The Tribune - Spectrum


, April 28, 2002

Life Ties

When only the image matters
Taru Bahl

TO Vrinda, appearances mattered more than anything else in the world. She wanted to be perceived as a good person by her relatives, neighbours, casual acquaintances, and even strangers. If a passerby seemed in distress, she always extended a helping hand. Even seemingly small and insignificant episodes made Vrinda feel great about herself. Being of use to strangers and accepting their words of gratitude as they acknowledged her help, gave her a high as nothing else did. It also made her feel useful, honourable and superior. Somewhere in her subconscious she had nurtured an image of herself as a do-gooder, as a person who would not tolerate any injustice if she was a witness to it.

Against this backdrop, one would have expected her personal life to be right out of a picture-perfect storybook in which all her relationships would be strong, meaningful and energising. It, therefore, came as a shock to see that the situation was anything but that. If there was a family that was more lopsided and out of sync, it was Vrinda’s own.

She had virtually no communication with her husband. All their life they had been at loggerheads with each other over the most trivial issues and now, in their twilight years, they had settled down to a relationship based on silence. They studiously avoided each other and had carved out their own separate lives. Her son, Varun, resented the abnormality of his parent’s union.


He had always been embarrassed by their constant bickering and arguing for the sake of arguing. Why couldn’t they like other parents see eye to eye on at least a few basic things, he often asked himself. Why couldn’t they be a "couple," doing things together, sharing confidences and the intimacy which their union demanded. Seeing them always at each other’s throats had made him insecure about his own self. Somewhere he blamed his mother for her aggression and lack of sensitivity. He was convinced that his father was a simpleton who could not conform to the ways of the world. He had his own way of doing things. He would never consciously harm anybody but he could not be forced to do something he did not believe in. His mother’s domineering and autocratic bullying clashed with his quiet and uncomplicated demeanour, moreso when she always insisted he do things for effect so that they create the right impressions in their social and family circle. Since their priorities and way of looking at situations was so different their stormy marriage created a complex set of distortions in the growing children’s minds.

It appeared to the world that Vrinda was an efficient woman who kept a good home. She was seen as a person who was always willing to lend herself to a cause. She, therefore, headed various community projects and had a stream of people pouring into the house seeking her advice and help.

Varun was filled with disgust seeing her high profile life when his father’s life was filled with loneliness and dejection. The imbalance in their household and the unequal tilt in their relationship made him abhor the thought of marriage. He kept avoiding tying the knot. The few serious involvements he had fizzled out because he was unwilling to make any long-term commitment. He remained a bachelor. There were rumours that he was a closet homosexual. His aversion for the female sex probably stemmed from his childhood.

His sister, Veena, was as quiet as a mouse who would shrink into a corner when the mother was around. She had no opinions on any subject, no friends and no ambitions. Since she was not doing well in studies, Vrinda thought it was best she get married and at least do a good job of being a homemaker. She would not listen to her husband or son when they suggested she take up a vocational course to at least become more worldly-wise and independent. But what Vrinda felt was right had to be implemented and she often dismissed any discussion which went against her mindset.

Veena got married into a conventional household. Here, the womenfolk were to be seen, not heard. Used to being subjugated, it wasn’t too difficult for her to adapt and find a place for herself in the family. Her husband loved her and her in-laws were fond of her. She had actually fitted in beautifully with their family set up.

But it was Vrinda who had a problem. How could her daughter always have to look at her husband’s approval for the smallest of things? Why didn’t she assert herself? Why did she allow them to walk all over her? Why couldn’t she find a voice and carve out her own identity? Her daughter tried making her see that she was happy and content with the way things were and that there was no cause for worry. Her husband and in-laws were caring and understood the responsibility of marriage and parenthood. They may not be ultra modern, but Veena herself was a traditional person happy to be led by those she felt were worthier. There was no conflict in her mind. Yet, Vrinda was not convinced. She began interfering in her married life by talking to her husband and her father-in-law. Her interventions were stressful for Veena. She dreaded her mother’s ‘courtesy calls’ that were always tactless. Finally, things came to a head and Veena, for the first time, took things in her hands. She told her mother not to come to her home. She told her that she may be a ‘good’ person who helped the world at large but had been unable to do anything for her own family. All her life she had been more bothered about what was happening outside her home and now when her family wanted her to continue with her ‘outdoor’ pursuits, she wanted to meddle in their affairs. For once they wanted to be left alone.

Over the years, if both the children did keep visiting their parental home it was only because they wanted to meet their father. When he died, their mother was attending a seminar on women empowerment in South Africa. It was the last time they visited their home. They had severed the link that had chained them to their past. As adults, they were now free to lead the lives they wanted to without the ‘honourable’ and ‘perfect’ spectre of their mother looming large over their horizons.

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