How is it possible, I wonder, for a mother to ignore the signs? When it comes to being a parent, love is not enough. One has to make sense of the sighs, decipher the silences and decode the monosyllables. I think I was a good mother. And if you ask my husband or our daughter, they would agree. I make no excuses for my lapses, but it is also true that the guilt pangs clawing my heart will stay for a long time to come.
A note from Ananya’s teacher informed that she was bunking classes. ‘She will have to take extra classes after school to cope with the syllabus.’
Ananya, our first-born turned fourteen last year. Mood swings came with the territory. She became a brooder, immersed in books and cocooned in music. Any attempt to share thoughts met with sighs and groans. She seemed to have developed a knack of appearing to listen while she was lost in her world. Worse, she was neglecting studies and there were moments when I caught her looking vacuously at her text books.
That day, she kept avoiding my gaze and didn’t quite finish her dinner. I peeped into her room. Slouched on her bed, she was lost in a novel.
‘Ananya… Why aren’t you eating?’
I wondered if I was talking to a wall.
I entered her room, snatched the novel and flung it on the bed. ‘No novels before mid-term. Finish your food. And take out your chemistry book. You nearly flunked this term.’
In a strange way, she looked vulnerable when she looked at me for a brief moment.
‘What is it?’
‘I am not going to school tomorrow.’
‘I don’t want to go,’ she said defiantly. ‘That’s why.’
I walked out leaving behind silence. It was so easy to love my girl when she was a kid. Time was when she shared everything when it came to which dress to wear, how to style her hair, what movies to watch or which cookies to bake. My husband said it was normal for teens to find solace in solitude. I believed him.
In the following weeks, my girl became a stranger to me. We were drifting apart for reasons beyond comprehension. I would be lying if I said that I made serious attempts to know what she was going through. Her appetite diminished, and I blamed it on her fetish for a slim figure. She trudged towards the bus stop, and I dismissed it as her revulsion for studies. She continued talking to her friend in hushed tones, and I thought it was girly gossip.
A day prior to the parent-teacher meet, I received a call from Ananya’s class mate. ‘Did you read the paper aunty? He’s gone. Finally.’
I scanned the newspaper with a pounding heart. The small snippet on the second page connected the dots. Suddenly I could trace my series of lapses.
A case of molestation was registered against a fifty year old teacher. The chain of exploitation began soon after he was appointed as the chemistry teacher at a reputed school…
When I entered my daughter’s room she was talking to her friend. Her shoulders were shaking mildly. I could sense that she was sobbing. She saw the paper in my hand, turned her head and looked at me. When our eyes met, I could sense both - her anguish and her relief. She leaned towards me hesitatingly. As I embraced her, she hugged me tightly. It was as if she wanted to hold me forever.
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