“What were you like when you were a child?” Deepika asks.
Shweta smiles at the question.
“Oh! I was just like you,” she tries to assure her daughter.
Deepika is not satisfied with the answer. She is grown up and not a child. Only last week she has celebrated her fifth birthday.
“But I am so small and you are so old, where was I then?” is Deepika’s next question.
“Oh, just somewhere around,” Shweta is worried where the discussion is leading.
“Was I in the sky, with the stars?” Deepika asks.
For a moment, there is a tense silence. Suddenly Deepika’s friends loudly call her for a bicycle ride and she runs away. Shweta is relieved. After every such conversation, Shweta realizes that the time is running out. For how long the truth could be hidden?
Whenever Shweta faces such weird questions from Deepika; she invariably remembers her own childhood. She too used to ask so many questions, not to her mother but to her father. The only difference was: Shweta never asked questions about her past. She had an inner feeling that it was difficult for her father to answer questions about past. Shweta always posed questions about future. “Daddy, what will be I when I grow?” “Baba, which city I will be staying in?” – and all such questions. Grandmother never liked Shweta asking too many questions and tried to restrain Shweta from throwing those. Grandmother always found fault with everything that Shweta did. However Baba always smiled, and appealed grandmother, “it is not her fault, don’t punish her for her innocence’.
As Shweta grew up, from occasional pieces of conversations of her relatives, she could understand few things. But she never was sure about the truth, as some pieces were completely missing. Her father never encouraged the idea of inviting relatives or visiting them. So, such occasions of ‘relative gossip’ were rare.
Shweta did not dare to ask anything to Baba. Grandmother might have told the truth, but she had died without revealing it. Shweta stopped asking questions. Shweta had to do it deliberately. Somewhere she had a feeling that future was not independent of past, they were closely connected. Shweta had experienced that speaking about past was stressful and painful to her father. Shweta stopped asking questions, though she could never stop thinking of those.
Did Shweta miss her mother? Not really. Watching her father, she had realized that she was different from him– not only in looks but even in habits, likings and choices. Was Shweta like her mother? – She did not know. Once she dared to ask this question to Baba, and was struck by his answer “I do not know, baby”. How could he not know? Was he telling a lie? Was he hiding something from her?
Deepika rushes in. Her face is reddish, her eyes are swollen. Tears are flowing down rapidly. She is frightened. She holds Shweta with such a force; that makes Shweta understand Deepika’s feeling of insecurity. “Ma, did you purchase me from the doctor? Roshani says that I am not your daughter. You brought me from somewhere, from someone. Everybody laughed at me and started teasing me. Is it true? And all my friends have Papa, where is mine?”
Shweta is unable to speak. She tries to console the child by patting her, by hugging her, by kissing her. But the child is really angry. Love is not the need of the moment; truth is the need of the moment.
Shweta feels helpless. She does not want to hurt Deepika and she knows that reality is too harsh for Deepika. Shweta wants to protect Deepika but is unable to protect.
Shweta looks at her father who is standing silently in the corner of the room. He is old now, but is still very active. He and Deepika is all that Shweta has. Shweta needs support from her father to console Deepika.
Baba is strangely silent. He is looking at Shweta and Deepika with all tenderness. He wants to say something but is just staring at them. “Baba,” Shweta tries to call him very softly. For a moment Shweta is worried because he is watching them but is not really ‘seeing’ them. He is standing in such a way as if he has some different scene in front of him. He is stressed, he is concerned, he looks worried, he is shaking, and tears drop down. What is father remembering?
“Shweta, my dear child, never bother about what they say. I am here, I love you”, Baba says as if in a trance.
Why is he addressing Shweta instead of Deepika?
Another piece of truth, which was successfully hidden for so many years, is unknowingly revealed at last.