Even before our car came to a halt in front of Quail Run elementary school , Aravind took off the seat belt and was ready to jump out .
” No need to walk me me up to the gate mama! I can go” he said in no uncertain tone.
” These children ! How fast they grow up! So impatient to be independent and on their own” I sighed inwardly.
As I was about to fasten my seat belt, another car came to a halt beside ours.
A boy of Aravind’s age emerged out quickly, gave a hurried hug to the lady still in the driving seat and ran into the school saying ” bye mom! “.
She waved him with a broad smile on her face .
I was in for surprise! She must be at least sixty years old by her looks . how could she be the mother of an eleven year old kid!
Unable to contain my curiosity I ventured ” Hi ! I haven’t seen you here last year.”
“Moved to this community recently.” She answered pleasantly and backed the car without giving scope for further conversation.
I proceeded towards my destination resolving to solve the mystery later. I remembered an important meeting with a client scheduled at 9 AM.
Our elder boy Aditya was in ninth grade in Dougherty valley high school. The streaming down information from our senior colleagues with regard to college admission proceedings was making us feel jittery.
There was a sudden break to my thoughts as I approached my office.
The whole day went off in a jiffy with one on one meetings, interviews and conference calls.
Dinner time was the only time all four of us were together. Aaditya and Aravind competing with each other to narrate the day’s happenings , Ravi trying to play moderator and me making it sure the children ate properly , time would fly off.
” Amma! Today a new boy joined our class. His name is Kishan and he is the tallest boy now.” Aravind informed excitedly.
“We have a new member , one Mr. Karthikeyan into our tennis group today. They moved from Cupertino to San Ramon recently. He is from Tamil Nadu and is quite interested in music .” Ravi put in.
“Why don’t you invite him to Aaditya ‘s ‘house concert?’ ” I proposed.
“That is a good idea. ” Ravi beamed.
” Aadi! That reminds me . Only one week more to go. You have to practice hard. ” I said.
As usual Aditya huffed and hued before he ran upstairs. In a short while we could hear him singing Thyagaraja Keerthana “Endaro Mahanubhavulu ” .
“His is still a child. ” Ravi smiled complacently.
” He is only fifteen ” I contributed.
The house- concert was arranged in Selvan’s house . His daughter Sahithi , was in Aditya’s music group. Mahima and Pavan were the other two participants .
The concert began with the four of them singing ” Vathapi Ganapathim Bhaje “in ‘Hamsa Dhvani’ ragam. This was followed by each one of them singing one Keerthana . Then they sang two of Tyagaraja Pancharathna keertanas.
The whole evening the music teacher Mrs. Ranjani Vasudev was in the lime light.
My eyes swept the gathering looking for familiar faces. I was rather surprised to find Kishan sitting with the other students in the first row. My eyes searched for the sight of the accompanying elderly lady . But she was not present. . At the end of the programme we arranged dinner for the guests . Venkateswara Bhavan restaurant people supplied delicious food.
People thronged to the garage where food items were served. After thanking Ranjani Vasudev profusely for putting in her effort and time to train the kids , I guided Aravind and Aditya towards the garage.
” You made us proud Aditya! You really did a good job” I patted my son’s back. He consciously looked around as if to make sure nobody observed that.
Ravi was already there eating and chatting at the same time. The man he was talking to was not familiar to me. Ravi beckoned me to his side and introduced him .
” Remember I told you about Mr. Karthikeyan ? Here he is. And that big boy is his son Kishan .”
I said ” Hi! How do you find this place? ” to Karthikeyan and looked behind him for the boy.
Here I was in for another surprise ! This boy was the same kid I saw with that elderly lady. . But what puzzled me was the age difference between them . Could she be his nanny ? Nanny for an eleven year old boy! And why would he call her mom?
Karthikeyan looked about forty five years of age -same as Ravi. A pleasant face with a sharp nose and big eyes and of average height, he looked charming. What caught my eye was a trace of sadness in his eyes. Or was I imagining ?
“These are my two boys Aditya and Aravind ” Ravi introduced them to Karthikeyan. He Congratulated Aditya and smiled at Aravind.
Soon Aravind and Kishan got engrossed in a lively conversation . I observed that most of the talking was done by Aravind and Kishan was playing the part of a polite listener. “He must be taciturn by nature ” I thought.
Now and then his eyes were darting towards my face and when our eyes met he immediately looked away.
” Kishan learnt music in Viswa Shanthi Academy in Cupertino for three years . Now that we have moved to San Ramon, I wonder whether I should put him into Smt Ranjani Vasudev’s music school.” Karthikeyan observed.
” Good idea” Ravi smiled.
” I have no doubt that she would welcome him to her fold.” I added.
We thanked every one for making the’ house- concert ‘a success , especially Mrs.Ranjani Vasudev and congratulated and complimented Mr. Selvan for his beautiful house, before we left.
On the way Ravi said in a regretful tone ” Selvan bought the house for one million. Now it costs 1.5. We should have gone in for this type of house when we moved here six years ago.”
“We had to consider so many things then. Even our house appreciated in value.” I tried to sound optimistic.
We arrived at our door and left the topic at that.
Life would not be a smooth sailing all the time. I had to make an emergency trip to India because of my father’s sudden illness. Ravi would have to manage single- handed – our two children,their school schedule and their Tennis,taekwondo,and swimming classes . we already had certain adjustments with regard to car-pooling and pick up and drop routine.
I was bodily here but my mind was already in India with my mother and father.
Thank God! Soon after my arrival in India ,my dad was discharged from the hospital . What he needed was bed rest and a little nursing for two more weeks.
Once dad was home , I started distance- supervision of the kids’ home work.Ravi was informing me of weekend dinner invitations from friends,supply of food items , specifically the Gujarati items like Dhokla, Methi thepla and dabeli brought by Karthikeyan.
Karthikeyan from Tamilnadu bringing Gujrati cuisine tickled my curiosity . A love marriage probably!.Another mystery to be solved about kishan’s mother.
Any way I must make a list of the friends who helped Ravi during my absence and start reciprocating dinner invites to them from day one after going back . Indian community in America flourished on this kind of give and take.
Aditya’s and Aravind’s beaming faces welcomed me back to America . Though they missed me a lot, they had a two-week field day with Ravi indulging in their every whim and fancy- be it week end sleep-over at friends’ place or eating at a Mexican restaurant or a visit to a children’s movie.
Return dinners and sweets distributions went on for a month. Aravind told me excitedly that Kishan loved the kaju burfi I sent to them.
My second encounter with Kishan’s Mom at the school paved the way for a new friendship . Once both the kids bade us good bye and entered the school, she came to me.
“I am Asha . We met only once but Kishan and his dad would be talking about you people often. How is your dad now?And by the way thanks for the sweets from India. ” she extended her hand and took mine in a warm grip.
One day Ravi came home with the news of Concord (Thaipoosam ) walk on iron horse trail from San Ramon Central Park to Concord Murugan temple proposed by Karthikeyan . It would recharge one’s soul apart from fulfilling one’s wishes. Thousands would participate.
It was a twenty one mile walk and they must start walking every day to train themselves to be fit for the challenging job.
Asha rang up to ask whether I would be interested to be a volunteer for the event.. After all it was on a holiday and children would have fun.
Her enthusiasm was so infectious that I got carried away and expressed my willingness.
We four went in Asha’s car, stopped at intervals to receive the walkers, revived them with breakfast ,orange juice and snacks and sweets. We were surprised to find so many volunteers . More than two thousand walkers participated in the event.
Asha was doting over Kishan all the while and he was obviously feeling uncomfortable because of our presence.
It took almost seven hours for Ravi and Karthikeyan to reach the temple in Concord. There were shuttle services to take them back to the starting point.
We did not wait for them. Asha dropped us at our door step . I invited her in for a cup of coffee. We had a pleasant chat for ten minutes and Asha said
” The teacher in Cupertino gave us tickets for the upcoming dance performance in Menlo Atherton. I would not be attending. You could use them. ” she opened her valet and brought them out. “Kishan and his dad would join you .” She added.
I thanked her. When they were about to leave she extended an invitation to us: “Drop in some time.”
I never knew a time would come soon that could make the visit imminent. we parted our ways for the day. I was thinking of her for a while. There was something motherly about her. Her uttering the names of Kishan and his dad carried the same affectionate tone.
We attended the Bharat Natyam performance ” Infinite Facets-An Exploration of the Self.” It was an ethereal experience that carried us to spiritual ecstasy .
The next day I rang her up to thank her. She was in Dublin with her son for his wedding anniversary she informed me.
The impact was mind blowing. Her son’s wedding anniversary! It was not only puzzling but confusing too.
On Thursday Asha rang up. “I need your help. Kishan’s dad went to L.A on office work . I fell in the bath room and my leg got hurt. If you are working from home could you drop Kishan at school? ” There was an urgency in her tone.
“Don’t worry. I will take care. Are you badly hurt ? I can take you to the doctor if you need..” I said.
When I went there to pick up Kishan , Asha was lying down on the recliner , her left foot nursed in cold pack.
I assured her I would come back leaving the boys at school and that they could buy lunch there.
I rushed back to her , helped her to her bed, made her eat bread toast and butter for breakfast ,fixed two cups of coffee -one for her and one for me and settled by her side with my laptop.
She held my hand and spoke in a soft voice: ” You remind me of my daughter . She is of your age.”
I stared at her blankly.
She opened the bed side table drawer and brought out a picture. ” That is Deepa, my daughter. “she said as if it explained every thing.
” We hail from Gujarath . Deepa met Karthikeyan when she was working in Chennai. They fell in love ,got married against the wishes of his parents who were orthodox. Deepa’s departed father would have supported her decision so I wished her well. ” Asha paused.
I felt as if somebody slapped on my face. “O my God ! The things I imagined!”
Asha continued ” Karthikeyan being their only child they patched up but were desperate about an heir. Even after four years of married life, Deepa did not conceive . So the couple consulted a doctor. To their dismay the doctors made it clear that Deepa could never bear a child because of some medical problem.. “
” Even before these things came to their knowledge , Karthikeyan’s father suddenly died of heart attack . Soon his wife followed him broken hearted. Karthikeyan wanted to fulfil their wish of having a grand child. Science came to their rescue and Kishan was born. “
“My daughter and son-in-law migrated to America. I was happy that finally my children were settled in life .” Asha sighed.
” My happiness was short lived. There appeared cracks in their marriage “.
” When Kishan was four years , they got separated. Deepa went back to India and married her college days friend. I could not bear to see the little one deprived of mother’s love. And here I am.” Asha closed her eyes as if the narration drained her of all the strength. Her tear-stained cheeks looked pale.
My heart went out for her. The trace of sadness in Karthikeyan’s eyes, the taciturn nature of Kishan and Asha’s doting over the boy explained themselves.
” why do you allow him to call you mom? Would it not complicate things? ” I could not resist asking her the cruel question.
Asha opened her eyes and looked straight into my eyes.
” Kishan missed his mother so much that he became an introvert . I had to shower my love on him to make him normal. He started calling me mom and I did not object. If it gave him comfort let it be. ” Asha said.
There came a strange light into her eyes when she added ” I nourished him in my womb for nine months. After all I am his surrogate mother you see!” .