TRAIN WAS RUNNING fast. But it was not as fast as the train of thoughts running in my mind. Anger: that was the word that could only describe the colour of my face.
‘Why should your mother live alone at village?’
It had become our usual scuffle, whenever Kumar talked about his mother’s old age and worried about her. But I knew that Mama, as Kumar used to call his mother, would never reside with me.
‘She is a meat-eaters’ girl.’ Mama had objected to our marriage. I am a staunch vegetarian as Kumar, and it was not my choice to be born in a family that ate meat. Kumar overruled the objection. We got married. Mama was now on a wheelchair. But she never lived with us, not for a single day.
On that day there was one line message from her: I want to see you both. ‘She must be ill,’ I called Kumar, as he was on tour. He told me to reach there directly. It was one hour’s journey. Morning journey was not my line of preference. I went for it. Anger.
I had no desire to be noticed, as I was feeling as comfortable as a first-timer to a temple would. The men and women, twenty odd in all, chanting prayer had a reason to fix their eyes on me. My urbane get-up.
On seeing Mama, a pundit ran in; he helped me to get the chair inside. I knelt before the idol of Lord Krishna. I closed my eyes, folded my hands in right fashion. Mama kept one hand on her stickhandle and another on my head.
There started the surprising movements. Mama took off one of her golden rings and rounded it on my head for seven times—clockwise. Chanted some verses in Sanskrit. I knew it was a religious rite, performed for protecting one’s beloved person from the evil spirits. I failed to understand why she was doing that. Then she called one elderly pundit nearer and gave him that ring as alms.
“Pray for my children, punditji.” Mama told him. “And pray specially for this pretty young woman, punditji. Today is her birthday.”
“Mama, who… who told you…? Oh…”
Neeta Keshavani. The receptionist, who never referred a telephone diary while dialling her company-clients, had forgotten to look at calendar and had no idea about her birth date. But there was a man on the earth, Kumar, the man who cared for me and cared in such a dignifying way. Certainly he would have called at village. And here was a loving lady, blessing me.
“Long live my child. May the sun give you energy; may the moon give shining to your eyes; and may all the stars favour you… And may the almighty God give you all the happiness on the earth, my child.”
I lost command over language, failed to find a word to answer the onslaught of affection. Had I been at home, I would have cried loudly. Here in the temple what I could do was not to prevent the flow of tears welling out of my eyes.
It was becoming hard for me to believe that I was loved and desired in such a grand way: with alms and blessings, and a special prayer for me in temple. My parents did not belong to a clan of non-believers in God. But they had kept a safe distance from the temples.
The elderly pundit chanted Sanskrit mantras. He arranged fresh wicks dipped into ghee, ignited the series of holy lamps again, and chanted verses for blessing. He offered a short prayer before the idol and then blessed me for good health, wealth, and long life.
“Mama, why don’t you take sugar-less tea?” Heaping three spoon-loads in a cup I asked her.
“Do you know what the doctors told me before twenty years?”
“Leave sugar or you will die, soon.”
“And do you know what happened? My three doctors died during these twenty years.” Mama closed and opened her eyes thrice.
“Mama, you are so funny, I can’t believe.”
The lunch walked with joy and family talks. Then to my utter surprise Mama gave me a document. My God!! It was a Gift Deed, in my favour. Mama had gifted me all the rights and ownership of the house.
“My child, this is all that I have. Kumar’s father and I were teachers in this village. He was as noble as Kumar. God had gifted him everything… everything except…” Mama’s lips trembled, “except a long life...” She stopped for a while. It was painful reminder of the sore that had not healed yet. Kumar’s father had died at thirty only.
“Kumar talks sometimes about selling this house. I have built up it with my sweat and blood. It’s my desire that my children and family should use this house and be happy. “
“Mama but why should you, we sell this house?”
Then she took my face between her palms and spoke in a subdued tone. “Neeta please, tell me, you will not sell this house. Tell me…” Columns of tears ran out of her eyes like the prisoners would run on their long awaited release.
“Mama, you are coming with us.” It was the hardest event to manage. “No. I will not leave you here, alone.”
“I will be always with you, my child.”
“Please, don’t speak like we are departing.”
“How… how can I depart from you?”
“Mama, I…I will be the happiest woman if you live with me.” Once I said so, she drew me closer, kissed my forehead, and embrace.
THE CLOCK in Mama’s room was robbing the light, tick by tick. Kumar had come at noon. It was not the day; it was not the night.
Kumar told Mama to take her tablets. She denied. When she returned teacup, I saw a strange breed of peace on her face. While I arranged a woollen shawl on her feet, she pressed my hand and smiled at Kumar and me.
Everything went in slow motion when Kumar and I were in kitchen. Kumar sat facing me, but not looking at me. Sadness. We, Kumar and I, had a plan in our mind. We were yet to tell Mama about it, the shifting plan.
“We will not ask Mama. I will get her into car and you will drive straight.”
“Kumar, your bedroom is the big one. It will be Mama’s room.” I tried to paint my dream arrangement; it made the air a little bit lighter.
“We will arrange our fighting in another room.”
Outside the defence of the home, life had taken a stormy shape. Wind had turned merciless for the roofs. Curtains billowed fearfully. A violent blow of wind crushed one glass shutter. Kumar gathered the pieces of broken glass. As I lifted plate, the knife slipped from my hand. I walked into Mama’s room, with the apple chips in plate. I entered the room and looked at Mama.
The evening had turned into night.
“K… U… M…A…R.…”
My scream shattered the air. It went through the room; it went through the walls; it went through the gate of the house. Kumar stormed in. Checked Mama’s pulse, the heart, the eyes.
The bird had fled without a flutter. Empty was the cage, lying on bed.
Mama was dead.
“Mama I… Mama, see…Talk with me...” He collapsed on her chest. “Neeta, look... Mam… Mama is not hearing…”
But I was not there. I did not cry. No tears. Sitting in a corner. Wooden. As if the whole mechanism of the senses had deserted my body.
“Neeta… Mama has gone. Neeta, talk… talk with me.”
He caught my hands, gave me a strong shake. I collapsed. When I cried, it was a scream of undefined length. The hard ceiling had a shatter. The cry crossed the streets, struck on the roofs, and torn the air into pieces. People of the village rushed to the cry.
SINCE THE DAY, we go to the village, twice in a year. On my birth date we go there, unfailingly. On that day we go to the temple. We give a golden ring to the pundit as alms. Not for my birth date, but as it happens to be Mama’s death anniversary. And when I sit alone in Mama’s room, I hear her voice:
“I will be always with you, my child.”