The spring of his life, colored in fall, giving way to deathly winter, and that is not all

A fall from his eyes, a fall from grace, a fall so hard, never to erase.

…and with him we all fell.

I was exposed to my father’s infirmities when I had just started genuflecting before him, thinking he will never let the boat rock. The first blow, a hammer blow hit the family, I looked up and saw him fall, first on the mahogany table in the peach colored living room, then in my mother’s arms and later in the depths of the single malt in a rock glass with heavy base. The bird’s death this time was final, unlike each time when it rises out of its own ashes and into the sun. The myth of the phoenix, that symbol of endurance, which began in Arabian and Egyptian folklore was what it was-a myth. My father was no phoenix and the year 1999 was darker than the ashes when he, Mr. Devendra Talwar, IIT-Kanpur, metallurgical engineer, Tata Steel, Jamshedpur, came home with the saddest news of his life; of our life.

 “They are laying me off. They do not need me anymore.” He looked deeply troubled and beads of sweat trickled down his side burns in the winter month of January.

“Lay off? What does that mean?” Pratima, my mom looked at him with a black ceramic tea cup in her hand and a worried expression.  An M.Sc Zoology, B.Ed, my mom had given up teaching to take care of family responsibilities.

“Why don’t you say anything? What is this layoff??” she prodded.

“Pratima, I do not have a job anymore. The department for which I work is not generating enough revenue, it has become a cost center and hence they have planned to shut it down. Some new investors have come in, they think the organization needs to trim, get lean and all ineffective, unproductive department and people need to go. I am one of them…ineffective, unproductive. They are offering me a VRS (voluntary retirement scheme), which they call a golden handshake and I must take it. We have two months to wrap and leave Jamshedpur,” blurted my father, staring wistfully at the vapors escaping from the brown liquid.

“But, But… No! I mean, layoff, but…money…then…how?” and she went speechless.


Two months later, after my 12th grade board exams, the family relocated to Danapur, a small town in the state of Bihar, India. We took a rented accommodation, near to the small plot where my father had decided to build our house. My older brother was in Delhi, Kirorimal College pursuing B. Com hons. My results came in the sweltering month of June; I had topped the state with 92% marks. St. Stephens was my dream but the family now contemplated whether they could afford having two children in Delhi for higher studies with my father getting 17,000 Rupees as interest from the corpus amount he got from Tata Steel as part of full & final settlement. I never asked why he didn’t look for another job; I could see how broken he was and withdrawal from the world was the only way he reconciled with the situation. That was my first tryst with the ‘fall’. When you fall, the combined weight of the pain, the agony and the humiliation, the distress, the uncertainty, the hopelessness is so brobdingnagian, it ensures you remain fallen unless you have a reason to push back and rise. He had three of us- my mom, brother and myself-his angel, but we were not enough. There were others affected by this crisis too, and I wondered if their backbone had been so severely fractured like ours.

I, his daughter Naina, was his pride. My academics and extracurricular achievements, especially in public speaking made me the cynosure of his eyes. It also compensated for a not so talented, academically weak and a careless older son who had barely managed to get through Hons in Delhi University. The father and daughter dreamed of UPSC and Naina becoming an IAS would bring back her father’s lost prestige, glory, and self-respect. This wasn’t directly spoken. It was understood. My father had escaped Jamshedpur and hid himself in a small house in remote corner to avoid humiliation and insult. He had been hurt, deeply wounded. I got through St. Stephens, Sociology Hons. It was a popular elective for Union Public Service Examination. The family budgeted 2000 Rupees/month for me in Delhi. After giving 1000 in a PG accommodation, I had 1000 Rupees left for food and college expenses. There wasn’t any room for additional ‘need’.

As I tried to survive within the meagre means in a dingy PG accommodation of Nirankari colony, North Delhi, sharing room with three other girls, one thin mattress on floor, one green colored floor study table, my frustration grew and helplessness soared. Food came from a nearby dhabha* packed in small polybags and never enough to satisfy hunger. I avoided the cafeteria, the pav bhaji* outside the college, the trip to the theatre with friends and possibly everything that a college goer life throbs on because I had no money to spend; not even a rupee. Few months later, I chose to walk down 4kms up and down and save 6 rupees in a shared auto. Birthday party invitations were declined on the pretext of ‘preparing for UPSC’. Immersing myself in studies and UPSC preparation made me feel better but deep within I yearned, I felt thirsty and empty. No, I wasn’t poor but I was living poorly. Every evening returning to the PG accommodation made me cringe at the unhygienic washbasins, stained bathrooms infested with flies, an old, rusted air cooler and PG mates who denied even the minutest warmth or hospitality. My life was a constant series of lies to uphold my dignity, my stature and respect. In hindsight, such distinguished, upscale colleges shouldn’t give admission just on the basis of marks. Inside the campus, that is the least recognized and I hung to it because that is all I had.

I topped the first year of graduation and at the beginning of 2nd year, I met Aman, my college senior, and two months later we were passionately in love with each other.  Aman was pursuing Economics hons and belonged to an affluent family of South Delhi. One meeting through a common friend, in his words, I ‘knocked the socks off him’.  For me, Aman came as a respite for my emotional needs and financial crisis. I could now go to the cafeteria, eat the pav bhaji*, visit the malls, buy clothes and earrings, zoom in his car and enjoy a movie at PVR, all at his expense. Love comes with a price tag and it costed me my academic performance, my focus on UPSC and of course, my virginity.

Did I care? Yes and No. The ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ residing within me would fight each day and I would forever be restless. I knew I was not doing the right thing but I didn’t know how to make a U-turn. I didn’t want to reverse. The weekly calls to my parents was like fuel to the fire. Why did they constantly heap the burden of their disappointments and expectations on my back? Why didn’t they go out and work and ensure we had a good life too? Did my father ever learn about resilience? All his sorrows, sobs, sniffles were rubbed on my shoulders. I didn’t want it, I wasn’t ready for it and they offloaded it nevertheless.

My college grades deteriorated and I distorted the truth during phone calls to suit his dreams.  Aman graduated after a year and went on with his life, leaving me heartbroken and crippled. A rebound relationship one after another made me the quintessential floozy of the college. In life, the downward spiral is faster than an upward one. Three years rolled by and I managed to graduate with a 55%. To appease my father, I attempted UPSC prelims exam. His high hopes that Naina would compete in first attempt crashed when I didn’t qualify for Prelims. My life had fallen apart. The trip back home was difficult. His failing health made conditions worse. My brother’s career lay in the rut and our world finally collapsed when our father’s body was discovered on a nearby train tarck. He left a letter for me, the shortest letter a father ever wrote to his daughter —-“I am quitting. You don’t.”

Some labels stay your entire life. I tried to shake and shrug off the layoff chapter from our book, but it stayed. What started as an episode in a middle-class family’s life pretty much became the book. Year 1999 till his last letter in 2006, our lives revolved around the layoff. From the toilet faucet that leaked to the dreams that broke, the layoff stood everywhere. It was a web we found difficult to untangle. I tried and so did my brother-‘Dad, let it go. We all can start afresh. Why do you keep reliving it after so many years? Why don’t you try to find work? You are just 42. With your credentials, you would be easily picked up by a steel conglomerate.” What we heard back from him brought us back to the layoff, “It’s over for me. You both are all that I have.” His suicide jolted me out of the garbage I had become. With him not around, UPSC became irrelevant. My mother started working at a local school. I prepared for the entrance exam, took admission in M.A. Organizational Psychology, Arts Faculty, New Delhi. We didn’t have money for any MBA school and Delhi University Psychology course was the closest to offering a placement post Master’s.  I needed money…soon. Two years later, I got placed in Teletech India Pvt Ltd at a salary of 9,000 Rupees/month as an MT-Human Resources, Gurgaon. From then, I worked as if my life depended on Teletech. The office became my dwelling. The results of the toil showed. First, my job got permanent and then promotions followed. Spearheading a project which would decide the next destination of Teletech Corporation innovation research center added much glitter to my shining crown. The day CEO Ann Mulch announced the destination to be India, I became an overnight star. I was awarded, rewarded, and promoted a little later. My mother lived with me and my brother secured a job as a journalist in ETV, Delhi. Within two years I was promoted as Regional HR-N&E.  The success story continued and after a year I became Regional HR head S&W, based out of Bangalore. Mom chose to stay back in Delhi and I moved to Bangalore ensuring my family was well taken care of. I had hit back at life with vengeance. I had finally escaped the label and the fresh pages smelled sweet, like the triple chocolate buttermilk pound cake on Thanksgiving when all you want to do is look up, thank and sip the hot cocoa and look up again only to be electrocuted this time by the familiar giant monster with sharp tentacles conveying a nerve racking news. This layoff which was bound to asphyxiate many, had a twist. I was entrusted upon to implement it to 25 Devendra Talwars in the organization. That night, I tossed and turned on the rose pink cotton sheet of my bed, prayed and stared at the photograph of my father kept on the mantelpiece, cried and wiped, choked and cracked, mourned and groaned. Later, I fell, just the way my father had, but with a twist. Much before the process started, I resigned. That evening, when the sky played ‘color, color which color do you choose?’ my heart rose the brightest yellow playing my escape.

*dhabha- roadside restaurant in India

*pav-bhaji- fast food dish from India- vegetable curry served with bread.


This is an entry for the event #BreakFree, ArtoonsInn’s signature Short Story Writing event, #ArTales-16.
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Namrata Singh

With EXISTENTIALISM on one hand and MINIMALISM on the other, her vagrant mind weaves stories every moment, just every moment. Coupled with this, Namrata has an insanely bad habit of binge reading and collecting books. Kindle is non existent for her unless her need to read overpowers her need to hold pages in hand. She is an ardent lover of bike rides and sunsets. After a successful 10 year stint in the corporate, Namrata plunged into Life Coaching (Positive Psychology Coach)and Writing. She is indebted to Lady Shri Ram college, and XLRI, Jamshedpur for providing the education which has brought her this far in life.
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