I was once taking an evening flight from Mumbai to Delhi. At the airport I met Vikram, an old friend and colleague of mine. We were in college together and thereafter joined the same company as Management Trainees. But after working for a couple of years we parted ways in pursuit of a better future. Yet our friendship continued with all its warmth, incommunicado. It was an exciting moment to have met him after an aeon. When the electronic charts and flight announcements conveyed, that flights were delayed due to inclement weather, and that gave us some time to catch-up, as much had flown under since we had met last.
We took to a cozy two-seater overlooking the tarmac, at the airport restaurant as half an hour is what we thought we had before the flight would be announced. There was positive inquisition and friendly eagerness building in both of us to know what all that had gone by. Coffee and hot snacks were now on the table and the ambience more than conducive for a tete-a-tete.
I decided, in the interest of time, to come to the point straight away by asking Vikram about his corporate journey over the last thirty years or so. Also about his wife and kids. And, I wasn’t surprised as he was quick to respond.
‘Arrey Yaar, over the years I changed five jobs and each time for betterment. I also went around several cities while serving in these companies but now I am stationed at Hyderabad as a General Manager with a finance company. He simultaneously handed over his crisp visiting card.’ I commended his achievements.
‘And how is your family?’ I enquired softly, as I munched a mouthful and sipped some hot coffee that made me feel better in that freezing ambience.
‘Well my wife is a qualified doctor and she works for a renowned hospital in Hyderabad. I have two kids, a son and a daughter. My son is married. He is now in the US with my daughter-in-law. And my daughter is in her last year of her engineering. But how about you; don’t be so quiet.’ He asked in a chirpy tone. I took another fill of snacks and a gulp of coffee and said,
‘Oh boy, it’s wonderful to know you have done so well both professionally and personally in life. Now let me tell you about myself. After you left I continued in the same Company for a couple of years till I got a decent break. Thereon, I too didn’t look back. The amazing part was the amount of exposure I got in terms of knowledge, skill building, places of posting and the foreign travel was fantastic. And I enjoyed every bit of it. Today, I am with a retail company as a Vice President, posted in Delhi.
‘How many jobs did you change to reach the level of a Vice President?’
‘I think … four.’ In spontaneity.
‘And, what about your family, I mean your wife and kids?’
‘Well my wife is a professor; she teaches English.’
‘And how many kids and what do they do?’ He, like, reiterated his question, drawing my urgent attention. Just then we saw in the electronic chart; boarding was announced for the Delhi flight. I gestured at the waiter for the bill.
‘So what are your children doing?’ He asked again, but this time the tempo was low. Perhaps, he thought I didn’t want to answer, when I decided to reply.
‘I have two children.’
‘Oh wow that’s great and I’m sure by now they must have grown up. In college or in some profession?’ he asked in genuine excitement.
‘Oh yes. Both are qualified and working in London.’
‘So how often do you go to London? It’s a beautiful place. I like it better than your Delhi. I’ve been there thrice on business.’
By now the waiter had got the bill. I offered to pay. Vikram, interjected,
‘No way, I’ll pay. Since, my flight is not announced. I’ll sit here for some more time. So you carry on. But before you leave, quickly tell me more about your kids. I’m sure even my wife would love to know. Let’s be in touch hereafter.’ He said in a pleasant tone. I decided to quickly tell him about my kids before leaving.
‘Boss I have two kids. Both are in London, and both are doctors, doing well. They passed their MBBS from Delhi and decided to leave for higher studies. Once there, they decided to settle there.’
‘But then you and your wife must be alone in Delhi, and don’t you miss them?.’
‘That’s true, but then, that’s also life, so you can’t just crib about it.’
‘So, you have two sons?’ enquired Vikram, trying to refresh old memories.
‘Oh-oh, but I vaguely remember someone telling me you have two sons.’
‘No I have a son and a daughter.’ And, just then my flight was announced on the PA, when I started looking for my belongings to leave. But Vikram continued.
‘Are they married?’
‘Yes.’ I replied.
‘And what is your daughter-in-law and son-in-law doing? Are they also doctors?’
I hesitantly collected my bag, my mobile and gingerly came around as I got up.
‘Vikram I have two kids. One is my son and the other is his wife. You were right when you said I had two sons but then we lost the younger one to ‘brain cancer’ after which our world had crashed. One day when our elder son was getting married, his fiancée came up to us and said,
‘Dad now on I am your daughter and not “daughter-in-law” and you have two kids to take care of. And that one sentence changed our world. Indeed your daughter-in-law is your daughter too, and we realised this after having lost our younger child.
On hearing this Vikram froze for a moment. He got up from his chair and hugged me. And after a few moments I was slowly walking up to my flight.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
(It is a personal account- written to honour 26th September- daughter-in-law’s day)
About myself: Senior Corporate Citizen, freelance writer, author and social activist working for ‘POOR CHILDREN SUFFERING FROM CANCER.’