The sky was still a tawny red. And a hazy mauve showered Sunset Drive with a painful bliss. Baarish quietly watched another sun go down and bring darkness into her life. To our twelve year old Bostonian, sunset was more than a twilight gloom. Another day goes by without rain! Without baarish!! When shall her name live up to its fullness, its dreams? Her one dream?
Just as she was contemplating over her failed muse, her grandma’s husky accents barked “Baarish!” As if, she had been excavating for hours to make some ingenious find. Her white saree bordered with a neat and conventional green looked more like a country flag to Baarish. Her grandmother kept saying how cruel the scamp was to silently hide behind her bedroom window and not answer her. “My legs hurt. You know that, Baarish. I cannot keep climbing fourteen stairs and yell my lungs out just to bring you your cup of milk. Couldn’t you hear me shout your name so many times?” Baarish just said “No” as if to redefine her quiet, withdrawn nature. The young girl was again stifled by her grandma’s callous queries: “What do you keep looking out of your window every evening?” Baarish says nothing.
Baarish searches for those lovely little pearls pouring down from heaven. She thirsts for rain. The downpours—yes, that is what her name means. Her name bestowed upon her so lavishly by the dearest person to him, the one closest to her heart—Mukul—her mother.
Mukul’s marriage with Sushil, the promising engineer, brought her into the Boston cul-de-sac. Twelve years ago she was swept away from her loving home in Mumbai. Sushil’s home taught Mukul how to blend in with her loneliness. After the sixth year of her life in Boston, she gave birth to a little charming girl. Nipping at her fingers and her breast. And suddenly there was an onrush of fluid joy flooding Mukul’s life. What showers of pride!! She had so many things to be proud of now—the twinkle of those misty eyes, those uninvited smiles, that growing mischief. And mostly, she was proud of herself. Of creating her lovely angel, her divine glory, her paradise.
Paradise it was for both Mukul and Baarish. Mukul had named her so because not for a moment could she forget the greatest truth of her life—how happiness suddenly rained upon her. And her daughter was her rain. She felt every bit of truth bearing Baarish’s name. Right from the moment she named her baby girl to the day she left her Boston home on Baarish’s twelfth birthday. Baarish was baarish, those little pearls pouring down from the skies to sing to Mukul’s thirst. Baarish knew how much she meant to her mother and why Mukul picked this Urdu word for her only child’s name. Whenever Baarish would look into Mukul’s dark brown eyes, she felt their pulse. The twelve years of her life with her mother were so true! Could that truth just wheeze into the darkness? “It couldn’t”, was what Baarish kept thinking every evening as she watched the sky gamble with its assiduous colors. As if its vastness wanted to tell Baarish a secret. The secret of the lilting melodies of rain conquering its soft hues. The secret of Baarish.
It was one such dusky sunset humbly yielding to the pouring rain when Mukul left the rain of her life. Her Baarish. The twelve years of her cozy niche with Baarish was cruelly ravished. Sushil had found his own romantic niche in Amisha. Who was a far better choice than Mukul in every way. Or so Sushil thought. And Muklul had to leave Sushil’s abode forever. Was it with shame or defeat or humiliation that she deserted the Sushil household? It was perhaps none of these. It was only emptiness. Only nothingness. And pain. If there was any humiliation at all, it was that of a mother being un-mothered. If there was any shame, it was the unveiling of her warm home with Baarish. If there was any sense of defeat, it was that failure of not to be near Baarish and see her grow up.
Baarish grew up with all these thoughts ever since Mukul left. Six years have passed. But Baarish has never skipped even one evening looking out of her window. Not to see the colorful tapestry of the heavens, but to hear its untold secrets. Hoping that if the rains pour in, her mother will be treading her way home to him. But the sinking sun has never let that happen. Everyday it is the same yellow ball of fire swimming behind the clouds. And sinking the neighborhood in blackness. Baarish could see through this blackness, this blankness. She could touch it. Feel it. For, all it told her was that his mother was not home.
Baarish is now left with her paternal grandmother, Tripti. After Mukul left, Sushil, too much entangled with his work and his new love, needed someone to take care of his daughter. So he conveniently brings his mother to his Boston home. Moving from India to Sushil’s outlandish house, Tripti finds it hard to come to terms with this new life so relentlessly thrust upon her by her son. In this wrestle, the old widow fails to look inside her granddaughter’s heart. To Baarish, her grandmother is just a blatant reminder of Mukul’s absence.
And so, our lovely, lonely Baarish finds an unspoken bond with the dusk that is as lonely and lovely as herself. Baarish will never stop asking the clouds the story of their arcane glory—the mystery of the downpours. She can still smell and touch those profuse droplets of rain that pricked the earth on the day her mother left her. Every evening she relives and yearns for the precious moments she shared with Mukul. Every sunset her dreams keep dying. But she wakes up to her dream anew the next day. Because she knows that the showers are yet to come.
But the showers never came for six more years. Baarish’s eighteenth birthday brought for her another day of ignominy. Her birthday was more a reminder of her mother leaving her than a happy celebration for herself. The only joy Baarish felt on her birthday was the thought that what would Mukul say if the mother and daughter had met each other. What would the celebration be like? Would it be a gala party or a quiet fireside conversation between Mukul and herself? As Baarish’s imagination traversed these thoughts, she was also overcome with a seething pain like she always did on her birthday. Suddenly, a strange chord struck inside her. What if she could bring this imaginary meeting with her mother to fruition? Would it be very strange for Mukul and Baarish to meet each other after six years? The mother and daughter were sundered by time and place and so many other things. Baarish had spent her growing years in the absence of her real mother. Amisha and Tripti were the two women raising Baarish. The more Tripti’s age told on her, the less she could find any compatibility with Baarish. Amisha, in the eyes of Baarish, was confused between her Indian and American identities. Baarish was always an observer trying to study people even if they were a generation apart. Baarish thought that she herself was like Mukul because both of them knew how to suffer quietly and remain unsullied by external intrusions. Baarish remembered her mother’s silent nature and imperviousness to the material world of glamor or fashion. Amisha cared too much for cosmetics and a loud makeover. Mukul was the diametric opposite of Amisha. And Baarish was too.
Ever since Amisha came into Sushil’s home, she didn’t blend into it, but fought it, grasped it, usurped it. It was her home. An ownership she could easily claim to. But Baarish couldn’t. Because she always felt the absence of her mother in the presence of Amisha. Baarish and Amisha shared rather a cold but peaceful relationship because there was hardly any relation between them. They both knew they were different from each other and so kept to themselves. And the Sushil-Amisha household was apparently a peaceful haven where everything was right.
Life was not right for Baarish, though. Now that she was not a child anymore, she never waited for her mother to return home. But her patience was wearing off to see the person she loved most. She would have to tell Mukul everything about herself, her life, friends, Tripti, Amisha. And Mukul would have to tell her how Sushil deserted her, how he never hesitated to break so many hearts, so many lives. Baarish decided to arrange for such a meeting. She told Sushil who readily gave in to her request. The strangely cold and neutral person that he was, Baarish thought! At least, the indifference and objectivity paid off now.
So, there was Baarish making a decision and making meaningful use of her new adulthood. She was on her way to meet her mother. Mukul had moved back to Mumbai after getting a divorce from Sushil. Baarish would ask her why she hadn’t written to or communicated with her all these years. Baarish would show all the e-mails she had written to Mukul but kept them in her inbox, unsent. Those e-mails were just like Baarish herself because they lay there all those years unheard, but not unfelt. In her loneliness, these e-mails became Baarish’s company. She released herself through the words: the words that were entirely her own. And the words took in all her inner turmoil, anger, frustration, aloneness. Those letters on the screen were the Pangaea clutching herself with the Mukul she envisioned. She never wanted this silent connection with her mother to drift away. Baarish never wanted to lose the sanctity of her untold rapport she enjoyed with Mukul in Mukul’s absence. This absence had become a constant presence in Baarish’s life. But after having spent six years in this enclosed world of hers, Baarish was ready to face the new. It was time she came out into the open.
The arrangements for the travel were made quickly and Baarish was all set to see the world: her world. Boston to Mumbai was quite a tedious journey and more so with the flight delays. Finally, Baarish reached Mumbai International Airport only to be dazzled by its occidental grandeur. She had never come to India before and the only ideas she had of her parents’ mother-country were from bits of Sushil’s and Tripti’s recollections of their past. Pictures and information from magazines, translated fiction from original Indian authors, television news, and a few movies: these were some of the other meager sources that provided an image of India in Baarish’s mind. But these were all second hand renditions in some form. Now Baarish would actually discover this beautiful country for the first time. She was awe-struck by the affluence and sparkle of the airport. She was expecting more of a second rate travel forum where people went berserk elbowing each other in the crowd, not caring, not thinking. For that was the impression of India she had gathered in her eighteen years of life. How enormously misleading, she thought of all those books and pictures! She was momentarily lost in that thought when suddenly the real mission of her journey dawned upon her.
There was Mukul waiting to greet her. The moment was frozen. Both mother and daughter were attacked by an onslaught of memories: memories of love and only love. There was a profuse outpour of mingled emotions inundating Baarish’s young mind. She was so desperate to hug her mother tight. Yet, she was unsure if Mukul, who had kept herself away from her daughter, would accept her with a mother’s embrace or not. Mukul did. She almost fainted with joy and sorrow and remorse and all those gaping wounds that were so restive to be stitched and healed. Never mind the pain gone into the closing of wounds. Mukul and Baarish tightly en-clasped each other like a drowning man trying to fight the devouring water and wanting so desperately to live. Time had stopped for Mukul and Baarish and they could remain enfolded forever. Eternally. Nothing else mattered.
The car ride to Mukul’s apartment was almost insubstantial. Baarish ceased to think of anything surrounding her, but her mother. The young girl awoke to the physicality of the place when she entered Mukul’s home. Mukul lives all by herself in her deceased parents’ Mumbai apartment. Baarish was taking in the loneliness oozing out of the couches, center table, bookshelves, everything in the living room. The first thing she wanted to ask her mother was that how could she live all by herself. As the day went by, Baarish poured out her heart, her anguish on being alone even though she was surrounded by three adults all these years. Mukul listened to her avidly but seldom spoke. But Baarish’s words were not unheard this time. For they were brought to life by being spoken. The girl who had now become a woman could unleash all those unuttered secrets to the woman who meant the world to her. Mukul heard her daughter’s story feeling all the time the presence of herself in it though she was never there in reality. The story gave Mukul strange feelings of joy and guilt because whatever Baarish said finally succumbed to the idea of the absence of her mother. Baarish has been living in an enclosure constantly etherealizing her mother as the perfect human being even whose absence is inspirational. “It is time now”, thought Mukul. Her sense of guilt goaded her into telling Baarish the truth.
The excited daughter was looking forward to hearing Mukul. But Baarish felt her mother was rather tentative in her sentences as if speaking did not come effortlessly to her. Years of an unhappy marriage that ultimately led to humiliation and then a completely solitary life might have taken away her urge to articulate. But the real reason slowly came up the surface like a hidden tsunami shaking the earth around Baarish. “I was never happy in my marriage with your father until you came” Mukul said. That truth was obvious, Baarish thought. But what more? “Amisha came into your father’s life, true, but she came into my life before that. I happened to meet Amisha at a grocery store one lonely morning and after that at the Bharatiya temple in Boston. Those couple of meetings put ideas into my head. I felt so small, so ugly and so unsmart before Amisha. This is the kind of woman Sushil would like, I kept thinking. And then I turned criminal! I deliberately introduced Amisha to your father and contrived frequent meetings between them. Knowing Sushil for twelve years, I was almost sure that I had hit the right target. I was never the right choice for your dad because he was too fast for me and did not quite respect my steady and rather timorous ways. Our arranged marriage had never found a deeper meaning beyond leading our mundane lives. And his overpowering personality strangled my unassertive nature in a way the angry lightning capriciously kills an innocent life. His presence never made me comfortable because I couldn’t be myself. All I was doing was catering to his moods, his ways. I had this nagging sense of slavishness because I felt I was being tied to Sushil without any commonness existing between us. But then you came. I found life in you and through you. That was not the whole truth, though! Because I was a human being, and after all, an individual. I could not live entirely for someone else even if that someone was you. I had to live myself too. I needed to be at ease, just be myself. And Amisha proved to be the answer to my inner vacuum. I would deliberately let Amisha and Sushil be together so that they decide to be together forever. Things happened just the way I designed. Amisha and Sushil were attracted to each other and decided to get married. The path was easy for me.”
Baarish could not believe what she just heard. Her mother was a plotter when all through, she had been deifying Mukul for having borne so much humiliation. “Why did you not just ask for a divorce from papa? Why did you have you go wicked?” asked Baarish. Mukul was not sure if Baarish would understand her. “I don’t know if I am able to relate to you how I exactly felt in Sushil’s home. On the surface, there was absolutely nothing wrong in our marriage. We had a house in a decent neighborhood, Sushil had a steady income with a satisfying job and I was the perfect housewife. But Sushil and I were polar opposites. When my father was seriously ill, I searched for but found no solace in my husband’s words or actions. Sushil could easily dismiss my concern by saying that it was not shocking that the old man was ailing. After all, he was like an old car that got worse with time and finally forgotten. My shock at Sushil’s insensitivities like these increased the gap between us. I could never share my grief with Sushil when I lost any of my close family members, I could not ask my folks from India to visit me because Sushil did not quite like the idea. I always felt that there was a deep chasm between us that was better left unexplored. The gap seemed only to grow! He was always too practical going by the count of expenses and never by the urge to have a healthy social life. Sushil was very self-immersed and it never occurred to him that he was so. I could never voice myself because everything starting from decorating the living room to buying a kitchen utensil to selecting your pediatrician was solely his choice. My opinions were thwarted the moment I expressed them. We hardly shared a togetherness on any holidays or festivals or even on our wedding anniversary. I felt I was simply an extension of the wood and floors of his house. Apparently everything was right, but internally I was goaded by the feeling of being extraneous to Sushil’s home. The world was chicaned into a wrong idea about our so-called happy home. It was hard for me to explain myself to the outer world. But I knew I had to get myself out of that prison. My parents were not ready to listen to the justification of a divorce because they thought I had all the luxuries of life and a capable husband and that I was not thinking of the social consequences of a legal separation. But I knew that I could not go on living like that. My suffocation had to free itself of the shackles of Sunset Drive. I found a sneaky way to escape that desiccated existence. I know I have wronged you the most through my cold contrivance. And I ask you to forgive me if you can. I could never get your custody because Sushil had economic independence and he won his case against me. My own designs rebounded on me. After I left Boston, I never got in touch with you because I did not want to ruffle your life. I couldn’t stop myself when after six years you said you wanted to see me. I was prepared to tell you the truth even though it might mean you would hate me for the rest of your life. I had once artfully maneuvered others to better my life but bartered a deprived motherhood for only a drop of freedom. Who knows that Sushil might have changed into a more accommodating man down the road? After all, he did not oppose the idea of me choosing your name! May be I needed to have more patience and work towards a transformation in him and in myself. I could have tried to be more assertive and confident and slowly make him feel the need of my presence. Then things might gradually fall into place and we might be the real happy family the outside world viewed us to be. That would have made your life so much better. And I wouldn’t have to live with this guilt and remorse. My scheme was not worth it!”
Baarish listened to her mother in absolute silence. Why was life betraying her so? She had always loved her mother more than anybody in the world. And now the most loved person in her life was begging her forgiveness for something that created a whirlpool of darkness in Baarish’s mind. She always thought that the entire fault was her father’s. The belief that her mother was impeccable kept Baarish alive. But at this moment she felt so wrong about everything. Mukul had wronged her and Baarish had wronged Sushil by hating him every day for something he was slyly manipulated into.
Baarish got a ticket back to Boston much earlier than her planned return date. She was not sure if she could fathom her mother’s side of the story. Perhaps she should hear Sushil’s version of the past. So many realities were yet to be unraveled. But Baarish thought it best to leave things as they were. She was not ready for another shock, another miasma. All she knew was that she had to let life flow and not freeze. She was actually happy to see Sushil and even Tripti and Amisha at the airport. It was dusk when she got back home. The sky was tawny red and a haze of mauve showered Sunset Drive with a painful bliss. And then it came pouring down. Perhaps the rains had waited for Baarish to return home. But she was not waiting for anybody’s return anymore. She had ceased to wait just as she would cease writing those e-mails in secret. Life was never black or white, she pondered. It was like those myriad shades of colors in the twilight sky, some fading, some disappearing, and some overtaking the others in their richness and complexity. A marvelous yet uncanny intrigue. And the solutions to the intricate mystery were never simple, never singular. Baarish was eighteen.