Baa opened the door with a smile as she expected Sanjali to return home from work. Sanjali reciprocated but the smile was half-hearted. Baa thought so. Baa watched Sanjali drag herself to the sofa and sink in it. She sat there with her head held low. Sanjali’s face appeared dull. Something sure was not right thought Baa.
“Let me make a kadak masala chai for you”, said Baa as she entered the kitchen.
“Baa, don’t make tea. It’s already late. By the time I freshen up, it would be time for dinner”, insisted Sanjali.
Baa returned back and sat near her.
“March ending is taking a toll on you, Sanjali”
Sanjali had joined the prestigious bank about seven years back after her husband made an exit due to a massive heart attack. She had got the job on the compassionate grounds in the same bank where her husband worked. From a diligent homemaker, a dutiful daughter in law and a doting mother to a dedicated bank employee, Sanjali had taken great efforts to accommodate the sudden changes by accepting the reality. For she knew very well that two more lives were heavily dependent on her, her mother in law, Baa and her daughter Jayanti who was persuing law. Her pleasant personality coupled with earnest hard-working ways rubbed on to everyone around her, making her much sought after and appreciated not only by the colleagues but customers as well.
“Hmmm. Wish it was just that”
“Mean? What’s bothering you?”
“Nothing. I am exhausted. Is Jayanti back from her evening walk?”
“Jayanti did not go today as none of her friends were available. So, she decided to stay back home and binge watch on the last season of her favorite serial”
“Okay” said Sanjali and heaved a sigh. She was about to get up when Baa held her hand and gestured her to sit down.
“Don’t side-step the topic Sanjali. Tell me what’s bothering you. I may never have worked in my life, but…”
“Baa, don’t say that. It’s because of your strong support I could come out of the darkest phase in life”, said Sanjali cutting Baa short.
“Then why don’t you tell me. It’s not just today. Its been a month that I can see some unsettling under-currents. You don’t seem to be happy to go to work these days. Smile on your face is vanishing at an alarming rate. I have been noticing it but thought it’s the work pressure”
“Work never bothered me Baa. Its something else”, said Sanjali and paused. Baa reached out to her and held her hand.
Tears started rolling down Sanjali’s face as she spoke. “Baa, as you know six months back, we had a new branch manager. He is a well-decorated one. However, he is not a gentleman. Initially he used to call me often to his cabin under the pretext of work. Over the time period, I realized it wasn’t just work. His eyes would rove all over me. My sixth sense warned me. I kept distance and did not talk much with him, unless otherwise it was related to work. He then started visiting me at my desk. He touches me inappropriately, always feigning that it happened by mistake. I then decided to seek transfer to another branch in the city. That irked him all the more. He has now started giving me extra work so that I stay back way after the closing hours of the branch. I can see his vile smile from across the glass cabin. A wolf in sheep’s skin. Baa, I am scared to go to the bank these days”
Baa was taken aback. Before she could think of responding to Sanjali, there came a feisty voice…
“He is a bully Ma. Face him. Don’t run away from him. The more you try to run away more he will feel powerful. Remember what you used to tell me when I faced bullies at my school. The bullies have the most insecure minds. All you need to do is, put a brave front. Put your feet down, Ma. Register a complaint against him. You need to and have to fight back and not run away. You are stronger than you believe you are. If you can weather a personal tragedy, this is nothing. Don’t zip up. Speak up”
It was Jayanti. She had entered the room while Sanjali and Baa were deep in conversation and thus they had failed to notice her entry. Though Jayanti heard only a part of the conversation, she was mature enough to fathom it.
Sanjali and Baa were surprised at the sudden deluge of the forceful persuasion from firey Jayanti. Jayanti came and sat near the feet of Baa and Sanjali.
Holding their hands, she said, “Per ardua ad astra*, Ma. Fight your way to dignity”
“Per ardua ad astra”, replied Sanjali with the shine returning to her eyes and a new-found determination developing roots in her heart.