Ours was a big home with a joint family in Prayagraj and even as a young girl, I loved taking care of everyone. When my uncle sold his share of property and moved out to another city for work, it was purchased by a family who grew fond of me as I visited them often to help them shift and settle. With frequent visits to that house, I was drawn to Rajeev, their son, seven years older. I decided to marry him at the age of 18 but faced resistance from my parents because he did not have a job. Finally, my parents had to give in to my desire of marrying him. I think the only way to show their doubt and disapproval to my decision was to give me just one gold ring and a chain in my wedding. They were skeptical that I might sell off my jewelry to make a home. 

Rajeev’s parents and younger brother moved to Kanpur and we went along with them. I was thrilled to begin a new chapter of my life. Though he still did not do anything that brought us stability, he could make ends meet by acting as an agent or a broker in real estate dealings or trading in stock market. I was happy with him. I wanted to study more and pursue graduation but I had my first son, Ritviek, in two years of marriage. All my time now went in bringing him up and I found immense happiness in that. However, it was not supposed to be such for long. In a few months, Rajeev was overburdened by the loans he had taken and faced great difficulties paying them off. He had to come back to Prayagraj and with the help of my parents and brothers, he set up a small shop to start afresh but that failed too. 

After a month of seeing him struggle, I decided to come back from Kanpur with my son to support in whichever way I could. We took a small rented apartment but after a few months we realized that we wouldn’t be able to afford it. Our crisis was palpable in how we lived. So, I decided to go and visit his ancestral house in Prayagraj in the older part of the city where he had his uncles and aunts residing for decades. I asked them if we could live in our share of the property and they welcomed us in. The room and kitchen were dilapidated. They hadn’t been used for years. In a few days’ time, I made it livable for the three of us and moved in. Rajeev started his transitory ventures again and life finally started to come back on track. In all of this, I had to abort a child since we knew we wouldn’t be able to provide a decent future. Our second son, Chitransh, was born after 7 years. 

Meanwhile, my brother-in-law was settled in Kanpur and was married to Rachna, a lovely girl from Agra. They also had a son, Abhinav. After a few years, we received the wonderful news of Rachna expecting her second child. We were eagerly looking forward to a bunch of happiness arriving when, I don’t know how, all our joy was eclipsed by the darkest shadows of insurmountable grief. 

As we welcomed Aman to this world, Rachna developed some complications due to medical negligence which led to the failure of both her kidneys. She was immediately taken to a bigger hospital in Kanpur and then to Lucknow, but nothing helped. With Aman just one day old, Rachna slipped into coma to never recover again. We waited for three months, in and out of the hospital. I was now traveling between two homes, two cities and taking care of Ritviek, Chitransh, Abhinav and the three months old, Aman. When the doctors finally gave up, we brought Rachna back home. 

I had never seen it before. A family waiting to see their loved one leave this world, breathe their last. Praying that they go. Her pain was unbearable for all of us. We stood there as she struggled to breathe but it felt as if something held back her soul. Each one of us could see her fight. And then someone came to me and said, “Beena, go and whisper in her ear that you will take care of Aman. Her soul will not leave the body until you convince Rachna that her new born will be taken care of and will be loved…” 

I did that. I moved close to Rachna’s ears and whispered the same. I told her, “I will love Aman as you would have. I will be his mother now. You don’t have to worry about him. Please move on to a place more peaceful…” 

To our amazement and surprise, as I said these words, her breathing became slow and rhythmic. As unbelievable as it was, we saw her leaving her body. And in that moment, my life changed forever.

I became acutely aware of my responsibilities towards the family, especially Aman. After a few months, I was asked to give him away to another relative. I couldn’t believe that someone could think that I would part away with Aman. He is my son and the world should know it that way. He is 9 years old now.  I have kept nothing hidden from him – his mother, her story. He has seen family albums and knows who she is. He moves his finger on her face and says, ‘Rachna mumma’ and calls me mummy. 

Rajeev’s family also shifted to Prayagraj to stay with us. His parents and brother. I dedicated all my time to my home. Sometimes I contemplated working so that I can provide monetary support to my husband but as soon as I decided to take a step in that direction, Rajeev fell seriously ill. After a few weeks, his cousin uncles and aunts also returned, who had either lost their partners or didn’t have any children. They asked me if I could take care of them. In my heart, I was still the young girl who loved taking care of everyone and welcomed them. But my husband could barely work due to his health and it became hard for me to sustain everything. He undergoes dialysis every week which costs us around Rs 50,000 a month, including other medical expenses. I sold all my jewelry for his treatment and reached a point where I didn’t know what to do. And yet, I knew that God will pull me out of this. One day, Rajeev’s uncles said to me, "We are so content with the way you take care of us that we have decided to help you earn and be financially independent even if you can’t go and work outside.” They made a unique arrangement for me. Now, they put some money in my account every month so that I can take care of the household expenses including my children’s education. 

I am a worshipper of Goddess Durga and my faith is unshakable. I know that I will always be shown the way. Today, I have a big family, unique in its own way, woven together with the thread of understanding and compassion for each other. After the demise of my aunts, I am the only woman in this house. My responsibilities as a mother, daughter in law, friend and a wife are very special to me.  I may have very little in terms of material wealth today and take every day as it comes but I am blessed in abundance with blessings of my elders and love of my children. If I am the face of this family, they are my smile.

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