I grew up in a very sheltered neighborhood on the outskirts of Firozabad, a small town in western UP famous for its bangle making industry. Like many, my mother too worked in one of the many bangle shops in the vicinity, full of foul smelling fuming furnaces while I attended school. I never really got into much trouble growing up, knowing our circumstances were bleak enough and I was privileged to be educated, with my mom being a single mother and no relatives to speak of. With the right education and care I grew and got educated, I slowly started taking care of my mother, who had become bedridden like many due to those toxic factory fumes. We moved to Delhi and I got a job as a small accountant for one of the countless family businesses present in South Delhi.
As our financial conditions improved, so did my social life. I became more confident and outgoing and actually managed to make friends, a big step up from my studious introverted days in Firozabad. While my life outside the house was looking up, my life inside was slowly worsening. My mother gradually stopped responding to all stimulus around her and only used to get up for basic desires like food and water. There was no human left in her to salvage let alone a mother-daughter relationship. Slowly, I too stopped caring about her and her fixations and started to come home only during the night to sleep.
My mother had always been a big movie buff, if that’s what you call slowly lurking around television screens in the factory office and trying to catch the whole movie during your breaks. Movies were the one thing she was still fixated with during these times when even I couldn’t reach her. Slowly as her condition had worsened, movie addiction had grown equally and she became fixated with this one movie. I didn’t pay much attention to these movies as they were generally old school and required me to actually be in the house, two things I generally disliked these days.
The years flew and I became more successful, at least in comparison to my destined small town labourer days and my mother became even more withdrawn. She repeatedly watched just that one movie, which didn’t even seem to have a name on it’s cover. The title track would play of a production house unbeknownst to any of my friends, and then would play this eerie low production movie that looked like the people in it were getting paid minimum wage for starring in it. The overall plot of the movie, as I slowly learnt by watching it in passing, was that of a woman who meets this young, charismatic man during the 1970s and, surprise surprise, falls in love with him. I remember the man specifically because he seemed to remind me of Sahil, a fellow clerk I had started dating during my second year at the company, he had the same charm I remember thinking to myself. The movie, however wasn’t so charming, it suddenly took a violent turn when the lady found out she was pregnant with the man’s child. Old India, typical of its roots, wouldn’t have approved and thus I had expected the lady to abort the child, however, instead she ended up killing the man, a legendary decision my mother had proclaimed. The woman went on to live her life proclaiming that she was now a widow and moving to a different state. Interesting work I recall thinking when I eventually discovered the whole plot.
The years passed and my life became better, aside from a few hurdles, I married Sahil and we finally moved into a new rental flat in one of those upcoming high rises the outskirts of Delhi were becoming full of. Life was good. We even tried getting my mother some medical help, but to no avail due to her stubbornness in not wanting to talk. She now had her own room equipped with a TV and a full time maid. It felt like we’d finally made it out of the small town I’d grown up in.
Our second Diwali at the rental house was celebrated in 2017 and I spent most of it with most of my friends and Sahil, cooking away and trying my hand at hosting the perfect dinner. My mother on that day too, only seemed to want to watch the movie and continue with her daily routine, I didn’t bother her, knowing that she wouldn’t care or know that today was Diwali. During these celebrations, which to be honest mostly involved partying and discussing work, Sahil mentioned my mother when the topic of old time movies came around. One of his friends, Prateek, also a movie buff, was intrigued by this movie of mine and wanted to visit the house to watch it. Nonchalant over the whole situation, I invited him over the following weekend to watch the movie and made a mental note to watch all of it myself beforehand just in case.
So the next day, after tidying up, I sat down with my mother to watch the movie from the beginning. I knew the plot, yet I hadn’t seen it still in its entirety, even with the time gone by. The movie started again with its low production quality and I settled in, inspecting the worn cover, and already bored of the whole ordeal. That’s when I noticed the word documentary written in faded writing over the cover. I turned to my mother, intrigued that she was this interested in something non-fiction and violent. She just gave me one of her sly smiles and went on watching the movie. The plot was the exact same, love, pregnancy and violence, yet this time the actors seemed eerily familiar. I grew uncomfortable, what was I watching.
The hours passed and the end of the movie came, the final credits and there it was clear as day. The unborn child’s name, the woman, I’d known those names my entire life. I looked closely at the man’s name, realization setting in. He was my father.
That’s when my mother turned towards me, still smiling, looked at my abdomen and whispered, “it’s Sahil’s turn”.
The next day I was a widow.