With two shopping bags in each hand, and her handbag on one shoulder, Neera could just about navigate the wet, crowded market on her way back to the car. Her mind whirled with a hundred things to do, and she didn't notice Manju saying hi as she walked towards her.
"Hey, long time! It's good to see you, you're looking so hassled though," laughed Manju, offering a hand with the bags.
"Hi Manju, yea, sorry, was doing the usual round of the stores. Am just so tired, you know how it is..." Neera grimaced. "So you're doing your daily shopping too?"
"Yes but I'm also looking for a silver payal for my colleague who's leaving. There's a little shop here that keeps stuff like that. Hey, it's been so long since we caught up, shall we have a coffee? Are you in a rush?" Manju tilted her head towards the cafe nearby.
Neera took just a moment to agree. She badly needed to put her feet up a bit.
Minutes later, they were discussing mothers-in-law woes and family duties. "It doesn't matter, you know, whether it's your mom or your mom-in-law," said Manju. "When you live with someone of another generation, there's bound to be a gap somewhere."
Neera was still all worked up from the events of her day and couldn't be comforted. "She knows I have so many things to do in a day but she just won't lend a hand. Yesterday no one was home when Aryan came back from school. Both my husband and his mom were out, and I was at work -- and they didn't even let me know of their plans. Only when I reached home did I find out he'd been sitting in the neighbour's flat all afternoon. Why must all the household and childcare duties fall on me? I work too! It's so unfair. Being a working woman, you have absolutely no support in our society."
Manju nodded her head. "It seems like a hard life. I live with my parents and trust me, it's no easier. They can be so difficult at this age."
"You're lucky you don't have kids," said Neera, glancing at her watch.
"Well, that's one way of looking at it," smiled Manju. "But being single in my 30s has made me very fixed in some ways, and my parents are getting more rigid and bitter day by day. It's hard for me to have friends over or stay out late nights. They have all these 'ideas' of how women should behave. Especially since my divorce..." her voice trailed off.
Neera looked at her with new interest. "So how do you handle it?"
"I don't, I suffer in silence. I have all this guilt on my head anyway."
"But it wasn't your fault your husband left you!" exclaimed Neera.
"Yes, but maybe it was... at a karmic level you know. I must be paying for past deeds," sighed Manju. "And now the cycle is still not complete. He left me, and my parents now reject me. They're so critical all the time. I can't do anything right in their eyes. I'm their imperfect daughter."
Neera grew indignant. "What are you saying? Your karma isn't just your past, it's also your present and your future. You can't change what's happened but you have the power to change what's going to happen. Stop giving others the power to judge you or criticise you."
"Yea, I do it enough myself anyway," Manju said wryly.
"So stop doing it," Neera instinctively clutched Manju's hands on the table and squeezed them tight. A burst of life energy rushed through their palms as their warmth connected. Manju looked up at Neera in surprise, unknowing of the vibrant red energy Neera was wilfully blessing her with. "You have to be aware of your strengths, the preciousness of your life!" said Neera passionately.
Manju's mouth broke into a smile, and then rushed into a shy giggle. "Yes, thank you, you're such a darling," she said, and pulled her hand away. Neera broke out of her spell and smiled too, sitting back. It was time for the bill.
That night Neera had a huge fight with her husband for not keeping track of the home loan payments especially since her cheque had bounced the previous month. Must she be responsible for everything? she screamed, picking up her pillow to go sleep with her seven-year-old in his room, her mother-in-law listening anxiously through the walls.
That night Manju decided to move out.