Saturday, April 13, 2024

Agony of a Mother

My husband and I were both engineers. My husband was particularly brilliant and joined a multinational firm in Pune where we lived. The company benefited from his knowledge and in no time had he become the Managing Director of its India operation. To begin with I had also worked in another engineering and contracting organisation, after our first child was born my husband and I felt that I should quit my job and look after the baby. I then started giving tuitions to engineering students from home. It was a very satisfying job and the money was also good. 

Four years apart we had a second child who was also a boy. My husband got a job offer from his company to shift to the US and join the board with an assurance that he would be made Managing Director when the present incumbent retired. We moved to the US. My children had now grown up and I took up a job as a professor. My husband continued to make progress. The boys were now in their teens and life was good. We made annual trips to India and spent time with my brothers and my husband’s family. There were weddings and other occasions which required our presence and we would make it a point to show up. In one of these trips we also brought ourselves a two and half bedroom apartment in Aundh on the outskirts of Pune. 

The company where my husband worked was taken over by a rival organisation and they offered my husband a very good severance package. We decided to take their offer and my husband quit his job. My elder son Rahul was very creative and wanted to get into animation and the creative side of advertising and movie making. The younger son Rajeev wanted to become a Banker and an Accountant.

The boys had their own rooms and one day my husband came home unexpectedly and found Rahul in bed with another man. That week was very strenuous, my husband had a blackout and we rushed him to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed it as a minor stroke and said we could be in for more trouble. His heart was functioning at thirty percent. The tests were not good, and there was a long way to go to get his heart and blood pressure in order. Slowly he got better and was discharged from the hospital in ten days. It was then that both of us decided that we would shift back to India. We had made preparations for our return, said goodbye to friends across the US and before Diwali we were back to our home in Pune. 

Coming home was exciting – our own home! My immediate neighbours were my brothers-in-law and they made every effort to make life easy for us. I got the house ready for the Diwali Pooja, created a small Temple, Rangoli, Flowers and a very special dinner – food that my husband and the kids liked. This was our first Diwali in our own home. I had a maid who helped me with the house work and also worked with me in the kitchen. After we finished the Pooja and sat down to dinner, I made kheer and other desserts. Rahul then said Appa Amma, I have to say something to you all, I hope you will understand I am gay. There was complete silence, my husband said after a minute that it was ok with us and it was his life, and he should be confident about himself. He said, “Your mother and I have no problems whatsoever. We love you for who you are and this will never come between us.” My husband and I had discussed this in the US many times earlier when my husband saw him in bed with another man, only Rahul didn’t notice, but we had come to terms with this, and Rahul was a very loving child. 

Our younger son Rajeev called him a “Chakka” and said that he would be ridiculed by his friends because of him. Suddenly there was a thunderstorm in the house and the both brothers were shouting at each other. Rahul was calm and Rajeev kept on shouting at the top of his voice. I could never imagine that children who we had brought up with so much affection and love could turn out to be so abrasive and abusive. That evening my husband couldn’t sleep and took a sleeping pill.  He had lost his appetite and was eating very little. Rajeev became more and more abusive in fact I was very ashamed of his behaviour. He would deliberately come out naked from his bath to taunt Rahul. He said and did things that hurt both of us and would insult Rahul in front of others. Rahul did not hide the fact that he was gay.  Life became hell.  I should have taken corrective steps just then; but I had hoped that this would pass and we would become a happy family once again.

Matters became worse, there was constant fighting and abuse between the brothers. The tension of breaking the fragile peace drained the joy of living and left me wondering how we got here, and more important how we could find peace. I stopped speaking simply because I was afraid of saying something that would upset both of them. We were living in the constant state of tension and anxiety. Both of us almost lost ourselves, all in the name of keeping peace. My husband and I was constantly checking on the kid’s mood before speaking. Sometimes it was better to keep quite rather than risk a thunderstorm. I found myself saying sorry and apologising for almost everything, I felt small and unsure of my place as mother in this relationship.  I stopped opining about anything simply to prevent a World War III at home. Our dreams, desires and our daily grievances took a back seat and at every step we were first to compromise even if it hurt us. But keeping peace was top priority.   

There were certain topics that were NO NO. I drew up a list and started categorising conversations that were safe and unsafe. This avoidance strategy kept things smooth on the surface but underneath it stifled genuine connection and left us detached. We never ate dinner together. Generally, my husband and I had dinner at eight, and if one of them was at home he would join us. Sometimes even when both of them were at home, Rajeev did not want to eat with Rahul. His excuse was he was not hungry and would eat later. We were living in a state of perpetual tension, there was always a sense of unease, even in moments that should have been filled with joy. I became very religious, fasted on occasions, made food as prescribed by the holy books. One day having said my prayers I encountered Rajeev who said however much you pray your impotent elder son will never become a man. 

My self-esteem hit rock bottom, I was living in a toxic relationship with my younger son, and it was a relief when they left home. Their absence lifted a burden off my shoulders giving me a momentary break from the tension. I became a stranger to myself. One day my brother came to visit us and in the first hour sat down with me and asked what was wrong. I changed the topic and talked about our childhood memories. But my brother knew something was seriously wrong. Next day he came home for lunch. My husband had gone to the bank and Rajeev went with him. I couldn’t help it. I burst into tears and cried. It was such a relief to cry and bit by bit I told him what was happening to us. He was shocked and angry at our state and particularly unhappy with Rajeev. He had come to Poona for the long weekend but stayed back for ten days. 

He wanted us to come to Bangalore where he lived for Dassehra and promised to send us back by Diwali. Rahul in the meanwhile started freelancing creating ads for a few advertising companies and pretty much making enough to take care of his needs. We were still giving Rajeev pocket money, whenever the brothers fought Rahul always told him that at twenty four he ought to get a job and get off dad’s payroll. This bothered Rajeev no end and he would bring up his being gay and all the abuses. By this time Rahul also had friends who were similarly inclined and pretty much at peace with himself.

There was no joy in our relationship, interactions were more about navigating tensions than sharing happiness. Relationships were now more like a duty than a source of joy. This stress had affected my husband’s health, the lack of genuine happiness not only diminished the quality of our relationship but also signalled a loss of the relationship’s core vitality. Joy had become the exception rather than the norm. It was clear that this constant bickering had pushed us into a corner of anxiety and unhappiness far removed from the comfort and security that we should have to enjoy in our senior years. 

One night my husband said that he was feeling uneasy and Rahul drove us to the hospital. It seems he had had another stroke and the doctor gave us (and him)twenty four hours. He was put on oxygen and IV fluids. At 2.30am, he told the nurse to please open the window. “My Dad has come to visit me,” he murmured, and he passed away at 4am. My brother flew in for the funeral and was surprised at my composed state of heart. I felt happy that my husband was relieved of the misery of daily living. My brother and my sons took him to the crematorium, the entire neighbourhood turned up, I didn’t go because I couldn’t bear to see his funeral pyre. Once the rituals with the death were over, my brother wanted to take me to Bangalore but I refused. 

A month and half later, I got out of the house and went to the temple. From there on I went to the bank and met the manager and informed him of my husband’s demise. I got my passbook updated and we had about a crore rupees in the bank, most of it in Fixed Deposits. This was all the money that we got back from the US. I reached home and left the passbook in the car. The driver came to return it and Rajeev opened the door and saw the passbook. He was shocked to see that we had so much money, I had no idea that Rajeev had gone through my passbook and saw our balances. This made things even worse, within a week he started saying that I should buy him a separate flat. When I said NO, he quoted the money we had in the bank and said after I die he would get half of it. So why not give it to him now. Matters got worse between brothers, there was constant bickering and abuse. 

Rahul was successful with his advertising, animation and soon started an advertising firm with the help of two friends. His creativity brought him more business, he got a job offer from a top advertising agency in Bombay, they offered him a flat and car and he moved to Bombay winding up his business in Pune. Back home, Rajeev made my life miserable. Constantly grumbling and demanding money. One day he told me that he was going on a road trip with his girlfriend to Kashmir and could he get five thousand rupees from me. I gave him the five thousand and I was happy to see him go. That evening I rang up my brother who came down the next day and within a week I had sold the flat and went to live with my brother in Bangalore. I left two suitcases and four cartons with the neighbours. Two weeks later, Rajeev came back and found someone else living in the flat. I left a little note for him saying that I had sold the flat and moved to Bangalore, but had deposited twenty thousand rupees in his bank account. Rajeev called my brother who in no uncertain terms told him things that I could never have said. Rajeev called again many times but my brother never let us get connected. He even threaten suicide. My brother said go ahead and jump into the “Mula Mutha” river. 

This is a parent’s story about life when you are constantly walking on eggshells. It’s like feeling that you are constantly dodging landmines in your own home when they should have been swept away. I became a stranger to my own desires, I silenced my voice to keep peace. I chose isolation over conflict, and my guilt about saying anything that may upset my kid’s anxiety was a constant companion. There was no joy in our relationships. This hypervigilance consumed a significant amount of my mental and emotional energy. I was feeling powerless and alone. It was a time to re-evaluate and seek out another path. I didn’t know why I did not put a stop to this bickering in the first place. I felt guilty that Rahul was gay and wanted to hide this from friends and family. I tried to maintain peace at every cost, even at the cost of my own mental sanity. 

This was wrong, and it was not our fault that Rahul was gay. We should have set boundaries for healthy interactions. We should have started talking not just any talk but honest open and non-confrontation communication. Unfortunately we didn’t. When you find yourself continuously walking on eggshells it’s a sign that something is not right and you have to address it. This can have profound psychological effects on your wellbeing. It’s not just a momentary discomfort but it can leave lasting scars. Anxiety, stress, depression, self-doubts and low self-esteem is a sure sign that you are on quicksand and if you don’t pull yourself up, it could be fated. This is to remind you that your wellbeing matters. You need to prioritise your happiness and emotional health and when you realise that there are eggshells in the room — sweep them away.

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