He was silent for a while as he absentmindedly caressed the back of her hand with his thumb, “After I dropped you home, I came back here still furious with you,” his shoulders sagged, “I was terribly restless and agitated, I was unable to sleep or even lie down, and the apprehension what if you were right, what if I was wrong, grew larger and larger till I couldn’t bear it anymore,” he paused but continued to hold her hand much like a drowning man clutches a lifeline, “so I dug out the bundle of unopened letters from Mother,” his throat worked rapidly, Poo handed him the glass of water.
He drank some and continued doggedly, determined to unburden himself, “All these years she wrote to me but I never opened a single one believing them to be full of lies, recriminations and demand for something or the other but now as I read them,” he buried his face in his hands, “there was nothing of the sort,” he said in an indistinct voice, “Ma had just placed her side of the story, no accusations, no blame game, no reproaches, just the facts,” he rubbed his wet eyes.
“You were right,” his voice was muffled as he sat hunched his hands over his mouth, “it was his drinking that cost him his job, she had to work houses, do menial work even though she was educated, to keep the kitchen running, it was only later that she started taking home tuition which was more paying and less degrading,” he paused and raised his eyes to look at her, “Remember I told you she hit him with a rolling pin?”
His lips twisted, “That was because she had caught him trying to steal my scholarship money to pay for his alcohol,” he shook his head, “the whole night I was up reading her letters,” he swallowed, “crying like a baby,” he admitted painfully as if determined not to spare himself even the slightest bit, “I don’t know where she got the strength to accept my rejection when all her life she had only one goal one aim, to make my life easy, even if it meant making herself the villain, even if it meant throwing me out of the house, taking care of the ill-wasted man who had made her life a living hell,” tears were openly unashamedly streaming down his cheeks, “I who loved my Father, visited him only a couple of times while he was in the hospital and she? She who had every reason to detest him, hate him was constantly by her side, how did she do it?” He said in wonder, self-loathing dripping from his face.
Poo raised her hand and wiped his cheeks, “Shhh,” she soothed even as tears rained down her cheeks, “It’s ok Aman, please don’t do this to yourself, please just let’s drop this shall we?” she pleaded.
“Nahi,” he said fiercely, “bolne do mujhe please, I need to say it, I finally fell asleep over the letters in the early hours of the day and only woke up when the maid rang the bell,” he shook his head, “I was a mess, my eyes were bloodshot, my throat raw and I was running a temperature. I was desperate to meet Mother, but what could I say – sorry?” he laughed bitterly, “Sorry? Could I ever compensate for all the agony she must have had to bear all these years, alone, misunderstood, reviled and spurned by her own son?” he heaved a deep sigh, “Yet I couldn’t stay away, I drove like a madman to her place, worried that I might be too late, I didn’t even know if she was still staying where I had made arrangements for her stay, fear clutched me as I rang the bell, what if she threw me out, refused to listen to me – what would I do? And even if she didn’t what could I possibly say to her?”
He paused, “The door swung open, I could just stand and stare at her, I managed to utter a feeble ‘Ma’ and do you know what she did?” he looked at Poo wonderingly, “she immediately reached out to hug me, as if I was a little boy in need of consolation, as if I was the one who was hurt!” he said incredulously.
Poo swallowed and smiled shakily, “Ma hai na, nothing is more important to her than her child’s happiness even if it is at the cost of her own life.”
Aman shook his head, “I cannot understand how you do it! How can you be so forgiving accepting? I even asked my mother why she didn’t leave my father when he began drinking, she just shrugged, ‘kahan jaati tumko lekar? No doubt I hated the fact that he had lost all hope, become so frustrated as to take to drink but even though he was weak, he was basically a good and kind person and I loved him, so how could I leave him, what would happen to him, who would look after him?’
“Amazing isn’t it?” Aman shook his head incredulously, “And there is more, I asked her why she didn’t tell me earlier, why she started writing to me only after Father passed away? Do you know what she said?” Aman asked Poo.
Poo shook her head dumbly.
“She said that she didn’t want to destroy my illusions, she knew I loved my father and to know that my idol was less than anything I thought would destroy me, so she let me think that she was the one at fault, anger she said would allow me to go farther than the truth would.”
There was silence and then hesitantly Poo asked, “Then why did she start writing to you?”
Aman sighed, “Earlier I had run away from home and I would just visit my Father once in a while never bothering to visit her, I even offered to house him but without Mother, which he refused. So I bought a flat for them and then when he fell ill, I used to visit him at the hospital, and that is when I met Mother after decades, all the bitterness and anger came rushing back and I avoided going there,” Aman said in tired depressed tones, “Mother and Father talked it out and in a rare moment of lucidity Father bade her tell me the truth after he was gone,” his lips twisted, “and she agreed because she too thought that now there was no need for the anger as a driving force and the bitterness wasn’t good for me,” he gave a hollow laugh.
Aman exhaled and leaned back against the couch as if exhausted from the confession.
Poo rose and went to the kitchen. She returned in a while with a fresh pot of tea, “I am glad you brought your mother to stay with you,” Poo handed him a cup.
Aman shook his head, “Oh it wasn’t easy, I stayed with her till I convinced her to come and stay with me, that’s why I had to take leave and then you went off to Anjali Di’s place,” he said accusingly.
Poo laughed incredulously, “Toh?! You could have called me up?”
“And said what? I am sorry? Aur tum maan jaati?” he said sarcastically.
“Of course,” Poo nodded her head emphatically “bol kar toh dekhte! Even a text message would have done,” she shook her head disgustedly, “bekar main hi itna pakaya,” she snorted, “Pata hai I thought that because of me you had resigned!”
Aman’s expression lightened briefly but then he was serious again, “Text kaise bhejta, it wouldn’t have been enough.”
“Enough for an apology,” Poo reiterated.
“But not for a proposal,” it took a few moments before the import of the words sank in and Poo looked at Aman wide-eyed in shock.
He nodded emphatically and held her hand, “I want to marry you, will you marry me please?” he said simply.
Poo withdrew hurriedly, “Yeh aap kya keh reh hain?!” she protested, “You shouldn’t make such decisions emotionally and on the spur of the moment,” she reproved unsteadily, “You are overwrought and grateful that I forced you to see the truth, but that doesn’t mean you have to propose to me,” she forced a laugh, “Lucky for you I didn’t take you up on your offer, nahi toh you would have been stuck with me for life,” she said jocularly as she stood up on legs that were trembling alarmingly.
“But I want to be stuck with you for life!” he caught hold of her arms and pulled her close but she pushed him away angrily, “No you don’t! You aren’t thinking straight, so much has happened over the past week and your sense and reason has gone for a toss, thande dimaag se soch kar dekho,” Poo insisted unsteadily, she wished her legs weren’t so wobbly that she couldn’t run away, “Talk to your mother…”
“Oh Ma is all for it don’t worry,” Aman said reassuringly, “Please don’t think that this is an emotional on the spur of the moment decision because I am grateful…”
“Then why?” interrupted Poo, she frowned suspiciously, “Did ASR ask you…?” she trailed off quailing at Aman’s ferocious and offended expression.
“What! Is this how you think of me?! Fine!” he bit out and thrust her away roughly, “Let’s drop it shall we?” he said coldly, “I am sorry to have bothered you,” he said stiffly formally, “I withdraw my proposal.”
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