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Nitu looked thoughtful, “But something happened, didn’t it ? You came home pouting and angry. And, didn’t talk to Amma for two full days.”
Our Muse of the Month series this year focus on stories that pass the Bechdel test, and are written on inspiration from a new prompt every month. This month, the prompt was “And Then She Rested”, and the story should pass the Bechdel Test, that is,
The second winner of our March 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Ujwala Shenoy Karmarkar.
She sneaked into the hallway as dusk was heralding the coming of the night; the shadows that were lengthening and deepening with every passing minute her helpmates. Gone were the mourners, relatives, neighbours, well-wishers, patients young and old. For a fortnight they had inundated the house with their tears, grief, tiffins full of food, endless pots of tea, pats and hugs, words of consolation, and assurances that “she is now resting peacefully!”
The house now seemed like it had always, except for the photograph prominently displayed in the living room and overpowering smell of the incense sticks lit near it.
At the end of the corridor was the bedroom that She sought. Decorated in pinks and frills many years ago and then in more mature colours and patterns, this is where the “girls” had lived till they went off to university. They had stayed here briefly during vacations and later, for a few years, when they had secured jobs in this city.
The rooms had worn a deserted look for a while after they married within a few years of each other, till they had returned in the final months of pregnancy, staying until a few months after the birth of their baby. Now, they rarely stayed here, preferring to stay with their own fast-growing brood and coming only for visits.
She could hear the sound of their voices as she drew closer.
Seated on their beds, next to each other, the two sisters were turning the pages of old photo albums. Their parent’s wedding album, pictures of birthday parties, school gatherings, family holidays, picnics, their own wedding, and so forth. The ‘photo albums’ had stopped at around the time that they were in their mid-twenties, when digital photography had become popular; except for their own weddings, of course which were still recorded in traditionally ornate and thick albums.
Occasionally, one of them would see a picture that triggered a memory and point it out to the other.
“Akka.” Said Nitu.“Remember this birthday party? Amma’d baked you this chocolate cake. And, I’d put my fingers in before you could cut it. See the finger marks…there in the corner! You were spitting mad! ”
Shilpa nodded, smiling. “You demanded a similar one, baked by her two months later, for your own birthday! So, I was waiting for revenge. I was just waiting for that cake to be baked. Amma was so busy that week in the hospital, so she stayed up late the night before… God knows when she was done with the baking. She’d laid her head down on the dining table and dozed off, when I sneaked in, at around 5 in the morning. I realised that if I did what I had planned, she’d be heartbroken.”
“Ohhh…and so you didn’t. That’s why you were Amma’s favourite girl … her first-born, my Akka.” Said Nitu rehashing a pet peeve.
“Shut up. You know how fond she was of you, the Baby of the family… always first choice in everything. What to eat, clothes, where to sit in the car or plane….where to go for a treat…”
“Peace, Akka….I know now that a mother doesn’t have favourites! Choosing between Riya and Anshul would be like choosing between my own two eyes. A mother loves both her kids equally!”
Shilpa nodded. “Nitu, Look at this one.” She said, pointing to a picture. “I was playing the lead in this play… Shivaji Maharaj… with the make-up and beard, tucking in my hair under the turban with pins. I’d made Amma promise to come and help our drama teacher with the make-up.”
“Yes”, said Shilpa, biting her lip in consternation. “She had a complicated patient for delivery… there was some haemorrhage… she reached after the play had just begun.”
Nitu laughed, “Shivaji’s roar on the stage must have been real that day! My gentle Akka, and her temper.” And ducked, as Shilpa threw a pillow at her.
“I was a brat, wasn’t I? Now I see reflections of my own behaviour in my kids ….a fitting punishment for past sins.” Shilpa grimaced.
Nitu said,“Ohhh. I was worse. A Drama Queen! I must’ve been around ten years old. I’d just recovered from fever and used to her constant attention for a week. She was leaving for work, had patients waiting, as usual. Although I was completely recovered, I clung to her sari palloo and then to her leg. Anna, who was home and the maid had to prise me away. When she sat down in the car, I remember that she was wiping away tears. The imp that I was, I actually felt better after making her cry!”
Shilpa was thoughtful, “We saw her as a mother…but she was so much more. You know, at least 50 people have approached me over the past 2 weeks and hugged me or told me what Amma has done for them. As a friend, a neighbour, a doctor…..She’s touched so many lives. ”
“Ohh…what’s this?“ said Shilpa. It was a well-thumbed, yellowed scrapbook wedged between two albums .
Nitu said, “Didn’t know Amma had kept it. It was my ninth grade school project. On ancient civilizations. Many of the other mothers had completely done their children’s project. You know how it is!” Shilpa nodded in understanding. Nitu continued, “Well, Amma refused to, saying that it was a dishonest thing to do. I was so upset, the things I said to her! Amma, you are too busy, your patients are more important than me…and on and on…” She stopped, lost in thought.
“Go on, Nitu.” Shilpa urged.
“So, one night, she came home from work, sat me down and told me that she would help me, but the ideas had to be mine.” Nitu said, smiling in recollection.
Shilpa leafed through the pages, “This is so detailed.”
Nitu nodded. “For a full week, she would come home early. Then we would discuss what I had read and researched. After that, I would work on the project while she sat down next to me. Cutting pictures or just giving her opinion. I won third prize, Shilpa, but my elation was equal to a first prize!”
Shilpa was nodding. “I do the same for my kids, too. No prizes are won, but lots of real learning and time spent with each other.”
They were both quiet for a while, looking at the pictures.
“Ohh Akka, look at my graduation picture. You were pregnant and could not travel abroad, right? Amma’s ‘I am proud of you, my Baby’ was worth more than all the praise in the world to me.” said Nitu.
“Hmmm. Amma rushed back for my delivery. She was such a pillar of support during that time. I joined work when Shiva was six months old and then later again, when Kavya was born….till she was a year old. ” Said Shilpa.
“Almost the same for me, and my kids, Akka.”said Nitu.
“I would return from work, almost in tears, guilty about leaving my baby to go to work. Amma would be standing there. With the baby on her shoulder, rocking gently. Just a sweet empathetic smile….no recriminations. A cup of tea, a hand on my shoulder, that said …I am there for you.” Shilpa was in tears now.
“Yup. That was Amma. Dispensing advice when needed, sometimes just a listener, sometimes a punching bag, at times a friend.” Agreed Shilpa.
“The perks of seniority, she called it. ‘I have appointed an assistant at the hospital to take time off and also been given a promotion at home! Only indulging the children, and leaving the discipline to their parents’”quoted Nitu finally smiling a little. “No wonder Ammama was a favourite of all her grandchildren. “
Shilpa opened her wedding album, wincing a little when she saw herself, heavily made-up and dressed in a heavy Kanjeevaram saree, jasmine flowers in her hair. Although nearly 31 when she had consented to wed, the pressure on her was never from her parents, only from well-meaning aunties. Amma specially, was emphatic that it was Shilpa’s decision, quickly transforming into a fierce tigress protecting her cub from the inevitable acerbic remarks.
“Amma always said, ‘Choose from the heart, not because society demands something. Choose a husband who supports your choices and more importantly lets you make them.’” said Nitu, lovingly moving her fingers over a photo of her mother in the album. Nitu would know. She had deferred parenthood with her husband’s support, till she could get a better foothold in her career. Amma had not questioned her decision even once. Not even when the whispers in the extended family had become shrill talk about her alleged infertility.
Amma had been equally supportive when her girls continued to work after motherhood. “Use that education that you spent so many years getting!” She was fond of saying.
A school play, tuition classes, a sick grandchild, the nanny’s day off and Amma would be the first person that the girls called. Moreover, Amma was always taking care to gently explain to her grandchildren that Mom’s work was just as important as Dad’s and that just because she was not with them all the time, their mother loved them no less.
“You know, six months back, I was travelling for work. My Kavya suddenly called up out of the blue to say that six of her friends were in town and could they come home for dinner. I only had to call Amma. She supervised everything and Kavya’s friends went back singing her praises.” Shilpa smiled.
“Amma always said, be confident and climb to success, girl! I am here to hold that ladder steady for you.” Nitu said. “I find myself repeating so much of what she used to say to us. But I wonder if we will be able to do even half of what she did!”
Just then Shiva, Shilpa’s son walked in.
“Ma, I am hungry. Wonder if we can have sambar-rice, please? Just like Ammama’s…. okay?” He said.
Used to being compared to their mother, the girls looked at each other and shrugged.
Nitu sighed,“A mother’s work is never done! Remember how Amma always saw to it that we were taken care of. And then she rested.”
Near the door-way hidden in the shadows, She smiled to herself. Now a shadow herself, and fading fast, Amma had only come back to see how her girls were faring. Her gentle, diplomatic, but stubborn Shilpa and brash, confident, but emotional Nitya would be fine without her.
A mother’s work was truly never done!
Ujwala Shenoy Karmarkar wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2018. Congratulations!
Image source: shutterstock
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