The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 1, 2002

Life Ties

A relationship in the grey zone
Taru Bahl

BHAVYA was extremely close to Kalpana, her mother. In the teenage years when all her friends sought the company of other like-minded soul mates, she found herself most comfortable with her mother. There was security in the knowledge that she would get the benefit of doubt whenever her steps faltered. Bhavya stepped into womanhood as a self-assured young girl. Unlike her flighty friends, she rarely got swept off her feet by flattering suitors. Being mature did not mean she was a party-pooper. She had her share of fun but was also grounded.

The first time her steady boyfriend kissed her, Bhavya did not go running to her peer group to share the earth-shattering news. She told her mother, who did not launch into a moralistic tirade but gently asked, "I hope it was beautiful". The senior woman masked her feelings, preferring to flow with her daughter. Subsequently, when Bhavya asked for advice, "how far do I go with him, physically?" Kalpana said, "you have to decide your limits and stick by them. A man will keep asking if he can hold your hand till the day you let him. The next time round he will not seek permission, that much he will take for granted." Such intimate talk was what made their bond special.

On her part, Bhavya too sensed her mother’s moods. Through her growing years, she knew that Kalpana shared more than just a ‘neighbourly’ relationship with the widowed uncle who lived in the flat next to theirs. Though age separated the two by more than 15 years and there was no romantic attachment, there was a deep friendship based on common interests. Without being told, the daughter knew that her mother turned to the older gentleman for support and understanding at times when the going became tough, be it in the office or at home.


Battling with a demanding husband and overly critical in-laws had stifled Kalpana’s growth but she had never so much as protested. Her smiling countenance shielded many unshed tears. Bhavya could see that. While she never held it against her father, she was unsentimental enough to see that her parents were two very different people. She herself was a spitting image of her dad. Indeed, she took pride in being like him. Yet, she could see that there existed something special between her mother and uncle, without betraying her own loyalty to her father.

When Bhavya got married she desperately wanted to have a daughter. Her relationship with her mother was so unique that she hoped to replicate it. She finally reconciled to having two sons. Every time she came to her maternal home, she looked up uncle. Bhavya never asked her mother to define her relationship with the senior gentleman.

In fact, over the years, uncle became a trusted confidante. While her father was always there to offer a steady shoulder and advice, albeit along conservative lines, uncle could get under her skin. He could pin-point exactly how she would interpret situations and/or act on them. Just talking to him was cathartic. He was a patient and empathetic listener who gently prodded her to think and reach conclusions. He made her look at things for what they were, giving her the courage to confront situations.

Soon after her marriage, the doctors diagnosed that Kalpana had cancer. Uncle was the one who helped Bhavya accept that her mother did not have long to live. He was also the first to notice chinks in her marital armour. He could see the pain in the eyes and the effort she made in putting up a cheerful front. It required just some gentle coercion and the dam burst. Her husband was a philanderer and coping with his lies and irresponsible ways had made her life a living hell. He was also getting violent, though he had still not lifted his hand on her. With uncle’s help she tried coping with the situation for a while, trying to set things right and learning to exist within the existing framework since that is what her father wanted. But when things deteriorated and she returned home with a bruised eye, he told her categorically to stay back, not to return.

By now the situation was not hidden from the family. Her father was unsure of how to handle the crisis. He dramatised the repercussions of having his married daughter return home with two teenaged sons in tow, convinced it would affect his dying wife adversely. Besides Bhavya’s husband was such a charmer and his promises so convincing, it was difficult not to give him yet another chance. Caught in a bind, the always-ready-to-conform Bhavya kept returning to her marital home, convinced that for the sake of the children she had to tolerate her situation.

There was no hope and no love left in what she shared with her husband, yet that one decisive step was difficult to take. Every affair of her husband was followed by scenes, reassurances and promises. Normalcy would be established only to be shattered in a few months.

Unable to see her losing her health and mental balance, it was uncle who took a stand and offered her his home to come back to. He made her see that things were not alright, would never be and that she was only fooling herself. She had to take that one big bold step, even if it meant being termed a home breaker. She had to do it to preserve her sanity and to make something of her life. She owed it to herself and to her sons to live a life of trust and love. She could not keep vacillating. The transition period she could spend in his house by which time her father was sure to come around.

If, during that period her mother did pass away, she was not to hold herself responsible. All the people who loved her would stand by her. She had to take the decision of reconstructing her life while there was still time. She had to rely on her own abilities, without expecting others to pick up the cudgels on her behalf. It was strange how her mother and uncle passed away within a week. In his will, he bequeathed his flat to her. More than financial security, he had given her emotional freedom. Though she could not openly acknowledge his contribution in shaping her life and could not put a name to the relationship, she knew that what they had between them was sacred. It did not need society’s sanction, for it had the blessings of the Almighty himself.

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