“Why? That’s what I’ve been asking you since ages! Why did you feel faint? Look, I know it troubled you Naina, there’s no hiding it. You’ve always swept the issue under the carpet. It’s not going to work anymore, alright? You need to start dealing with this”, said mom in one breath. Nandita had told her that I had looked pretty ill during the workshop, and that had really perturbed her.
I sighed again, “Look mom, I don’t know how to convince you, okay? But all I have to say is that I’m fine. And nothing happened in the workshop”
“Well you can’t convince me. So you might as well can stop trying. You’re coming to the meetings with me and that’s final” she said it with a finality that scared me.
“No buts. You’ve avoided this for a long time Naina, you can’t find your way around the problem this time. Face it”
I stared at her strict face and saw a glimpse of fear beyond the strictness. I knew that she was extremely scared when it came to alcoholism and me, she always feared that I might end up getting addicted to alcohol too. And in spite of having discussed this many times, she knew that somewhere, I still hadn’t coped with the past.
Struggling to control my disappointment, I softly nodded, mumbled something like, “Be back in an hour” and walked out of the house. I needed some time alone, some time to think about this mess. Without thinking, I got into my car and made my way towards my favorite chai stall. That chai stall is like my sacred little place. When everything seems screwed, that stall is something I can always hang on to.
Nandita glanced at her mom, she looked tired and exhausted. She knew it wasn’t because of work, it was because she was tired of living in a dead relationship. Dead, because neither of her parents seemed willing enough to breath any life into it. Her dad didn’t look any better. He kept pinching the bridge of his nose between his eyes every now and then.
There was pin drop silence in the dining room, it almost felt like a crime to utter even a single word. Apart from the occasional sound of the cutlery clinking now and then, there was nothing to be heard. Dinner at Nandita’s place was generally a silent affair, and the silence wasn’t comfortable. It was killing.
A sudden wave of rage washed through Nandita and she put her fork down with a loud bang. Her mother looked up from her plate, startled, “What’s wrong Nandita? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Terrific. Does that make you happy?” replied Nandita in a tone dripping with sarcasm. She was fighting to control her rage.
Her mother, taken aback by her sudden outburst, sat upright in her chair and stared at Nandita for a moment, “Nandita, Is everything-”
“Shut up! Okay? Both of you, just – just cut the ‘We’re fine’ act, alright? I’m bloody sick and tired of watching you two wishing nothing more than to strangle each other, day in and day out! Am I even visible to either of you? Do I exist in your life? Or maybe feeding is what parents’ responsibilities are limited to. Right?”Nandita had now stood up, with her arms by her side, heaving. Her fingers were tightly curled into fists and tears brimmed in her eyes. Her parents, now completely shocked at their daughter’s outburst, were finding it hard to say anything. After a moment had passed, her dad stood up from his chair and walked towards Nandita, “Beta, listen to me-”
“Dont ‘beta’ me!” she yelled and moved a step back, “You have no idea what I’ve been going through all these months. There was a time when I contemplated running away from this hell! But why would you notice? You were too busy biting each other’s heads off!”
“Nandita, you’re misunderstanding us beta, we’re fine-” started her mother, but was again cut off by Nandita.
“NOTHING’S FINE!” hollered Nandita. She had completely lost control of herself now. All the emotions that she had bottled up inside, everything that she had always wanted to say but couldn’t, was now coming out with an unstoppable force that had engulfed her completely, “No bloody thing is fine! If you think I’m blind, or stupid enough to believe that lie then I’m sorry to inform you that you’re mistaken!”
“Well what do you want from us then?” yelled Nandita’s father, now having lost his temper too.
“That’s not the way Rajeev-” started her mother, only to be interrupted by Nandita again.
“Go get a goddamned divorce if it’s so hard for you to live together!” shouted Nandita, and clapped her hands together, as if doing Namaste, “And for god’s sake, spare me this misery!”
And with that, she turned on her heel and stormed out of the room, tears running down her cheeks.
“Kyun boss? Ek chai ke paise kab se bad gaye?” I asked in the typical hindi flare. These people, in spite of being strangers, seemed close. The shopkeeper, the chai wala kid, the usual hustle-bustle of crowd, the paan-wale uncle – they were all people who gave me company when I felt sad and depressed, even if they did it unknowingly. For someone like me, someone for whom the word ‘friend’ was synonymous only with Nandita, this company was like heaven.
“Kya kare madam, aate-daal ka bhaav jabse sarkar ne badaya hai, paise ki haye haye samjho roj ka chakkar hai” replied the little kid who usually served as the ‘waiter’. I smiled and said, “Bhartiya sarkar hai, paise badaane ke alaawa aur kuchh kar bhi sakti hai?”
And we all shared a good laugh about the Indian government. It had been one hour since I came here, and as per my word, I should head back home now. But mom knows better, she knows that I won’t return for another hour or so. Smiling, I took my cup of tea and walked back to my car. Unlike other customers, I liked to have tea in my car itself.
I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to wander back to the one Alateen meeting that I had attended last year. My mother was a frequent visitor of the AA and Al-Anon meetings, and she had dragged me with her one day. Sitting in that group, and listening to people share their painful memories did give some solace. To know that perhaps you’re not alone in the world, is a great feeling to have, but that one meeting also brought back harsh memories. Memories that haunt me every time I discuss anything alcoholism related. I knew that it was my drawback, because I had never faced it head on, it always threw me off my balance when I no option but to face it.
I had outright refused to attend another one of those after that day. But now, I was being made to go to those meetings again. It was a good solution in the long run, and maybe I would start to enjoy them after a while, but it was the initial stage that bothered me. I didn’t want to go through that again.
As I opened my eyes, my mom’s words echoed in my mind, Let others in Naina, break your wall, and see how many others are exactly like you...