyfriend here, and this girl is his messenger. No wonder, as soon as she came with his message, you went out to meet him!”
And the girls were rendered dumbfounded. They didn’t know whether to laugh at this accusation, or to defend their stands. The room suddenly became silent for the next few agonizing moments.
“She’s not a messenger, Mom, she’s my best friend!” Ramya spoke in a convincing tone.
“Best friend, huh? Then why didn’t I see her the past whole week?”
“Oh, come on! Just because she didn’t come meet me, doesn’t mean that she isn’t my friend! She has a life of her own as well, you know?”
“Ramya, I’m warning you. If you create any trouble in this marriage, I won’t ever forgive you!”
Ramya now smiled unbelievably. “Mom, I’m trying to—“
“Don’t you LIE to me!” her mother boomed again and Ramya rebelled.
“Okay. I have a boyfriend,” she spoke arrogantly now, and Piya interrupted.
“Ramya, why are you –“
“I KNEW IT!” her mother suddenly squealed triumphantly and Ramya simmered inside.
“So. What are you going to do about it now?” she challenged.
Piya was shocked. “Why are you being so disrespectful to your mother?”
“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. She thinks I’m a rotten apple, so be it!”
But her mother wasn’t listening. “You keep quiet!” she commanded Piya and Ramya fumed.
“DON’T insult my friend!”
And while the mother and daughter were fighting, Piya stood feeling stupid. She wanted to go far-far away from this place and leave the family quarrel confined to the family limits. But while Ramya’s mother commanded her to get out, Ramya held her by her wrist, insisting her not to go.
“She isn’t leaving, Mom. Period! She hasn’t done anything wrong and so, you’ve no right—“
“Just look at your manners! You’ve not only become snappish, you’re telling me what right I have, and what not! So, even if she’s your friend, this girl is a real bad influence, Ramya. I forbid you from seeing her anymore.”
“I said, don’t—“ Ramya squirmed with extreme irritation at her mother’s consistent insulting verbal abuse toward her friend. But then, she became resolutely stubborn. “I’m inviting her to Chennai. You hear that?” But a chance glance at Piya, and Ramya suddenly stopped short. “You’re not coming, are you?” she asked as if hit with a blast of hot steam.
“I don’t want her to come there!” her mother was firm on her stand. “…Unnecessarily bring your boyfriend there, and create trouble in your marriage.” But her mother’s blabbering was falling on deaf ears, as the girls’ eyes had locked with each other for a long while.
“Oh, please don’t do that, Piya,” Ramya pleaded, as Piya cast a silent, fretful glance at her mother. “Don’t mind her; she’s just angry and confused right now. I promise, she isn’t like this all the time,” Ramya tried to put in a good word for her mother, just so her best friend wouldn’t retreat into obscurity like a true cancerian. Especially with the current turmoil in her personal life, Piya only had Ramya to talk to, and Ramya knew that very well. And she didn’t want Piya to think that she was left alone in the world. The past eight months that they’d spent together, they knew that they didn’t have any other friend… or boyfriend (!) for that matter. And even if they had, with the amount of time that they spent with each other, any other ties were long severed beyond repair. Ramya already had that foreboding that she was leaving Piya and going away to be married. But this was not how she’d imagined to part ways – especially with the recent development in Piya’s life! This was the time Ramya would’ve become the strong support, and would’ve pulled her best friend out of her misery and depression. But life’s a bitch that will bite you just when you’ve fallen down.
This thought made every cell in Ramya’s body catch on fire and she rushed out of the room, dragging Piya behind her. Her mother was still talking when this happened, and she was rendered speechless. She couldn’t believe that her daughter just walked out on her, while she was talking!
But outside the house, Ramya stopped and faced Piya. Holding her by her shoulders, Ramya shook her slightly and asked, “I’ll always be your friend. You know that, right?”
But Piya had dug her chin in her chest, desperately trying to fight back her tears. She also strained to hear her friend over the din that her mother now created.
“No matter how rough the tide is, you’ll sail it through,” Ramya commanded. “Promise me that! You promise?” Piya only nodded without looking up.
“Look into my eyes and promise me!” Ramya nudged her friend’s chin up. She could see her friend’s eyes brimming, but Piya remained silent. “If ever you feel like doing anything stupid; if you can’t manage it on your own and need to see me, you come to Port Blair. You hear me? The capital of Andaman and Nicobar islands. My would-be is the industrialist son of the political leader there. He belongs to the family of political leaders like the Gandhis here in India. Generation after generation, their family has served the local people there. You can’t miss them. Will you remember all that?”
By this time, Ramya’s mother had reached the duo. She forcefully tore them apart and showed a finger to the ‘bad-influence’ girl. “Get out! And don’t ever show your face around here again!” she scolded Piya belligerently. Then turning to Ramya, she commanded, “You! Come inside now.”
This way, the best friends parted ways and were lost forever in the hustle-n-bustle of the city.
The questions that arise here are:
Is trusting your kids too much is bad, or distrusting them altogether is?
Is it necessary that kids living in a city away from parents always land in bad company?
Are we looking into our kids’ lives enough, or are we overdoing it?
Are we really ‘observing’ them? Or are we content with our jobs, our lives and our baseless assumptions?