It was a Valentines weekend but it was not jolly! My world was hurtling down a steep cliff, only it was worse than my hormone drenched teenage-ish mind imagined. My gut was in overdrive, signaling danger, and my cerebral cortex was out of orbit.
I have always been a late bloomer and although my limbs stretched in height, my brain failed to catch up to speed. So when I got married, my baby face and warm, almond milk palette did not know that I was hurdling head first into a sharp, glacial disaster. As I said, it was not jolly.
Having fond memories of the ancient city of pink palaces – Jaipur – as a child was radically different than going as a bride into a family of three strangers and their even stranger acquaintances!
Their thought processes were radically different from mine. They were very conservative in terms of customs, food habits, and medical treatment. A daughter-in-law should wear a saree, cover her head and touch the feet of every stranger who stepped into the house. Food was extra spicy, difficult for me to digest, and if I fell sick, I was only allowed two or three antibiotic capsules instead of the entire course.
Most of these issues I could navigate. But there were times the home dynamics were rocked by temper tantrums and hysteria which defied human logic. I was absorbed in the quixotic chaos of my marital home with the eyes of an avid reader of mystery novels but not enough to prepare me for the harrowing hair-pin-bend-like Jumanji moments in my newly wedded life. Help from home was a few thousand miles away. My parents lived in Bombay. There were no cell phones. The only landline phone was in the living room and was not private. There was not a single soul in the ramparts of my Piya-ka-Ghar who was sympatico.
On one such dire occasion when my cup of sorrow was spilling, I made a plan to make a phone call from an outside line. I stealthily crept out of the house in a sweltering mid afternoon down the dusty lane when the family folks were on their daily siesta. There were no public phones and neighbors had no connections. I walked into the office of a relative and I told him a white lie. “The phone at home is not working and I have to call my parents in Bombay.” He acquiesced and I dialed home. When dad came on the line I explained to him, “It’s bad!” I wailed and then rattled off the issue in code language. To my dismay, my brilliant dad was having difficulty cracking my code. Regardless, I told him it would be good if he came there urgently, choking over every wor…d…he was having difficulty understanding. My only hope was that he could grasp the gravity of the situation from the emotional current in my voice. Mr. Relative kept staring at me but did not ask questions. I hung up and ran back to my in-laws’ house sobbing silently. I was at my wits end.
Hours passed and my mom called on the landline but her message was not conveyed to me. Then at 3 AM on a very cold and foggy winter night, a very tired, bleak-eyes tall man in a tweed coat and muffler came over the threshold. My mother-in-law called out my name: “Monita… your dad is here”. I ran out in my nightgown, bare feet without bothering to throw a shawl on my shoulders. “Daddy!”, I cried out and clutched at the hand knit grey sweater on his chest and started bawling.
He gently patted me on my back and said, “It’s good to see that you are okay my daughter.” I looked up at his face, he had not shaved and his lips were cracked from the cold. There was a worried look around his eyes.
Later, I found out that he was flying from Bombay to Delhi for an urgent business matter when he took my “call” and then not knowing how to contact me for a better understanding of my duress on the phone, he took a night taxi from Delhi. He traveled all through the dark, bitter, cold night to check on my condition.
He also said: “Daughter when you love someone, you don’t subject them to stress.” I forgot my troubles and felt guilt because I realized how much anguish I had caused my dad and how he must have suffered not knowing what was troubling me. I gave him a comfortable bed and said: “Dear dad, you rest now. We will talk in the morning”.
But my dad’s words “ When you love someone…” are instilled in the staccato of my beating heart. I can never forget his worry-stricken face. I also became acutely aware of how many insurmountable struggles of his own he had kept hidden from me. Those gently spoken tough words from a very tender hearted man caused me to transform from a crying daddy’s girl into a woman of tremendous resolve like a koi fish swimming against the current.
Because when someone loves you… you grow.
Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner. She drew the featured image as a symbol of her love for her father.
Edited by Contributing Editor Srishti Prabha.