You are 21 and you are in love. With the petite girl next door. She isn’t beautiful by any conventional standards. But there is something about her that makes your world stop. To your utter disappointment, she doesn’t reciprocate your feelings. But you don’t give up. Two years of persistent chasing later, she finally admits she is in love with you too.
Adding drama to your blooming love story, her father gets transferred to another state. But that doesn’t stop you from meeting each other discretely. You have your life plans ready. You want to go to New York, study business management and build a niche of your own instead of joining your family business. In fact, your father is very supportive of your plans. Life has other plans though. Her father finds out about your relationship. You go and ask him permission to marry his daughter. He rejects your proposal saying his daughter is too young to marry. Your father doesn’t agree with your idea either, but his reasons are more practical. He wants you to complete your studies and settle down somewhere before you think about marriage. You both get married anyways. You start working as an accountant in a small company and she gets a job in a bakery. You start your life, blissful and happy.
From outside, everything looks fine. You are married to the girl of your dreams. Then you discover that you aren’t happy with the direction your life is taking. You are restless, fidgety. Your job might help you bring money home, but it stops there. You don’t enjoy what you do. Then your wife tells you that she is pregnant. Of course, that news makes you happy. At the same time it brings a question to the front –– is this how you want your children to see you?
You spend your days and nights thinking about what to do. Your wife is oblivious to your moods and you try hard to keep it that way. You decide it’s time to go and ask your father for some advice. You know he is angry with you for going against his wishes and marrying too young. But you are willing to take a risk. You expect him to show you the door. Instead, he takes you straight to his office room and shuts the door from inside. After you both are seated, he asks you. “ Are you happy?”
You are quiet because you don’t have an answer.
“Is this the kind of life you want to live?”
You don’t have an answer to that either.
“You are an ambitious boy. Go after your dreams. If your wife truly loves you, she will let you go with a smile.”
And you realize, that is the best advice your father has ever given you. Ironically, the worst too.
You go home with a heavy heart. You think about your father’s advice over and over again. You know he is right. You can’t continue living like this. You will destroy yourself and then everyone around you. You speak to your wife. She flinches when you tell her that you aren’t happy. You know it will hurt her. But if you don’t tell her the truth, you will regret it forever. Then you give her a summary of your conversation with your father including the dreaded advice. She doesn’t yell at you for thinking of going away. She doesn’t beg you to stay. You are surprised at her calmness and you startlingly realize that your father probably knows her more than you do.
She knows if she pleads, you will stay, out of guilt. But you will continue to live a depressed life. She loves you enough to let you go so you find your happiness. Selfishly, you accept her kindness.
You promise her that you will come back but also regretfully add that you can’t tell when exactly. You move to New York after securing an MBA seat in one of the prestigious universities. Soon you become aware of the weight of the challenges awaiting you at the other end. You immerse yourself in studies while doing some odd part-time jobs to survive. After passing the course, you decide to open up a restaurant with a friend. It doesn’t work out as per your plans. You lose all the money along with the friend. But you don’t give up. You keep trying your hand at everything you can. Some click. Some don’t. You are a father now. Your wife says she has named your daughter after your mother. You grow more desperate because you know time is running away from you.
You are 30 and you sit in your dingy apartment in New York looking at the eviction letter from the landlord and wonder where has it all gone wrong. You think your life is the result of your choices –– questionable and morally difficult. You decide you have had enough and you want to go back to your family. To your wife and your daughter. You are going to fall at their feet and beg them to take you back. You know they will. You start putting your clothes in your suitcase. Then you notice the envelope lying on top of your bed. Your wife’s latest letter to you. Along with the letter, there is also a photograph –– of your five-year-old daughter. You look at the photo and your heart stops. Do you want your daughter to see you like this –– broken and dejected? Your old insecurities resurface and you tell yourself you need one more chance.
Your turning point arrives in the form of a Japanese businessman whom you meet in the park on one of your low days. After hearing your story, he quotes a famous proverb to you –– ‘we learn little from victory but a great deal from defeat.’ He gives you a job. He is a slave-driver, but that just pushes you to work harder like a man possessed. You learn and grow.
You are 55 and you are the owner of a textile company that employs around 1000 people. Your wife still sends you letters and photographs. When you see the graduation pictures of your daughter, doubt starts creeping into you. You have started it all as a quest to find yourself, your true worth. But have you lost your soul somewhere along the journey? Your achievements — have they started to lose their charm? A year has turned to a decade and a decade has turned to three. You are so close to your success that you can almost taste it. Will it taste sweet or sour? You ask yourself.
You haven't made amends with your family. You haven’t met your daughter yet. She doesn’t even know of your existence. Your wife is right about that. It is not going to be an easy task to make the poor girl understand why her father has taken the cowardly route out. In your head, you have composed hundreds of letters– each and every one of them full of apologies. You are afraid to send them because you don’t think you are worthy of their forgiveness. You fear that it’s too late and they have learnt to live without you.
You send your wife an email telling her that you are ready to come back. She replies saying she is happy about your decision but she wants you to take a step back and decide if you are completely sure because there is no going back. You know she is not to be blamed here. You are the one who caused the mistrust in her.
You decide you have waited long enough. You fly home. Check into a hotel and call your wife from there. Her brother answers and he has some news for you. He doesn’t recognise your voice. Before he asks you anything, you disconnect the phone. You don’t want to tell him that you are the undeserving husband of the woman who is just laid to rest.
You go to the church where your wife is resting. You cover her grave with fresh lilies. You sit near her feet and seek her forgiveness. You plead with God to send her back, just once, so you can apologize properly.
You don’t go and see your daughter. You think you want to let her grieve in peace. You think she wouldn’t want you barging into her life like this when she is already suffering from the shock of losing her mother.
You go back to your hotel and collapse on your bed. You want to cry over the losses and regrets, but you don’t know where to start –– the conversations you have never had, the birthday parties you have missed, the smiles you have never seen. There is a lifetime full of them.
But you don’t like that your demons are winning again –– the demons who have ruled you throughout your life. For once, you want to see them lose.
You pick up the phone and dial your wife's number.
“Hello’’. A soft voice answers. You have this weird feeling in you as if you are jumping off a high, rocky cliff. Looking down, the ground below looks impossibly far away. You close your eyes and envision it –– the adrenaline rush, the icy air stinging your eyes. You prepare yourself for the crushing impact. Your breath hitches. Goosebumps flood your skin. A moment later, you are flying and then you are falling.
“Lina, this is your father.”