First read: The private life of Mrs Sharma

What can go wrong if a dutiful wife, mother and daughter-in-law comes out of her shell a little with a younger stranger?

As a mother you not only pay for your own sins, but you also pay for the sins of your child. How dare he say such things? How dare such an animal say such things? What does a criminal know about being a mother? What does a man know about being a mother? And what do they even mean, those stupid words? How can one person pay for the sins committed by another person? And why only the mother? Sharma Sahib, where are you? You were supposed to spend a month with us every year. Come back just now! Come back and take control of your son. Come back and pay for his sins. But what do you even know of your son’s sins? Oh, my Bobby, you say. Oh, my poor Bobby. Oh, my sweet and studious Bobby. What do you know of your sinful son?


Many times when I am walking in the market or standing in a crowded train compartment, basically, whenever I am surrounded by a lot of people, I think about how each and every one of these people has or has had a mother, and then I think of all the hours, all the days and nights, all the years that are spent looking after children, and it seems that my head is going to burst. Such a lot of time! Such a lot of care! I wonder if anybody has ever bothered to think that if there are six billion people on this earth, and each and every one of them has a mother, dead or alive, what the total time spent would be on caring for others, on caring and compromise and sacrifice. I am sure that if anybody actually bothered to make such a calculation, that person’s head would also burst.

Obviously there are those mothers who have easy lives. There are those mothers like my mother who were let off from their duties very early or mothers like Doctor Sahib’s wife, modern maharanis, who have one ayah to feed their children, one ayah to clean their noses, one ayah to clean their shit, and what not. But then that is how the world is.


It is night-time. Papaji and Mummyji are sleeping in the hall, and Bobby is sleeping here in the corner on his cot, his headphones still in his ears, a cookbook resting on the pillow next to his cheek. You have to see this boy, this tall, beautiful boy. This man, almost. He would make any mother’s heart burst with pride.

But what am I saying? Am I so stupid a woman that I could forget so quickly that this is the boy who betrayed his mother, who brought shame to her? Have I forgotten that this is the boy who drank?


It is night-time again, and again sleep will not come to me. Maybe now I have met the man who has blood on his hands. Maybe now I know the face of evil. I stood in front of it and spat on it. But then what? I still can’t close my eyes. You won’t find what you are looking for over here. That is what he said. And the truth is that what he said was right.

When I came back home from that man’s shop I prayed. Except for preparing lunch and dinner, the only thing that I did today was pray. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. I prayed until Mummyji came into the prayer room, and actually caught my shoulders and shook me, and asked me if I was fine. I prayed, but nothing. No answers, no peace, no peace that comes from answers. It seems that God was also saying one and the same thing to me. It seems that He was also saying, Madamji, you won’t find what you are looking for over here.

But was it actually a sin that my Bobby committed? Is drinking such a sin? On Friday, when I met Doctor Sahib at the clinic, one thought came to me, the thought that if Doctor Sahib drinks alcohol, and I know that he does because his bearer had told me a long time ago about how his sahib drinks two glasses of whiskey every evening without fail and from time to time even the memsahib does, so if Doctor Sahib, who is such a respectable man, drinks, then why is it such a bad thing if my Bobby did? Should I have become so angry? Obviously Bobby is just a child, and he drank some cheap country liquor that almost killed him, not the imported whiskey that Doctor Sahib enjoys. Still, was it a sin or just a child’s mistake?


God help me. What am I thinking?


I am not fine, Mummyji, I am not fine. Shake me up again. You are a mother, Mummyji. Only a mother can know the suffering of another mother. Help your daughter-in-law, Mummyji. She has gone mad. Tell your son to come back. You say that every boy has to have his father near him. Mummyji, every woman also has to have her husband near her.


Sometimes the goddess of night can be kind. Sometimes she will sit by your bed and rub away all those big and small fears that trouble you with the lamp-black of night-time, until they cannot be seen any more, so that maybe you can wake up strong the next morning.

Yesterday was a little bit difficult, I can’t lie about that, but today has been much better. Except when I had a small fight on the phone with the mechanic who has still not come to fix the washing machine, and I have been calling him up daily for two weeks now, except for those two or three minutes in the morning, I have felt peaceful. Everything will be fine. I know it. Actually, I have always known it. Yesterday I behaved a little bit oddly, but it was only because I had temporarily forgotten this important fact. I think that you can forgive me. From time to time even people who are normally quite strong can feel that they have been beaten a little bit. Still, as I just said, it will all be fine. In less than two weeks my in-laws will leave for Canada for the birth of their grandchild, and they will only come back in October, which will give me enough time alone with Bobby to fix his life. And in only seventy-nine days’ time my husband will be back in Delhi for his annual leave, and it will be just the three of us again. It will all be fine.

Excerpted with permission from The Private Life of Mrs Sharma, Ratika Kapur, Bloomsbury.

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