Vania was an only daughter and her father doted on her, with good reason. She had qualities of heart and mind which were truly exceptional and eclipsed those of her two elder brothers. No matter what the activity, she simply outshone everyone, including her brothers. It came as little surprise to anyone who knew her when she began notching up one ‘first’ after another in the family. Vania (not her real name) became the first MBA in the family and picked up a remarkable series of honours and special mentions in competitive events.

Vania loved sports and dancing too and was a wonderful party organiser with a great sense of humour. Despite all her accomplishments, Vania remained level headed, friendly, always approachable, and always ready to extend a helping hand. These traits endeared her to those who were already impressed by her astonishing talent and positive energy.  She had many male admirers but she left the important matter of choosing a life partner to her parents, asserting in typical unegoistical fashion that her parents were wiser than her. But it was here that destiny played a cruel joke on Vania and her parents.

The person who Vania’s parents finally chose as a suitable life partner for their exceptional daughter was Ashutosh ( not his real name). He too had an MBA and from a foreign university at that and a string of other degrees. He was as a senior executive working with a large multi-national company, obviously had a bright future, and most important came from a respected, well-off family which owned property in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Vania and Ashutosh met each just once for formalities sake once the decision had been taken by both their families. Curiously, neither Vania nor Ashutosh spoke a word to each other, either at that first meeting or at their engagement because as Vania explained later they had left everything to their parents.

The wedding took place and it was while they were on honeymoon that doubts began filtering into Vania’s mind. Ashutosh, she discovered, could barely speak English and she found him quite unintelligent and not at all savvy about a lot of things. She was disturbed enough to confide in her father before confronting Ashutosh. It emerged that Ashutosh was an out and out ‘fake’. His MBA and other degrees were all fakes and he had actually not even completed his graduation. He did work for a large multi-national company though not as a senior executive as claimed initially. He was just one amongst  the company’s  numerous suppliers of cleaning agents like glass and floor cleaners. And as for the properties in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, they were just figments of imagination.  Vania’s parents seemed to have been well and truly duped by the relative who had been the go-between the two families initially though the relative insisted he too had been deceived. To cut a long story short, Vania shot down the idea of going to the police or going in for a divorce. “This must have been destined for some reason, otherwise a massive fraud like this could not have happened. I’ll learn to live with it,” was her logic.

One major advantage of continuing with such a mismatched marriage was that Ashutosh gave the lead entirely to Vania. She was the home maker, the decision maker, the supreme family boss and Ashutosh never ever contested anything Vania said, did or suggested. In time, they had two children who soon realised the inadequacies in their father and gave him short shrift but simply adored their mother. They told me recently that once they came to know the story of her life she became much more than a devoted mother for them. She also became their heroine, their role model.

And on her part, Vania’s love for her children was boundless partly because they fulfilled and complemented her emotional needs in a way that Ashutosh couldn’t. I used to visit them off and on and was struck by how Vania and the two children were such a close, happy threesome with Ashutosh smiling all the while as an indulgent spectator at their happiness but not a real participant. He didn’t seem to have the bonding with either Vania or the children that the mother and children so clearly enjoyed. According to Vania, he just didn’t have enough feeling in him which is why she had to ensure that she gave the children all the love and care that she possibly could. Recognising this, the children nicknamed her ‘lifeline mom.’

But destiny in which Vania had such a strong belief stepped in on a cold Friday evening one December and snapped that lifeline. Vania, not yet fifty years old, died at home alone while sitting in her favourite chair, sipping hot coffee and chatting on the phone to her mother. Vania’s mother, sensing something was wrong when the phone went dead while rushing to Vania’s home alerted the children who were out for tuitions and Ashutosh. By the time they reached it was too late. The first two days after the sudden death the children were inconsolable. But on the third day there was an amazing change. The children were elated. “We saw mom,” they exulted. “She’s different but she’s back. Our lifeline mom is back.”  Soon, they amended her nickname to lifeline spirit mom.

As when she was alive, Ashutosh’s interaction with her is limited but he has no hesitation in acknowledging her presence. As a spirit mom, Vania anchors the home admirably. “Its such a great relief,” her daughter says. “Without her, our home would have fallen apart and we could have gone astray. Without her, our already weak link with our dad could have been severed beyond repair because just the day after she died we were blaming him for her untimely death”.

Vania still occupies her favourite chair  — the same chair sitting on which she died. And when she’s sitting on the sofa with her children, invisible to others, after they have all got up, clear depressions denoting three were seated are clearly visible on the sofa. When the dinner table is laid every night, her plate is always the first to be kept in place and her chair at the head of the table always pulled out first. “Before we begin eating”, Vania’s daughter reveals, ‘we thank God for everything the way she had taught us but we also add a prayer that lifeline spirit mom should stay with us for as long as possible”. It was three years this December, and they’re keeping their fingers crossed.

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