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International Women's Day: 'Kaaya', a short story for the modern woman

Madhuri Banerjee MadhuriBanerjee

Updated: March 8, 2013, 4:56 PM IST
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Kaaya was always an indecisive girl. The first decision she had to make was at 5 when she was asked whether she wanted to live with her mother or her father. And all she could do was stand and think. And that's what she did for most of her life when such things happened. Stand and think. And soon enough there would be someone around, who would tell her what to say, give the answer or the question would get diverted and she would not have to make a decision. Because making a decision for her was the most daunting feeling in the world.

It wasn't as if Kaaya was shy. Far from it. She was a beautiful, gregarious girl who grew up to be a gorgeous, lively woman. All the men wanted to be seen with her and all the women wanted to know her. She was warm, and generous and never said no to anyone. Her eagerness to please made her the ideal guest, the exemplary worker and the epitome of what a relative should be.

But Kaaya had fears. Her indecisiveness was taking a toll on her. After 40 years of living the life where she went with the flow, the day came again when she had to choose between her child and the man she was in love with. For most it wouldn't have been a problem. But for Kaaya who never wanted a child, and never knew love, to be faced with a decision as enormous as this, brought her to the brink. To the brink of the edge of the roof she was standing on. A roof where she still didn't know whether she should jump or not. Bu let's back up a little and find out why.

Kaaya had changed her job as many as 24 times. She had been or wanted to be many things and hence tried her hand at most everything. She had studied various subjects, or at least had attempted to before she had changed her mind. Her life spanned out from interior designing, dog grooming, jewelry making, cooking classes, public relations, fashion designing, travel and tour operator, filmmaking, managing a boutique, journalism, and web designer. She had tried it all. Why once she had even gone halfway across the world to learn how to tame a tiger and be a veterinarian but she came back in 2 days since the stench aggravated her allergies.

How she could do all this was simply because she had indulgent parents who were separated but exhaustively rich in their own empires. And in their competitiveness to be the better parent, gave in to Kaaya's demands hoping and praying that her pursuit would be the last decision she would make. But alas, as usual Kaaya deferred and came back to square one and her parents loved her for at least attempting to do something with her life.

So when they decided for her that she should get married and have a child, she didn't say no. But she didn't say yes either. And soon enough she had both. Neither of whom she really loved. For that was another problem of Kaaya's. She couldn't really love anyone as much as she loved herself. And even when she had her child, her maternal instincts didn't kick in. And as usual her parents took over the task of raising their little granddaughter as if this girl was their next project for competing to be the best.

One day things changed in Kaaya's life. She turned 35. It was a cold and dry day and the winter was just not fading away even though we had reached the third month of the year. A surprise birthday party was planned and when she walked into the room and everyone jumped out and yelled "Surprise", Kaaya was stunned. It was a room full of people who had known her in all her jobs through the years. And there were a lot of people. All these people truly loved her enough to travel to be there for her. And suddenly Kaaya felt that selfish twang that she had never felt before.

That night in her bed, she contemplated what made her the way she was. She had not cared enough for anyone or anything else to any extent. And yet they were all there supporting her today. Kaaya lay her head on her pillow and wept. Her long black hair was soaked with her tears and her black eyes were red and puffy when she woke the next morning with the decision to change her life.

All along Kaaya had thought that if she pleased everybody all the time, no one would get hurt and she would drift along happily. And so she had closed her heart and mind to loving anything deeply. So the first thing she did was choose to be a mother. Now most people would think that giving birth is a natural way of loving your child, but for Kaaya, it was different. She only started loving her child once she decided to.

And for the next few years she became a wonderful mother. She devoted all her time to her little daughter who loved her back with equal devotion. Kaaya felt she had taken the first step. Now she needed to love a job and stick to it. So after contemplating what she was good at and what challenged her she chose to start her own café. She would put all her skills to use in one shop. She would hire cooks and teach them what she had learnt in cooking classes. Her shop would have her jewelry and clothes designs in one corner and she would give travel advice through pamphlets decorating her 4 corners.

It was this shop that changed her life. On a warm Wednesday morning, in walked a complete stranger who ordered a cup of coffee and sat alone in the corner table and read a book. And soon enough he came in every day to order coffee and read a book. After about a week, Kaaya went and put a muffin along with his coffee.

"I didn't order that," he said looking up from his book at her.

"I know," she replied with a smile. "It's just that you're our 100th customer on our 100th day and we wanted to do something special about that."

"Well thank you!" he said surprised. She nodded and walked away. That was the end of their conversation for another week. And then he went up to her and said, "Would you join me in a cup of coffee and a muffin please?" And she did.

Kaaya spent that entire afternoon talking to him about things that were mad and fun and so unlike her. He spoke of the sea, his travels and the books he read. She spoke about nothing in general, too defensive to give away her life. But she listened. And she fell in love. She didn't know she was in love then. She knew 3 days later.

She closed the shop early that day and sent all the employees home. She went with this man to a hotel and spent the night there. Not because she hadn't made up her mind whether she loved him or not. But simply because her body and mind told her she had to. Now here was the thing with Kaaya; she realized that her indecisiveness had always come from the fact that her body and mind were torn in two different directions. And for the first time with anyone in her life, both her body and mind were pushing her towards this stranger.

The next morning she went back to her shop and her customer did not come to see her. Instead he called and told her he was waiting for her at the same hotel room from where they would go back together to his hometown, Kerala. And if she didn't come by sunset, he would leave. Kaaya was conflicted. Her whole life flashed through her eyes. With every pore in her body she felt she needed to go. She didn't think it was logical. She knew she could not explain it. She hardly knew the man and yet he had proposed to spend his entire life with her.

Kaaya knew that if she was single and without a child she would have gladly accepted the offer. But she had responsibilities. So she turned him down. She knew it was the right decision. She didn't go to that hotel room and he left.

The next day Kaaya felt as if her heart was being pulled into the ocean and she was sinking. She came to work at her little shop and felt miserable. She went to pick up her daughter at school and all she felt was enormous guilt. She truly loved her daughter but she knew she would never be the kind of mother that the daughter needed. She could never hug her with all that affection and be part of the school plays or activities she wanted. Kaaya was not a bad mother, she was just an indifferent one. She desperately wanted to love her child like other mothers but she was just not able to.
So she walked came to the roof and stood at the edge, unable to decide what to do with her life. If she left the shop would shut down and people would lose their jobs. Or she could give it to someone and they could run it. If she left her daughter, she would be hated by her entire family.

So Kaaya came down from the rooftop and wrote a few long letters. She addressed one to her daughter and told her to give her time to find herself as she would be back to take her. She addressed one to her husband and told her to forgive her. She addressed one to her staff at the café and told them to continue with work as if she was there.

And then Kaaya, at the ripe old age of 40 made a decision that finally brought her relief and happiness. She left to find the man she loved. Because leaving was never an option. And Love was the only decision she needed to make.
First Published: March 8, 2013, 4:56 PM IST

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