Manorama checked the test kit one more time. It clearly showed two distinct pink lines. This is it, she thought. This can’t be wrong anymore. A sense of immense happiness was shooting up her stomach, going past her throat and now almost touching her ears. She felt out of this world, she felt euphoric!
What happens when too much of happiness gets into your head? Doesn’t it make one a little numb for sometime? Manorama is feeling that numbness somewhere deep inside. A sense of calm is descending upon her.
It is 8 am in the morning and the city of Mumbai is already buzzing with the days’ chores. Manorama has taken an off today, while Dilip, her husband has already left for work. She wasn’t feeling that great this morning and travelling all the way to Lower Parel from her Navi Mumbai residence would have only made her doubly tired. With the pregnancy test kit still in her hands, her mind is wheezing with so many thoughts that she doesn’t know which one to pay attention to. She wants to sit for some more time, trying to let things sink in.
It would be wrong to say that Manorama never felt happiness in her life up until now, she did. Marrying Dilip, whom she met during her engineering days in Pune was a great high in her life, but apart from that, true happiness had mostly eluded her. She had never felt a sense of belonging to anything in her life. She never knew what it is to have siblings, what it is to be nurtured by the infinite love of a mother or protected by the ever generous affection of a father. What it is to have a family of one’s own, to visit one’s native place, grandparents, their tales and falling asleep to those wondrous stories? She had little idea. Manorama was an orphan. She had never had a ‘home’ of her own.
All her growing up years, she had lived in space crunched, morose orphanages, first in Chennai, then in Mumbai, with children who just like her, longed to have a family that they could call their own. For several years, she had thought to herself may be this is the way it is with everyone. But when she grew a little older, life threw enough instances at her face to make her realize that there is a big world outside her orphanage, that while other children had a home, she did not, while they had mothers and fathers who would love them to pieces, she did not.
Well, the almighty was not all that harsh to her though. Amidst all the pain and insufferable childhood memories of growing up in an orphanage, there was a piece of blessing in her life too, the one who showered her with all the love and compassion at a time when her own parents had left her in the lurch, her biological mother’s friend – Srinath Srinivasan.
Manorama did not know much about her biological parents all throughout her childhood, barring few details like she was given away to an orphanage in Adyar, Chennai by two people who didn’t wish to have this baby in their lives. Who were these people, she didn’t wish to know. Life taught her many things much earlier. At a very young age, she realized that if two people can leave her when she was a little baby, they would care two hoots about her now that she was a grown up. It was much later that she learnt about them.
She had been a very good student throughout her school and after getting admission to a top Engineering college in Pune, when it was finally time for her to leave the orphanage in Mumbai, her Srinath uncle had come to meet her and had told her about her biological parents for the first time. He had taken her to the nearby coffee shop to tell few things which he thought she must know. Deprived that she was of a normal life, that day after knowing about her real story, she had felt an excruciating pain within. “How unthinking and ruthless can human beings be!” She had thought to herself. She hated her parents even more from that day on.
Her Srinath uncle told her that her father was a Sinhalese who had come to study in Chennai from Srilanka under some cultural exchange program that was being carried out between Srilanka and the state of Tamil Nadu. Her mother was a Tamil Christian who was a student of the same university. Theirs’ was a whirlwind affair and that things were going fine until one day when her mother realized that she was carrying a baby. To get rid of this hurdle that came their way, they tried all means but unfortunately, the baby couldn’t get aborted as it was quite late by then. As a result of which Manorama was born.
“What good is this story to me uncle?” She had protested. “Why do you need to tell me these things now? Nobody wanted me, I was..I was a hurdle for them. If they had their way they would have thrown me in some garbage can.” She felt a lump in her throat; unable to speak she stood there sobbing tears of anger and misery.
Srinath said, “kanna (dear one), I had to tell you this. I know it’s of no consequence to you, but it was my duty to let you know.
“Mano, at that time, your parents were also very young when you were born. Your father was just 22.” Srinath tried to reason. “Your mother was 20. During their year-long university course, they had considered marriage, but with both families vehemently disapproving it, they thought it fit to leave it at that and focus rather on their studies, as they were very young, and none of them earned. Soon your father had to leave for his country.”
“And my mother thought it fit to throw me at some god forsaken orphanage and went along chasing her own dreams of making it big in life.” She fumed in disgust.
“Kanna, it’s not like what you are thinking today. We were all very young back then; we did not know what to do with a small little baby. Your mother was like sister to me. We lived in the same neighborhood. She requested me to help her out of that tough situation.” Srinath tried to placate her.
“And so you helped that heartless creature”, seethed Manorama.
“My child, whatever it is, she is your mother, she had given birth to you.” Srinath thought he would extricate some pity from her by saying this, but he had none.
“So what? Should I be grateful to her for giving birth to me and not killing me in her womb?” cried Manorama.
“Mano, I understand your rage. Your mother was a nice woman. I knew her too well. It is your father who couldn’t fulfill his commitment to her. What could a young girl do in such a situation? Society wasn’t so advanced then the way it is now. Anyway, what I wished to tell you was..” Srinath had paused for sometime, looked at Manorama as if seeking some sort of approval.
Manorama asked “What?”
“Your mother connected with me last week, she wants to meet you.” Srinath said it in one breath.
Mano lowered her face in deep thought, then looking at Srinath with a determined glance said “if she ever calls you again, please tell her, I don’t wish to see her face in this lifetime.” Saying this she walked out of the room.
Manorama is seated in her sofa. It’s been few minutes now. She felt as if her throat is drying up. She took the water bottle placed next to her and drank some water from it. The coolness of the water went down her throat and made her feel calmer by some degree. Her phone vibrated. She opened it to see the days’ WhatsApp messages all piled up together. One amongst them was from Srinath uncle. It was a ‘Goodmorning’ message. She quickly replied to it and kept the phone beside her.
She thought to herself, what she would have done without this man in her life. With both parents gone in their own pursuit, it was this man who had held her in his arms and gave meaning to her life.
That day, while speaking about her parents, Srinath uncle had told her that the day she was born, it was raining heavily like cats and dogs. “The night you were born it was pouring heavily. All shops were closed down that night. It was a tough night that your mother endured. I was tensed, what if I need to quickly go and bring something, where will I go? The whole city had come to a standstill due to the heavy downpour. I was really worried for you and your mother. But by god’s grace, it all went well that night, the storm was really off our heads and you were born a healthy child.”
He had told how upon holding her, he saw what a beauty she was! He had named her “Manorama” – the beautiful one. Manorama’s eyes welled up with tears thinking of him. How different can people be from each other, when she was abandoned by her own parents, who didn’t even look at her properly, this man had held her close to his bosom.
Manorama was handed over to Srinath Srinivasan, a young and promising social worker with a fresh MSW degree who had just started working for an orphanage back then. She had taken to him like a fish to water, or rather like a daughter to her father and he bestowed her with all the love that he could. But as destiny would have it, her days in Chennai came to a close after few years. The orphanage in Adyar, where she was growing up faced financial crunch. Staying there would have mean’t sacrifice on her studies and lower standards of living. So Srinath uncle came one day and with a heavy heart said that she has to shift to a Mumbai orphanage where he has a close friend who would take care of her. She had never wished to leave him and her familiar surroundings, but for the sake of good quality education and a decent environment, Manorama during her eighth grade left her dear Adyar Orphanage. She had cried that entire journey from Chennai to Mumbai in the train.
It was here that she had faced the most difficult days of her life. Coming from Chennai, initially she couldn’t understand or speak in Hindi, neither could she befriend anyone. She looked and behaved differently from other kids. Her long oily hair was mocked at, so was her inability to understand Hindi. She missed her Adyar orphanage a lot. Those familiar faces, the familiar banter with her friends, her morning coffee and pongal for breakfast, evening tea and appam in the canteen, her midnight cuppa, those fond Sundays when Srinath uncle took his orphanage children to Marina Beach, were all missing.
She would think of her life at Adyar and shed copious tears. Young that she was, she would curse her life like anything. Why does it happen to her every time? She had thought to herself. Before she could have a family, it was taken away from her, Srinath uncle came into her life like an angel but he too was snatched away, few friends that she had made were now far away from her. God, if there is one, had something special with her, she felt, for he had stored all the miseries in life solely for her.
But as they say, there’s no teacher better than life. Manorama slowly learnt the ropes. She had studied hard as that was the only way she could get away from every other misery that life threw upon her. She had scored very well in her Engineering entrance exam and got herself admitted to a renowned college in Pune.
Just when she had learnt to live life on her own terms, triumph over all kinds of vulnerability, live alone, starkly alone, an unprecedented turn of events led her life topsy-turvy. She became friends with Dilip in the second year of her college. Dilip was the first guy who she felt understood her from the core. They were friends initially, but later on, she realized that the long chats she was having was more than just friendship. She would long for those chats and on days when she missed them, she would feel terrible. Years passed, they got their engineering degrees and started working as well. Work life caught up big time with them but nothing could deter the strong bond that these two had developed. She needed Dilip in her life, there was no doubt about it, but how? His parents, conventional Maharastrian Brahmins would definitely not accept an orphan as their daughter-in-law. She knew this and therefore, she never broached the topic of marriage with him.
Manorama had faced a lot of upheavals in her life by now. But perhaps losing Dilip was unthinkable for her, at the same time, marriage was also a complex territory that she feared to tread. They would meet every day, spend the evening together and leave for their respective places, he to his home and she to her rented apartment. One day Dilip said “Mano, enough of going to each other’s place, when we are literally together all the time, I mean, C’mon, we are always in each other’s minds, I don’t see any reason why we should go to two different places.” Manorama kept staring at him. Dilip announced with a determined voice. “I have decided. We are getting married this month itself, in fact how about coming Sunday?”
That was it. They had married on the following Sunday. Dilip’s family was against this match, as expected, but they had to relent to his persistent requests and had come for the wedding that the two had organized. It was a modest lunch with friends and family at a restaurant post a court marriage at the Bandra High Court in Mumbai. From Manorama’s side, uncle Srinath had come from Chennai to give his blessings.
On her special day, Srinath had held her close and with utmost affection had said, “kanna, in the end, only three things matter in life, how much you loved, how gently you lived and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you. So don’t think about anything, just be happy. Kavalai Padathe (don’t worry).” Listening to these words from uncle Srinath, Manorama had felt small droplets of tears form around her eyes.
After coming back from their dreamy honeymoon in Bali, Manorama soon realized that misery is yet not over for her, she had more in store. A few days of living with her in-laws were enough for her to understand this. Her mother-in-law, apparently a sophisticated lady, would by some mean or the other, tell her how her son has brought a “rootless creature” to the house, someone who had no ‘jaat’ (lineage), nor any knowledge of her father. The latter pierced her insides more much than a knife possibly could.
These constant jibes took a toll on her mental health with each passing day. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Dilip decided one fine day that they shift to a building away from their present location, to stay away from daily bickering. So they did, much to the dismay of Dilip’s mother, who kept telling their neighbors how a ‘rootless’ girl separated her son from her. “How will she know what it is to stay together in a family?” she had screamed. Now that they were living separately, and met for weekly dinners, Manorama was never left at peace.
The taunts of her mother-in-law were so incisive that it left a deep impression in her mind, making her more resentful at her fate.
One night, she dragged Dilip out of his sleep and asked, “Dilip, you had told me that your mother is a very educated and a liberal lady. Why is it that she never loses any opportunity in reminding me that I am an orphan?” Her voice was choked with emotion.
“What happened Mano? Did she again say something to you?” Dilip said groggily.
“No, she didn’t say anything today, but she always has it in her mind. She wants to. I know.”
“She didn’t say anything right? Forget it.”
“Rootless, that’s what she called me ‘Rootless’. And you are saying that I forget it? How can I?”
“She didn’t mean it like that, I mean…”
Manorama interrupted him in between and asked “Do you also think that I am rootless? Tell me Dilip, I want to know.”
Dilip looked at her face, her eyes were raging, her lips quivered. Some deep agony was seething within her which she couldn’t express, but her face was tell-tale of the emotion flowing within. He dragged her close to himself and caressed her. “It doesn’t matter what I think or what anybody thinks Mano. Yes, but what you think does matter. What you think that is the question here. Now stop being so difficult and try to sleep”. Tears rolled down her cheeks, soaking his T-shirt.
Manorama lifted herself from the sofa of her living room, went towards the kitchen to make herself a cup of coffee. She took the coffee mug and walked towards her balcony.
From the balcony was visible the busy life outside. This city has always made her aware of her reality, even after marriage, she wasn’t spared the sympathetic look by a fellow neighbour or a distant relative of her husband. It wasn’t so in the Chennai of her childhood. Will Chennai now treat her the way Mumbai does? She ponders.
Manorama has been forever searching for some footing that she could call her ‘own’. She was abandoned as a child, but she always wished to have a baby of her own. Her search for her ‘own’ seems to have come to a close now. She sipped the coffee and felt a strange calm within. Her life will not be the same anymore, positive and only positive things will follow from now. These two pink lines in the pregnancy test are proof of it. She has found her a new foothold, a stronger one.
This child would be her ‘root’ that she was so badly searching for all her life. Not Dilip, neither his family, her root is inside her, growing everyday, bit by bit. She never had her parents, but her child will have her by its side always, through thick and thin, resolutely, unwaveringly. The mother in her will never fail the child. She could never be a part of anything, she was always the ‘outsider’, the ‘odd one out’. But now, this child is a part of her body, her soul, her existence. Will the child ever know how much she “belonged” to it?
A girl made tough by the cruelties of life, Manorama suddenly saw tears rolling down her cheeks. She doesn’t remember the last time she actually cried like this. She felt liberated, a girl who has been struggling to find her identity has realized it finally. She has found her Root now, a heart that’s throbbing within her, a soul that she is one with.
This story was originally published on Readomania.