Child custody is a legal term used in Divorce Proceedings to describe the legal and practical relationship between a parent and his or her child, such as the right of the parent to make decisions for the child, and the parent’s duty to care for the child.
“Children from divorced families don’t follow the same rules as regular children — they grow up much faster and have seen insecurity and strife too early in life. You can’t apply the same parameters to them as you can to your own children, who are safe and warm and cherished.”
This is something my divorced friend used to say. She used to say this with quiet sadness and a heavy hearted conviction.
No one knows this better than either a parent who, as an aftermath of separation or divorce, finally takes a look at her children and is shattered to see what the acrimony and dispute has done to them or than Manju Kapur. Divorce is a sad business but saddest for the children of the family who are rent by conflicting loyalties as they see all that is dear and familiar being snatched away and distorted for no fault of theirs.
Manju is a past master in dealing with the concerns of families. Custody is her fifth book after her bestselling books, Difficult Daughters, Home, The Immigrant and A Married Woman.
The tone of Custody is a serious, yet soft. Manju is not judgmental, though you see her getting grim at places, as if she’s biting back her comments behind pursed lips. Though she talks of grand passions, betrayals, heartbreak, extra marital affairs, she remains quiet and tries to be a chronicler rather than a participant in the story that she tells.
Custody is the story of the family of Raman and Shagun and their two children, eight year old Arjun and three year old Roohi. Raman works for a multi-national company, the Brand, that manufactures and distributes soft drinks. The rewards are huge as is the work that is expected. Raman, who belongs to a middle class family, is a bright guy but somewhat dull. He is married to Shagun, who is wondrously beautiful but bored and rather selfish. Still, all is well with the family, until Ashok Khanna, comes in as Raman’s boss at the Brand. Ashok is the human manifestation of the Brand. What he wants, he gets, and if there are obstacles on the way, he simply sweeps them aside or buy them out. This time he wants Shagun, and he gets her.
Shagun, not considering anything but her passion for Ashok, is ready to call off the marriage and asks Raman for a divorce, and that’s when the staid, loving Raman turns into a vengeful person who will do anything to avenge being left for another man.
On the other hand, is Ishita, a young divorcee, who has been heartlessly thrown out of her husband’s home because she is physically incapable of having children. Ishita tries to find some sense of identity in social work with poor children. She and the divorced Raman come together. Now occurs the re-formation of couples. Ishita and Raman; Shagun and Ashok. All settled but for the children, who are pulled apart in ways that are as insidious as they are aggressive.
The first half of the book is devoted to the grown ups and the re-configuration of the couples, the latter part focuses on the ugly custody battle for the children. The little ones have to deal with parents who have changed priorities, changed partners, changed characters even. From being the loved kids of a family, they are changed into pawns on the chessboard of the judicial system, the players of the game being none other than their parents.
Luckily, Manju does not take on a moralising tone, although she is a bit wry in the telling of her tale sometimes. Her forte is middle class Indians and though she is ruthlessly honest, she knows how to tell their story gently. You are left feeling bruised at the way courts treat divorces and custody matters — the man who will not grant a divorce because his ego has been hurt and the woman who is given preference in custody battles by virtue of her gender. You just end up hoping that if (God forbid) you or your loved ones ever have to go through it, it would be a much revamped system!
Manju brings forth the angst that the system engenders when lawyers step in and courts take over. The joy is over and bitterness prevails. The most battered are the children!
The reason that I got captivated was not because I wanted to know the divorce fats and figures inIndiabut because I as a girl could relate to the daughter(Roohi.) Its not long ago that I have faced similar situations (nope my parents are not divorced and it really need not be like that always). I grew up in a motherless household along with my father, brother and for a while my grandmother (mother’s mother). Obviously it was unlike normal families but my dad made sure he was with me and never made me miss my mother. So I was a schoolgoing girl and was hardly ever at home: tutions,practices,games etc.
My brother was and has always been closer to my mother’s side than me, dad or anyone else.I have heard that its very hard for children to choose sides,but my brother always choose mom over my dad. People say my mom had to be blamed. Now, 20 years later I know she was wrong and that my mother had committed a mistake.My grandmom who was not so fond of my dad took advantage of the fact that my dad was working and no one was at home and convinced my super intelligent brother that dad was not a nice man. She gave examples of neighbours and relatives who always used to be around etc. She even told my brother things my mother used to say about dad. I now know how unrealistic my mother’s expectation used to be. So well, my brother grew up convincong himself that my dad was not nice! I sometimes wonder if he ever used his own brains to understand my dad. Nope!! He never did and still does not.
In the story Arjun ( the son) tries to convince Roohi to go with their mother saying dad is a very bad man etc but she, who is jst 4 years old understands the truth and the reality and who is to blame. She is scared of Arjun but does not let it affect her relation with her dad. Thats what caught me. I have been through the same thing. My brother and my mother’s relatives tried to convince me to go with them just after my mother died. They said he would eventually get married to someone and that they wont look after me etc. I remember looking at my dad who sat silent through all these dialogues and going up and asking him whether any of what they were saying was true and him looking at me and saying I was free to decide whatever I wanted. I looked up at my relatives and said I was never going to leave my dad.
My brother and dad are still very aloof with each other. They come together for the sake of it etc. My dad took care of me for 20 years after my mother died. He still does. He never married again and made sure I was No 1 in his life. We are the best of friends and will always remain that way.
Its very very easy to change children. But sometimes children can see what adults fail to see and understand. I know its true. I just know it.