Veerendra said, “If you don’t quit your job, having a baby is not a good idea. We won’t be able to give time to the little one.” Sowmya agreed with her husband. If she chose to pursue her ambition, she had to depend on a nanny to look after her child and she was not inclined to that idea. So she chose to continue her research and script-writing.
Sowmya’s mother-in-law was shocked at her son’s compliance with Sowmya’s decision. She said to Sowmya, “If you didn’t want to have children, why did you marry my son in the first place? On one hand there are women who are spending all their fortune and going through all kinds of ordeals to have children and on the other hand, there are women like you who think children are a burden.”
Sowmya lost both her parents in an accident when she was a child. The driver of the car that ran over both her parents was drunk. They died on the spot on the zebra lines when the red light to stop the vehicles was still shining. Three more pedestrians got severely injured too in the accident. Sowmya’s grandfather filed a case against the 21 year-old boy who was both drunk and speeding way beyond the speed limit.. The rich parents of the boy managed to save their son from a trial.
When Sowmya was studying journalism, she did a project on alcoholism. As a part of the project she conducted debates with young men and women in colleges. That was when she met Veerendra. In the very first meeting she was impressed with his bold and honest argument. They liked each other’s company and it didn’t take very long for them to realize that they were deeply in love with each other.
Sowmya shared her ambition with Veerendra that she wanted to dedicate her knowledge and time to make the world realize that alcohol is no less hazardous than banned drugs like cocaine. Veerendra vouched his unconditional support to her endeavour.
Sowmya and Veerendra got married after their college. She worked with a reputed media company for four years and quit when she was working as a Chief Media Executive. She continued her study in the root cause of hazards of alcoholism. She collected facts and evidences and noted down every detail of all the cases she studied. Veerendra suggested that she make a documentary film.
With the money they both saved and Veerendra’s support Sowmya first made a short film on alcoholism and child abuse with the simple tools and gadgets they had. It was a success and Sowmya became popular among some contemporary authors and film makers. Veernedra believed both in her passion and capability. His faith in her was a constant source of inspiration for her.
However, her mother-in-law was very disappointed with the couple’s decision to not have children. When her younger son had a second baby, Veerendra’s mother vented out all her anger.
“In five years of their marriage my second daughter-in-law gave me two grandsons. My first son is going to celebrate his seventh wedding anniversary and I’m dying to hold a baby of his in my arms.”
“My daughter-in-law doesn’t want children and she talks about child-abuse…there’s got to be a limit for hypocrisy! As the saying goes, ‘What does a barren woman know about labour pain?,’ how will she understand a child’s suffering if she doesn’t bear children herself?”
“I heard that there are women who think children are an obstacle for their career…but I never dreamed that my own daughter-in-law would be one such cold-hearted woman.”
“What is the use of earning and saving money if there is no progeny to pass it on to?”
“Nowadays, I stopped telling people that my elder daughter-in-law planned not to have children. Neither have I got answers to their questions, nor can I bear their ridiculing looks.”
Sowmya’s mother-in-law never got tired of criticizing her. But, Sowmya never retorted. She remained silent. Her response might come across as rude and disrespectful. After all, she was Veerendra’s mother and she didn’t want to show even the slightest disrespect to her.
During another occasion, mother-in-law started off again.
“Your wife doesn’t pay heed to elders. I have never come across a girl as stubborn as her.”
“I understand if a man doesn’t want children. But she is a woman, isn’t she? How can a woman have an aversion for having a baby!?”
“What is the point in condemning the daughter-in-law when the fault lies in my son who thinks she’s a saviour of the world.”
This time, Veerendra responded, “Amma (Mom), you are right! I do think Sowmya can make a difference to at least some victims of alcoholism. One doesn’t need to bear children to have maternal sensitivity and kindness. I respect her decision. Sowmya loves to have a baby just like any other woman, but she has sacrificed her motherhood for a cause.”
Before his father could say anything, Veerendra said, ‘Naanna (father), it won’t be long before social reformers will start questioning the government’s policies and laws regarding alcohol sale and consumption. And Sowmya’s work in the area will be a considered a landmark, trust me.
Overwhelmed Sowmya held Veerendra’s hand tightly with tear-filled-eyes. Veerendra told her “I’m sure amma and naanna will understand.”
Veerendra was wrong. Sowmya’s mother-in-law vowed that she would never visit Veerendra’s house and never talk to his wife until she gives them a grandchild. Sowmya, started having second thoughts. She thought her decision was taking things too far. She decided to plan for a baby and told Veerendra about it. Veerendra said, “Look! We shall not have a baby until your project is complete. There are no two ways about it.”
A few months later, Veerendra’s parents, after their retirement, went to live with Veerendra’s younger brother’s family. Sowmya’s mother-in-law did not break her vow. For two years she did not visit Veerendra. She refused to even respond to Sowmya’s greetings when they met.
In the meantime, a reputed producer offered to fund Sowmya’s research and collaborate with her in making the film. Finally, her script would become a documentary film and she was going to direct it herself. That week, Veerendra’s brother called him up and said that their mother suffered a paralytic stroke and that she was admitted to the hospital.
Veerendra and Sowmya rushed to the hospital. In the hospital ward, Veerendra’s mother lay in the bed, weak, dispirited and helpless. Veerendra’s father said to him and Sowmya, “Your brother’s wife doesn’t want us to stay with them. We have given the house and our savings to your brother. Now we don’t even have a small bank balance. Just when we made arrangements to live in a charity home for the old, your mother suddenly took ill. Until she gets better, you will support us, Veeru, won’t you?” he implored.
Sowmya said, “Naanna , you will not go to the home, you and amma will stay with us.
Veerendra and Sowmya took turns to stay home to look after mother. They also appointed a trained maidservant, Malti to stay with them and attend to their parents. Mother’s resilience and father’s optimism made things easy for Veerendra and Sowmya.
Mother recovered in just a few weeks. Mother could not stop comparing her younger daughter-in-law to Sowmya. Their younger daughter-in-law pestered them until they gave away their property, jewelry and money to her. Then, she constantly told her parents-in-law that she was not able to give time to her sons due to looking after two old people. The worst part of her treatment was not giving them proper food on time which led to mother’s sickness.
In contrast, Sowmya, took care of every detail with respect to their parents’ comfort; she had a new refrigerator kept in their room and made sure it was filled with fresh fruit, dry fruits and jars of juice. She kept two thermos flasks, one filled with hot milk for mother and the other with coffee for father. She ordered a new a television set and gadgets for their entertainment. Malti, the maidservant was at their beck and call. Mother had never experienced this kind of luxury before.
Mother and father were touched by Veerendra’s and Sowmya’s affection. She noticed that Sowmya valued and respected everyone; Malti, the maidservant was no exception. Mother thought, “Veeru is right! This girl has a higher objective in life.” One morning, at the break-fast table, mother told father ,”I vowed not to step into this house. But this stubborn girl made me break my vow.”
Veerendra’s father was a quiet person. Sowmya never heard him say anything against her decision of not having children. But she knew that he too was not happy with her decision.
One morning, father stood near the entrance of the kitchen looking at Sowmya. She smiled and said, “Give me two minutes, naanna, the idlies (steam cooked cakes of rice and a lentils) are almost ready.” He touched her head affectionately as though he was blessing her and hesitantly turned back to walk away. She inferred that he wanted to say something. Sowmya asked, “Naanna, do you want something?” Father replied, “Your amma is getting bored, just sitting and lying down all the time… maybe, she can do small things in the kitchen to help you, can’t she, beti (daughter)?”
Sowmya started to invite mother to take part in the chores of the house, “Amma, Veeren says, my masala baingan (eggplant) can never taste as good as yours; could you help me make it?”
“Amma, can you please help me organize our ward-robe?”
“Amma, could you please accompany Malti to the vegetable vendor downstairs… I could have gone myself, but Veeren says he’s in hurry and I haven’t packed his lunch yet.”
Mother-in-law not only agreed to do all these happily but slowly took over all the responsibilities of the house and the result is Sowmya had all day for her studying, research and script-writing.
Amma started to complain about Sowmya again. But these comments were not harsh anymore. Every time she admonished Sowmya, there was an obvious fondness in her tone.
“This girl spends hundred rupees for vegetables worth thirty rupees, those vendors take advantage of her innocence and kindness.”
“Just yesterday, I organized these clothes and books and in no time it turns into a mess, what do I do with irresponsible grownups?”
“This girl is not tired of reading and writing. Except Veeru and her project nothing else matters to her in this world.”
Sowmya chose her words carefully while speaking to mother. She spoke about mother’s physiotherapy exercises and diet, the weather, the demand for maid servants and everything under the sun except her script and the shooting of the documentary film.
One day, mother asked, “Veeru said the film is ready for viewing.” Sowmya nodded. She knew what was coming next. Mother would ask about when she was planning to have a baby, now that shooting the film was over. Sowmya started to think of an honest and inoffensive answer.
Mother continued, “You’re moving among the elite of the film industry nowadays and you don’t have good jewelry to wear. I wish I had kept the ruby-studded necklace for you. It was, my mother-in-law’s, that is Veeru’s grandmother’s. It was her favourite one. I feel bad that I have nothing to give you.”
For the first time, Sowmya took the liberty of putting her arms around her mother-in-law and hug her. Sowmya said, “Amma, forget about the necklace. Will you and Naanna come with us to the preview of our film?”
During the preview, Sowmya noticed mother wiping her tears. The film touched everyone’s heart…Mother later asked Veerendra, “Did Sowmya write the script and direct it all by herself? Incredible! I can see how her heart goes out for the victims.” Veerendra’s heart filled with pride.
The film brought money, fame and a recognition to Sowmya. She and Veerendra bought an old and modest but comfortable house in a beautiful neighbourhood. After refurbishing the house, mother insisted that there must be a puja and at least a simple ceremony. Veerendra and Sowmya were not inclined to the idea but they obliged to make mother happy.
During the housewarming ceremony, mother-in-law was found answering Veerendra’s brother’s questions. “I don’t know how much the house cost…, naanna must be knowing. Sowmya sold her father’s share of their ancestral home to her paternal uncle. They invested that money. I also heard Sowmya entered into a collaboration for the next two films with the producer. Look the one wearing the grey suit talking to Veeru is the producer.”
The master bedroom had a breath taking view from it’s balcony. Mother’s younger daughter-in-law looked surprisingly at the room whose interiors suggested that it was meant for mother and father. Mother-in-law boasted, “I said that we’ll take one of the other two rooms, but Sowmya won’t listen. She designed this room for us. She says we need an airy room with space for small walks. No one can convince that stubborn girl. Their room is next to their study, have you seen it?”
After the party, Veerendra said, “Nanna, my colleagues think Amma is Sowmya’s mother.”