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As for herself, Sarita had a lot of questions for Mai, but something in her mother’s expression had stopped her from asking her why she was here or how long she planned to be here.
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 “With A Leap Of Faith”, and the story should pass the Bechdel Test, that is, it should have at least two well crafted, named women characters (we differ here slightly from the classic Bechdel test, in that we require these characters to be named),
The first winner of our May 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Rashmi Raj.
“So, how do you like it?”
Sharda looked around the compact one bedroom home, the beautifully landscaped garden she could see a floor below, and a slow, soft smile spread across her face.
“I love it,” she said.
“Great!” said Sarita, her daughter, walking around the small flat, checking out the little, furnished kitchen and the one bathroom in the house. “I see you are almost settled in” she went on, “And you were right, the view of the garden is just amazing! But what I love the most about this flat, Mai, is that it is right here,” she said, “so close to me! Although, I do wish you had stayed with me, or at the very least, taken the other, bigger flat available right next to mine!”
“Oh, but I couldn’t have!” Sharda exclaimed. “What would I do with an extra room? One bedroom is just right for me. And I love the view. It’s so much better than that flyover you get to stare at from your flat.”
Sarita smiled. She was only too aware of the real reason her mother had taken this first-floor flat on rent. Sharda was petrified of lifts! And if she could avoid taking lifts in any way, she would. But Sarita was also glad that her mother had agreed to live in the same building as hers. It would be so much easier for Sarita this way.
“Mai, you do know you will have to take the lift when you come up to visit me,” she said mischievously.
“Who said anything about lifts?” Sharda pretended nonchalance. “In any case, it is easier for you to come and visit me rather than the other way round, seeing as you are busier than I!” she retorted.
Sarita laughed. “Darpok!” she teased.
Sharda pretended not to listen. “How about we have coffee?” she asked instead.
“Coffee?” Sarita was surprised. “I didn’t know you preferred coffee. You only always have tea!”
Sharda smiled. “I always have tea because I only always make tea. Because that is what your Ajji prefers. But me? I like coffee. Shall I make us some?”
“Of course! Please.” Sarita said, following her mother into the kitchen, marvelling how Sharda had given up her love for one particular beverage, just because her mother-in-law preferred another. But then again, their house had always been run by Ajji with her iron fist, especially after Sarita’s father had passed away when she was very young.
As her mother went about heating the milk and water, and taking out the tins of coffee powder and sugar, Sarita got two cups out from the display cupboard.
“There is a lending library close by here,” she said. “You can take books on my card. They have one card for a family. I have also spoken to the TV guy. Your connection should be up in a day or two. That way, it is nice that we could get this furnished flat for you. Milk and newspaper, I have arranged with my vendor. The same guy will deliver…”
“Saru, I can manage.” said Sharda lovingly. “You don’t have to take care of me as if I am a child.”
“I know Mai. It’s just that…”
Sharda smiled. “Come, let’s take the coffee outside,” she said.
“Any calls from home?” Sarita asked, settling down on the sofa in the living room.
Sarita looked at her mother.
“I don’t expect any calls from home, Saru,” Sharda said.
Sarita had no answer to that. She knew her Ajji wouldn’t be the one to make the call asking after Mai’s wellbeing.
“We are such an unconventional family, Mai,” she said.
“Well, your Ajji has always been the one in control of how things are done in the house.”
“Yes, especially after…” Sarita stopped herself from mentioning the death of her father.
“Yes,” Sharda said, understanding the unspoken. “That was when Ajji became even more strict and uncompromising.”
“But she did mellow down after Vahini came in,” Sarita said, mentioning her sister-in-law, to whom her grandmother had taken an instant liking. Not that Sarita was surprised, seeing as she had married a Punjabi boy she had fallen for in college, much against Ajji’s wishes; while her brother had let Ajji choose his bride for him.
“That is really when it all started,” Sharda reminisced. “Initially, things were okay. Of course, your Ajji was too controlling…”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me,” Sarita said with a melancholy smile. “Ajji has always been strict…”
“Yes, but then she changed! Almost overnight. She started to give too much freedom to your Vahini, but continued to be strict with me.”
“Yes, that was surprising, and definitely worrying.” Sarita conceded, thinking of all the times she had wondered how her sister-in-law could get away with most things that Ajji wouldn’t allow Sarita or Mai to get away with.
“And it didn’t stop there,” Sharda went on. And Sarita nodded, remembering how, as the years went by, she had become more and more convinced of – and pained by – the changing dynamics of her family.
“Yes, I could see that the relationships were strained and things were taking a turn for the worse,” Sarita confessed now. Truth was, that she had expected her brother to handle things maturely, but that never happened; and Sarita had observed, much to her alarm that Mai was getting more and more depressed by the day.
“I was just so worried about you, Mai,” she said. “I just wanted to help you any which way I could!”
“And see, here I am!” Sharda said, with a mirthless laugh.
A few nights ago, Mai had arrived on Sarita’s doorstep with just a small overnight bag. If Sarita’s husband and her daughters, had been surprised to see her conservative, soft-spoken mother – who never went anywhere alone – at their dinner table, all by herself, they never said a word. They had carried on as if nothing was out of the ordinary. In fact, Avni and Anvi, Sarita’s twin daughters, had been only too happy to see their grandmother and had chatted with her late into the night.
As for herself, Sarita had a lot of questions for Mai, but something in her mother’s expression had stopped her from asking her why she was here or how long she planned to be here. And then her mother had surprised her by asking her to find her a home on rent!
“I am just glad you are here,” Sarita said now, moving to sit next to her mother. “That you finally decided to take matters in your hands.”
Sharda nodded slowly. “I guess, I had had enough,” she said simply. “Your Ajji’s attitude and behaviour has changed so much over the past few years. She now favours her grand-daughter-in-law over me. She is okay with being served meals by your Vahini that she would’ve earlier frowned at if I had served them to her. She is more lenient with her wearing western clothing than she had ever been with you. She is even less strict, when it comes to deciding how much money is to be spent and on what.
‘But what hurt me really, Saru, is that she doesn’t realise how harsh and unfair she is being to me with this behaviour.” Sharda turned to look at her daughter. “No matter how much she has relaxed the rules for her grand- daughter-in-law,” she said painfully, “she is the same strict self with me, her own daughter-in-law.”
Sarita nodded, realising that it was this lack of sensitivity on her grandmother’s part after a lifetime of lording over her mother, which had been her mother’s undoing.
“Mai, I am really glad that you stood up to Ajji…”
Sarita had, at first, been afraid for her mother. But then she had seen Sharda’s steely determination, and was beginning to hope that things would eventually be okay.
“Saru,” presently Sharda seemed to shake herself mentally, “you don’t worry about the phone call from home. We will think about it if and when it comes. I am just thankful to you for doing this for me,” she said, gesturing around the flat.
“Don’t say that Mai,” Sarita responded. “You know I wouldn’t have it any other way! Although, I would’ve been happier if you had chosen to live with me. But you insisted on a separate flat…”
“Oh, no, no. I couldn’t impose. You and Rahul and the girls are all very sweet. But we cannot all live together. And I am perfectly okay here by myself. Plus, we aren’t all that far. You are just a few floors above me. Don’t you worry about me, Saru, you are doing so much already…”
“Oh stop it, Mai!” Sarita took her mother’s hand. “I am just so proud of you! At your age, how many women would do what you have done?”
Sharda waved her daughter off.
But Sarita was persistent. “No Mai,” she said, “it takes guts to walk out of one’s home at your age. So many women I know, will not do it, because staying put and facing what you faced every day, is far more easier and convenient, than having the will and the courage to walk out and dare to stand on your own. Not to mention facing the society and answering people’s awkward questions. But you, you are an inspiration, Mai!”
Sharda shook her head slowly. “It isn’t like that, Saru,” she said. “You give me too much credit. The truth is, I too am afraid, really. But I have a feeling that I have taken as much as I could. I know my time in that house, is up. I don’t think I deserve to be treated the way I am. I believe, I am ready for a change. I look forward to a new life. And that is why I came here, with a leap of faith, to see what the future holds for me.
‘I have been silent too long. I have been a conformist too long. I have been housebound too long. And I know, that the journey ahead isn’t going to be easy for me. But I believe in my decision, Saru. I trust in the reason why I am doing what I am doing. And I am hoping that that will give me the strength to plough on.”
Sarita’s eyes welled up as she watched her mother speak. Sharda’s face was a mask of determination. She wasn’t afraid, Sarita realised. Instead, she was happy! Sharda had found her strength in the righteousness of her decision. And Sarita was truly proud of her mother.
Rashmi Raj 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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With over 200 published stories, Rashmi is a lawyer-turned-writer, who has always given
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