"Mamma, when will Daddy come home ?" forteen year old Aru asked her Mom.
Jyoti placed a glass of milk on the study table and smiled, "you always miss your Dad. He will be back soon, darling. You know how his work is."
"Yes," Aru said, her mouth curved into a petulant smile. Everyone's dad comes home every night. But, my Dad who is a CEO of a company comes home every fortnight. Don't you feel lonely, Ma?"
Jyoti stopped making the chapaties and frowned, and then her shoulders relaxed as she continued with her task, "no, I have you and my social work. The NGO is growing now. I feel I'm doing something good."
"But, why Ma? Why do you always think of such causes? Sometimes, you take all the risks. The other day, Sunita's husband could have hit you, when you tried to take his wife away from his house?"
"Well, he has another woman tucked in somewhere and abuses his wife at home. That is intolerable to me.”
Aru shook her head at her mother’s passionate speech.
Before dinner, Gopal came. His presence changed the atmosphere in the house. Aru always felt that her father was the best dad in the whole world. While all her friends have teenage problems with their fathers, she felt comfortable discussing her latest crush with her father.
"Oh, he looks like Salman Khan? Then he must be serious," teased her Dad.
"Don't know dad, I feel I am too young to settle down now." At Aru's serious tone, both Jyothi and Gopal suppressed their smile.
"Well, he’s a bit too old for you. Why don't you think of Varun Dhawan?"
"Hmm. Have to think about this,” Aru thought aloud, solemnly
"Sure do so, “Gopal’s tone matched her seriousness.. "In the meantime, do you mind if I take your mom out for a drive?"
"Yikes! You oldies have no shame. Off you go!"
Some weeks later
"Coming!" Aru shouted against the banging on the front door. Somebody sure was in an urgent need. She ran and opened the door. An old woman along with another younger one was standing there.
Before she could respond, their neighbor, Rewa aunty joined her, looking a bit worried. “Your mom is at home?" Rewa aunty asked, standing between her and the strangers.
"Then why have you opened the door for strangers?" she asked sternly.
"They were banging a lot and I thought……" Aru’s voice trailed off, suddenly feeling a bit unsure of herself.
"Anyways, how can we help?" Rewa took it upon herself to find out.
"We want to speak to that besharam aurat (shameless woman)" the venom-coated words spat out of the older woman's mouth.
For a moment both Rewa and Aru were too stunned to reply.
"Excuse me? Who are you talking about?" Aru asked, stepping out from behind Rewa.
"You are Aru, aren't you? I’m your father's mother," the older woman's eyes did not have any love for her granddaughter,” “and this lady here is your father’s wife." She pushed the younger woman, who reluctantly stepped up and glared at both Rewa and Aru.
Before they could say anything, Jyothi came out of the lift, holding her shopping bag gingerly. Her face paled upon seeing the visitors..
"Ma? You?" she whispered.
"Don't you dare call me Ma!" The older woman said rudely. "You have stolen my son from me. He has betrayed me, his wife and his kids.
“That’s a lie!” Aru screamed. Not her parents. They were too perfect. Tears streamed down her eyes. She wanted to throw something at the old lady, who claimed to be her reluctant grandma. “How dare you come to our house and lie about my parents.”
Rewa walked away quietly, understanding the delicate family situation. Jyoti threw her a thankful look and went and hugged Aru. “Calm down sweetie, we will discuss this later. You go to your room.”
Aru would have refused but the stern looks on Jyoti’s face brooked no argument. She left the room but curiousity is something which can twist even the innocent of all hearts. Moreover, she felt it was her birthright to know what is going on with her parents. So she pressed her ears against the door. But none of the muffled voices and the bitter cries made any sense to her.
Just then her Dad arrived. Aru felt so relieved. Now everything would be fine. She rushed out into her Dad’s arm. He hugged her absentmindedly, his eyes stormy as he glared at his mother. “Why have you come here?” he demanded.
“Arrey, have you no shame?” the older woman walked towards him and jabbed her fingers on his chest. Aru clung to her father harder. “You promised to be home for Diwali but now you had to spend time with this randi.” The old woman was spitting venom.
“Ma!” Gopal shouted. “There are kids here. Mind you language.”
“You call this bastard your kid? I have no connection to her.”
Aru was appalled at her grandma’s behavior .What was going on? Her little heart could not take in the accusations the old lady was bent on making. But her grandma was not done with her ranting.
“You come home now,beta. I’m begging you. Your…. “ her voice wobbled with emotions. The lady who had come with her rushed forward and hugged her. “Your father is ver sick and wants you back home. Will you come?”
Gopal cursed under his breath, raking his fingers on his hair. In his agitation he started pacing the room.Jyoti stood in a corner, not saying anything, not moving at all. Aru had a sinking feeling. Things would never be the same again in her house.
“No Dad, you cannot leave us and go.” Aru shouted. “Tell this lady to go away at once.”
“I can’t Aru,” her father voice was broken. “He is my father who is dying and this is his last wish. You are too young to understand this now but when you grow up…..”
Jyoti’s wail filled in the room. Aru rushed to her mom and hugged her tight. Both mother and daughter hugged each other and cried. When the storm within them had subsided they both realized one thing – there was only silence around them.