“Neeta would be home only late at night”, her sister said. It was still 6 pm- I had few hours to kill… I was visiting Vadodara- and I had a package to deliver to Neeta personally. She said I could wait in her room if I wanted, while she did her chores.
It was a house made up of three women-a single widowed mother (a grumpy professor) and her two daughters- Kavya and Neeta. I was sitting in Kavya’s room- amidst her peaceful haven. Her room was a mess with strewn clothes an open modest suitcase standing at the corner of the room.
Kavya was a simple, unassuming woman perhaps 25, perhaps 28. Not pretty by any conventional standards yet there was something striking about her demeanor. Kavya and I were complete strangers to each other – yet she invited me into her space. I liked that and I was curious to know her. She carried on calmly with her folding and sorting of clothes, taking things out of suit case and then putting them back in again while answering my inane 19 year old questions. I felt curious, where is she going? What does she do?
She said, she is an actor…
She told me she had studied at the National School of Drama and I was very impressed. I knew National school of drama had an intense process for weeding actors, choosing the best talent in the country and training them rigorously. There was certain genuineness about her. She had those liquid honest direct eyes. After some thought she emptied the suitcase. She sat down and contemplated what to do next.
Her mother yelled from the kitchen.
“Are you done packing? Can you make some puris so you can take them with you when you GO?”
That GO was loud. I sensed some tension between mother and daughter .I wondered why wouldn’t a mother be proud of her gifted child?
Mother peaked in to see the room still unsorted. Suitcase empty.
“So you are not leaving today?” barked the mother.
“No, I won’t be leaving today”, she replied calmly, firmly. Her mother looked disappointed. I wanted to get the hell out of there.
“Let’s go for a walk”, she declared. Kavya took me for a long walk in an unusual and dreary industrial landscape of Vadodara. Interesting choice for a place for a walk… We saw a million lights of the industrial plant and miles of wasted barren land in front of it. Her face was so peaceful. I could see how relaxed she was feeling, there in that barren landscape.
I was wondering what she was doing in that dreary small town of Baroda. I must have asked her- why is she not in Mumbai or in Delhi where possibilities are endless for someone with her talents. My question didn’t go down well. She said she was sorting out stuff in her life.
“ It’s 9 pm, Neeta must be home”, she said quietly.
She drove me silently to her house on her scooter. I should have kept my mouth shut. Such a lovely person she was, and I hurt her feelings asking my dumb, practical question.
When I reached home Neeta was home already, merrily enjoying her mother’s puris. She was chubby, all square with the same dusky complexion as her sister and mom. A plain woman of 25 with short hair and stubby hands. I gave Neeta her parcel-she was elated. Three banarasi saris from her mother in law. When we were alone, Neeta said she was very surprised that her sister talked to me.
“Why, she was very nice”, I defended Kavya.
Neeta-whispered to me, making sure K was away, “Nobody can talk to her- Actually Kavya had just got into some khat pat with her husband and was living with us– JUST LIKE THAT she beamed- rolling her eyes in a gossipy way. I was feeling a little bad to be an audience to this slander because I really liked spending time with my new friend.
“She is weird; she can’t get along with her husband, or my mother. We are all SUFFERING; we are waiting for her to leave- On top of it I am getting married- so naturally situation is a bit OFF”.
All I could usher was “Oh… But she is being very talented- I am sure she will manage by herself no?”
Neeta ignored my enthu spiel, rolled her eyes and said-“Well, her acting career is a topic for another day.”
“Ok”, I replied, grossed out with her complete lack of empathy for her struggling sister.
“So how are your wedding preparations going”? I asked her averting from anti Kavya talk.
This topic was exciting for Neeta. Neeta was engaged to KISHORE a software engineer living in USA. He had a modest house in Texas, a stable job and showered his parents and Neeta with lot American gifts. He had just bought them a refrigerator. “Isn’t he sweet?”she beamed.
“Yes he is.” I was annoyed by her easy life, small materialistic goals and complete lack of effort to understand her sister who was going through ups and downs in her life.
I had a strong urge to smack her. Instead I said a pleasant bye, congratulated her, for her wedding and vouched in my heart to never to see her again.
15 years later- I was in USA, working as a filmmaker. I sat idly at my computer, on Facebook, looking at people’s inspirational messages, their travel photos , their previous night’s dinner photos- amongst them I saw a face book post from Neeta Sanghvi – the American housewife – She sat cozily with her three kids and a dog. Neeta also happened to mention on Facebook-
“ I am so proud of my sister Kavya- She is now coming in a very popular big time film in a mother’s role.” There stood Kavya- much older now but with same intense liquid eyes- quiet, compassionate. Kavya seemed to have made her niche in mother’s roles and I had loved seeing her on screen.
I wondered how our family members treat artists in India, especially women. It is easier for men to declare their space and autonomy – women have another uphill task. When artists, musicians, actors, athletes are struggling on their journey towards their passion- as opposed to doing the tried and tested accounting and engineering jobs – family members belittle them, ridicule them and pity them for their lack of materialistic acquisitions. They pity the artists for their inability to adjust in the “normal “ world. Instead of supporting and encouraging silently, they make sure the artists feel indebted about the small helps offered which every family member is entitled to.
Only when the artists make it – the same people brag about them. Why can’t they be supportive and give the much needed personal space to the artists when it is much needed? We can expect the governmental support later; we need to be kinder to our artist family members – right here, at home first. All it takes is some compassion, patience and understanding.