He tried fighting the lump in his throat, but the gravity of the words fluttering in his aura held strongly to the droplets stuck in his eyes. They seized the tears and forced him to let go of those precious pearls which he had vouched never to shed for the rest of his life. Jahan, sitting with his friends in a circle was enjoying a harmless game of Spin the Bottle when he was attacked by a question which he feared the most. He hesitated at first, but then looking at the eager eyes of his friends, he agreed to reveal that part of his world which he had hidden somewhere deep inside him.
Jahan heard merry laughs all around him. With a lot of effort, he raised his innocent little eyes. The first vision he witnessed was a silhouette of a wheatish complexioned young man in his mid- thirties. Jahan was searching for some cue that would help him come up with a suitable expression to present to his bizarre looking new world. The cue took a little too long to come his way. Before he could act, an unwelcoming event caught him off-guard. The man with the wheatish complexion shrieked and threw Jahan on his cot.
He stormed out of the room and caught hold of the gynaecologist’s collar. He threatened to sue him for exchanging his child with someone else’s and giving them the wrong child. The gynaecologist tried explaining him that it was his baby who was born with a skin condition called Albinism, in which, due to the absence of or defect in the dark pigment called Melanin, there could be a complete or partial discolouring of the skin, eyes and hair.
But nothing could get past his head. He went inside the delivery room and slapped his wife. He accused her of cheating on him and sleeping around with someone else while he was earning to feed them. In the middle of the wailing sounds of Jahan’s elder sister, Neha, who had exhausted her three-year-old lungs, their father walked out on them forever, perhaps?
Their mother, Shobhna, finding it difficult to take care of two small children all by herself in Mumbai shifted back to her ancestral home in Gujarat. Jahan was thoroughly loved by his grandparents and they were in fact happy to have a fair kid in their otherwise dusky surroundings. He became that lamp which illuminated everyone’s lives around him but his. Shobhna spent most of her day crying and thinking how Ansh, her beloved husband could do that to her. During these years, Neha and Jahan bonded well. They became inseparable. Shobhna felt relieved seeing her kids happy even in the absence of their father. The burden that she was carrying around of not being able to do everything for her children took a backseat.
The universe enveloping Jahan wasn’t too kind. It opened its beak again and swallowed him once more. Ansh came back in their lives three years after he left them to deal with the personal and societal woes on their own. Very casually he apologised to Shobhna and made it sound like those three years were a part of some holiday that he took to get his life back on track. All the harsh words that the society bellowed on her family resonated in Shobhna’s ears. She was too weak to resist and thinking of the hardships her children had to go through, she finally gave in. By now Ansh had set up his small-time business in Ahmednagar. The family moved their base to Ahmednagar to start afresh.
Everyday Jahan would notice his father showering all his love on his sister in the form of little pecks on her cheeks, elongated hugs and gigantic gifts. Neha was generous enough to let him play with them. Shobhna witnessed the growing distance between the only men in her life, but she was too afraid to voice her troubles. She didn’t want Ansh to leave them again. To cover up her guilt she would spend most of her day with Jahan and tried providing him the love of both his parents, and she did succeed in that task. Jahan by the age of five had stopped expecting anything out of his father and maintained a well calculated distance from him.
This time Jahan’s universe became a little generous and he started excelling in his studies. Ansh couldn’t ignore the genius in his child, though he still despised him and his colour. He started appreciating his performance, but still the element of love that a little child longs for was missing. It seemed like that it was some prohibited territory and it would take him all his life to trespass it. So, rather than giving up a life trying it, the little kid stopped the effort altogether. For Shobhna, even the little appreciation that Ansh was extending in Jahan’s way was a sign of relief. She decided to start working and earn a little cash for her family. She revisited her childhood and polished her sewing and stitching skills and started a door-to-door boutique which eventually became her full time profession. In six months, she had earned enough money to raise loans to expand her business. With the help of a Bank Manager friend of hers she successfully raised a loan of a few lacs.
This news infuriated Ansh the moment it reached his ears. Being the typical male chauvinist he was, he couldn’t stand his wife earning more than him. To vent his ego, he accused her of sleeping with the Bank Manager for procuring the loans. Shobhna had learnt to prioritise things in her life; she ignored his accusations and went on with her boutique business. Her attention towards the kids had lessened, but still she made sure that she took care of all their basic needs. She taught them how to cook food and made them well versed with other household responsibilities of which they were made in-charge in her absence.
Amidst all this haphazardness in his life, Jahan hit puberty. Once again, he had no fatherly figure to talk to. His elder school friends became his teachers, who were still not that knowledgeable with the idea themselves. As a result, he was mocked by everyone and his skin colour added fuel to the fire. Jahan’s teenage life became a village land in Rajasthan where with each passing year the draught spread its roots deep down and kicked away all the water that came its way. The only time when Ansh showed interest in Jahan’s life was to get him admitted in a college. He didn’t even hesitate once before declaring it to Shobhna that he was doing this to secure his reputation, he didn’t want a useless kid at his home. At the same time, he also made sure that Jahan was sent outside Ahmednagar for his studies claiming that this was to make him independent. But everybody knew why he was sending him away from home. Jahan was already struggling with a lot. He accepted this offer whole- heartedly, not that he had a choice but just to make peace with himself.
Jahan was sent to Mumbai, where he started his bachelors in management and a part-time computer course. Living in a hostel, he got busy with his life and never bothered to make friends. He had forgotten the art of making friends after facing innumerable insults during his school life. He had started seeing life as a better entity if dealt alone. Jahan returned home after six months for Diwali. The equations at his home had changed tremendously. His mom and sister had started respecting his dad and from a distance it seemed that they were now a happy little family. Until, Ansh proved everyone wrong with his heart and soul. On seeing Jahan at the door, he lost his cool and brought up the events from their previous life. While hurling one derogatory statement after the other, he stated it more like a fact that a few years ago, Shobhna had slept with a Bank Manager and defended himself by saying he didn’t abandon her even then.
Something stirred inside Shobhna this time. She lost whatever little respect she had for the man standing in front of him. She advanced and slapped Ansh on his face and smashed his genitals with her knees. Ansh flooded with his self-esteem broke their marriage of twenty-two years and left them, once again.
For seven long years, there was no sign of Ansh. He had completely disappeared from their lives. Even the extended relatives had no clue of his whereabouts, when one day the news spread that he was spotted with another woman somewhere in Pune. On digging out more, the relatives managed to find out that he had not married that woman, but was living with her since last five years and that woman had also abandoned her family to live with Ansh.
Jahan and his family had come a long way in these seven years. They had shifted to Mumbai and were living in a decent 1- BHK happily. Jahan and his sister were both earning well by now and also Shobhna’s boutique business flourished like never before.
But life is such a game plan. You don’t know who is writing its rules. You don’t know if your moves are actually yours or if someone else is designing them for you according to his wish. No matter how well you play, you might end up losing pretty badly. Or no matter how worse, you play, you might end up winning that game triumphantly. If only things were so easy to predict or perceive, life would have been a cakewalk. But would you still call it ‘Life’ if it wasn’t complicated even for a second? And then who has ever won this game called life? Jahan indeed had no control over his life’s chessboard and the pieces of his game never followed the rules. All the other pieces worked similarly like the Queen and moved wherever they wished to. They were too proud to admit defeat. As a result, his life was a series of checkmates which contradicted each other but never let anyone win.
One day while Jahan was coming out of his office after ending the day’s work, he saw Ansh standing there waiting for him. On catching a glimpse of Ansh, he was stupefied but he didn’t stop to interact with him. He managed to dodge him and rushed home. Once home, he told Shobhna that Ansh had come back and had something up his sleeve as Jahan would have been the last person he would come to. Shobhna spread the word across and told the same relatives to enquire what had happened between him and his ‘woman’. After two days of secret investigation they came to know that the woman he was living with had stopped paying him money and had left him for another man and also, Ansh learnt that Jahan was earning well, so, he decided to mend his ways to secure his own future. He had no work left and whatever money he was extracting from his new beloved had also stopped coming his way.
It was unbelievable how Ansh had the audacity to come back to their lives after seven years of desertion. He was standing at the threshold of their house holding gifts for all three of them, he hugged Jahan the moment he saw him and finally uttered those words for which Jahan had longed all his life, “Love you Beta.” The only difference was that these words triggered a different emotion in Jahan which Ansh couldn’t see coming at all. Jahan pushed him back and shouted at him to get out of their lives and never show them his face again. He threatened to report him to the police if he ever tried to approach them. Both Shobhna and Neha held Jahan’s hands and stood like a wall in front of Ansh.
But now, it was as if the mysterious fire had split open letting loose a wild and brilliant vision; as if the walls of his world had suddenly melted away, leaving him in a great darkness, in the midst of which rose a demonic question, “What if?” Ansh understood that there was no place for him in their lives anymore. Any amount of repentance and remorse wouldn’t help him secure his old age. He turned around and slowly walked away, this time never to come back.
Jahan had seen so much in his life and had learnt almost all the lessons life had to offer at such an early age. If he had accepted his father back after what he made them go through, it would have been a waste of all the efforts and hard work they had put in to earn a living for themselves. They had realized that if all of them stood together, nobody could harm them. They were each other’s strength in true sense. Jahan might still not have won the game called ‘Life’ but he was definitely a hundred steps ahead from where he had started and was at a place from where there was no looking back.
Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash