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Why are we so scared of wanting something? A story about learning to want, and listening to what the heart wants.
One of the top 5 entries for March’s muse of the month writing cue, “To want is to have a weakness.” (from The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood)
Akilambal stood at the kitchen counter, helping her niece make coffee.
‘Do you want some coffee, Athai? ’ Harini asked.
‘No, I don’t want any now. It will become a habit and I will want coffee every day when I go back to the village’, said Akilambal, her face falling into deep lines of disapproval.
‘Just drink it if you feel like it, Athai’, said Harini.
‘No, I don’t want to create new bad habits’, said Akilambal. ‘Then the mind will keep wanting’.
Later that afternoon, Akilambal sat rigidly on a chair on the verandah.
‘Athai, why don’t you go and take a nap?’ asked Harini. She could see pain in Athai’s eyes. And fear. The fear of dependency; of not being able to look after herself any more.
‘No, I don’t like to sleep in the afternoon. It creates a bad habit. Then I won’t be able to sleep at night. And I’m not doing any work. I’m so useless.’
‘Athai, you are 85, you should rest and relax at this age. Who wants you to work? The doctor said you should give rest to your back. It is good for you if you lie down’.
‘Did he?’ asked Akilambal, licking her dry lips but making no move to get up.
Slowly, she said ‘My stomach is paining when I eat. But I don’t want to complain too much. There has already been the bother of taking me to the doctor. Can I have some coconut water to ease it’?
‘Sure Athai, why do you have to ask? Just ask the maid to get it for you’.
‘Someone might say I’m asking too much’.
Akilambal sat silent, thinking. She couldn’t come up with an answer.
‘That’s the way I was brought up’, she said slowly.’ Live in fear that someone will say something bad about you. Never ask for yourself’.
‘Welcome, welcome’ she said, smiling happily as Sarada slowly lumbered up the steps. Sarada is large, her knees ache constantly; half a dozen other ailments try but cannot stop her from going anywhere or speaking her mind.
‘Sit down, Sarada’.
‘You never come to see me so I thought I would come to see you’.
‘You might be resting or busy. How can I be sure I am not disturbing you’, said Akilambal.
‘What is an old lady of 75 going to be busy about except sleeping’, said Sarada with a hearty laugh.
‘But you are always going somewhere with your son or daughters.’
‘Yes they had better take me out! They are good children’, said Sarada comfortably. ‘If you ask your son, he will take you out too’.
‘But he is so busy’, said Akilambal. ‘He has his job at the college. And so much work.’
‘He will make time for you, his mother. Why don’t you stay with him? His wife is a nice girl’.
‘That is a nice saree,’ said Akilambal changing the topic.
‘It is, isn’t it? I got it last week. There were three other colours but I like red’.
‘Did you go yourself to choose it?’ asked Akilambal, a little enviously.
‘Yes, I asked my daughter in law to take me. If she chooses a saree, I am never quite happy with it. She has nice taste but still, I like to choose my own. At our age, what do we have left but eating and even that is not good with all this blood pressure and diet, except sarees and TV’.
‘Don’t mistake me but how can you ask her? She is going to work. And she is busy’.
‘She is a good girl. She likes to make me happy with small things. If I leave her to guess what I like, then she will guess wrong. Best is to tell her what I like.’ She continued ‘Akila, we have good children. They don’t want to put us in an old age home. We are lucky they are still living in India and haven’t gone off to a foreign country. They want to see that we are happy. So we should let them know the small things we like. The doctor can’t cure our constant aches and pains. So let us find pleasure in at least the little things in life left to us’.
‘Is it alright to ask?’ asked Akilambal thoughtfully.
‘We are all human. And we want things constantly. If we let people know, at least we will get some little pleasures. It’s alright to ask, Akila’.
After a while, Sarada left. The place seemed empty without her cheerful presence.
Akilambal said slowly to Harini, ‘Can you call my son …’
Pic credit: Nadeem Abdulla (Used under a Creative commons license)
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