Kalyan Da used to call my mother Mum. He was an engineer and when our flat was undergoing renovation he was hired for some civil works. He was a friendly young man and instantly formed a bonding with my mother. Soon he became a regular visitor at our house.
He was a reluctant engineer. His parents, like numerous other Indian parents, had forced him to become an engineer but his real interest was in movies and theatres. He had dreamt of becoming an actor, he even acted in a famous Bengali Movie called “Hangsharaj”. But his strict Dad never liked his acting dreams. So he had to bury his aspirations in the debris of civil works to please his parents.
He found a sympathizer in my Mom. Mom used to act in amateur theatre groups and that helped them bond together. Kalyan Da was a philanthropist and associated with SOS village, where he had adopted quite a few orphan kids. He did a lot of other charity work as well.
One day Kalyan Da came to our house in a pensive mood and asked my mother if he could stay at our house that night. My mom said yes he could but also asked why did he want to stay. Kalyan Da replied that his father had disowned him and thrown him out of his house. This was shocking and my mom asked why they would do this. She wanted to know the reason.
Kalyan Da kept his head hung for some time. Then he looked up with a faint smile. There was both guilt and pride in his eyes. He said ‘Mum, I got married.’ My mother felt happy. She excitedly asked why would his father disown him for getting married. He said softly ‘I married a widow.’ Mom paused for a while and then said ‘It is a good thing but for your traditional parents maybe it is little shocking to see their only son getting married to a widow.’ Kalyan Da kept quite. Mom said ‘Don’t worry; they will accept her in some time.’ Kalyan Da nodded and said ‘No, they won’t. She is a Santhal woman.’ I saw a visible discomfort on my mother’s face. A meek sigh skipped her mouth yet she tried to maintain a calm composure and asked ‘where did you meet her?’
Kalyan Da lowered his eyes and said ‘She was a labourer in my construction site.’
The frown deepened on my mother’s face, the approval on her face had vanished and replaced by shock, disapproval, and contempt. Kalyan Da looked up and almost pleaded ‘I love her, Mum.’ There was a stern look on my mom’s face; she just said ‘I think it is not a good idea Kalyan. I would have done the same what your parents did’. Kalyan Da’s face was now exposing disbelief and sadness. Probably he had expected support from my Mom, whom he considered ‘modern’ and ‘progressive’. He didn’t wait anymore and left our house in a hurry. We never saw him ever again. That day I learned a lesson that even for ‘educated‘ and ‘progressive‘ people it is difficult to break the shackles of class, caste, and social status.