I am delighted to see my daughter waiting for me at the exit of Auckland International Airport.
“You have grown so tall – and – you look so pretty…” I say to her.
My daughter smiles – she gives me a warm hug – and – she says to me:
“It’s been 3 years – I am so happy to see you, Daddy – I was eagerly waiting to see you – but – you took so much time – your flight landed more than an hour ago…”
“Immigration didn’t take much time – my bag arrived quickly too – but – there was delay at biosecurity – an old lady ahead of me in the queue had brought home-made pickles, sweets and mangoes from India – and – she was arguing and was refusing to pay the fine…” I say to my daughter.
“How stupid – don’t they read the biosecurity rules before coming to New Zealand…?” my daughter says.
“Forget all that…” I said, “in which hotel have you booked me…?”
“Hotel…? Why hotel…? You are going to stay at home – our home…” my daughter says, firmly.
“But – your mother…?” I say to her, with a bit of apprehension.
(When talking to my daughter – I have always addressed my wife as “your mother” – even earlier – when we lived together…)
“Mother…? You don’t worry about her…” my daughter says to me, “it is our house – and – I want you to stay with us at home…”
“Okay – shall we go by “Airport Shuttle Bus”…? We can get down at Mount Eden Bus Stop – and – walk down to our house in Epsom…” I say to my daughter.
“We are driving down in our car…” she says, with a confident smile.
“Car…? Has your mother come to pick me up…?” I ask my daughter.
“No – I am driving…” my daughter says.
“You…? But you are just 17…” I say to her.
“Have you forgotten the rules…? I got my driving license last year. Of course – it is a restricted one – so – I can drive only during the daytime – from 5 AM to 10 PM – next year – I will get my full-fledged driving license…” my daughter says.
And – we – my daughter and I – we walk towards the parking area.
As we drive from Auckland Airport to our home in Epsom – my daughter says to me: “I am angry with you…”
“Why…?” I ask her, “what have I done…?”
“You have come after 3 years…” my daughter says to me, “I thought you would come more often – at least once in six months…”
“I thought it would be best to stay away…” I say to her.
“Why did you think it was best to stay away from us…?” my daughter asked me.
“Your mother – she has divorced me…” I say to my daughter.
“She may have divorced you – but – I haven’t divorced you…” my daughter says to me.
I marvel at the profound truth spoken by my daughter.
Can children ever divorce their parents…?
Also – parents can divorce each other – but can they divorce their children…?
I look at my daughter lovingly.
“I know you still love me Monika…” I say to my daughter, “Don’t worry – I haven’t divorced you – I may have divorced your mother – but I will never “divorce” you – I love you very much…”
We drive in silence.
In a few minutes – we reach the beautiful “bungalow” in Epsom – our lovely home.
It is exactly the same as I had left it 3 years ago – lush green lawns – lovely colourful garden – the same beautiful home I had bought 10 years ago – when we relocated to Epsom from Sandringham.
Though it was expensive – and – a bit beyond my means – I had bought the classy villa because I wanted to please my wife Nisha – who always wanted to live in a posh “upmarket” neighborhood.
My daughter parks the car in the garage.
I pick up my bag and we go inside the house via the side-door in the garage.
I enter the house – I look around – everything is exactly as I had left it – 3 years ago.
“You have kept the house so well…” I say to my daughter.
“I love this beautiful bright and spacious house…” my daughter says, “and it’s all thanks to you – if you hadn’t let us live in this house – we would be living in a tiny “shoe-box” apartment on rent somewhere…” my daughter says.
“It’s our family home – it will always be our home – whether I live here or not…” I say, filled with nostalgia.
I look around – my eyes search for my wife.
But – I don’t see my wife in the living room – or – in the kitchen.
“Your mother…? Where is she…?” I ask my daughter.
“She must be in her room…” my daughter says, “Daddy – please don’t worry about her. You go the guest bedroom and freshen up – I have made everything ready…”
I walk into the guest bedroom – I am so familiar with it – I have lived in this room for quite some time – ever since my wife Nisha and I began sleeping in separate rooms.
During those sad depressing days filled with marital disharmony and discord – we used all the three bedrooms in the house – my wife Nisha in the master bedroom – my daughter in her bedroom – and me – I slept in the guest bedroom – a “guest” in my own home.
I freshen up – shave – have a shower – and wear a fresh set of clothes.
From my bag – I take out the gifts I have brought from India – for my wife and my daughter.
I walk into the living room.
There is no one there.
I keep the gifts on the table in front of the sofa.
I walk to the kitchen and peep inside.
My daughter is cooking something.
“What are you cooking…?” I ask my daughter.
She turns towards me.
“Ah – you are looking so nice – I am making your favourite – Potato Sabzi – it’s done – I will fry hot Puris for you when we sit for lunch…” my daughter says to me, “look in the fridge – I have made something special for you…”
I open the fridge and look around.
“Where…” I ask my daughter.
“On the top tray…” she says.
I see the bowl of Shrikhand.
“You made Shrikhand…? I ask her, feeling delighted.
“Yes – I tried my best to make your favourite Shrikhand – but – you don’t get good curd here – so – I made it from yoghurt – so – it may taste a bit different…” she says.
I take out the bowl of Shrikhand – dip my finger in the Shrikhand – and lick the creamy Shrikhand on my finger with my tongue.
“It tastes wonderful…” I say with genuine appreciation to my daughter.
“Thank you…” she says, “Shrikhand, Puri and Batata Bhaji – that’s the menu for lunch…”
“Perfect…” I say, “let’s go to the living room – I have got gifts for you…”
“Wow – what is it…?” my daughter says excitedly.
“Come and see for yourself…” I say to her.
We walk to the living room.
“Call your mother…” I say to my daughter.
“First – show me my gift…” she says to me.
I look at the two jewelry boxes on the table.
I pick up the smaller one and give it to my daughter.
She opens it and sees the set of gold jhumka earrings.
“Wow – what lovely earrings…” she says – and – she kisses me on my cheek.
“You like them…?” I ask her.
“Of course, I like them – the earrings are so beautiful…” she says, “Thank you so much…”
“I really didn’t know whether you would like to wear such ornaments over here…” I say to her.
“I am going to wear them tomorrow – and show them off to my friends – I will tell them how much you love me…” she says.
She looks at the unopened jewellery box on the table.
“What have you got for mummy…?” my daughter asks me.
“Call your mother – I will give it to her myself…” I say to my daughter.
“Yes – I will call her – I don’t know what she is doing inside…” my daughter says – she walks to the door of my wife’s room and knocks on the door.
“Daddy has come…” my daughter says.
“I know…” I hear my wife’s voice say from inside.
“Come out quickly…” my daughter says.
After a few moments – the door opens – and my wife comes out.
“Why have you come back…?” my wife asks me, curtly.
I am taken aback by her sudden question – no “hello” – no polite greeting – no smile – she straightaway asks me “why have I come back” in a most rude tone.
I recover my wits.
“My sabbatical is over…” I say to my wife.
“You could have extended it…” she says.
“I already extended it twice – I stayed there for 3 years – I can’t remain as a visiting faculty forever…” I say to her.
“You could have taken up some other assignment over there…” she says.
“Why should I…?” I say, “I have a lien on my post over here…”
“So – you are going to join and stay here in Auckland…?” she says.
“Yes…” I say to her, “I plan to re-join as a Professor at the University and stay here in Auckland…”
“Then – we will have to move out of this house…” my wife says – and she looks at our daughter.
My daughter looks distraught.
“Why should we move out…?” my daughter asks my wife, “all of us can live in this house as we lived before – there is enough space and separate rooms for everyone – isn’t it, Daddy…?” my daughter says – and she looks at me.
“Yes – of course – we can all stay together in the house…” I say, “as we lived before…”
“No – I can’t live with this man…” my wife says to my daughter.
I decide to change the topic.
I pick up the jewellery box from the table and hold it out to her.
“I have brought you a gift…” I say to my wife.
“Why did you waste your money buying me gifts…? I don’t want anything from you…” my wife says to me, tersely.
“At least see it…” I say – giving her the jewellery box.
My wife roughly puts the jewellery box on the table and says rudely to me: “I told you I don’t want anything from you – so – don’t try all these tactics…!!!”
I wince seeing her offensive behaviour – why does she hate me so much…?
My daughter picks up the jewellery box and opens it.
Her eyes brighten.
“Wow – a diamond necklace set – it is awesome – so beautiful – it must be very expensive…” my daughter says – then she looks at me and feigns displeasure, “What is this, Daddy…? For me – you get only earrings – but for Mummy – you get a whole diamond necklace set – necklace, earrings, bangles everything – such magnificent jewellery…”
“You take it if you like it so much…” my wife says brusquely to our daughter.
I look at me with beseeching eyes.
“I got this necklace set specially for you…” I say to my wife.
“I don’t want it – I don’t want anything from you…” my wife says – and she gets up from her chair.
“Please sit – I want to talk to you…” I say to my wife.
“I don’t want to talk to you – I don’t even want to see your face – I don’t know why you have come here…” my wife shouts angrily to me, “I don’t want anything from you – I don’t want to see your face – I just want you out of my life – can’t you understand this simple thing…?”
After shouting at me – my wife walks towards the door.
“Where are you going…?” my daughter asks my wife.
“I am going out – you spend “quality time” with your father…” my wife says sarcastically to our daughter.
“Please don’t go – I have made lunch – let’s have lunch together…” my daughter pleads with my wife.
“I can’t stand the sight of this atrocious man…” my wife says angrily.
“Atrocious…? How dare you call me that…? Tell me – what have I done…? I am trying my best – but – ever since the time I have come – you are talking nonsense…” I shout at my wife – losing my temper.
“Please don’t fight…” my daughter says with tears in her eyes, “you are meeting after 3 years – please be good to each other…”
“I didn’t ask him to come – I had told him clearly that I didn’t want to see his face again – I don’t want him in my life – just tell him to go away – I don’t want him here…” my wife says – looking at my daughter.
My daughter looks beseechingly at my wife.
“You don’t want him here – but – I want him here…” my daughter says to my wife.
“Then – you stay with him over here…” my wife says to my daughter, “I will go and look for some place to stay and move out from here…”
“I want both of you – I want all of us to stay here…” my daughter says.
My wife ignores my daughter and she walks out of the house.
I can see tears well up in my daughter’s eyes – and – she breaks down inconsolably.
“I shouldn’t have come…” I say to my daughter, “I sent her so many emails – I wrote letters to her too – but she didn’t respond to even a single one…”
“I respond to all your emails…” my daughter says.
“Yes – you told me to come – again and again – that’s why I decided to come back and live here with you and your mother…” I say to my daughter.
“Come, Daddy – let’s have lunch…” my daughter says.
“Yes – why take out our anger on food…?” I say – and I follow my daughter into the kitchen.
She fries some hot puris – and – we sit on the dining table and we start eating our “Batata Bhaji, Shrikhand, Puri” lunch.
“You cook very well – the food is so tasty – I love this Shrikhand too…” I say to my daughter.
“Thank you…” she says to me, “I want to ask you something…?”
“Please ask…” I say to her.
“I am old enough now – Daddy – so – tell me frankly – did you have an affair…?” my daughter asks me.
“No…” I say.
“Did she have an affair…?”
“I don’t think so…”
“Then – why did you two get divorced…?” my daughter asks me.
I look at my daughter.
“Is adultery the only reason couples get divorced…?” I say to my daughter.
“Then please tell me the exact reason why you got divorced…?” my daughter asks.
My first impulse is to tell my daughter everything – my side of the story.
But – I feel it is best to not to tell her the nasty inside story about the irretrievable breakdown of our marital relationship.
I don’t want to badmouth my wife – after all – she is her mother.
And – it is quite obvious that my wife hasn’t told everything to my daughter – otherwise – my daughter wouldn’t be asking me.
So – I decide to give her a vague reply.
“There can be so many reasons for divorce. And – in my case – I don’t even know the reason why she divorced me….” I say to my daughter.
“She says the same thing…” my daughter says – in a forlorn tone.
“Let’s talk something else…” I say to my daughter. “you tell me about your plans…?”
She tells me excitedly about her studies – that she wants to be a teacher – and a writer – like me.
“I am so happy you are coming back to the University here – I think you may be teaching our class this semester…” my daughter says.
“Your mother doesn’t seem to be happy – she doesn’t want me around…” I say to my daughter.
“I want you to stay here – you don’t worry about her…” may daughter says.
We talk for some time – about the 3 years I had spent away from her – my life – my work.
My daughter keeps asking me all sorts of questions but she doesn’t tell me much about herself.
Suddenly – my daughter’s mobile phone rings.
She picks up and listens for some time.
Then – she looks crestfallen – and says: “Okay – I am coming…”
“What happened…?” I ask my daughter.
“It’s mummy – she’s at the pub – they aren’t allowing her to drive – so – I will have to go and pick her up…” my daughter says.
“Is she drunk…?” I ask my daughter.
“Yes – she seems quite drunk…” my daughter says, “they said she was argumentative but they have managed to subdue her…”
“I’ll come with you…” I say to my daughter.
“No – Daddy – she may get upset if she sees you and create a scene…” my daughter says to me.
I keep quiet.
“One more thing, Daddy – please – a request…” my daughter says.
“Yes – tell me…” I say to her.
“I think you should stay at a hotel…” my daughter says – she looks embarrassed and says to me, “I am so sorry, Daddy…”
“Don’t feel sorry – I understand – I’ll pack my bags…” I say to my daughter.
I call up the hotel in Parnell – luckily – they have a room.
My wife has taken the car with her – so – we call a cab.
I get off at the hotel in Parnell – and – my daughter goes ahead to the pub in CBD.
She will pick up my inebriated wife and drive her home in the car.
I smile to myself at the cruel irony of the situation.
How things have changed so drastically in a few hours.
In the morning – I wanted to go to a hotel – and my daughter insisted that I stay at home with them.
And now – a few hours later – my daughter wants me to go to a hotel.
I vividly remember the words my daughter said to me in the cab – her parting shot – so to speak.
“I thought time heals wounds – but when I see you and mummy – time seems to have worsened the wound…” my daughter had said – in despair.
Alone – in the hotel – I weigh my options.
I can either stay here in Auckland – or – I can take up the excellent offer I have in another continent – half-way across the world.
At night – I have a disturbing dream.
In my dream – I am suspended in space – and – I can see my daughter and my wife standing side by side in front of me – at a distance – outside our home in Epsom, in Auckland.
I feel two forces acting on me.
My daughter is trying to pull me towards her with her love.
And – my wife is trying to push me away with her hate.
Two opposing forces are acting on me – a force of attraction due to my daughter’s love – and a force of repulsion due to my wife’s hate – one – propelling me towards our home in Auckland – and – the other – repelling me away from Auckland.
And – I suffer terrible pain and unimaginable agony – as I am brutally torn apart by the two opposing forces.
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