Sumi wondered why Maddham had got up so early in the morning. She found him at his laptop, trawling LinkedIn.
“Good morning. This is a surprise, I must say. You did not tell me you are hunting jobs,” she joked.“Morning, darling,” he said, giving her a peck on the cheek. “I just could not sleep. That was all.”
His furrowed brow troubled her. Maddham was carefree by nature, but a caring husband nevertheless. Smoothing a lock of his rumpled hair, she asked what was worrying him.
“Mom and Dad. I was thinking of them. I feel we’ve been very selfish.”
He knew his wife would not dismiss his concerns in a hurry.
They had come to India on a six-month assignment. Life in faraway Amsterdam was all he had dreamt of since he was in school. His parents sent him to England for his graduation, and he had landed a cushy job on campus. He had met Sumi during evening classes for a specialization course. She too had studied in that country right after school, away from home.
|Maddham’s Dad (left) and Mom.
Digital sketches: Harjeet
The two families readily accepted the match.
Sumi had no issue with Maddham’s parents coming to live with them in Amsterdam, where the newly weds worked. Soon Saksham was born, and Ridhi three years later. The children loved having their grandparents around, and life was coasting along fine.
Saksham would soon need to join school, so Maddham seized upon the chance of coming to India for six months. Sumi was anyway on a long sabbatical.
A company-provided flat helped, so the entire family was on an extended India visit.
Last evening, Maddham’s uncle had dropped in with his family. There was some awkwardness initially, because all these years they had met only briefly.
Uncle invited his sister and brother-in-law to stay with them for a week or so. Maddham’s mother was ecstatic, but turned to him enquiringly. “Of course, Mom, any time,” he assured her.
The look of longing on her face stabbed at his heart. She had been huddled cosily all evening next to her brother and sister-in-law, exchanging notes amid peals of laughter and the occasional tear. His Dad also joined in at times, recalling the wonderful family trips they used to go on, sharing an old joke or discussing the way they had tackled a crisis together. Now and then mention of long-lost relatives and friends meandered in and out of the animated conversation.
Maddham’s children took time, but did break the ice with Uncle’s grandchildren. Sumi was busy with the cousins’ wives, arranging dinner and keeping all the children plied with snacks and juice and games. Maddham spent some time with his two cousins, recounting their days at school together. Revisiting his boyhood was good fun.
He found Saksham tugging at his sleeve.
“Dada and Dadi are looking so happy. I have never seen them laugh this way. The uncle with so much white hair is Dadi’s Saksham?” his son asked.
“No, child, you are Saksham,” he smiled.
“I know. I am Saksham and Ridhi is my sister. The same way Dadi is Ridhi and Uncle is Saksham, isn’t it?” the child replied. “See, he loves Dadi like I love Ridhi.”
Maddham was jolted. He had never seen it this way.
Blinded by his love for his parents, he had plucked them out of their milieu. Maybe he was only salving his own conscience. He had assumed that being together, and being with him and his family, would be enough to keep the old ones happy.
They had never complained, but he could see now that they must have missed their siblings and friends, the life they had grown old with. They had not demurred when he asked if they could join him. They were a great help with the children, and he was glad he was around for them in their old age.
He realized now they were out of depth in that community. Sure, they could go for long walks and their health was less of a concern. They shared some moments with other families in the locality, too, but it was not what they had known all their lives. The mirth and joyous recollections he was witnessing here had vanished from their lives abroad. They lived with him and for him, but were not half as happy.
“I was wondering if we could all settle in India for good. Would you mind the change? We can live in an upscale gated community here, send the children to the best school around, and be closer to our families as well,” Maddham suggested as Sumi set out their morning cuppa.
He hesitated a bit, then added: “It should not be difficult for you to find a job too, if you want to, or maybe once Ridhi is two or three years old.”
Sumi stared at her tea going cold in the cup. “You are suggesting that we move here permanently? What about the kids’ education? We are used to an entirely different environment. They will be deprived of all that we’ve enjoyed,” she said mildly.
“It’s just a thought,” Maddham said hastily. “We have enough time,” and left it that.
Two days later, Sumi saw her mother-in-law rifling through a pile of photographs and sundry knick-knacks that her snowy-haired brother had left with her. She smiled. Her father-in-law was looking relaxed, swinging a leg while he watched her from his seat in the alcove.
“Thinking of old days, Mom?” she enquired.
“Yes,” came the reply. “There is so much I have put behind me, but looking at these makes me feel like a child again … Look at these … My eldest brother had bought me this frock. See the shop behind us? That was my parents’ regular haunt. And we had juice and fruit ice-cream at this parlour every day after our engagement,” she said, slanting a look at her husband.
“And this friend and I got married the same month. She lives in the opposite side of town. When she had a granddaughter, I had promised I would call on her, but …” her voice trailed off.
“… instead, you took the plane to join us,” Sumi completed the sentence softly.
“What about this one-legged sailor? Where is his cap?” she asked her mother-in-law.
“My younger sister broke his leg when she was … let me see … five, perhaps. Both of us claimed he was our boyfriend. He was in great demand. How foolish can girls be!” she exclaimed, her cheeks all rosy, her eyes trying to look far into the years gone by. “When I meet her, I’ll ask for his cap. Your father-in-law never tires of teasing me about this boyfriend,” she said coyly.
“You mean I used to tease you.” Dad sounded very sad.
“Yes, um … er … I mean, you used to.”
That night Sumi sat up late, waiting for Maddham to complete his conference call with headquarters. She was slouching, deep in thought, when he turned up finally.
“Not sleepy?” he asked.
“Maddham, we must talk. You were right about us letting down Mom and Dad. I know they won’t say a word when we all head back. For the first time I got a glimpse of their old selves. And I saw today what we can give them if we stay on here.
“I agree. We are young, it’s easy for us to strike new roots or to move on. It is cruel to ask it of them,” Sumi told him.
As if changing the subject, she sat up straight. “Any luck with your LinkedIn search?”
Choking with emotion, Maddham hugged his wife. “We’ll make a go of it, don’t you worry,” he said when he got his voice back. “I just hope when the children grow up they will understand why we did this.”
“They will. After all, they’ll have grown up in India, just like we did!” said Sumi, suddenly very confident. “If not, I’ll make they sure they do,” she dimpled at him.