The Unwritten Reply

The Unwritten Reply

It was a beautiful spring morning. Aditi was determined to clear the clutter in her study, despite the temptations from her garden that was now in full bloom. Like most other women she knew, she had an urge to declutter every time she had to clear her mind off the needless muddle.

She was also tempted to tend to the shrubs in the garden. The place reserved in her garden for the Matura tea tree has never been blessed. The bush always took life and just when there was a promise of a bloom, something killed the plant. She forgot the number of times she had to uproot the shrub. It killed her every time she did it. The place was large and the conditions favorable, but the plant probably was long dead internally, like her.

This time she had planted it in a small patch of soil right outside of her bedroom. ‘The place is too small, and there is no hope for nutrition there. That patch is polluted with concrete dust’, her father had warned. Nevertheless, her precious Avarampoo shrub gave the promise of blossom, and she felt it had found its home.  However, she had not seen it in the last week that she was away. When she had enquired her mother about the plant during one of their phone conversations, all she received was a blatant reply.

She put the garden out of her mind and entered her study. She started with the first rack of her bookshelf. Behind the books on the top shelf lay a beige paper box decorated with shells. She knew what lay inside and was tempted to open it. ‘Later,’ she thought; but soon gave in. She took the box with her and settled on the floor cushion, careful not to disturb the Ikkat patterns on its cover.

She hurriedly let her hands search through the neat stack of letters inside the box. She found the one she was looking for. It was a simple light yellow envelope, now stained and battered from the decades of preservation. She opened it to read the letter for the umpteenth time.

The letter read:

Date: April 2003.

My most beloved Child,

    I hope this letter finds you in the best of health and good spirits. It is increasingly difficult to believe you will be graduating college next year. I do not know though if I would live to see that. My hand shivers constantly and I am writing this letter with the utmost difficulty.

  If there is no further correspondence from my end, know that Nana loves you with all his heart and soul. You gave me a reason to live when I was approaching my twilight years. Yes, there were other grand-children before you, but you were you. You were the only one who sat through when I opened to read a book to you all. You were the only one who was never bored of Mahabharata. You were constantly amazed by the tale.

 I do not know what life has in store for you. I see in you a luminous spark. I wish you find contentment in living, and strength and determination to cross the hurdles that obstruct your path. Always remember my child, no matter what comes in life hold on to your dignity and self-esteem. You have to know that conceit is not a harmful term.  If you face a situation when you have to put your self-respect above everything else, never have second thoughts.

May you find everything your heart wishes for, dear one. You are in my prayers today and forever.

                                                                                  Love and Prayers,                                                                                                                                                      Nanna.  

This was the only letter that Aditi had not replied to. But she read it every time she had to be sure of herself.  She pulled the letter pad from her desk and began to scribble the reply that was long due.

Dearmost Nanna,

   A decade and a half is a very long time to reply to a letter. I write because it is summer and I miss you the most this time of the year.  I miss balancing on your shoulder while trying to pick mangoes in our backyard. I miss falling asleep on your shoulders, and I miss our dinner table conversations.

 I also write because nobody is ready to listen. There is not a single human who is willing to see me as I am. They either sympathize or dismiss me as impulsive and bullheaded.

 All along, I knew marriage was not my cup of tea. I was a fiercely self-reliant soul, and I did not see myself living in harmony with a stranger that I had never met until a year before we were destined to live our lives together. Yet, I obliged.

 I thought I could sail through the storms that were aplenty. As I tackled one high-tide, the other one emerged, stronger and fiercer. Yet, I swam with the tide.

 It was idiotic of my family to believe that a lovebird could come out of a vulture’s stick nest or crevice. My life might have been destined with an Agapornis; nevertheless, the loving bird was groomed by a deadly vulture. How can a lovebird be any different when it is nursed by a vulture? I lived in a dark, unkempt cave of those birds that feasted on the living and sometimes took me for a prey. Yet I made room while offering myself.

The birth of the twins brought-in all the light I needed within the dark cave. Least did I know, my light would kindle the worst kinds of resent in the Dowager (A demon of a woman). Through most of my postpartum days, I went to bed while the acids in my stomach consumed me. Yet, I rolled with it.

I stood up to defend myself on several occasions, only to be accursed and tagged as hot-blooded and hasty. Yet, I put myself out.

True, my ex-spouse was not an alcoholic, nor a smoker. I was never assaulted physically, ever. But the wounds my mind endured are deep and intolerable. I am still healing, and I have a long way to go. Yet, I tolerated.

My palatial mansion was rather a den that longed for some light. My luxury car only wanted a companion and nothing else. My glittery jewellery longed for some honest smiles. The more I enthralled in opulence, the more lonesome I became. Yet, I fit-in.

As the girls grew, I knew I did not want them to become desolate beings. I wanted them to be the woman that Nanni was- confident, independent, strong-willed, resilient and joyful. I knew that a den is the last place to look for joy and optimism.

 Together we walked out, one beautiful morning tackling the attacks from the beast. Yes, we have scars for life. But, they are the lessons we will carry onto eternity.

  As you would say ‘Conceit is the quicksand of success.’ I do not know in the future, but it helped me overcome an enormous demon.                                                     

                                                                                   Yours (no more in distress),                                                                                                                                                     Aditi.

As she opened the window of the study, the bright, glowing buds of the Matura tea tree spread their radiance as the grey clouds converged.

Also published here (  https://www.womensweb.in/2018/11/marriage-was-not-my-cup-of-tea-nov18wk5sr/)

Her Contradictory Confidante

Her Contradictory Confidante

It was meant to be a bright day; at least that was what Meenakshi thought. She hates it when all the intensity of the bright star and warmth tuck away within the fluff of the grey stratus. Or was it cumulus? Ah!  Those degrading neurons! At least they have spared her memory.

It was that time of the year she nurtured fenugreek in her backyard, and she hates it when the daylight fades into the cirrus. Yes, cirrus it is! Probably her neurons haven’t withered. If there is one thing she has learnt in all these decades of her inhabitance, it is that you never know when the dark horizon would transform into hues of delightful red and tangerine.

She hoped she wouldn’t see another season of cankered tomatoes. Canker, rots… her mind eventually turns its focus on the man who lay on the bed at the corner of the room. She had walked miles to visit him today. ‘Gosh, You idiot! What kind of a demon took possession of you all these years?’ She mumbled. He smiled through his closed eyelids. The curve was kind of an involuntary response every time he heard her voice, even if it was an echo across the field with shoulder-high maize crops.

The colour of the man

    For the longest period of her life, Meenakshi’s nightmare was the red rot. Slowly and unsuspectingly the germ would creep into a corner of her tea plantation. And then like wildfire, it would engulf the entire stretch of carefully tended shrubs in one wild stroke. That meant all those months of hard work would end up down the drain.

She wondered what kind of rot had engulfed this man who lay still in the bed. It was definitely a red one she was sure- the colour of his rage.  As she sat there by his bedside, she forced herself to stroke the tuft of his soft grey curls every now and then. She reminded herself that back in the day when she knew him well… Knew him well? Was that all? She shook her head sluggishly. Back in the day, when she considered him an extension of her soul, his spirit had just one colour- pure white. Unblotted and perfect white- That was the Dhurya she knew.

Dhurya

    This almost lifeless man was once a mighty being. A man with a demeanour as majestic as the mountains they both called home. A man whose spirits was as gentle as the afternoon mountain breeze. He was at times coy; mostly amiable, but always with a genuine smile- the curve that caused a hollow on the exteriors of his buccinators. A man with a spotless mind; driven by his aspirations. A man who could handle any precarious circumstance with his characteristic savoir-faire. A man of few words, her D was an epitome of benevolence.   

   She cannot recollect how and when she first met Dhurya. Seven decades is a long time. It seemed like another life, another world. What she remembered though was in those initial days, she always recognized him with his rhinorrhoea, a characteristic that stayed with him through all seasons.

Those germinal years of their relationship

     Dhurya’s native hamlet is Meenakshi’s maternal home. In fact, it was the only place she called home as she grew up with her maternal grandparents. They both attended the local school, the best in the neighborhood and their friendship grew while competing with each other for the top spot in the class.

All through their days in the classroom, they helped each other grab the number one spot and the position of the topper always oscillated between the two. And in a jiffy, ten years had passed. Even throughout her adolescence, they had not sidestepped their friendship. The memory of the day she explained the changes her body had undergone and the pain that came with it was still vivid.

After ten years of life within the classroom walls, they were both confined to working with the rich laterite in the sloppy terrains that bordered their hamlet. In those days of tilling and sowing they had always longed to cross the hill on the eastern end of their village- for beyond that slope lay opportunities aplenty.

Dhurya’s father did not have the resources to put him through university. Though Meenakshi’s father had the resources, she carried with her the curse of the gender. As per her father’s dreadful fear, if she were to graduate, she would remain a lone woman all her life.

Desires – Some fulfilled, some abandoned

   ‘Now that my destiny is set, I know what I want’ said Dhurya one pleasant spring afternoon over their lunch, as they sat perched on the rock.  ‘What is that?’ said Meenakshi as she split the millet ball into equal halves.  ‘I know I cannot cross that hill and return as an executive or bureaucrat. But I can buy that hill and the one beyond and the one beyond.’

‘Say something’ he continued as she carefully poured black coffee from the tall yellow flask into the two steel mugs. ‘I sincerely hope and pray that you will,’ said Meenakshi. ‘Gosh! Too much jaggery; again!’ he quipped. She smiled and winked in response.

Years flew, and it was time for Meenakshi to return to her paternal home. Dhurya knew that he would miss her incessant chatter and her vivacious smile. He also knew that she would leave a void that could never be filled. What he didn’t realize though was that the vacuum would only get bigger by the passing day.

Wedding Bells

   Soon Meenakshi’s big day arrived. She was set to marry an administrative official, just as she had hoped. ‘Not someone who depended on the soil, Dhurya,’ she would say quite often when asked about her intentions. She would also add, ‘The field is my territory, I cannot have a man there.’

On the day of the ceremony, as Dhurya saw Meenakshi glow from a distance, all he could think of was the contentment she bought into his life and the kind of prospects this woman could have had. As he walked back home, Dhurya realized he would never have a companion as valuable.

Seasons passed by. Their conversations were reduced to just exchange of pleasantries during common gatherings. On the rarest of occasions, they would settle for a chat that would eventually be wound-up hastily.

In years that followed, Dhurya saw some progress for the years of extreme drudgery. He was able to purchase a hectare of a fertile patch. Meenakshi hears of his progress and the occasional setbacks from family and friends as she could hardly venture outdoors with the kids; now two in number.

Another Wedding – countless emotions

   It was an unusually warm afternoon, and the kids were asleep, and Meenakshi sat down to clean the harvested millets. Just then, she saw her cousin Rukmani head towards her home.  ‘Did you know that Dhurya is engaged to marry Devi?’ she blurted, still gasping for her breath.

‘Who’s Devi?’ quizzed Meenakshi.

‘Don’t you know Devi? The beautiful daughter of the bigwig who owns the factory in the valley.’

‘Goodness Gracious! I am thrilled for him!’, exclaims Meenakshi.

Rukmani’s perturbed face conveyed untold emotions that Meenakshi decided to ignore.

The day of the wedding soon arrived. The celebrations were an intimate affair with just the closest family members. The bride with all her beauteous radiance was nothing short of an impeccable sculpture. As Meenakshi exchanged smiles with Dhurya from across the huddled room, least did she know that this would be their last heartfelt interaction.

Seasons Change

   Many winters passed-by. Some monsoons were kind, and others were not. The rich laterite blessed the small population of the village on some occasions and failed on the others. Yet, days moved on. But they lived with the hope that there was always another summer and who knows what bounty the clouds could bring at the end of the hot season.

Winters were a laid-back affair in their world. Days started late and ended soon. It was also the season they all longed for. Despite the bitter fog and brutal northern winds, their wearied muscles had the luxury of staying idle.

On one intensely frosty winter morning, Meenakshi heard a knock on her door, which grew fierce in a matter of seconds. It was Rukmani, again. With eyes barely open, Meenakshi yells ‘Oh Woman! What is the need….. ?’

‘Devi is no more.’ Rukmani blurts; her cry completely devoid of empathy.

As they spread the mat on the floor, adjacent to the fire oven, with the aroma of black coffee spreading to the others asleep in the house, Meenakshi finally speaks up, ‘How?’

‘In her sleep. Nobody knows the reason.’

‘We will leave once the kids are off to school.’

   Into the Abyss

   ‘You would never know the value of companionship until you reap the benefits, Meen, just the way you wouldn’t understand the quality of manure until harvest,’ she still remembered that conversation with Dhurya from many winters ago when they walked back to their homes up the sturdy path. He was a man with a deep sense of attachment.  How would she face him now?

She did not get a glimpse of his grief-stricken face at the funeral. It took hours to flounder past the sea of people to pay her final respects. The scene remained the same even during the post-funeral formalities.

It was the most extreme form of torment to see the once majestic man bow his head to the ground, almost crumbled like the depleted muck beneath his sturdy feet. After the formalities and rituals on that misty morning, with a fuzzy vision of what lay ahead, Meenakshi walked back home.

Her innumerable attempts to meet Dhurya and talk to him had gone in vain.

The Herald From Across the four hills

At the onset of summer, the villages on the hills first prepare their herd for the heat. The rituals last about six hours, and it involves bathing the cattle in the pristine waters of the stream that borders their village. On that particular day and the days that followed, the burble of the silver waters muttered Dhurya’s tales of isolation and self-devastation

‘He does not speak to a soul.’

‘He is extremely stern with the kids. They cry all day and night of fear.’

‘He is enraged all the time, for no apparent reason.’

The whispers never stopped. They echoed across the temple walls and the walls of the community hall.

The winds that accompanied nightfall conveyed stories of his arrogance. The defaming sough never did stop.

‘Last week he lashed at poor Aunt Shantha for dropping by his house. He does not entertain visitors.’

‘Devi’s relatives received an earful when they went to visit the kids.’

‘ Just the other day, Arjun was accursed for greeting him in the morning.’

‘He must be possessed!’

On some rare occasions, the sound of the hooves of the palfreys belonging to the colonial masters communicated the stories of his accomplishments which bought Meenakshi some solace.

‘ Heard? Last week, Dhurya registered close to 8 hectares of the fertile patch by the stream.’

‘The entire slope of Brook’s hill, close to 16 hectares of cultivable land is now his.’

‘He works for more than 12 hours’.

‘The first in town to cross the 50-hectare mark. What greed!’

‘He is also in talks for another 30 acres around the forest. Will he ever stop?’

The Meeting

    Meenakshi now learnt of all of Dhurya’s milestones and his lowering integrity from across the three hills that separated them, almost every other week. Those tarnishing remarks in the form of verbal scourge meant to hit Dhurya always bruised her internally, but she always pleaded for his well-being with the Gods and believed that that the malignant spirit would soon leave his body.

One autumn morning, when the crowds had assembled in the village at a funeral of a respected septuagenarian, Meenakshi saw a man seated away from the group, in solitude, looking in the direction of her house. His toiled physique may have bulked-up over the years, but from the poise, she knew who he was.

She had walked up to him, thrilled yet reluctant while he sat his back faced to her. He turned around to the very familiar sound of her tread and at once leapt to his feet.

No matter how her memories fail her; Meenakshi would never forget that day. As they held each other’s gaze for a brief moment, the grey clouds threatened overhead, and she had swallowed a soft sob. His moist eyes had conveyed a billion emotions that his stoic expressions couldn’t.

After minutes of staring into each other’s face, Dhurya finally spoke: ‘I went far and wide in search of light, Meen. But all the while I had failed to realize that I had found it ages ago within your shadow’.

Their brief meeting had only lasted as long as a few gushes of the wind that announced rainstorm, but for Meenakshi, it was a moment she had waited for all eternity.

The Colours of Farewell

   Words! If only the right ones were spoken at the right moment.

As she leaned on the chill wall, recollecting all these years that passed by in a flash, she smiles at the familiar being, now motionless by her side, and strokes his curls, one last time.

As the intervals between his breaths widen, Meenakshi bends down to his ears to utter what she had meant to.

You were and still are the voice of my conscience, D. You will always be– telling me right from wrong and pushing me to aspire for more.’

As she walks out, she stands at his gate enthralled at the sight of the colours of twilight. She was right; you may never know when the grey clouds would clear up to reveal the myriad shades of the bewitching evening skies.

As for Dhurya, the name that instantly and involuntarily sets a curve on her lips; he will always be the first realm of sunlight on a frosty winter morning, bringing along light, warmth, and hope, most of all- Hope.

The Bane of the Womb

The Bane of the Womb

Yet another dinner table conversation in our home:

‘But he spoke to me first, Amma,’ my five-year-old quips. I retort with my usual advice, warning her of the probable adversaries. ‘This will be the last time you speak to a stranger,’ I warn her. As I say this, there isn’t a speck of guilt within me that I am inculcating hatred in the little mind. I am aware that instilling panic is the last duty of a responsible mother.

Like many other mothers in my part of the world, I have no choice. Bringing a girl child into a misogynistic and pessimistic world and trying to protect her is no mean task. To activate the subdued fear alarm in mind, there is some incident you read, way too often.

Can they overcome?

Every time I read about the atrocities meted to the little girls, my thoughts are always with the mother. Can anything on earth be more horrendous than to see your child face barbarity and yet feel helpless about it? How ludicrous is it to let the law take its own course in this age of extreme malfeasance and extortion?

The young victim might need a lifetime to therapy to rise above the maltreatment. The mother is doomed to live in the shadow of fear. Speaking of therapy, we are aware of the acute shortage of shrinks in our country.

What gives him the courage?

What makes a man think that he could assault a woman (be it a random passerby or kin) and walk away with it? What gives an offender the audacity to cause agony to a woman or a child and cause mental and physical distress? Have we as a society become deplorable and hideous?

What makes a man think that the opposite sex is but a puppet in his hands? This is not a scenario just on the streets; it is prevalent in the vast majority of Indian homes. Why should the woman of the house stay immune to exploitation, injustice and your offensive jeers?

Is chauvinism a piece of wisdom passed on for generations since the late Vedic age? Or was it acquired enlightenment post the Victorian times?  Despite laws and amendments, why is inequality woven into the fabric of our being?

Is Safety of women a myth?

Will women’s safety be brushed aside as a myth? What if the ripples of change spread steadily? What if they lead to rebellion? What if the collective consciousness of the XX bearers result in a revolt? Can we teach our girls to stand-up? Will our biased society let them stand firm on their feet?

Should the caregivers of the girl children live in angst? Will our voices be heard? Will there be an advancement regarding equality? Can the confined minds undergo metamorphosis?

Will our rights be safeguarded? Or should we camouflage ourselves in the bovine skin to protect our dignity?…..

Just a humble lament of a mother raising a daughter.

A Reverie and Memories of Her

A Reverie and Memories of Her

Eighty years is a long time to live. As he sat on the cane chair reminiscing his achievements in the last two decades and the turmoil he faced in the recent past, all he wanted was to enter the dark tunnel and find that bright light. At least, that is how those who had near death experiences described the journey.

Memoir

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing. It can evoke the kind of feelings that are hard to construe. He felt her presence in the thick, frosty air he breathed. With the density of her memories and the oxygen almost choking him, how he wished they succeeded.

Like earlier times, it was difficult to bury her vision and thoughts deep within and focus on the task at hand. There was no task, no errands to run and nothing to supervise. He tried to take a walk and reached for his shawl. The paleness of the soft fabric reminded him of her touch.

When the mind’s eye refuses to shut

It was only a vague memory, yet it has haunted him all his life. He remembers the sound of hooves that night and the way he and his siblings were whisked away to her father’s house. He recalls every moment of that fateful sundown hour- her partly opened eyes, the mild curve of her lips and the way she held his hand.

He was carried away shortly, and he never saw her again. Or, did he?

He always dwelled upon her thoughts and sometimes found solace in conjuring up those visions buried deep within the subconscious spirit.

Her dark brown eyes and the way they lit up every time she laughed- which was too often. Her pale pink, Caucasian- like complexion, her soft curls, the tenderness of her touch, her chiseled chin and broad jawline- he was surprised by the mind’s ability to recapture every single detail.

While he looked at the hill eastwards, images of her fetching water in the mud pot conjure up. The whole house was alive in her presence. She would tell him and the siblings endless tales of the woods, spirits, and Gods. Those tales were not fixed in his mind, but the vivid movement of her eyes and her spirited talk were.

In all these years as a father, entrepreneur, and grandfather, every time he felt he was falling into an abyss, it was the feel of her warm embrace that cheered him up. His favorite memory was the walks to the nearby stream, her firm grasp and the way her arm tightened around his wrist every time they stepped into the ankle-deep water.  The vision of both their feet beneath the crystal clear bubbles was still lucid.

Pie in the sky

It was almost near, he could feel it. But all he longed for was those piggy-back rides, the herbal scent of her hair, a place on her lap, the feel of her strong grasp, to rest on her shoulders and to call her Amma (Mother) one last time. Just One Last Time.