Category Archives: friendship

A girl like me and a girl like her.

Maine shaadi naheen ki hai. Maine yeh bachcha gode liya hai.

Geet Oberoi stepped back from the counter and raised her voice.

“I have never been married. I have adopted this child.”
This is the passport office in Bhikaji Cama Place in New Delhi. It is nearly time for the counters to close. Geet has been here since 9 in the morning, her fifth visit since August 2011.  9 months later, there is still no clarity. This time, she refuses to leave till she gets a commitment that the government will issue a passport for her seven-year-old daughter, Indya.

“But, madam, the application form is not complete. What is the father’s name?”

“There is no father,” she repeats. “I have never been married. I have adopted this child. The adoption deed is attached with the application.”

“Adoption deed. Ha! Anyone can get an affidavit made,” says the Officer. How do we know you didn’t just pick up the child from anywhere and get a false affidavit made? I want the court order.”

“The court order is also attached with the application,” Geet says. “Here is the original.” The order from the Tis Hazari Court clearly states that she is a single parent adopting a child.

“Oh, this is a legal adoption?” the officer says, looking at the papers, as if for the first time.

He sends her to another desk, then to another room. She is told to wait till they call her name. Then asked to return another day. Everywhere, the same line: “But the father’s name is necessary. He is the guardian.”

I was in my car on the long drive home from work earlier this week, when Geet called me. She has two little children, I have three. Sometimes months go by before we connect with each other.

I first saw Geet on our first day in college. B.A. Psychology Hons., Indraprastha College, DU. She was sitting on the teacher’s table in our small classroom. Big hair. Big voice. Big painted nails. Talking to many girls at the same time.

Bossy, attention seeker, I thought in my head. And put a cross on her. Fortunately for me, she didn’t rule me out. I was right about her being bossy. Despite my I’m-too-good-to-make-friends-with-common-people snobbishness, she made sure we became friends.

Geet made me do ludicrous roles in college skits, playing Michael to her Teja. When I said Library, she wanted Canteen. I would go for Debates, she’d drag me to Fashion Shows.

I used to spend pocket money on second hand books. I hardly ever ate. She would splurge on the moment. In Geet’s company I learnt to eat bread pakodas and sev puri. I cannot pass a gul-gula street vendor, without remembering Geet. Don’t ask me what they are, they are something round one eats with chutney and filed radish. We learnt to take lifts together, in the hot Delhi afternoons.

What is a girl like me doing with a girl like her, I would often think.

I asked Geet about her father. He had died when she was five years old. Her two younger sisters, who are twins, had been two years old. Their mother is an international-level athlete who had held the India record for shotput and discus throw. She became a sports professor in Delhi University. That there is no father is a matter of fact in this family. Nothing more, nothing less. Their youthful father’s photographs are part of every living room they move to.

We finished college and moved on. Higher studies, careers, love lives, homes and travels. (The in between stories of these years is another book. Finding Harleen, attecding her wedding, nursing Rachana to recovery, picking me up from sickbed to attend my own wedding, building homes and businesses…)

Six years ago, I was in my office when Geet called.

“I have brought Indya home,” she said to me.

She was on her way back from the Welfare Home for Children in Delhi. Geet, her mother and her 10 month old daughter had come to a temple nearby. I went to meet them.

All these years later, Geet was in a Khadi kurta and salwar. I was wearing a business suit. Geet was holding Indya on her hip. Tears streamed down my face. Someone has to do the crying bit too, I consoled myself. I took photos.

“It was as if they could not hear me,” Geet is saying to me after her day at the passport office. “I kept thinking that these guys just don’t understand what I am saying.”

“Oh God, I know what is going on here,” I say. “They are just harassing you unnecessarily. We’ll have to find someone who can influence them from above.”

My trained Indian brain scans my memory for “contacts”. Who can we call? Getting a passport made for one’s child is a perfectly legal, simple procedure. All we need is some “influence” to get it done.

“Help me find the word for what I am feeling,” she says to me. “It’s not outrage, not even humiliation. It was as if I was being pushed into a corner and made to apologize for my choices. As if I have done something wrong by adopting my daughters. I just feel very sad.”

Soon she will reach home to her children, Indya and Maya. I didn’t realize it till I started writing this, but in all these years together, Geet has never called me for help before.

A slightly shorter version of this was published in Mint Lounge here. http://www.livemint.com/articles/2012/05/25211422/A-mother8217s-big-passport.html

DOSTI

It was fabulous.

Later one part of me wanted to get down on the ground and bang my fists on the floor….in protest, in rebellion. Why, why, why?
But we’ve got to focus on the positive, don’t we?

Yesterday I met an old friend of mine after a gap of 15 years. We had gone off on your own after college to make our own lives.
We have a CHILD-CHILD connection….. he’s a barrel of fun and he has a vulnerability that my Child is fiercely protective of. Like we were two kids with similar troubles and I was the stronger, older kid….so I looked out for him. Or I wanted to look out for him.
But mostly just fun and laughter and being naughty and laughing our guts out at our own slyness.
And so innocent….that’s my abiding memory of my times with (A). We roamed around the streets, way past go-home time and walked and talked and sometimes had rum and coke on the sly and laughed over it…..but so innocently. With such clean hearts and minds.
You’d never believe the miles we walked together if I ever told you.

15 years later, we met at IHC last evening. My three daughters and I. And (A).
I was a bit nervous, every now and then I had to look back at my expression and check that it was OK. If not, then relax it.

It was fabulous. For the first time in my life I met a friend of mine who was genuinely interested in my kids. I’m not complaining, its just that all others are more interested in chatting to me and the kids have to be on the periphery. I often find myself totally exhausted after I’ve been with any Friend and my kids together. Both parties WANT my attention, and I’m not good at juggling. Besides I don’t know too many people who can go beyond do-you-like-mummy-or-papa-better kind of questions in their small talk with children. (ShefB, I’m not talking about you!)

Last evening for the first time it was different.
Sahar and Aliza got talking, they talked about themselves. Their best friends, the boys in their class, their Mum’s activities at home. Their poems and jokes. Even if the punch-lines came out awry, for lack of practice.
They ordered French fries and Pizza and sucked as much sauce out of satchets as their little tummies allowed. Sahar made a goody bag for herself: Two plastic glasses with two satchets of sauce in them. Noone judged them.

A couple of times when noone was looking, I’d make a sign to myself, zipping my lips up. Keep quiet, don’t interrupt. Let everyone have fun, we don’t need a Chowkidar from you, Nuts.

After stuffing themselves, they went off to play video games. Another first. They played that game where you have to pick out stuffed toys and toffees by maneuvering a mechanical hand with a lever. They won many toffees and a strange stuffed toy. Aliza’s fantasy of fun.
She asked me herself.  Mama, I can see some toy things on that side, I want to play there. She wanted to play the motorcycle racing and car racing video games too.
I greedily asked (A), Can you take them to that corner, woh sab kaise khelte hain?
It was a blast after that!

A few years after college, I fell in love with and married Afzal, a teetotaler. I gave up drinking. To guard against my potential alcohol-dependant gene, I suspect. (A) wrote to me once recently referring to himself as an alcoholic.
I asked him at the dinner table, Won’t you eat anything?
He replied in gestures. Two glasses down his throat type of gesture. I’ll go back to my hotel, down some drinks and then have dinner.

When (A) first resurfaced a couple of months ago (On FB, where else) he wrote, why don’t you invite me home and cook me a good meal?
I thought in my head, “What if I start crying when I see you? What if I hug you and refuse to let go?”

I guess Child wanted to do that. On my way to IHC yesterday, I spoke to my Child, I held her hand and then we were calm and fine.
I could cry a bit now, though. Certainly I feel like shutting the door of this room and letting some tears roll.
So I did.

(arre baba, khushi ke aansoon hai, khushi ke)