27 NovemberPosted: September 24, 2010
The rickshaw-wala decides that he MUST demonstrate his nifty 90-degree turn right then, and take me through the quiet by-lanes of Kala Nagar. Of course, the 20 other vehicles on his left, in various stages of edging across the signal, escape his lofty consideration. As a result, we end up spending 12 minutes swearing at and being sweared at by All the Others, and reach later than we would have if we had inched our way under the Bandra flyover, as originally planned.
There is the usual crowd outside the elevators. Mr. Batliwala, The Esteemed Legal Counsel for the Court, beckons to me to join him. As if I would:
- Cut the line and get zapped by evil stares first thing in the morning.
- Allow myself to come within 2 ft. of Mr. Batliwala who is prone to friendly patting of shoulders and backs of female lawyers.
I’d rather climb up the 5 flights of paan-stained, pee-smelling stairs.
2x-y is sitting outside the Family Center. She looks relieved to see me. I am late, but Miku and his father haven’t arrived. As usual. She is holding a big, glitter-paper-wrapped gift in her hands. As usual.
Miku walks in with his father. 2x-y’s face lights up. She goes into the Family Center with Miku. I stay outside and take out some papers to look at while I wait. But Miku’s father does not leave for the hour, as he normally does. He hangs around, looking at me. I look up. Oh, he wants to talk to me.
“Isn’t it high time SHE came back home? You should persuade her to give this up. I mean, how long can Miku stay away from his mother?”
I ask, “Are you looking for an out-of-court settlement? Because you know 2x-y wants Miku, she doesn’t want to stay away from him.”
“That’s nonsense. If she wanted him, she wouldn’t have walked out on him.”
“She didn’t walk out on him. She took him with her. But you took him away again.”
He dismisses the claim with an indifferent shrug; “She was standing at the bus stop with him. Anyone could have taken Miku away from her. Anyone. She is not capable of taking care of him on her own. She handed him over to me herself.”
“She trusted you. She thought you wanted to hold Miku for a while. And you turned and drove off with him.”
“Just shows, doesn’t it, how stupid she can be? How will she survive on her own, and take care of Miku?”
“She’s surviving quite well, isn’t she, for the last 2 years, without any help from you or even her parents?”
“It’s lawyers like you, all your fancy women’s organizations giving fancy ideas to these women. It’s your work, breaking up families. That’s what you earn your money from, right?”
He is blustering, and I refuse to get angry.
I say as coolly as I can, feeling very grown up, “I’m sorry you feel that way. Anyway, I’ll convey your message to my client. After all, the Family Court is happy to support reconciliation between couples. That is what the counseling is there for. For which you didn’t come.”
“I don’t need some counselor telling me how I should treat my wife and child.”
I don’t answer. What can I say?
He continues, “I’m never going to give her custody of Miku. You know that. I’ll fight it, however many years it takes.”
“That’s too bad. I know you are angry, but don’t you think of how it will affect Miku?”
“She should think about that. Not me.”
I look back at my papers. I feel a little proud that I did not lose my temper. Later, sharing a chai in the canteen with 2x-y after Miku and his father had left, I tell her about this exchange.
“He really wants you to go back, it seems.”
2x-y has the harassed look in her eyes that I have come to know well. “I’d rather kill myself.”
“He’ll drag the case for as long as he can.”
She sighs. “I know. Sometimes, I just want to give up, say OK, you can keep Miku; at least it would be easier on Miku. He could forget me quite easily right now. He’s only 5.”
I don’t answer. What can I say?
Twisting a lock of hair on her shoulder, her eyes shut in to herself, she says almost to herself, “The present I got Miku. It was a toy piano. He said his father has bought him a real synthesizer. He’s taking classes.”
She smiles weakly. We finish our tea quietly.
Much later, I am sitting in my cubicle at Neem, tired, drained out. Neempatta takes one look at me, and says, “You don’t have to go, you know, for these Family Center meetings. But if you do, then you’d better learn not to be so affected by it. It’s not going to help her.”
I nod gloomily.