The Adopted Son
“Madam, you will have to get a copy of your late husband’s death certificate, his pan card copy, and then a copy of his last three year’s premium and this and that and that.” The gentleman at the LIC office desk clearly announced in his professional accent.
Reena’s head began to swirl.
She somehow managed to gather some strength and meekly replied, “I will get back with those copies in a week,” even without the slightest clue as to how she was going to hit upon them.
How many times had Aakash coaxed her to get updated with his files on the hard disk. But it was as if Reena had some perennial enmity against the computer. She had never inclined to grasp how it works. Aakash would rebuke her every time she settled to write a letter to her mother.
“Oh, come on, Reena, I understand the telephonic conversations don’t work since the time your mother’s audible perceptions waned badly. But I am sure by now your brother must have made your mother abreast with the functions of the computer. She might prefer correspondence through email even at her age, and here you are sticking to the old fashion of letter writing.”
Reena would throw a disapproving glance at her spouse.
“I genuinely feel the affection and intimacy is lost when we type letters on the Computer. It may be fine with official correspondences, but as far as the personal touch is involved, nothing can take the place of handwritten letters. Look how beautiful my mother’s handwritten letters are.” Reena would show her precious collection of letters and affectionately run her hand over them to substantiate her stand.
Aakash wouldn’t give up so easily. “Someone has to write, then take the trouble of going to a post box to drop the letter and of course, before all this the person has to go and purchase postcards, inland letters or stamps.” He would hit his forehead with his palms in exasperation. “And then the receiver cannot get it immediately like emails. There is a waiting period according to the vastness of distance between the sender and receiver.”
“Whatever you say, this letter writing has been practised and is still being practised by many. Not all are tech-savvy like you.” Reena would protest, pouting her lips.
Letters genuinely had their fragrance, no doubt, but she could have at least learnt the basic intricacies of the computer. Today it would have saved her this agony of finding Aakash’s documents.
Reena was aware that the files that the gentleman was talking about were also in the form of hard copies in the cupboard, but how would she find out which files had those papers that he had asked for?
‘It is so very stupid of me to have never bothered to understand where Aakash filed his papers and documents.’ Thought Reena, but then who could had even in their weirdest of dreams thought that Aakash would perish like this, all of a sudden.
“Cardiac arrest, Madam,” his subordinate at the office had informed Reena. “Please come to Lilavati Hospital. He is in the ICU.”
Before Reena reached the hospital, everything was over. The lines on the monitor of the heartbeat machine slept obediently straight horizontally.
It took Reena sometime before she gathered the broken pieces of her life thrown out of gear after her husband’s sudden demise.
Aakash had been a good husband.
Reena chided herself for not being a good wife. She wasn’t able to give him the pleasure of being addressed as ‘Daddy’.
It wasn’t a deliberate decision by her and neither was she infertile. Her first conception ended in a disaster; the fetus entering the fallopian tube had to be removed. It also sealed any further hopes of the couple parenting a biological child. Reena was advised not to risk another conception.
A few weeks went by after this catastrophe. One day Aakash broached the subject, “Can we adopt a baby?”
Reena, who had never thought of it, was taken aback. “Well, I would have contemplated it if I had never conceived. I would have then resigned to the sad fact that God hadn’t gifted me with precious motherhood, but I have carried a baby’s fetus for nearly 60 days, and the feeling of nurturing my child had already dawned on me then. I hope you understand, Aakash. I am not very sure how well I could accommodate a kid born to some other parents in my life.”
The subject was never brought up again by Aakash anymore.
Aakash switched over his job soon after this, and it involved intensive touring. There was a time when he was nearly away for almost five months for a project.
The couple led a set pattern of life. Aakash was busy with his job while Reena had her own circle of friends. They used to do social work by reading out to blind students and teaching children in orphanages. Reena interacted with many children during the day but never felt the intimacy to have one of them nurtured in her own house.
Aakash was hardly 41 when he suffered this sudden cardiac arrest.
Reena pulled the entire pack of files one after the other. When she pulled the last of the files, many postcards, inland letters and envelopes fell from beneath it.
Reena gawked at the scattered letters nonplussed. They were all written letters that were sent to his official address.
She was surprised that Aakash, who was an incredibly tech-savvy person, was receiving handwritten letters. Who could be the sender? Was Aakash also replying with handwritten letters? She was curious to find out.
Reena turned one of the inland letters, and the sender’s name read as Suchitra. Inquisitiveness getting the better of her, she read the letter dated nearly four years ago.
‘Today, Siddharth uttered his first few words. I am sure you would love to hear his babbling. Do come as soon as possible.’
Reena rummaged through the other letters. She peered at the stamp of the dispatch post office. This was an advantage with letters; one could find out from where it came. She found the name of a town nearly 122 km away from the city’s outskirts.
Reena frantically tried arranging the letters in chronological order. The first one was almost five years old. That letter had come in an envelope, along with a photograph of an infant, who might be about four to five months. The kid was lying on its tummy.
The sender again was Suchitra. It read as:
‘Sorry that I took some time to reply to your previous letter. We were busy here organising the Durga puja.
Siddharth is doing well. He had his second dose of infant vaccination yesterday. He is fine now. He has started turning over. I am enclosing his snap alongwith the letter.
Kindly get some bib cloth when you visit us next week.’
This letter indicated that Aakash too replied to her letters. Something that took Reena by utter surprise.
Who was Suchitra, and what relation did she or the child have with Akash? Why did Aakash give up his tech-savvy nature and adhere to handwritten letters that he always considered an outdated form of correspondence? Reena was feeling dizzy with the thoughts.
She looked at all the letters. It struck her that each of the envelopes had a photograph along with the letter.
Reena hurriedly picked them up one after the other and was utterly perplexed to see Aakash holding a tiny baby in a few photographs. Then some in which he was holding the hands of a toddler trying to walk around. She kept turning and tossing them repeatedly, intending to find the child’s mother, but there seemed to be no female in any of the pictures.
‘Maybe she clicked it. Aakash has been having an affair behind my back, and I did not even have the slightest clue about it? This was probably the reason behind his so-called ‘official tours’.
The letters had been instrumental in revealing the other side of her husband, on whom she had placed her entire faith and on whom she had been too dependent for all these years.
Reena clutched her aching head with both her palms and slumped onto the sofa.
The doorbell rang.
Wondering who it could be at this late hour, Reena wiped her face quickly and opened the door. It was an employee from Aakash’s office.
“Madam, these are some letters that sir has received in the past week,” he said, handing over a few envelopes. Reena nodded in acknowledgement.
After he left, Reena absent-mindedly checked the envelopes. One was from the bank, and one was an invitation from Aakash’s academic institution for an ex-students meet and then the third envelope caught her sight. ‘Aashalata memorial home for women and children,’ it read as the sender’s address, and it bore the same stamp of the dispatch post office like all other letters that she had found in the cupboard.
Reena opened it with trembling hands.
‘Sir, since Suchitra has been held up at her native place, she asked me to inform you that Siddharth’s school admissions are through, and his joining fees are due this week. We are apprehensive as we haven’t heard from you for a while. I hope things are fine at your end. Siddharth has been missing you.
Thanks to your sincere efforts we got a computer yesterday and also a landline telephone installed. Debashish is learning how to operate the computer, and we will soon start corresponding through emails. The phone has reduced many of our efforts going to and fro to the local Post Office to make calls.
We tried contacting you on the number given, but it constantly gave a ‘switched off’ message. Please do get back to us soon regarding the payment of Siddharth’s fees. Our landline number is 2531799.
If some vital job is holding you back, kindly let us know so that we can make arrangements to pay the money from our trust, which you can eventually reimburse, but we need an assurance from you.’
One Ms. Mahapatra had signed the letter on letterhead, unlike previous letters on plain pages.
Setting aside all other essential assignments that she was meticulously following after her husband’s death, the following day Reena took the first train to reach the place from where her husband had been receiving letters.
A train ride and some hilly path by bus took her to her destination.
Reena was ushered into a neatly arranged lounge with modest sofa sets and chairs. She had expressed her desire to meet Ms. Mahapatra madam and was requested to wait as madam had another visitor.
For fifteen minutes, Reena sat there patiently. Her subconscious mind scripted stories about her husband’s relationship with this boy called Siddharth. The name kept ringing a bell in her mind.
Suddenly she was reminded of something.
“Hey, if we have a boy, we shall name him Siddharth, and if it is a sweet girl like you, we will call her Sheena, rhyming with your name.” Isn’t this what Aakash had said when Reena’s pregnancy was confirmed? ‘Siddharth’ was the name he was to give for his son.
Reena’s head was splitting with an ache as it felt utterly heavy with all these thoughts. She wished she had never chanced upon those letters.
‘Things might have been less complicated if these correspondences had been through email. At least I would not have known about it.’ Reena thought as she patiently waited with the bunch of letters in her hand.
After what seemed like an eternity, the door of Ms. Mahapatra’s office was thrown open.
Reena’s jaws dropped in utter disbelief as she saw her younger sister Riddhima walk out of the office along with two ladies who introduced themselves as Ms. Mahapatra and Suchitra.
Reena noticed that Riddhima’s face had turned pale on spotting her. In utter astonishment, the sisters even forgot to acknowledge each other’s presence. Reena half absentmindedly handed over the latest letter to Ms. Mahapatra and introduced herself as the wife of the person to whom the letter had been addressed. She went on to tell her that Aakash was no more but realised from the kind of response on both the women’s faces that this wasn’t a fresh piece of news to them.
“Let us go inside and talk,” Ms. Mahapatra gestured to them. Both Reena and Riddhima followed her and Suchitra.
It was then that many pieces of the puzzle were put into place, and Reena got a clear vision of what had transpired.
“Reena, Siddharth is my son,” Riddhima began with apprehensions. “Nearly six years before, my colleague Avinash enticed me, and I fell prey to his lust.” Riddhima continued with her head bent low, not daring to have any eye contact with her elder sister. “He would listen to none of my pleadings and washed his hands off conveniently. It was just seven weeks then after you had a misconception and was advised not to have children.” Riddhima gave a deep sigh of agony while Reena listened with rapt attention.
“I went to the doctor to abort my child, but it was too late. The doctor refused to take the risk. As I was standing there helplessly, not knowing what this would culminate into, Aakash spotted me. He had come to collect some medical reports of yours. I burst into tears no sooner than I saw him and confided in him. It was he who helped me go through the pregnancy and delivery. If you remember, he had taken your leave saying he has a long drawn project and around the same time I too had said that my office had deputed me to another branch for a year.”
Reena tried to correlate the past events, but her mind was too worked up to build a thread. She nodded in agreement.
“I was left under the care of Ms. Mahapatra. Siddharth was born to me in a hospital near this place, and it was Aakash who gave him this name.
He wanted to take him home, but you were not very comfortable with the idea of bringing home an adopted child. We contemplated disclosing everything to you, but we were not exactly sure how you would react.
Aakash told me that many a time after you would visit an orphanage, you would come home and condemn those unwed mothers who conveniently got entangled in pregnancy out of wedlock and then left the child under the care of the orphanage.”
Listening to her, Reena recollected her conversation with Aakash one day when she had just returned after spending some time in the orphanage.
“How was your day, dear?” he had asked caringly.
“I don’t see how these mothers could be so ruthless leaving their child in an orphanage. Why couldn’t they have been more careful rather than messing up with the life of a kid? I am sure the mothers must be enjoying somewhere with their spouses. If it weren’t for the loving care of the lady staff, the children would have felt miserable.” Reena had stated, livid with rage.
A particular child in the orphanage was very sick that day, and she felt that even though the kind lady staff gave their best attention to the boy, a mother’s absence was conspicuous. She was therefore angry with that mother who left this kid and generally on all mothers for having disowned their blood. She hated them.
Reena jolted and brought herself to the present, and she heard Riddhima saying, “Around the same time, mom and dad had started groom hunting for me. We then decided to leave the baby under the loving care of Ms. Mahapatra, who runs this Aashalata memorial home for women and children.
Suchitra is a selfless worker who has been abandoned by her husband. She promised to be a mother figure to Siddarth.
Aakash became a fatherly figure to Siddharth catering to all his needs.
“As you know that I am married into a vast joint family that is very conservative; there was no way that I could come here to see Siddharth. Though I wriggled with guilt many times, the only solace was Siddharth got a guardian like Aakash. He had promised me that very soon he would convince you to take him home.
However, his sudden death has stirred a hornet’s nest. Siddharth has been asking for his daddy and has become almost sick since last week. After coming here, I realised his School admission fees have to be paid. I somehow sneaked out of home today under the pretext of visiting a friend because I knew after Aakash’s death things wouldn’t be the same for Siddharth. I do not know what will happen to Siddharth now? Mahapatra madam, no doubt, will keep him under the auspices of this home, but her hands are tied. She cannot offer the same facilities that Aakash was giving to the child, and I genuinely cannot risk my married life coming here off and on or paying any money.” Riddhima sobbed helplessly as Reena was trying to gather the pieces of her lost composure. Many things fell into place, and she mentally calculated when Aakash had asked if they could adopt a child. It was near the birth time of the boy. He was trying to bring Siddharth home as the adopted son, but she had never realised it. He had been a loving husband, no doubt, but has also been a good Son in law to the family, saving it from disgrace by dealing with a matter as delicate as this, tactfully.
Reena got up with a determined look on her face and, turning towards Mahapatra madam, she asked, “How long will it take to finish all legal formalities and documentation to adopt Siddharth? Please guide me with the same so that I can take home my son.” Riddhima looked at her sister with grateful eyes, while both Ms. Mahapatra and Suchitra smiled.
Debashish, the office clerk, was summoned to explain the procedure for legal adoption.
Before taking leave, Reena told Riddhima, “I am taking this step not because Siddarth is your son, but because my husband looked upon him as his child and had always wanted to bring him home as our adopted son. You are welcome to come home and mingle with him anytime but as his aunt. Siddharth is my son from now onwards. This is perhaps the only good deed I can do to help my husband’s noble soul rest in peace.”
She thanked God that the letters had helped her explore the truth.
What if messages would have been confined in Aakash’s email inbox!!!
She would have never fulfilled her husband’s wish.
She had after all won her debate with Aakash about handwritten letters. Even he might have agreed with her today that though it was old fashioned via media, letters always had their uniqueness.