Sunday, February 25, 2007

Remembering Meenakshi

Reading about
Reborn Dolls reminded me of Suresh, my first boss and his wife Veena. In our team of six, the rest of us were fresh out of engineering school and single. He had been married about twelve years. Sometimes during our coffee breaks he would talk about Meenakshi, his five year old daughter. We could tell he doted on her. Veena was more the disciplinarian and did not approve of how her husband spoilt their daughter.

One Diwali, Suresh invited all of us to his house. The day before he called me to his office. "I have a favor to ask of you guys" he said. I waited for him to continue "When you come to our place tomorrow, please make sure you don't mention Meenakshi in front of Veena" he added after a pause. Something told me that it would be inappropriate to ask why not. I assured him I would tell the others. He thanked me profusely for my understanding.

We arrived just before noon. Suresh and Veena were at the door to greet us. Their home was picture perfect just like the couple was. The harmony between them was palpable. Veena had cooked an elaborate lunch and insisted that we take the leftovers home. She was bright, cheerful and seemed to enjoy our company. She showed us around the house and I noticed that there was no sign of their daughter.

The next day at work, Suresh wanted to talk with me again. I was more anxious this time. He gave me a beautiful notebook with "From Meenakshi with Love" written on the flyleaf. "This is from Veena and me" he said handing it to me. I could tell something was wrong.

"Meenakshi is the child of our imagination. Veena and I can never have children but always longed to have one. Around five years ago after we had exhausted all medical options, I decided to give Veena an imaginary child. We named her Meenakshi. I learnt to imitate a baby's voice so Veena could hear a child calling her 'Mother'. I become Meenakshi for Veena".

"Over time, she has become as real to us a real child. To us she exists, she goes to school, has friends - has a life just like other children of her age. I think sometimes we forget that Meenakshi does not exist. As long as we are alone, we feel like she is with us. Outsiders would not understand. I worry that they may say something that will hurt Veena or worse wake her up from this dream that she is living in. It would shatter her to not have Meenakshi" He paused when he noticed I was crying.

"Please don't cry. I should have never told you all this. I just thought you would understand. It is very hard to share this. I think it was very selfish of me to burden you. I do apologize" he said. I sat there in his office until I was able to collect myself.

Life went on as before. Suresh prodded us mercilessly until we were able to write C code to his exacting and elegant standards. He was a perfectionist. Even as we griped about having to rewrite the same function twenty times and test it to death, we knew we were fortunate to have mentor like him.
He wrote compliers and relational database systems for recreation because the day job did nothing to challenge him.

Meenakshi returned to our coffee breaks. She went to stay with her grandparents for the summer vacation, moved to the next grade, got a little white puppy as a birthday gift, Veena thought it was extravagant of Suresh to buy her a six hundred rupee outfit for her sixth birthday. Despite knowing the truth, Meenakshi was a very real person to me. I cherished the gift she had given to me.

I saw Suresh last over ten years ago when I got a new job. I sensed my own desperation for motherhood within months of marriage and found myself thinking about Veena. What if like her, I could never be a mom ? It was irrational, illogical fear but not the less real for that. To this day, whenever I meet a childless couple I remember Suresh and Veena and pray that God gifted them a real Meenakshi that they so longed for.

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