“Aunty, are you sure you can come on your own? I can still come to the Rajiv Chowk metro station and pick you up. We can come together.” I bit my lip as I waited for her to answer though I knew what she would say. She replied, “Nahi beta, I’ll come. Now I am learning to walk alone and I know I don’t have my son walking beside me to hold me if I fall. Don’t worry, I’ll manage” and before I could insist, she disconnected.
I had called Mrs. Shreyash almost after a year and had finally called her up to ask her if she could come alone to commemorate her deceased son on his second death anniversary; who was my classmate and happened to be my best friend too. In fact, I had called her last year on the same day, the 5th of September, 2011. I felt miserable for not having kept in touch with her, but I myself was nothing more than a wallflower; a creeper who’d grow upon her pain and loss too thereby increasing both our agonies multiple folds.
The guilt was over-bearing but I guess we need to fight our own battles and let the skeletons rest in our own closets. Certain losses cannot be expressed shared or halved. After a point, we tend to fall back upon those who support us and then we end up hurting ourselves as they move away; which does happen gradually, intentionally or otherwise. I did too, much before I could hurt her and told her that I’d be there whenever she truly needed me, but for the rest, she’d have to be her own best friend. Of course it sounds utterly rude and insensitive, and many of my friends hated me for this change in attitude in me. However, they never knew the person Kinshuk Shreyash was, and they had no idea of what I shared with him or with his mother.
Of the 5 odd meetings with Ms. Shreyash, two hold distinct places in my memory. One was when I met her for the first time on the 30th of August, 2010, in the hospital where her son Kinshuk was admitted. I cannot forget how we had held hands in prayer, affirming that Kinshuk would get cured. And the second was on 5th September,2010 when she clung on to me, tugging at my kurta asking me, “Why, why did he have to die? What will I do of this life when he isn’t by my side anymore?”
Some co-incidences are funny, in a sad way. 5th September is a special day for a teacher, it being Teacher’s Day. Ms. Shreyash had retired that year from her schooling career in Dhanbad, their hometown and had decided to move to Delhi with Kinshuk, who was planning to give the Public Services Examination next year after he’d be done with his graduation that year. Who would have known that 2010 had so much in store that a future wasn’t plausible for Kinshuk. On a metaphorical note, it seemed like a retirement from her career as a mother as well for Ms. Shreyash. My ‘why’s seemed minuscule in front of her grief.
I distanced myself from her, when problems incurred in her family especially with her elder son not liking my interference in their household matters, in which Ms. Shreyash increasingly involved me. She had been a strong woman all her life; Kinshuk had told me about her everyday struggles in her married life and her ambitions to open a school for the poor someday. Time played a great role; I went into my Masters and she shifted back to Dhanbad. Calls came lesser and soon conversations were about updates from each other’s lives.
And there she stood in front of me looking graceful in an off white saree, smiling at me. I sprinted up to her and hugged her tight. I do not give that hug to many; it was a special kind of a hug that Kinshuk often gave me. The bear hug that pushes every atom of air out of you and the arms cover you in entirety. The hug that fills you with so much love that the strain of the lungs seems nothing and the eyes sting of the warmth that you feel. To find someone to love and to be loved in return are the greatest achievements in life. Kinshuk had a way to make me feel loved. And so did Ms.Shreyash. When she hugged me, I felt that love. Even after months of not communicating, of the conscious self-distancing, here we were bonded by an unnamed relation that no one could define.
Sambhavna, a junior came up to me, “Priyanka Di, Let’s start the program?” I broke away from her embrace and Ms. Shreyash was taken to the area where a huge crowd had gathered in front of Kinshuk’s pictures, lighting candles there. As the program went on, I stood at a corner tight-lipped. I had told myself over and over to not cry. It would look so stupid to cry, it had been two years after all. Not that pain had anything to do with days but people still hope that time heals the pain and I did not wish to break that hope.
Ms. Shreyash was asked to speak. She thanked people for coming and then broke a news that stunned me. She had constructed a new floor in her house and has started a private tuition centre where she teaches poor women and children. Many other teachers come to help her too. Ms. Shreyash had tears in her eyes and the loss was crystal clear; no one and nothing can heal the loss of a child. But she made her dream turn into a reality; she had opened the school she wanted to. In fact, it was running successfully. Furthermore, she requested the Principal of our college to organize a scholarship scheme in Kinshuk’s name for worthy students.
I broke down, perhaps the first time in the two years. Being strong is not good for your public image; people expect you to keep smiling through the odds which is a delirious situation. You want to shriek and cry out your agony but something in you corks the bottle from overflowing. I cried not for losing my best friend, I cried not because reality had stung me. I cried because the mother showed me a strength that I thought neither of us possessed. She was so utterly vulnerable, so alone, Kinshuk was not just a son; he was her lifeline. And yet, today she stood in front of so many people, making all that she had dreamt and discussed with her son come true, all alone. The tensile strength of being a human hit me hard in the guts. How many bridges does a person have to cross and burn, cross and burn before she manages to utter, “I am not broken, just bent!”?
As the program ended, she came to me and gave me that familiar hug. I howled, “Aunty! Thank you! I am so proud of you.”
“I am proud of you too, Priya” she whispered back.