21 February, 1991.
Today, I became the father of a healthy and handsome baby boy. Without a doubt, today is the happiest day of my life. Considering the events preceding his birth, he has definitely come into our lives with a torch to dispel all the darkness from our pasts. We have decided to name him Nikhil. He's our little Mr. Nikhil Harish. Both mother and son are doing well. Latha's mother is staying with her at the hospital to help with the baby. I could have done it but letting her mother do the honors seemed like the right thing to do.
"...I knew that things could easily get worse after the baby arrives."
It feels so strange to be sitting all alone at home at this time of the night. The house echoes the emptiness and hollowness inside me. I haven't stayed away from Latha for even a single night in the two years of our marriage. And we have mostly been blissfully happy during the months of her pregnancy. One of the main reasons for our happiness is that we could finally move away from my parents' home. The events leading up to that were painfully bad but when it happened, it felt like everything fell into place. Last May, when I found out that Latha was pregnant, I had a mixed reaction. I was so happy that I wanted to scream out from our roof top that I was going to be a father. At the same time, I panicked. With the way we were living at the time, I couldn't really imagine how we'd support an extra person. And that too, a tiny, fragile little human being who needs a lot of attention and care. It's not like we could count on extra support just because we were living with my parents. Moreover, I knew that things could easily get worse after the baby arrives. As it is, Latha did all the cooking and cleaning there without any form of help or cooperation. I couldn't imagine her toiling away in the kitchen, preparing meals for four individuals all by herself even after being full-term pregnant. All these worries were driving me crazy and I had to spend many sleepless nights pondering over the various options available. I only knew two things for certain. One was that Latha would not be made to work like this during her pregnancy. In fact, she would be fed better and looked after because she was feeding another being within her. The second thing was that I wouldn't borrow money or help from her brother. It's not just a matter of my pride and ego. I didn't want to give him another reason to put me down and make me feel sore.
"My wife's pregnancy itself would be at risk if we continued there."
A few weeks into her pregnancy, Latha was in my parents' bedroom, helping my mother with her knitting. After spending hours in that room, she decided to use their bathroom instead of climbing the stairs to go to ours. This was an area of the house that Latha never entered previously. She gave my parents their space and never went about cleaning their bedroom and bathroom. The minute she stepped in, she slipped and fell on the floor. The tiles were slimy and slippery from not having been maintained properly over the years. A person who is used to this would be careful but Latha never imagined that she'd slip and fall. Thankfully, nothing happened to her. No breakages or injuries. She was just lightly bruised. That pretty much did it for me. I realized that living in that house was not going to pose a threat to the post-pregnancy phase alone. My wife's pregnancy itself would be at risk if we continued there. To make things worse, my father told me the next morning that their bathroom was not in the perfect condition because of the excessive cleaning in the bathroom upstairs which resulted in water seepage into their bathroom walls. So he was holding Latha accountable for her fall. First of all, none of it made any sense to me whatsoever. I couldn't get the connection between us maintaining a clean bathroom upstairs and them having slimy bathroom tiles downstairs. I didn't care either because I knew what kind of people they were and I knew that this could easily lead to them asking me for money to renovate their bathroom considering how it's condition has worsened considerably just because of my wife. I just knew that this was my perfect window of opportunity to leave. They were shocked when I told them that we didn't intend to cause any more discomfort to them by staying on and that we probably overstayed their welcome. They were appalled at the idea of us moving out as that would mean no more access to a third of my salary. In all honesty, I had had enough. My mother threw a fit about how she never thought this day would come, about how it would be everybody's misfortune if the first grandchild of the house didn't grow up here and about how she was getting old and always counted on us to be there for her. When all else fails, parents like to use that argument.
"But we're getting old!"
"What use is a son to us if he doesn't care for us?"
"We would have been better off with no children!"
I started house hunting the very next day and with the help of a few friends and contacts, found a place close to work. It was the lower storey of a two storey house with the owners living upstairs. Houses like these are very common here. It serves as an extra source of income for an old couple as well as gives them the security of having someone else in the compound when they're alone. Our lower storey house basically comprised of a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and a small living cum dining area. To me, it seemed perfect.
Within a month, Latha and I moved into our new place and had a small house warming ceremony that was attended by her family and (begrudgingly) mine. I arranged for traditional Sadya lunch for everybody and we had a pleasant time. From then on, that little apartment became our whole world. I arranged for a maid to come and do the cleaning and washing. All Latha did was cook for two. It was a magical time for us. With the extra money, I could slowly set aside a small sum each month as a kind of baby fund for when the baby arrives. We could go out for movies more often. We could eat out once in a while. Latha even started decorating the place with whatever money we could spare. It wasn't much but it was more than enough.
"Nobody has the power to hurt us more than our loved ones."
But all can't be perfect all the time. The problems we mostly faced were at the hands of the people in our lives. One was obviously my parents who never spared any opportunity to point out that they weren't happy with the proceedings. And quite surprisingly, the other was her family. Her brother now jabbed at the both of us. The jabs were mostly directed at me but he knew how they bugged her so I think he probably got a kick out of it. Understandably, his wife also started following his example. But the saddest part was that her mother also fell for it. She loved and cherished her son who took over the responsibility of the family as soon as their father passed away. He was the head of the family and Latha's mom genuinely loved and respected him to the extent that she actually looked up to him. So when he kept telling her that this was not a good time to have a baby and that we would never be able to manage and that the responsibility of caring for our child would eventually fall on the three of them, with her brother having to financially support us and with the women having to babysit our baby, she began to resent us. And by that, I mean, mostly me. That was the part that hurt the most and there were nights when Latha and I would clutch each other and weep in our paradise. We felt completely alone and totally out of place. We literally had just each other to cling on to in this world. Nobody has the power to hurt us more than our loved ones. This is one thing we realized during what would have otherwise been a blissfully happy pregnancy.
By December last year, one of my colleagues told me about an opportunity abroad. At first, I wasn't even remotely interested, what with the baby coming and all the expenses in front of me. I couldn't imagine leaving Latha here all alone with a baby and no one to fall back on for support. But the more he told me about it, the more it looked like the perfect opportunity for someone like me. With my qualifications and experience, this would be the perfect job for me. And it would be the once in a life-time opportunity to leave this place for good. As it is, there was nothing to miss here. So I discussed with Latha and we decided that we should definitely give it a shot.
A month ago, I decided to apply to the post of Process Engineer in the SABIC office situated in Jubail. I talked to a lot of people extensively about the company and the life in Jubail before making this decision. It turns out that SABIC is Middle East's largest petrochemical company and with my degree in Chemistry, it seems to be a better fit for me than my current job. Life is generally good and the money they offer is tremendous! I also will not have to pay tax hence all of it can be saved. There's a good International Indian School where most Indian families send their children. The Indian and even Malayali population in Jubail is also commendable. I never knew there were so many Malayalis in the Gulf. The only problem was that it's a slightly conservative Muslim country with strict rules. But Latha and I know that we'll be happy anywhere as long as we're together. We didn't want to get our hopes high but if everything works out for the best, we can escape this place and start our lives afresh. And this time, with actual money to spend and to spare.
Today, after I returned from the hospital, I found out that my application had been accepted. I had to start with the Visa formalities soon and within a year, hopefully, we'd leave with Nikhil. I haven't been able to talk to Latha about it because I just found out. Which is probably why I have this nagging sensation in my head because I miss her. I miss being able to tell her everything. But it'll be fine tomorrow when I see her and our little lucky charm.
He is indeed our lucky charm. He came into this world to bring me good news. He came in to give hope and happiness to his parents. And I know that I will give him everything I craved for as a child, and more.
Continue reading here.
You might also be interested in Part 1 of this collection.