I am such a proud daughter! No, I don’t flaunt the fact that I have been raised with love and utmost care and (owing to the kind of social norms that are followed in my society), without partiality. Neither have I been an heiress to the riches of my parents. But I do praise my mother, to all my children, for the kind of lady she had been. I make sure that I make each day of theirs, happy; sharing the knowledge and understanding, that my mother inculcated in me. I am a teacher in a school of deaf and dumb children. They are the best students, not because they don’t make any noise when I make them sit for extra hours, but because they all are so attentive and open minded, throughout the lecture. It is true that the rains are heaviest in deserts or this is what our brains make us believe. Sometimes, their questions indulge me in deep and diverse thoughts, and that is when I realize that I, despite having all the five senses gifted by the almighty, am still not superior to any of them. In intellect, many of them lead me. I have always had a soft corner for physically challenged; no, that’s not sympathy. Sympathy creates a dilemma between superiority and emotional gratification. It makes you feel that the person is incompetent. I learn from them. They have a lot to teach if given a chance, even though their senses are not as vibrant as they’re supposed to be.
This feeling began when I came to know that my mother who I believe was, the most powerful lady of the world, was deaf and dumb. She otherwise had a very vivacious creative instinct. Widows of the neighbourhood often admired her for her embroidery, or weaving and knitting skills, or even her cooking, that she used to accomplish! Mother was fond of TV serials, and surprisingly, she understood them by the facial expressions of the characters, something where I lacked being ‘normal’. Sometimes, when I would come back from school later in the evening, she would tell me the story of the serial she watched, by the sign language that she taught me over-time.
Ours is called a widowed-neighbourhood, because of an accident that still haunts the minds of the people. My blind father was killed along with seventy more men in a coal mine, while working, when I was only two weeks old. Being blind was an advantage to him, my mother told. All the other men, developed weak eye sight by working in dark mines, but father, well he was already blind!
The owner at first shirked when my father asked him for a job, but he had a great sense of touch and he could do the manual work with double the power. Being impressed, the owner appointed him and money pooled in our poor house. Hakeem Chacha used to take him along, to the workplace, and that evening when the news of mine caved in, no man from the neighbourhood, ever returned. And that night, the neighbourhood was still darker than the mines, no house lit a single candle, bereavement spread and it still goes on!
Mother was an optimist. She knew she had a single daughter, and someday, she’ll be married off in some other home, but still she raised me up, like a son! She sent me to a government school, and made sure I made friends, who were normal.
‘Normal’ is a deceptive term. I don’t tag ‘stupid’ under normal and there were hundreds in my school! If there were some normal people around, they were in the school, opposite to mine. It was a school for deaf and dumb and in the recess, or whenever I got time; I used to go there and talk to the children. I knew the sign language, so I made friends quicker, than at my own school. Sometimes I think; how strange it is that, the people who communicate with ease, blessed with all the workable five senses, are tougher to understand, while the people who we term as the less fortunate ones, become friends so quickly. With time, the answer laid foundation within me. When you have everything, expectation impends, and that’s why the people who were equipped with all the senses, expect favours from their friends, their bonds were materialistic and time-bounded, whereas the people whom we term as the dumb, simply seek a company and a companion when it came to the word – Friend.
I grew up, unlike other people around me. Not just of the fact I had a physically challenged mother at home, simply because of the affection, I sprang up for such people. With time, I almost started hating my own school. There was no talk of knowledge, no discussion of life, but the shallow minds diverted themselves to sex and pornography. If they were done with that, their discussion would target children of the opposite school – how they fail miserably when they try to speak, or how they clap all day long. I almost shunned my school and the few countable friends I had, shunned me in return. I was thankful, for that would mean no more favours, no more expectations, and I was free!
Yajur–the guy my friends teased because he couldn’t hear or speak–became my companion. I told him that I have no friends in my school now, and that would mean no insult; no humiliation and an expectation-free friendship! He roughly nodded his head when I told him I fought with my friends, and he turned his back towards me. I understood he was hurt that I chose him over my friends, but when I told him about my mother, he looked at me from the corner of his eye, and smiled. He now knew why I loved his company and his school, more than my own.
We started to hang out together. It sounds odd, I know, because hanging out with a deaf and dumb guy is totally not cool, but I liked it. My mother has instilled in me, the quality of living your life on your own terms, and being with Yajur, was one of those terms. We used to bunk school and go for an eating-spree. He loved pani-puri and I made sure we had at least one trip every weekend!
Months went by and we became best friends. He used to ask me about my mother, to which I would show him a ‘thumbs-up’, and he’d laugh! His laughter was the most beautiful thing in the world. I told him one day that I love him, to which he replied, ‘Me too.’ But I don’t think he realized what I was saying, so I changed the topic and we started talking about life again.
Life – It was the most interesting topic for Yajur. He had such a simple life, yet so complex thoughts about it. His parents were both normal as termed by my mother, but his mother’s complicated pregnancy made Yajur extra special. He had a younger sister, who was as beautiful as a Barbie doll, he explained it by dragging me in front of a toy store and pointing his finger at the prettiest doll on the sideboard. I understood and smiled with assurance. He loved my company and we both made a great team, he said. Whenever we met, we used to give each other a hi-5 (a quick clap), and he would laugh after I would fail to hit his hand. He was taller than me, and when he would stretch his arm, his hand would hit the summit of Mount-Everest, I used to say, to which he would laugh more!
Spending time with him was the best part of the day. Mother didn’t know about Yajur. I knew that if I’d tell her, she would not accept my love for him. She would scold me for not loving a normal man, but again, normal was deceptive.
My school was over, I was a twelfth pass girl and my mother started talking to the neighbourhood women about my marriage. Many women suggested older men, who were rich and ready to marry, and would also help the mother to repay the loans, but mother wasn’t ready to commit this crime. When I came to know about all this, I screamed, but on deaf ears! Mother was adamant, and she pressurized me for marriage that very year. I understood her concern, she was getting feeble and could no longer take care of me, and I was just a twelfth pass who was not financially independent. The bank would kill me if I didn’t repay the loan and mother didn’t want to die with this burden. That’s why she wanted me to marry to the earliest.
I firmly resolved to talk to Yajur about this. Only if the love was mutual, we will talk to our family and get married. One evening, I went to his school. The warden directed me towards his room. Everyone knew I met him regularly, so I didn’t have to carry through any formalities to meet him.
I entered his room, he was sitting in his balcony, admiring the pigeon’s nest and the eggs they recently laid. I switched the light off and on, and he turned around to see me standing at the door with watery eyes. He came running towards me. I hugged him and broke down.
It was the toughest moment for me, to make him realize the seriousness of the situation. I told him, mother was forcing me to marry someone this year, and that someone can also mean some old, lustful man! For minutes to come, he was sitting with me, still and silent, but when I got up and was about to leave, he held my arm. His grip was firm, very tight, as if he was manifesting his right upon me and my body. I didn’t say anything, but simply smiled. His answer was clear, he wanted to be my soul-mate.
The situation that followed, posed more threat, as it meant talking to mother about me and Yajur! I had no idea about how would she react. I had shattered her dreams of loving a normal human, but Yajur was better than those moronic normal men!
‘Mother, I want you to meet Yajur… my…’ my voice stammered as I was about to speak the relation I shared with him, but feared, I filled out my sentence anyhow, ‘My boyfriend, I want to marry him… he also wants to marry me.’
The mother noticed nothing abnormal in him until he started communicating with me in the sign language. Mother got up in a rage, slapped me hard in front of him and dragged me to another room. I expected this outburst after what I had done, but then loving someone wasn’t a crime, I thought, and followed her.
‘But I love him…’ my voice, my signs were useless in front of her, who was angry and angry as hell this time! She kept beating the wall with her fist, repenting her choice of sending me to school, I told her it wasn’t her fault, but what she said next, rendered me speechless.
‘You have been a guiding light for me, for my entire lifetime, I wanted you to enjoy and live a better life than becoming a guide for someone else. Your choice is not bad, but it would have been better if you would have chosen someone like you over someone like me. I still remember how shameful and embarrassing it was when I used to go for shopping with you, and explain you my choice with signs as I could not speak. The shopkeepers would laugh at you, for coming with a dumb woman! Do you want to carry that embarrassment for the rest of your life too?’ mother was exhausted, she sat down in exasperation. Her weak body didn’t allow her so much of talk at once.
I held her from her shoulders and hugged her tight, telling her that love, is above all the social norms. What people think to be embarrassing, for me it was a matter of pride that I could take her shopping with me, I made sure that she saw the world, more than the four walls of the room in which her soul was confined since my birth. I don’t know how she raised me up being physically challenged, but what I know is, I never felt short of love. I told her that I’ll make sure I do the same for Yajur as well. I have loved him, above his physical challenges and inabilities, and that love will be there for the rest of our lives!
Somehow, mother agreed for our alliance. Yajur’s family couldn’t be more thankful, for they already felt in debts as mother was agreeing to marry her normal daughter to an abnormal boy. They promised mother that they’ll treat me like their own daughter, a promise that would let my mother die in peace. I was happy, for mother felt no more burdened, I was soon going to get married. I asked her to shift with me, but she didn’t agree. Staying with the daughter would mean adding sins to her afterlife – if there was any.
The night before my wedding, I saw mother alone in the balcony, wiping her face religiously with the border of her saree, I comforted her and hugged her. I thought that she’s sad because tomorrow, I’ll not be around her, but instead she was sad, because she had nothing to give me as dowry.
I told her that Yajur’s family needed no dowry, they asked mother not to worry about the wedding or the preparations, and that they would take care of everything, but then, a mother is a mother. She had to give something to her daughter after all.
The next morning, we left for the temple. Mine was a very simple wedding, without any pomp and show. I was dressed up in a bright red saree and Yajur wore a white attire. He coyly smiled, seeing me dressed up as a bride! In the next few hours we were tagged up as “a man and wife”. Mother was weeping uncontrollably. I consoled her as much as I could. Fewer women from the neighbourhood were also solacing her. At last, before I left with my in-laws to my new world, mother gave a little box to me, with an envelope, maybe there was a letter inside which I was sure that her best friend, Meenu aunty would have written on her behalf. I accepted the box comprising the envelope and left with Yajur and his family, keeping my mother in the rear-view mirror of the car. I cried and waved my hand until her image disappeared.
At night, I took out the box that mother gave to me. I thought it might be some antique jewellery or some gold ornaments that mother might have kept secretive and saved for my wedding, but I was surprised to see few strings of wool. Confused, I opened the envelope, it had a note-
I know I shamed you a lot, throughout your life, but I am very proud of your decision today. I could not say it out loud, because the feeling of losing you has choked me. You must be thinking that why am I giving you these few strings of wool today? It is because they are my most important companions.
After your father’s death, it became almost impossible for me to cater to your needs when you’d wake up in the middle of the night. Your deaf mother was incapable of hearing the cries of her own baby, so these strings helped me at that time. I used to tie one end of the string to your tiny arm, and the other end to my toe. I used to tie multiple strings, connecting your arms to my body. If you moved or cried, these strings would inform me, and I would wake up and embrace you.
If in life, you ever feel alone, always tie one end of these strings to your arm, the other end would automatically reach me and you’ll no more feel lonely. I hope my friends will take care of you. Have a happy life ahead, daughter.
I love you and I will miss you…
Nothing could be as emotional as that note, and I still have it with me. Even after mother’s death, I kept reading it over and over again, and I believe that the strings have the ability to connect me to my mother, even today…