Theme: Mother's Love, A Daughters Love for her Mother. The remarriages at later stage in life.
AUTHOR : NAVAL LANGA
HAD IT BEEN a normal day in office, I would have called my assistants in my cabin, in order of their height, their intellectual height. Then each one of them would get sharp-bordered printouts, with deadlines bolded on top left corner. Their day’s work. It was my formula by which I had made my official journey smooth. My life was not my planning. It was not like that I took a piece of paper, sketched a portrait of my choice, and then animated it on a canvas with soft brushes dipped in blobs of pleasant colours.
My initial spell at job was easy, as easy as walking on a sword. I didn’t find it strange for me—that walking on a sword. But today’s sword was the sharpest blade. The blow had come from my mother, my only surviving relative. In her early fifties with a recurring back-pain, she worked in a school. The school’s head master was kind enough to adjust her working hours. I hadn’t seen him, but she held much respect for him.
On that day she talked with me on quite a shocking subject. I was an event manager, but in my memory I had not handled such an event. My mother had thrown me again on the memories of my childhood.
My first memory of childhood is the collapse of our roof. Our house was nothing more than an assembly of tin-sheets, used out boards, and hay. Everything was either collected from the municipal garbage or acquired by theft. It was nothing more than a patch that covered the space of a cot, a tight mud plastered corner, and a broken suitcase that had migrated with my mother. We called another corner as our kitchen that ran on my mother’s meagre wages. In addition to my mother and me, the space, the suitcase, and the tight corner, there lived a man. People called him my father. When the roof had lost its strength against the Rain Gods, and fallen on us, I had a struck on my head. I was of three or so. I don’t recall whether I cried or not. But I do remember what I had thought. I thought there would be no sky next day, as it had fallen down—half on me and the rest on my mother.
Another incidence I still remember bit by bit had occurred when I was in high school. It was fag end of my girlhood, the days of bordering womanhood. Seventeen. In those days, I respected one man. He taught me language. My English teacher. He owned a lot of things: his own house, a two-wheeler, and good repute among women. That was luxury in the town we lived. He gave me books to read and paid my library fees, once or twice. If his age were considered to be a meter, he was just like my father. Though I had no such respect for my own father.
I went through a tremble as I recalled the day. I was at his home. On that day I had completed my last lesson on ‘Feminine Gender’. As his family was away, I offered help in kitchen. ‘Let us cook and dine together,’ the teacher said. The student followed.
I was unaware of a waiting volcano within his skull.
It was hard to believe how the man whom I trusted most had put on the skin of a wild animal. Our beliefs are so lame: we require clutches of our past experiences to help our beliefs stand. But here, unbelievably, the interior of the kitchen, the utter loneliness, and one powerless female body prompted the devil. Double in body-weight and strength, as he was, he threw me first on floor and then dragged me on a bed.
The beast pulled out my clothes: the skirt, the blouse. All: one-by-one. He had time; it was his time. Once he pressed my knickers tightly into my mouth, I was sure I would die. I could not protest; I could not fight back in defence; I could not shout for help. I was being crushed within the walls, and the walls did not come to my rescue. He was mad. He licked all over my belly and chest like a hungry dog. The naked beast ruptured my body, my soul, everything, again and again until froth appeared on his lips.
Stroke of two o’clock at night, and I was running alone on a naked road. Madly. With blooded clothes and lost virginity.
I did not see his face again. But I had speared a chit at him that struck his head. The chit warned, ‘Do not show bravery to come within the range of my eyes, you coward. Otherwise I will slaughter you.’ He did not. I knew he could translate the word slaughter, which I had underlined in red—in its true colour. By slaughter I did not mean murder. It would have been less painful for him. What I meant was this: given a chance, I would cut his penis and burn it in a public square. But why I did not go to the police? The policemen and trustworthiness never resided side-by-side in our town. They were unreliable, unreliable for a young girl, for a poor young girl.
The days passed; the body-wound healed.
But I was not the same person after the day. It was the day; it was the night that had impregnated me with the seeds of hate, deep hate for entire gender of the men, the males. The cycles of time went on and on with swelling hate. The time-camel ran on desert, leaving its footprints on sand. I left my hometown; I walked in and came out of my college-study; my father died; and I caught the train to this city. The incidences and the years escaped, flickering as scenes on a theater screen.
But what my mother talked in the morning still occupied my mind. She talked about a man, a member of the species I hate most.
“Sweta, I need your permission for…” That was how she started. It was unbecoming of her, to talk so reluctantly. “I don’t know how to start but…”
“Mama… Please. Is it money matters? Then don’t ask. Take it from my purse, okay?”“
No, no. I… I mean… I and Panditji, our head master…”
“What? What happened?
“We… we want to marry.”
That was the landslide. Failing to believe what my ears had heard, I was still in my cabin. Entire staff had left the office.
“Ma’am, will you sit late, today?” My peon asked me, perhaps second time. Had I been in my normal state of mind, I would have shouted at him. Instead I looked at his torn cap, khaki dress, and gaping mouth that looked as cigarette ash. I avoided looking at his nose that was not fitted well.
(Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
I RETURNED AT HOME before time: first into parking, and then twenty steps of a fatigued walk. Had it been a normal day, I would have followed a ritual in three stages: I would kick the door first, throw my leather purse away on a table; and finally I would stand in middle of my drawing room, tossing sandals in any corner—preferably the distant one, that too with flair of a Russian ballet dancer. The door, the purse, and the sandals never complained about my routine. I went through the two stages, and then put sandals quietly in a corner. My body, head to feet, was never so aching: the walls of my home were never so uncomfortable.
Falling flat on bed I again fell into my childhood. In those days a shopkeeper, who always gave me a chocolate, used to come at our home. His hair had colour of white waste paper. On his arrival, I would indulge myself in the chocolate, and my mother would close the cardboard door. Then she would recline on cot. The man would remain on top of her and press her so forcefully that I thought she would be flattened like a long slice of sweet bread. My mother was so sweet. Otherwise he might not be biting all over her face, I thought so while chewing the chocolate.
My mother kept a purse, silken, but torn out one. It was the sole relic of her remote past—her birthplace, her country. She kept it under her blouse, between breasts. Whenever she opened it and found no coins, she would first cry a lot. In this crying ritual I was used to accompany her, keeping my arms stretched at her. Thereafter we would go to that biting man’s shop and return with a small wheat-floor bag and a tiny can of groundnut oil. The chocolate would follow us after an hour or so.
I ate the chocolate once a week, at least.
My mother had biological connection with borders, too: the borders, which the generals with heavy medals had drawn, and the fanatics had washed with blood. Why then, after two decades, the two pieces of great earth—India and Pakistan—with undefined borders had wobbled again? And why did they turn into three pieces? Failed marriage? Arranged marriage? I had no idea, but my mother had to run by night, from east to west, from today’s Bangladesh to India as a refugee in the year 1971. My mother was a daughter of the father who was killed while working on a paddy field; my mother was a daughter of the mother who was killed on rooftop of a running bus; my mother was sister of the younger brother whose rib was crushed by a soldier’s boots and scull cracked by the butt of a gun while he tried fleeing into the Indian border.
I still don’t know why my mother married my father. He had thick moustache, a face like a big goat without horns, long-legs, one hand like a yellow stick—another hand lost in an accident—and a black spot just below his right eye. In short, frightening. On the mental front he kept safe distance from the notions of sanity. I could still see him: first walking on his unsteady legs, with a country liquor bottle in his solitary hand, and then kicking my mother as hard as he could. There stood a little girl, trembling, pressing her soul between tiny lips. On his beating, there would be two simultaneous fallouts: the mother would scream a bleeding wound, and the daughter would urinate and get her knickers wet.
My knickers kept wetting everyday.
He kept inquiring about my father—my real father. I had my mother’s features, but my bright-bluish eyes were the materials he doubted most. He thought my mother was used to sleep with every man living in our neighbourhood—meaning I might not be the fruit of his seed. In a way he was right. I am not his child, exclusively. I am offspring of several parents, simultaneous parents: the poverty, the breaking of a country, the war, an unstable marriage, and what not.
I never condoned my father for his satanic brutality. ‘Hit him back, Ma,’ I shouted at my mother when I was half of her height. She never complied. Had she hated my father in the first year of their marriage, and strictly maintained that hatred at nights, too, I would have not been on the earth.
I was fruit of a failed marriage.
THE FRUIT OF THE FAILED MARRIAGE was ascending steps of the school where my mother worked. My steps were heavy but not faltering. My target was the head master’s office. I went inside a semicircle cabin. There sat a man clad in glowing and spotless cream-coloured suit with a light blue tie and thick moustache that overshadowed his lips. With greying stock of hair, he looked walking in late fifties. From his instant smile I understood that he recognized my face and perhaps was expecting me, too.
“Are you Mr. Pundit?”
He tapped his finger on a nameplate.
“Do you love my mother?”
My gunshot query was bound to confound him. It did. It took several moments to get his bafflement subsided. When recovered, surprisingly soon, he seemed to have filtered the connotation of the words bowled at him.
“Do you LOVE her?”
“Yes.” No more words offered.
“Would you marry her?”
“She can fix the date.”
“Would you keep loving her?”
“Till the date of my death certificate.”
It was not the time for bold strokes. Nor I desired to inflict any wound upon ‘the man who simply wanted to marry my mother and live with her till the date of his death certificate’.
I squeezed my brain and arranged words in an utmost rational form: “If you both are so inclined… then please, come at my home today evening, at eight o’clock. There will be dinner of your choice.” I said, holding the door half closed against the whole world outside.
“Remember, sharp at eight o’clock.”
THE NEXT WEEK witnessed a simple ceremony of marriage of a school head master and the woman who had migrated again to another country. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)