The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, August 19, 2001
Life Ties

Being progressive has more to do with attitude
Taru bahl

MAHESH and Vineet knew each other since they were knee-high. Vineet came from a moneyed and seemingly progressive family. His father had procured a fancy degree from a foreign university before taking over the family business and his mother had gone through Switzerland’s ace finishing school. Theirs was an opulent lifestyle and they hob-knobbed with the city’s elite. Mahesh’s background was simple and unpretentious. His parents belonged to Punjab’s agricultural hinterland and had barely managed a passable degree before moving to the city to pick up coveted sarkari naukris. Both were working with the SBI at the clerical level. They were self-made, their needs were frugal and energies focused on giving their two children a decent education.

Vineet and Mahesh bonded with each other on an intuitive level. They understood each other’s feelings. Which is why both families accepted and relied on the effect/influence that one had over the other. Mahesh had to shift base to a different town to further his career prospects. They kept in touch but as they got busy with their lives contact became sporadic.

They finally caught up with each other after 30 years when Mahesh got to know from a common friend that "Vineet was in a bad shape". It brought back old memories and he was compelled with a need to see his old pal. He made a special trip from Canada (he was now an NRI) to meet Vineet and was shocked to discover that their lives had changed almost irreversibly and absolutely beyond recognition.


Mahesh had been in no hurry to earn a quick buck. When, after two attempts, he did not get through engineering he decided to switch to financial analysis and computer programming. His parents neither clamped restrictions on him nor weighed him down with the burden of responsibility, but left him free to discover himself and map out his future the way he deemed fit.

Whatever support they could provide, they readily did. The silent pressure on Mahesh to perform and come upto the expectations of his parents was there, but it never suffocated him. He joined a well-paying MNC. He was farsighted and pragmatic enough to see that the economy was not doing well and his company would within a decade find its orders drying up.

He had to explore new avenues. At work, he was drawn to Meghna, a hardworking colleague whose inner strength and quiet dignity pulled him towards her. As they got to know each other better, he realised she had suffered a traumatic past. Her family had been cheated by an impostor who had lied about his job and marital status. He had been married for a decade and when his wife was unable to produce a male child, he deserted them, changed his city and identity. He hoodwinked Meghna’s parents by making them give her hand in marriage to him.

The marriage lasted a few months. The moment the truth became known, her family helped her to terminate the relationship. She was now reconciled to living a life of a spinster but destiny willed otherwise.

Within a year, Mahesh and Meghna were married. Neither his parents nor he thought that their ‘act’ was patronising or one deserving of credit. Vineet was in love with her and his parents backed his decision, accepting her into their fold. They felt he had made their task simpler by finding a girl of his choice. Besides she was the kind of girl who was an asset to any family.

Although Vineet couldn’t come for the wedding he phoned Mahesh, expressing shock and bewilderment at his ‘boldness’ and ‘heroism’. His words still rang in Mahesh’s ears, "yaar, you are great. Having experience is an advantage but in a marriage partner I would have preferred a novice. As always you have beaten me in this sphere too." The crude barb went straight through Mahesh’s heart like a poisoned arrow. Something switched off inside and he distanced himself from Vineet. Meanwhile, he and his parents decided not to give anyone, not even relatives and friends, the opportunity to say anything derogatory about Meghna. If they gave her respect and love, reposing confidence and faith in her no one would dare gossip or show ‘sympathy’.

Soon after, Mahesh got an interesting offer with a Canadian firm. The decision of moving to foreign shores with an attractive salary was tempting and also frightening. He had aging parents, a new bride and a young unmarried sister to think of. But the family got together and encouraged him to explore new opportunities by taking the risk, while he was still young. It took Meghna four years before she could join him. She got herself a job, acquiring skills which would come handy in Canada and executed not just the bahu’s role but also the beta’s. She did all the planning and running around for her sister-in- law’s wedding. Mahesh only came down as a guest. Once, all the papers were ready she joined him and his parents followed soon after. They had two daughters and after a few years Mahesh also convinced his brother-in-law to move to Canada. Now, they had their own mini-India with them. Relatives marvelled at their good fortune. Many openly said that they were fortunate in getting a daughter-in-law who had all the skills required of a modern young girl but the basic attributes and values of a traditional, simple and homely bahu.

Some even pontificated that getting a girl from a social strata which was a rung lower than the boys’ had been a ‘strategic move’. She had made sincere attempts to match up, fit in and be worthy of her in-laws’ love and blessings.

Things hadn’t been so hunky -dory with Vineet. After graduation, he decided to join his father in business and settle down to a lifetime of comfort. He felt that what he could learn on the job, no amount of degrees and qualifications could teach him. When he fell in love with a girl from his colony, his parents opposed the match on grounds of the girl’s family status not matching theirs.

They had bigger plans for him. They were eyeing daughters of business families who by virtue of being the only child were legal heirs to their parents’ business and property. Vineet succumbed to parental pressure seeing that Ritu’s family was in line with his parents’ plan. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t work out. Ritu’s fiercely independent ways and Bohemian lifestyle were not in sync with Vineet’s parents because though they were outwardly modern they were conventional and orthodox when it came to expectations from their daughter-in-law.

A lot of mud- raking followed with Ritu’s family publicly denouncing Vineet and his parents. Amidst much drama they took her away, demanding a ‘refund’ of all that was spent on the wedding. Certain business deals on the basis of their ‘contribution’ had already been initiated. Reversing them created a financial muddle. To aggravate things, an astronomical one-time alimony had to be paid. Things just slid downhill after this. Vineet’s father developed health problems. The next eight to nine years were hellish. Huge hospital bills, Vineet’s inability and disinterest to resurrect plunging bottomlines in business proved expensive. It was easy for unfaithful managers to misappropriate funds. Things reached a head when they were forced to sell off the factory and lay off old workers who cooperated because of their long association with the family. Logic told him to pick up a job and start afresh but the fear of what people would say kept him back. Maintaining a false standard of living was stressful. They continued to live in their palatial home, keep four cars, wear branded clothes and throw lavish parties. Only the loans and debts kept piling up.

When Mahesh met Vineet, he had turned into a heavy drinker. His parents were no longer alive, yet he felt chained to his miserable past and hopeless future. All fixed assets had been sold or mortgaged. Mahesh took a look at all his properties and worked out a realistic ‘survival plan’.

Once convinced that Vineet was willing to help himself, he sorted out the mess and helped him make up his mind about coming to Canada and finding some employment to begin with, even if it was not in keeping with his ‘status’. He had to think of the future by getting out of the regressive mindset he had allowed himself to be dominated by.

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