Photo Credit: Aparna Kalra
The gangly pre-teen, offspring of a quiet mother, cared for by a garrulous grandmother, is a star among the ragtag bunch of area children. The genteel north Delhi neighbourhood grapevine records her serial feats: chess champion, taekwondo exponent, cricket player.
Khushi was four when her father died suddenly of a heart attack in 2007. Her maternal grandparents arrived at their door to provide aid and comfort to Khushi and her mother Arti.
“I did consider it,” says Arti, 44, of the possibility of re-marriage, “but I did not want the situation to worsen.” The “situation” Arti refers to is a household where Khushi returns from school to her grandparents’ care, while she herself is off at work.
Though she takes the tough question of a second marriage head-on, Arti allows her daughter and mother to overpower the conversation. Only when prised away from them does she let a sense of who she is come across.
When her husband, an official with the Life Insurance Corporation, was alive Arti taught tuition to schoolchildren at home, and was considering turning into an education entrepreneur through Abacus classes. The death of the breadwinner killed her dream. With a small child to provide for, she accepted the job offered by LIC on compassionate grounds. She had never imagined that she would hold down an office job. Now, she can’t see how she will ever be free from it till she retires.
Sports as support
Arti works five-and-half days a week, and is excited that her workplace is poised to move to a five-day week. She plans to use the free time to play chess, and maybe plan a holiday so she can use her leave travel allowance. Chess is her release from stress. She never feels lonely when she is playing, and now wants to build the stamina to reach national levels.
“Winning is not easy,” she says.
The mother in her is at constant odds with the player. A chunk of her salary and a lot of her time is devoted to her daughter’s sporting interests. Khushi swims, plays badminton and has enrolled in a cricket academy where the coaches see her – one among the two girls enrolled – as a potential national-level player. These are expensive, and physically demanding on a pre-teen, with the potential to distract from studies. But Arti is encouraging of her daughter’s activities. She believes sport can take a person away from the pain of losing a loved one.
It seems to have worked. Khushi is precocious and opinionated, but never rude. She carries herself with the grace and poise of an athlete, and speaks with the assuredness of someone with a mind of her own. When her mother tells her to focus on her studies to complete her personality, she retorts: “Why? You have half a personality?” She knows her mother owns the house they live in. Smiling saucily, she tells me her mom is the caretaker of her jaidaad.
Sharing a home
Sometimes, while waiting to pick her daughter up after practice, Arti finds herself thinking that there is just so much she can do on her own – earn a living, care for a growing daughter, worry about whether Khushi is neglecting her studies, search for a school in Delhi which has a girls’ cricket team. The longing for a partner to share her many burdens occasionally creeps in, but is resolutely pushed aside.
She is lucky to have a support system that includes her parents and two sisters and their families, also in Delhi, and a brother in Singapore who she has visited, and who went out of his way to give Khushi a dream holiday.
“When we were children, people used to make fun of us, saying ‘baraat aa gayi hai’ when the four of us went somewhere together, but now I realise that a large family is a plus,” says Arti.
There was never a doubt that her parents would be around to help after her husband’s death – the only point of debate was whether they would move in, or she would go and live with them in their home. It is no different from any other Indian family, she says – there are the usual tensions, and also the usual joys, of sharing a home.
Over time, Arti Kapoor has learnt to be both mediator and glue between her daughter and her mother, wearing this role lightly. Chess players, after all, know how to make subtle yet significant moves.