This story is a sequel to the previous post 'The Stranger'. In case you haven't already, do read it first.
It was a little after 4 am when Dinesh decided to get out of bed. Sleep had evaded him all night. He had tried to meditate but there was no rest for either mind or body.
Sitting by the window, a large cup of tea in his hand, Dinesh knew that today was going to be a very difficult day. He hadn’t seen his son in about 26 years, had no idea what he looked like. The image he had in his mind was still of a 3 month old boy who he had left without saying goodbye to. That and the voice he had heard over the phone yesterday.
Dinesh was a year younger than his son was today when he got married to Naina. ‘Naina’ which literally means ‘eyes’. Would she be the one who would, along with him, see life in a way that nobody else around him did? Dinesh and Naina had just had a few formal meetings after the families had arranged their marriage. He wondered how he was letting himself commit to someone he barely knew anything about. Yes, she was pretty, educated, well mannered and belonged to a cultured family. Was that enough to get into a relationship that was meant to last a lifetime?
One time when they were out for lunch, he wanted to probe into her mind and ask her all these questions.
‘If you could live your life without worrying about society or family, what would you be doing?’ ‘What is true freedom?’
‘What actions in our lives have the longest reaching consequences?’
‘What single event has had the biggest impact in your life?’
‘Have you ever thought about the meaning of life and how we can find it?’
’Do you ever stay up at night worrying about where humanity is headed?’
‘Why is there so much suffering in the world?’
There were so many questions he wanted to ask but didn’t. Instead they talked about movies, friends, college etc. Conversations that most people in their mid 20’s usually had. Superficial chit chat that did not delve into either mind.
Turned out that while Naina checked all the boxes that an Indian man would look for in a wife, her way of looking at life was completely different than his. She was just like the other people he knew, wanting the same things, happy to be the stereotypical wife, daughter, daughter-in-law. He wished that he too was like them. It would make his life so much easier.
Three months into the marriage when they found out that she was pregnant, all he felt was distress. He hadn’t been ready to be a husband and he was by no means ready to be a father. Everyone was celebrating the arrival of the new baby, but that strange feeling in his stomach would not leave him. His friends, who were still all single, joked about him being a father before his 26th birthday.
His heart pounded every time someone said it. A father? How could he be responsible for another human being when he was still struggling for answers about his own life?
Nothing changed with the birth of Shiv. He thought that seeing the little one would bring in all these paternal feelings and he would become ‘normal’. As normal as wanting to go to work everyday, being a great dad, wanting nothing but the best for his son, being a good husband and genuinely loving his wife, being the son his parents expected him to be etc etc. Without pretending and without having to make an effort. But none of that happened. All he wanted was to run away from it all.
Which is exactly what he did.
Tossing and turning, he got out of bed in the middle of one night, feeling like he was about to suffocate. Was he about to have a heart attack because it certainly felt like his heart would explode at any moment? Pouring himself some water, he was barely able to drink any. He began pacing up and down the bedroom, Naina and Shiv at her parents home, oblivious to what was going on. Dinesh waited for his heart to give way but instead tears began flowing down his eyes. Loudly sobbing, he continued to pace, feeling claustrophobic in a way that he had never thought was possible.
Once the tears stopped, he sat down and just let himself breathe for a while. It felt like he hadn’t inhaled any oxygen in a really long time. It took about an hour for him to calm himself down. An hour when he did a lot of thinking. An hour after which he packed a small bag, took all the cash he had and left his home. He knew that financially his wife and son would be taken care of by both families and that was all that his young mind was ready to be concerned about.
Twenty six years had passed and today he was about to meet a young man who shared his genes. The restaurant they were to meet at, opened at 11 am and he was waiting outside when they did. After consuming endless cups of tea, at 12:50 pm he left and stood out on the street, turning himself invisible in the crowd. Exactly at 1 pm he saw Shiv enter the restaurant, looking nervous. He observed him for a few minutes and suddenly realized that the anxiety he had been experiencing all this time, was no longer there.
Taking a deep breath, Dinesh walked into the restaurant.