A golden ordeal:
Looking at the mirror and touching the white strands of hair, Mrigakshi said to herself, ‘need to colour my hair, otherwise, Isa will kill me’. She then went straight to the bedroom, and yelled in Arihant’s ears, ‘rise and shine, it’s a big day tomorrow. I am going to colour my hair, will prepare some dye for you too. Get up, I have ordered breakfast in room. After breakfast, I will help you colour your hair too. Isa has already gone out to buy all her stuff, and wind up some formalities.’ Arihant woke up with a start, ‘Isa is already up? Oops I need to rush then. If she finds, I am sleeping coolly, nonchalant about her big day tomorrow, she will be hell upset’. Mrigakshi smiled, gave a gentle peck on Arihant’s cheek, brushed his salt and pepper hair with her beautiful slender fingers and said, ‘Yes! It’s a big day for her and for us. You know what it is.’, When she said this, a drop of tear fell from her eyes. Just then the doorbell rang. It was the waiter. He served breakfast and left. While Arihant was freshening up, Mrigakshi removed the tea cozy, poured tea in both the cups. The pancakes were piping hot. Mrigakshi took some maple syrup from the white little bowl to smear on the pancakes. The poached eggs were cooked perfectly. Mrigakshi looked at chicken sausages and the hash brownies. All of them cooked to perfection. No wonder this hotel had wonderful reviews. Theirs was a suite, with a spacious living room, and an enormous bed room with elegant furniture and all the sophisticated amenities. The plush hotel was located in the heart of the city. It was Isa's choice. She takes after her dad when it comes to perfection.
After breakfast, Mrigakshi, applied colour on her hair and asked Arihant if she should help him with hair colour. Arihant refused saying, 'I love my hair as it is. And at 57, I don't want to have jet black hair.'. Mrigakshi twitched her lips and said ' As you wish. Anyways, jet black hair or gray hair, you don't look good either ways. Arihant ignored her and said with a warm smile, ' I will go and join Isa now and help her with her stuff. We will be back by evening.You can take care of your salon stuff till them.' Mrigakshi just said,' huh'. Arihant left with a warm never ending smile. They had been married for 26 years now. There had not been a single day when they did not have their share of tiffs and tussle. Yet, they can't think of staying away from each other, primarily, because they are used to each other. Isa is well versed with their parents' daily arguments, hence, she has always been nonchalant to what they fought about. At the end of the day, she always knew that, they loved her, she loved them and all of them loved each other.
After Arihant left, Mrigakshi looked at herself in the mirror. She told herself, 'You don't look like a 50 year old lady.' Mrigakshi was almost 5 feet 7 inches, with a lean physique. With age her shoulders have shrugged a bit. She has light dusky complexion with long wavy hair. She had a pointed nose which resembled a parrot's beak. Minute, thin, wrinkles visible on her skin. For her age, she actually looked as if she was in her early forties. She was a fitness freak and took immense care of her diet. She did not believe in visiting salons. She believed in healthy eating and minimal salon visits. Arihant on the other hand had fair complexion with an oval shaped face and intelligent eyes. He was as fit as a fiddle with a straight spine and broad shoulders. Being the senior VP of a reputed company, Arihant was a busy bee, however, he always had time for Isa.
Mrigakshi applied her favourite hair color, which was a classy cherry black shade. She tied her hair into a neat bun after applying color, and sat down with her phone. She started browsing the pictures she had there. She was addicted to clicking pictures. She had saved all her memories in different albums in a website. The first album she glanced through was her first day in New York. A happy pic of hers and Arihant at the JFK airport, New York. She had just landed in New York, after a long exhausting flight from Delhi. She had a stop over at Heathrow airport. She remembered that she had traveled on 15th of August, amidst terrorist scare of attacks in airports. Just couple of days ahead of her traveling, a major terrorist scare was busted and all the airports were put under high security. This was her first flight abroad and she was travelling all by herself for the first time. Everyone and everything in Heathrow aiport were checked thoroughly. Mrigakshi was wearing a thick gold 'Mangalsutra'. She had adorned it in her wedding three months ago. After that, she had never taken that off. At Delhi airport, the female security officers had looked at the conspicuous vermilion in her forehead, and the thick mangalsutra in her pretty neck, and had asked her ' Abhi shaadi hui hai aapki?(you got married recently?) .She had smiled and nodded. They had congratulated her. Although they diligently checked her adhering to the rules, they did not insist on taking off that necklace. Here, at Heathrow airport, she was asked to take that off. Reluctantly, she took it off and put it in a box at the security check. A female security officer, apparently a native resident, took that necklace, and told her colleague, 'Indians wear it after marriage.'. The other lady gave a smirk and said ' superstitious people'. Mrigakshi was appalled. She felt a sudden pang of poison being inserted in her mind. She did not know whether she should say something or keep quiet. She looked around her. She wished she had someone with her at this point. But alas, she was all by herself here. When she reached New York, Arihant gave her a tight hug and said ' Welcome dear. How was your flight? Give me the bags'. Mrigakshi was so happy to see Arihant after three months, that she decided not to talk about her Heathrow airport experience. She just said, 'It was nice, but very long. Let's ask someone to click a pic of us outside the airport.' Arihant found it funny. 'Come on Mrigakshi, we will have lots of photo sessions. Let's go home now.' Mrigakshi made a childish face and said, 'Please. Pictures are memories. This moment will not come back'. Arihant looked at her pretty face,smiled and said, 'Alright, we will get a picture of us clicked. Happy now? ' Mrigakshi , followed him with a happy smile.
The drive home was beautiful. Although it was dark, the roads were smooth, no traffic issues and the radio in the car played some beautiful english songs.The radio channel was 102.7 fresh. Mrigakshi was a music lover. However, she was not much into English songs. The songs in the radio could not seek her attention. She tried changing the channels. For a moment she forgot she wouldn't get Hindi songs here. The car was a spacious Toyota Camry, neat and spotless with the ambrosial fragrance of the car freshener. When Mrigakshi started looking around the car, Arihant guessed what she was looking for. He pointed out to the glove box right in front of her seat and said,'I have some hindi songs CDs out there. You might like those.' Mrigakshi beamed and got one of the CDs and turned on the music. The first thing she understood was, Arihant did not have a good taste of music. 'Nevermind', she said to herself. At least, I have some hindi songs here.
After they reached their apartment, Mrigakshi glanced around.The apartment was cozy, Unlike the houses in India, here there was wooden floor. She noticed a white colored rectangular box attached to the wall of the living room and the other rooms. Arihant told her that those were heaters. During the harsh winters, heaters are a must. There was a heater in the bathroom as well. Since Arihant had recently moved to this apartment, he had not yet bought a sofa set.There was small rectangular wooden dining table adorning a purple pretty floral table clothe. The white walls, the white window blinds, the dim light bulbs and the lavender table clothe, made the apartment look pretty. It was a two BHK apartment. The kitchen was very small with a host of closets, a spotless white sink, tiny dishwasher, a microwave right on top of the gas stoves and a white, sturdy huge refrigerator. The bedrooms were small with a king size bed in one bedroom and a queen size bed in the other bedroom. Mrigakshi was happy seeing the big white closets in all the rooms. She can now arrange all the clothes she got from India in all those closets.
Jet lagged, Mrigakshi could not sleep the entire night.The moment she felt she was about to fall asleep, the alarm clock started beeping. She had almost forgotten that now she is no longer a spinster, who can sleep and wake up at her own convenience. She is a wife now. Arihant had to go to work. She tried to sit up, but with sleep making her drowsy, she fell down on the bed again with her head hitting the soft pillow with a gentle thud. She again pulled herself up. She saw that Arihant was already up and was taking a shower. With groggy eyes, she went to the kitchen. She had no clue what Arihant ate for breakfast and whether he carried lunch with him or not. Just then Arihant came, dressed in formal attire. He was wearing a light blue shirt and black formal trousers, neat and pressed to perfection. With his tall height, fit structure and thin rimmed rectangular black framed glasses, he looked handsome. Mrigakshi could not take her eyes off him. Before she could say anything, Arihant said I eat cereals and milk for breakfast. I don't carry lunch with me. I love chapatis. But, I don't know how to make. Mrigakshi smiled, immediately served him breakfast, and Arihant rushed to work. Mrigakshi looked at the clock hanging on the wall. It was just 7:15 a.m. She thought of catching some sleep, but could not. She looked out of the window. There were other buildings right in front of her apartment. People were rushing to work. The parking space was visible from her kitchen window. There were people rushing into the driving seat with a 'to go' cup of coffee in their hands. She saw a mom, pulling her toddler to the car, who was groggy with sleep. 'The baby must be going to a day care, while the mommy goes to work', Mrigakshi thought. She thought of taking a shower. The bathroom had a white bathtub with shower taps attached on the wall. After taking a shower,just when she was about to get out of the bathtub, she slipped, and hit the heater with her forehead. Blood came gushing out of the cut. She was scared to hell. She did not know anyone in the neighborhood. Arihant's office was one hour away. Blood was dripping profusely. She called up her sibling who is a doctor. As per his advice, she dabbed the wound with an antiseptic lotion and called up Arihant.
Her marriage with Arihant was an arranged one. She was feeling miserable to bother Arihant. But she had no choice. She had to take the tetanus shot, as advised by her brother. She had no clue how to visit the doctors here. Since the Tetanus shot could be be taken in the evening, after Arihant came from work, he took Mrigakshi to the emergency room at the hospital near their home. The nearest hospital was 10 kilometers away. Mrigakshi could not have gone there by herself, because she could not see any cabs in the vicinity, and she was not aware of the bus routes. The first thought that came to her mind was, 'How can one survive here without knowing driving?'
The emergency room had a long queue. They had to wait for an hour before their turn came. Arihant was famished. Mrigakshi could understand that. She was already crestfallen. But then, did she have a choice? Just when they reached home, after the hospital episode, she remembered, she forgot to take the keys with her. They were locked out. With her head down, she said meekly to Arihant, 'I am afraid, the keys are inside'. Arihant was tired and worn out. Without saying anything, he called up the supervisor of the apartment. The supervisor said he will be there in half an hour. While they waited, Mrigakshi did no have the courage to look at Arihant. The supervisor came and spoke something with Arihant. He opened the apartment door, and Arihant gave him 40 dollars. Mrigakshi asked Arihant 'what was the money for?' Arihant said, 'since we forgot the key and he had to come at his off duty hours, he charged that much.'
Days went by. Mrigakshi got absorbed in day to day household chores. She did not know how to cook. She googled all the cooking websites and started cooking. Initially, the food was horrible. Arihant was not at all happy with her cooking. There were times when he complained. It took her a month to learn cooking.With not a single soul in the neighborhood to talk to, she used to call her mom and talk for hours.
When the mailman came to deliver mails, she looked and read those word to word. The bill for the tetanus shot was 100 dollars. Rest was covered by insurance. Most of the mails were bills. Sometimes credit card bills, sometimes medical bills, sometimes house rent bills and sometimes telephone bills. After seeing the bills, she used to get astounded.She wished she could help Arihant with some financial support. She tried hunting for a job. Here, with her academic qualification pertaining to literature, she was getting calls only for Admin jobs, which she had no interest. For school jobs, a certification was necessary, which called for a course of two years, which called for educational loan. Mrigakshi did not want the burden of any loan on her or Arihant's shoulders.
Just a year later, Isa came to their lives. When Mrigakshi was expecting Isa, Arihant had to go to Geneva for three weeks. Arihant and Mrigakshi had planned to call Mrigakshi's parents for six months so that, post delivery, they had family support. Unfortunately, their visa processing did not work out and they could not come. For three weeks, with her pregnancy reaching the 25th week, Mrigakshi could not sleep. 'If any emergency popped up, who will take care of me'? They had Indian friends, but none near their home. 911 will defintiely help. But then, there were no friends or family members in the vicinity Her only rescue was her 'Almighty'. Her prayers worked..Fortunately, everything was fine . Arihant arrived from Geneva. And, on the due that,without any complication, Mrigakshi delivered Isa.
When Mrigakshi came home from Hospital with Isa, the house was upside down. Arihant was busy getting stuff for Isa and winding up hospital formalities. Mrigakshi was drained, weak and famished. Carrying little Isa in her arms, she put Isa in the crib, Thankfully, Arihant had kept the crib ready. Isa was fast asleep. Mrigakshi dragged herself to the kitchen, put some rice in the rice cooker and boiled some lentils. Arihant looked haggard and worn with all the leg work. With all the sleepless nights and running around, Mrigakshi and Arihant had dark circles underneath their eyes, both of them just hoping and praying to get some sleep. After they had dinner, Mrigakshi told Arihant to sleep in the other room, lest Isa woke up and disturbed his sleep. After all, he had to go to work the next day. With the stitches in her body, sleep engulfing her eyes, she had just lied down on the bed next to Isa's crib, when Isa woke up and started crying. Mrigakshi dragged herself up, carried the crying baby, fed her and while she was feeding her, tears rolled down her eyes . Mrigakshi cried and said 'Maa, I wish you and papa had got the visa. I wish you and papa were here. How am I supposed to raise an infant all alone.?' While she fed Isa, she thought , after feeding Isa will sleep. However, Isa did not sleep a wink that night. Mrigakshi carried Isa to the living room. Her body was weak and some parts were writhing with pain with all the stitches and medicines, yet she carried Isa because the moment she put Isa in the crib, Isa would start crying. Mrigakshi could hear Arihant snoring in the adjacent room.
With every passing day, all Mrigakshi longed for was some rest and some sleep. She did not want to disturb Arihant's sleep because he had to start his day at 6 every morning with a bunch of stress full work at workplace. She used to long for saturdays when Arihant used to take care of Isa . It was only on Saturdays that Mrigakshi got two long hours of sleep in the afternoon.
Isa's doctor's office visits were a nightmare for Mrigakshi. WIth Arihant unable to take leave, Mrigakshi had to take Isa for vaccination doses all by herself. When Isa was 5 months old, the pediatrician asked Isa to pick up some toys. Isa was nonchalant. The pediatrician told Mrigakshi to observe Isa carefully. he said that Isa has not reached the milestone which a 5 month old should reach. Mrigakshi's brain went through a whirlpool of worries. She came home and googled all the websites pertaining to children's growth. At 5 months, what is a baby supposed to do? As per the details given on the websites, Isa, actually did nothing. She did not snatch objects. She did not make eye contact. Mrigakshi felt a chill down her spine. When Arihant came from office, Mrigakshi told him all about what the doctor said about Isa. Arihant coolly said, ' Every child grows at a different pace. Let's give Isa some time.' Every time at doctor's office, Mrigakshi had to listen to some or the other thing about Isa's growth. Arihant paid a deaf ear to all those. Mrigakshi used to worry day and night about that. She ended up suffering from Stomach Ulcer due to stress. When Isa was two and a half years old, she started going to a play school in the neighborhood. Just after a week of joining, the teachers called up Mrigakshi and said, 'Isa is not at all social. She talks in monosyllables. She needs 'speech therapy' and counselling sessions.' Mrigakshi was taken aback. She told herself 'My daughter is not a special child. Please God, this can't be true'. She rushed home with Isa. Isa used to understand whatever Mrigakshi and Arihant told her. But they failed to understand, why is it that, in school, she does not respond to the teachers' instructions. With all these woes and worries, Mrigakshi spent time googling all about kids, their growth chart, and all kinds of diseases in the world. She became a hypochondriac. With every passing day, Mrigakshi felt, she was not well and she was suffering from some terminating illness. Every Saturday, she sought appointments with doctors. Sometimes for ear check up, sometimes for eye check up, sometimes for headache and so on. Arihant was puzzled. He did not know what went wrong with Mrigakshi. Everyday, after he arrived from office, she used to talk about Isa's growth, what complaints the teachers gave . During dinner all Mrigakshi used to talk was, about her ill health. Arihant got seriously concerned about Isa and Mrigakshi. He thought if Mrigakshi got engrossed in some job, she would feel good. However, Mrigakshi was not willing to leave her daughter in a day care after school, and work.
A year after, Arihant decided to move back to India, primarily, because he felt Mrigakshi and Isa needed a change. After moving back to India, Arihant and Mrigakshi bought a home close to their parents' home. Mrigakshi joined a college as a lecturer of literature. They hired a full time maid to take care of the house hold chores and a full time driver for office/school/college commute. Isa loved her grandparents' and cousins' company. The first Parents Teachers Meeting in Isa's new school in India was certainly not what Mrigakshi had expected. She was anxious because she thought Isa would be lagging behind in studies, in sports in socializing, and the teachers will suggest counselling and therapy. But, to her surprise, the class teacher said, ' This kid is super intelligent. The lessons in text books tend to make her feel bored. Hence she used to keep quiet when we used to teach her alphabets and numbers. She knew all these way before. She wants to learn something new. Hence we want you to put her in a senior grade now. She will love it there. The principal and the school teachers ensured that Isa's double promotion was a boon for her. She excelled in studies, sports and music. Mrigakshi's day used to start with hindi songs, stories from Isa about her school and end with her telling a bed time story to Isa and a beautiful song to cherish.
After all these years,today, when Isa is getting an award from the President for her trailblazing research on medicine, Mrigakshi's ordeal abroad still seemed like yesterday. She never thought that Isa would actually be Dr. Isa and would be getting a coveted award right from the President.
Just then, Mrigakshi's phone rang, It was Isa. She was screaming on the phone. 'Guess what Mom?' Mrigakshi was perplexed. She said ' What baby?'. Mrigakshi shouted, 'My application for the the Andrews School of Medicine has been accepted. I am going there for higher studies.'.'Andrews is one of the best schools of medicine in the entire world. Mrigakshi did not know what to say. She said sounding excited ' Congratulations Baby'. After Isa hung up, Mrigakshi mumbled to herself, 'I don't want any more torments.Life abroad is not only about beautiful infrastructure and pollution free day to day commute. All that glitters is not gold. God, take care of my baby. Do what you think is best for her. Please..no more golden ordeal abroad please....'
Publication Date: 06-24-2017
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