Mr. Gunjal was busy getting the house in place. He also made his wife chalk out the food menu for whole of next week, and stocked up the kitchen with every single item that would make his grandchildren happy. Candies, lollipops, all kinds of berries available in the local market and kids favorite fruits – he had it all sorted. Mrs. Gunjal though, was more excited to have her girls to herself for an entire week. Their husbands were to join only a week later for the celebrations.
Oh yes! There was to be a celebration in the Gunjal household. Mr. Gunjal was getting retired after a fruitful working stint of 40 years in the same organization. As was a popular culture, everyone expected them to throw a party to celebrate the occasion. The girls weren’t very keen though. They were of the view that, it was better to spend money on travel than on throwing away money on feeding people. The girls were well aware of their parents’ struggle throughout their life. They knew that their parents had lived life on a shoe string budget to save for their education and marriage. Now they would have none of it and ensured that their passports were made 6 months prior to the retirement and planned to send their parents off to a foreign location for a holiday. But Mrs. Gunjal insisted that they throw a party for the near and dear ones.
‘Let this be an excuse to meet those people who have played a significant role in our life’s journey.’ She argued. Everyone including Mr. Gunjal conceded to her wish. And now here he was, preparing to welcome his girls, grandchildren and his sons-in-law. He was thrilled at the idea of having a full house for a full week.
Mr. Gunjal was 19 years when he figured a job opening with a local newspaper where he could do night shifts and study during the days simultaneously. He went for the interview and was ecstatic to have obtained the job. Marriage followed four years later after he managed to buy a 1 BHK house for himself. His family was back in the village in UP, but he was sure that he wanted to settle in this city where he had initially come to complete his graduation. Mrs. Gunjal was a moderately educated but a wise girl who put her heart and soul into her household. Together the young couple started gathering blocks to build up their castle.
Amrita came into their lives after two years of marriage and became the apple of their eyes immediately. Mr. Gunjal ensured that she got into the best city school which was a high ask for the couple. They were hardly graduates and were most comfortable in vernacular. To be able to get their daughter into a convent school was a dream come true for them. But once Amrita got into the coveted convent school, the struggle to manage the school’s expectations and ensure good performance by Amrita began.
5 years later Smita came and completed their family. Mr. Gunjal who was ahead of his times with his thoughts was surprised when friends and relatives instead of congratulating him, actually expressed their sympathy for having another girl. This did not deter him from celebrating the arrival of his younger daughter with full fervor.
In the years that followed, he was often cornered by his own parents to give it another shot and try for a third child in expectation to have a boy child, his answer was a firm shake of his head.
‘I am a middle class salaried person. I want to give my kids the best education available in this city, for which I have only limited resources. I will not jeopardize their future by bringing in a third child and increase my expenses.’ would be his reply.
In the years that followed, the couple who took this bold decision for their times, got caught in a constant tussle with the world to prove that not having a son wasn’t the end of the world. It was more important to cherish what one had and provide their kids the best of the world that they could afford.
The next two decades were followed by the Gunjal household getting caught in a race to perform well and ensure a secure future for the Gunjal girls. Mr. Gunjal was very clear about one thing and he imbibed the same in his daughters,
‘The future is going to be all about education. And it will be imperative for every girl to be financially independent. Pursue a stream that will ensure that you have a career and a salary to live life on your terms.’ Mrs. Gunjal who had harbored similar dreams in her childhood but never managed an education beyond 12th standard seconded her husband’s views to the T.
‘There never was a surplus penny in the house. But neither did we ever feel the lack of any resources that were necessary to up our game in life.’ Amrita is heard saying these words even today, whenever a discussion about her growing years crops. The grounded upbringing was something that both the sisters took pride in even today. It shadowed all their resentment about not having lavish holidays, visits to restaurants for dinners or movie halls. Because they still remembered how their father had brought the latest video gaming console for them because he believed that it would help them develop various life skills.
When Amrita started college, she was an out and out extrovert participating in various extra-curricular activities. Thus spending hours after classes in the college campus and reaching home only after dark. Mr. Gunjal quipped at his wife’s objection,
‘If you expect them to up their game and have an edge over the crowd, you need to be bold enough to let them spread their wings and fly.’
Infused with confidence, Amrita went to do her MBA and obtain one of the best offers with a coveted employer. Smita followed suit and got herself a seat in an even better MBA college the year Amrita got married.
The only mole in an otherwise yielding life for the now aging Gunjal couple was that their girls had now really put on wings and flown away from them. Like quite literally. They were both in different ends of the country and the couple was getting old and lonely.
Mrs. Gunjal took more time than her husband to come to terms with the situation where she had no body to take care of and look after. Her girls were all grown up and had their own lives to lead. She was most relieved when Smita one day introduced Sharman to them who worked with her but belonged to the same city. She thought that her daughter would have more reasons to come back to their city now. Amrita choosing to marry a guy who was a native of a far off state had upset her to no extent. But she had come to terms because Raghav was a real gentleman. The perfect guy that the Gunjal household needed as their elder son-in-law. He was dedicated and valued them as much as his own parents. And Sharman only complemented him in every manner.
While Mrs. Gunjal sometimes still resented the fact that they were left alone in old-age with both their kids settled far away, Mr. Gunjal reasoned pragmatically,
‘Let’s not look at it as a custom where the girls have to move away with their husbands. In today’s times, boys too move to far off locations for career advancements. We can’t be selfish to hold them back. Each one has her own destiny and they ought to live their life with no strings attached.’
For the last half a decade, Mr. Gunjals’ life had fallen into a routine. He would spend the mornings taking care of his garden and exercising. Then he had a very light and healthy breakfast before leaving for work. Once back home in the evening he would have his green tea and suit up for his long evening walk. He walked almost 6-7 km on an average and encouraged his wife to do the same.
Smita would sometimes quip at her father, ‘Papa! Why are you making such a big deal about fitness? Please be easy on yourself.’
The old father who now wore salt and pepper hair would give away an all knowing smile.
‘If we remain healthy you can be free to live your life as per your will. I do not want that any of you two be tied down to us because of our ill health. So beta, our health is our wealth. It is the only legacy that this middle class father can leave for you girls.’ Smita looked on in awe of her forward thinking and ever planning father.
Today is the day when Mr. Gunjal has retired from his job. His daughters with their husbands, his two grandsons from Amrita are all infront of his eyes running around to meet the guests and making the party a lively affair. How he wished that Smita plan to have a kid soon and he see his family more complete. As he greeted the people thronging the terrace of his home to wish him luck for his second innings, Mr. Gunjal looks around and meets Mrs. Gunjal’s gaze. The slight nod from his lady, acknowledges what he has conveyed to her through his smiling eyes.
The message that he has conveyed is,‘We have met every challenge of life heads on till date. Let’s enjoy our second innings with the same poise. Looking forward to the Zen life that awaits us.’ She smiles all knowingly and nods with a promise to confirm to his words.