Haribhai had led a reasonably happy life. He was about to enter his 70s and when he looked back upon his life, he did not have many regrets.
It was not as if he hadnt had his share of problems, his share of worries, but he had always managed to overcome them and come out stronger, every time.
He had run a successful business enterprise for most of his life. Starting small with little money of his own to begin with and ended up as one of the most powerful man in his community.
By the time he gifted his business to his only son, it was a well established professional company.
His Son had grown up to be a strapping young man who had been coaxed to study sincerely and grew up to be a son any father would have been proud of.
When the time had come to get his Son married off, Haribhai had taken every care to select the perfect wife for his son. The perfect daughter-in-law. She was pretty, tall and a great cook.
She also held a Masters degree in Marketing, and when she expressed the wish to help out with their business, Haribhai had allowed it with a very open mind, breaking the long standing tradition in their family of women not working professionally.
His only insistence was that his Son and his daughter-in-law stayed with him. In his house, under the same roof. He had insisted on that and they were most happy to be around him.
He knew his Son and his wife often went to nightclubs. Though they never openly told him that and his Daughter-in-law always took care to dress decently while going out, but the large bag carrying the extra set of clothes was a dead giveaway and Haribhai was no fool. He turned a blind eye to it. They were young, they were supposed to do things that young people did.
Haribhai was called as a “Progressive Man” in what was otherwise a very conservative community, that he belonged to and he prided himself on that tag.
It was a few days back since he had started noticing raised voices coming from his Son’s bedroom. He had hardly known the young could to fight. But, it was a couple’s fight. It would pass. It was not his place to interfere in it. So he held his place and ignored the distinctly growing animosity between the two.
It was a late Friday evening, when Haribhai came home from his regular walk. As he opened the door and walked into the house, he stood aghast at the sight that met his eyes.
His Daughter-in-law was on the floor in the crouched position and his Son was standing over her, hand raised over his head, his face contorted with anger. His daughter-in-law cowering in the front of her husband, trembling with fear, tears flowing down her cheeks.
It took a moment for Haribhai to let the scenario sink in, even as he heard his Son shout, “I have told you a 1000 times. You will not work any longer. Your job is at home. Stay at home. Screw your Masters degree. Women in our family do not work outside. And YOU WILL LISTEN TO ME !!!”
With every amount of strength that Haribhai could muster, he caught hold of his Son’s hand before the blow could land on the weeping lady on the floor, and he pulled his Son away from her.
“Stop it !!! Stop it !! For God’s Sake Stop it !!”, Haribhai moaned, as he pushed his son against the wall.
“I will not have this happen in my house, my Son. I will not have anyone raise his hand on a woman in my house, especially not my Son.”, Haribhai continued.
“And so what if she wants to work? So what if she wants to do a job? She has a degree. If she wants to have a career, we should allow her to have one”, Haribhai said, looking at his Son with glaring eyes.
The Son looked back at his father, the expressions on his face changing. The anger disappearing as if it was never there in the first place. The Son extended his hand to his wife helping her to stand by his side.
Haribhai looked at the couple…..confused….they were smiling at him. His Daughter-in-law was wiping her face, beaming at him.
“Thank you Paapa”, his Son said, “Thank you. Wait… I have something to show you”
So saying his Son went and opened the door of his bedroom.
Haribhai’s eyes kept shifting between his Son and his Daughter-in-law … Still confused. Unable to understand what was happening. Why were they smiling? He looked through the door his Son had opened…..
His eyes went wide. His blood froze as he looked at the figure sitting on the edge of the bed.
The figure rose from the bed and started moving towards him. Coming out from the darkness of the bedroom, into the light.
Yes !! It was her !! He could never forget that face. That face had haunted him for the past 30 years.
Straight white hair flowing by her side. Wearing a pale saree neatly draped around her, her movements dulled by age, but still as graceful as she was 30 years ago. But her eyes …. oh those eyes….. there was such an immense pain in those eyes that Haribhai did not have the courage to look at them.
He looked away to the spot where his Son had stood over his Daughter-In-Law a few minutes back.
His vision blurred. It was him in the place of his son now and it was the woman down on the floor as he had slapped her relentlessly.
“How dare you disobey me?? You cant take care of the house and you want to go out and do a job? Who told you to get a degree? So what if you are a School Principal? What is more important? Your own Son or the children of others. Dont I earn enough for us?”, he watched himself scream as he had continued slapping and kicking her.
“Paapa !!”, his then 7 year old Son had screamed, “Paapa please dont hit Maa. Maa, Maa, are you alright”
He had turned to see the screams of his Son. Stopping his brutality for just a few moments trying to make an effort to comfort his Son, long enough to send him to the other room.
And when he had turned back to his wife, she was gone.
She had never come back and he never tried to look for her.
Over a period of time he had managed to lock up those memories in some dark hole in his mind, though her face did appear every now and then in his nightmares.
“Paapa, I found her. I looked for her for 30 years, Paapa. And look. I found Maa.”, the voice of his Son snapped him back to the present, bringing him face to face with the horrors of his past.
He moved back, away from those eyes. Taking a step backwards till he plopped down on the sofa.
“I looked for her everywhere, Paapa, and I finally found her. I told her, you were a changed man. I told her you were different now. And I convinced her to come back home with me so that I could prove it to her”, his Son continued to speak as Haribhai sat on the sofa with his unblinking eyes.
He looked up at his wife, finally, as she stopped in the front of him.
“Thank You. Thank you for not raising my son to be the same man that you were”, she said in a quiet voice, even as Haribhai sat on the sofa with his eyes wide open…..eyes, which would never see again, the words falling on ears, which would never hear again…..
They say, shame kills ….. maybe its true.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and is not related to any person living or dead. I was planning to use the name “Hari Sadu”, but the Hari Sadu’s of the world have a habit to sue the writers. I hope no Haribhai sues me for using that name.