“Abhi, please!” implored Pragya, a hand on his arm before he flew off the handle.
Abhi soon realized it was futile to yell at his daughter. He can’t fault her, for she has been fed lies by that snake Nikhil. She wasn’t thinking clearly. After all she was just sixteen years old, not old enough to discern truth from lies. She was at an age when one is super sensitive and hot blooded. He has to give her wide margin.
He ran his hands through his hair and asked her in a more subdued tone, “Isha darling, I have given you 16 years of my life. Will you give me 16 minutes of your time and hear me out before you pass your judgment on your mother?” His voice and eyes betrayed the pain and hurt he was feeling which Isha could not ignore. She silently nodded her head.
He then continued, “Most of us look up to our parents and treat them like demi-Gods but we fail to realize that they are human too. Our expectations from them are high and when we realize that they have failed in some respect we are more unforgiving of them than we would of any other relative or friend because we feel that parents are supposed to set examples for us to follow. But then nobody is born a parent. A parent was also once a teenager and went through all the confusions and temptations of one. Some fall prey to it but some survive and come out unscathed. Your mother committed a mistake, one she never ceased to repent. She gave into the weakness of the flesh and conceived you. You can pass your judgement on her based on that single fact but do you realize what her life was before she got into this entanglement?”
Isha looked at her father questioningly. Abhi turned to Pragya and silently apologized with his eyes for what he was about to do. Pragya knew that her old wounds would be reopened but if in the process her daughter’s emotional wounds are healed, she would be more than grateful. She nodded her head to give her approval.
Abhi then went on to give a complete account of Pragya’s life before he met her, right from the fact that she was an illegitimate child to the miserable life she led in her own house after her mother’s death. When he recounted the torture she was subjected to by her step-mother and her brother, Isha’s eyes widened with shock and filled up with tears.
“You believed what your uncle wrote about your mother. But did you know that this very same uncle tried to molest your mother when she was just fourteen and that he was locked up in a juvenile delinquents home for it? Now the guy has the audacity to talk morality,” he said between gritted teeth.
Isha felt nauseous just hearing about this dark part of her mother’s life. Her revulsion for this unseen uncle kept growing. She turned to look at her mother who sat crumbled next to her, weeping silently. Her heart went out to her mother.
Abhi continued, “Yes, your mother absconded from her wedding but the scheduled wedding was not with your biological father, as your uncle would like you to believe. It was with an old widower who was more than twice her age. She tried to escape so that she could wed your natural father. Unfortunately here too it was your uncle and his accomplices who ruined everything. They beat up your father and got him bed ridden for six months. In the meantime they made your mother believe that your father had ditched her.”
Pragya intervened here and said in an emotional voice, “I was all set to take away my life, unable to face the prospect of raising you fatherless. If it had not been for your Papa, we would not be around now. We both owe our lives to him.”
She then told her how Abhi saved her, took her to his house and later married her in order to give an identity to a child he did not even father.
Abhi hastened to add, “Well, I have to admit I was not totally selfless in marrying your Mama. It suited me fine because I wanted to perpetuate a lie I told my father.”
Seeing his daughter’s surprised expression he nodded his head. “Yes, Isha. Your Papa is flawed too. I was an incorrigible liar. But believe me darling, whatever I am telling you now is the truth and nothing but the truth.”
Pragya continued, “Your Papa may have had his reasons for marrying me but darling he had fallen in love with you long before you even arrived in this world. He modified his entire life for you, giving up on his freedom to spend more time with you. Did you know that your Papa even brought you into this world single-handedly?”
Pragya then described how she could not go to the hospital due to a curfew and Abhi helped deliver her baby. Isha looked at her father in amazement on hearing this.
“After all this, do you still believe your uncle’s words that your father does not love you? Let me tell you something. Why do you think there is a six-year age gap between you and Reyansh? It is because it took me five years to convince your Papa that his love for you will not diminish or be divided if he has another baby. In fact, love can only multiply when shared. So you see, your Papa loved you so much that he was willing to give up having a child who was genetically his in the fear that his attention on you will be lessened.”
Isha was moved to tears hearing about her Papa’s love and the sacrifices he made for them. She could not have dreamed of having a more loving set of parents than she already had and she had hurt them by doubting their love. She flung her arms around both of them and hugged them tight.
“I love you Papa. I love you Mama. Please forgive me for being so harsh in judging you,” she cried, whimpering loudly.
“Sh….sh…” Abhi patted his daughter’s back soothingly. “Darling. You needn’t ask for forgiveness. It is we who should ask yours for not being the perfect parents that you so deserve to have. We should have told you everything. In fact we were planning to tell you the truth tonight but that sadistic uncle of yours beat us to it and that too filled your head with all those grotesque lies.”
“But still Papa, I believed the lies told by a stranger whom I had never met without thinking how they can be true. I have witnessed nothing but love in all my sixteen years of existence and yet I suspected that love.”
“Darling, don’t be so hard on yourself. You only behaved the way any teenager would have behaved, hearing such horrible things about her parents,” Abhi assured her and kissed the top of her head.
Isha lifted her eyes and saw the love and understanding reflected in her father’s eyes. She kissed his bearded cheek and said that she was lucky to have such a wonderful Papa, the best in this whole wide world. She then turned to Pragya and kissing her chubby cheek she said, “Mama, I am sorry you went through hell. I cannot even imagine what your life must have been like. I have been privileged to have such lovely parents like you unlike you who did not have a real family. I hope I could do something to alleviate your pain.”
“You have, baby. You have more than compensated for everything I went through. The minute I laid my eyes on you, I knew you were worth all the trouble. I am very sorry darling, I nearly punished you for my sins by trying to take away my life,” Pragya’s eyes started streaming thinking about that fateful day. Abhi wiped his wife’s eyes and asked her to forgive herself first.
Turning to his daughter he said, “We are not exemplary examples to follow darling but I guess you can learn from us what you should not do. Your mother’s pre-marital relations very nearly cost her life and yours as well. The lies I told my Baba cost me my freedom and deprived me of my cherished bachelorhood, not that I am complaining. I guess that marrying your Mama may have been the best spur of the moment decision I took. Both of you are like my two eyes. I can’t imagine a life without you. You are my special baby, Isha, because you brought together two strangers.”
He then got up and with both his arms he yanked his daughter and wife up simultaneously. “Come on, it is getting late. Neev and Neha will be worried.”
At the mention of Neev’s name ISha’s face fell. Abhi was quick to notice the change in his daughter’s expression. He did not say anything immediately. He shoved the bicycle in the car’s trunk and got into the car. Pragya asked Isha to sit in the front next to her Papa and Isha gladly agreed.
On the drive back home, Abhi slowly broached the topic of Neev again. “Darling, Your natural father is not at fault, darling. He was as much a victim of circumstances as we were. He loved your mother very much. Yes, he should have waited till they wedded before he…(he did not complete the rest of the sentence, considering the delicacy of the subject). But he had no intention of duping your mother. He too suffered. Can you make room in your heart for him?”
Isha had tears in her eyes, “Papa, how can you be so magnanimous? You accepted Mama and me into your heart and now are even willing to share me with my natural father.”
Abhi smiled and said, “Remember what your Mama said a few minutes back? Love multiplies when shared. It does not get divided. I know you will always love me and I will always love you. I don’t feel threatened by Neev.”
“Papa, give me some time. It is all too much to accept in a day,” she pleaded. He pressed her hand and smiled understandingly.
“Yes, darling it is too much to handle in a day. Take all the time you want. I am sure Neev can wait a little longer.”
When they reached home, Neev came rushing to them asking them if everything was fine. Abhi nodded his head and turned to look at his daughter. Isha gave Neev an embarrassed glance and hurried to her room. Abhi asked Neev to give her some time and Neev nodded.
Abhi picked up the sleeping boys, took them to their room and laid them on their beds. Neev carried his daughter to Isha’s room and laid her in bed. He turned to Isha and said in a soft voice, “I’m sorry for everything.” When she did not respond he shuffled his feet and murmured a hurried good night and left her to her thoughts.
The next morning Neev and his family got ready to leave for Goa. He explained that the kids wanted to see more of India. After their Goa visit, they planned to visit Kerala, Chandigarh, Agra and Delhi before they return back to London at the end of the month. The Shergills and the Mehras had an emotional farewell. Isha remained unduly quiet throughout it. Baba and Bua who were blissfully unaware of all the happenings of the last 12 hours asked Neev to visit them every year as the children got along so famously with each other. Neev smiled ruefully and said he will try. Abhi then dropped them at the airport.
One month later
Abhi got a call from the detective he had engaged to do a background check on Nikhil. The news he gave was shocking. It seems Nikhil had ended up killing his own mother Amrita in an altercation five years ago. He hit her hard and she fell down dead. He later buried her in the garden in their house in Surat. He had admitted to his crime in his diary which was kept well hidden but was unearthed by the detective. There were other evidences too which pointed to him. Abhi submitted all these to the police. With this he was sure Nikhil would be locked up for life.
That same day Isha sat at her table to write a letter.
‘Dear Neev uncle,’ she began her letter and then struck out the words ‘Neev uncle’ replacing them with ‘Dad’. She then went on to describe her school life to her natural father. At the end she signed. ‘Your loving daughter, Isha’. She smiled and sealed the letter in an envelope. She was a lucky girl indeed. When she was in her mother’s womb she very nearly did not have a dad but now she has two. Both of them loved her very much. While she had accepted Neev into her heart, her Papa will always hold a very special place in it forever.
Now she understood, that she had the best parents in the world who stood not only as an example of perfection but as a lesson of misdeeds which they overcome by their love. Isha thought to herself” love u papa, love u mama”