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I’m the oldest student in the class, but age is no bar for learning something new right? And you know I can really give those youngsters a run for their money. I’m very good. Even the instructor says so.
Payal reached the eight floor of the high rise and stood outside the intricately carved wooden door. She admired the nameplate fixed on the wall on the right side of the door. ‘Behram P Irani’, it read. She touched the nameplate lovingly and was about to press the doorbell, when the door opened and out walked a bunch of grumpy teenagers.
“Better finish off that essay before you step inside the house tomorrow.” Came an authoritative voice from inside. One of them shouted, “Yes Shirin aunty!” And the others did not even glance back and rushed towards the lift.
Payal watched the scene before her in amusement. Just then, the septuagenarian lady came to shut the door. She was surprised to see Payal standing there. “Oh! Mari dikri… come come…”
Payal grinned from ear to ear and hugged her, “How are you, Mummy?”
“I’m absolutely alright. See.” She twirled herself like a little girl in front of Payal and said, “All fit and fine!”
Payal laughed at her mother in law’s antics and dragged her suitcase inside the house. After she got comfortable, she took in the ambience of the house. It was exactly the same as it was when she had last visited, about a year ago. Not a thing out of place.
Shirin got her a glass of water and broke her reverie. “I wasn’t expecting you until at least two hours later.” She remarked.
“Yeah, Mummy. The checkout was really quick and the traffic was surprisingly clear.”
“Good. How’s Cyrus? And how are things in Edinburgh?”
“He’s good mummy. We are all doing great. But we are very worried about you.”
“Ah, no need to worry about me. I’m enjoying my life. Go, you freshen up and then we’ll have lunch. I have made your favorite patra nee machi. Chalo, hurry up.”
Payal did as she was told and soon returned to the dining table feeling refreshed. The table was set. Her mother in law always surprised her. She was an extremely agile woman, even at this age. And always impeccably dressed. Crisp cotton sari over the Sudra and Kusti, and her silver hair in a tight bun.
They both relished their lunch and talked about the one common thing that connected them. Cyrus. Shirin’s only son and Payal’s husband.
Suddenly, Shirin stood up from the table and said, “How dare you talk to me like that?” Her features were morphed in anger and Payal literally felt shivers run down her spine. What happened all of a sudden? She thought. They were talking or rather bitching about Cyrus, laughing together, and now this?
“Mum… Mummy, what happened?” Payal finally managed to say.
Shirin maintained the angry face for a few seconds before she burst out laughing.
“Oh Dada Hormuzd! I really need to practice more.” She exclaimed.
Payal was totally puzzled. “Mummy, what are you talking about?”
Shirin took one look at the time and gasped. “We’ll talk in the evening. Its 3.30 already. I need to reach my drama class. Will see you later, Payal. You take rest.”
“What drama class?” Payal stood to go after her, but the old lady had banged the front door shut and was already in the lift before Payal could ask anything more.
“Drama class, seriously?” She said to herself.
Shrugging, she went back to her room and decided to take a short nap. In spite of the jetlag, sleep eluded her. She decided to watch TV instead. But she couldn’t concentrate on that either. She thought about the last one year. How tumultuous it was. The sudden passing away of her father in law was a shock to all of them, but more so, for her mother in law. She stayed with them in Edinburgh for six months after that but she missed her own house. So they had decided to let her stay here and be happy.
The initial few months were difficult for all of them. Cyrus and Payal were concerned about her. She was living in the very place where she had spent the maximum time with her husband. No one knew how she would cope with it. And their daily video chats hinted nothing. They just spoke for the sake of it with neither revealing what they were actually going through. But since the last two months, Shirin had been exceptionally jovial, not that she wasn’t before, but it was such a drastic contrast from the earlier months that both Cyrus and she thought that something was wrong. So she decided to visit and kill two birds with one arrow. An upcoming company project and to ensure the mental wellbeing of her mother in law.
Payal got so lost in her thoughts and coupled with the background noise from the television, she did not realize when she fell asleep. She woke up to find a blanket draped on her, but she was so tired that she simply dozed off again.
The next morning, a strong smell of coffee woke her up.
“Good morning Payal.” Shirin greeted. “I’ve made coffee for you. Come eat something. You’ve skipped dinner too.”
“Morning mummy. Yes, I’ll be back in a jiffy.”
After they were done with breakfast, Payal said, “Mummy, you said something about a drama class yesterday? What was all that about?”
Shirin laughed heartily at that. “Oh yes dikri. I have joined these drama classes to polish my acting skills. It’s close by. I walk and go there. It keeps me fit too. I’m the oldest student in the class, but age is no bar for learning something new right? And you know I can really give those youngsters a run for their money. I’m very good. Even the instructor says so. I’m good in my prose and voice modulation. I need to work on different expressions and the only thing that I’m not able to get right is the angry expression!” She said in a single breath.
“Wait a minute, mummy. Breathe.” Payal iterated. After a few moments, she continued, “Who said you cannot do it right? I had shivers down my spine when you pulled that one on me yesterday!”
“Oh… sorry about that…” Shirin said, looking sheepish.
“Why suddenly this drama thing, Mummy?”
“Oh, you know, I have always been very good in acting and all. Back in my days I used to do very well in dramatics in school and college. Then I got married. And I got busy with Behram and after two stillbirths, I finally had Cyrus when I was almost forty years old. I gave him everything with all of my being and my dream,” she shrugged, “well, it remained a dream.”
She continued, “After Behram passed away, I was so lost and disillusioned that I had absolutely no idea what to do. Then you both took me with you, but trust me I was miserable. I came back here and decided that enough is enough. I need to live my life. And I started first by shifting my room. Our bedroom was so full of his memories that I simply couldn’t think clear if I stayed in that room. Then when I was cleaning my stuff, I came across this book that had some handwritten scripts of plays that I was a part of back in college. That’s how my dream got rekindled.”
“Mummy, didn’t Pappa know about your acting skills?”
“He did. In fact he encouraged me to pursue it. But I wanted him and Cyrus to live their dreams. And I made sure that there were no hindrances in their paths whatsoever.”
“Oh mummy, I’m so proud of you. You know we thought that you’ve lost your mind!”
Shirin brushed that off by saying, “Oh those were all my acting skills.”
Payal gawped at her mother in law. She beamed seconds later and said, “I’m really happy for you mummy. Let’s see where your dreams take you.”
“I don’t know where my dreams will take me, Payal. But I feel good now. I have a goal to achieve. I look forward to each session and try to give my best. It keeps me occupied. I don’t get time to think about the past, about what I’ve lost. That’s the beauty of having an aim in life. It takes you forward, tests your limits and makes you excel at whatever you are doing in a bid to achieve that aim.”
They were both lost in their thoughts when Shirin cleared her throat. Payal looked at her and saw her waggling her brows. “You know, I might bag a role in some play really soon.” She said.
“That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? It would be so exciting to see you on the theatre stage!” Payal exclaimed. And as an afterthought, she asked, “Mummy, what were those teenagers doing here when I came yesterday?”
“Oh those rascals! They will come now in some time. I give them English tuitions. Teach them proper words. Not the slang which you millennials use these days. They end up writing that way in their exams too! Imagine that!” Shirin chortled.
“Mummy, since we are talking about our dreams, I have something to tell you.” Payal said grimly.
“Yes, dear, please tell me. I won’t judge you, promise.”
“Mummy, you did not turn out to be my dream mother in law.” Payal said in the same grim tone. And then she burst out laughing.
In between bouts of laughter she said, “When I first saw you, I thought that you were a harridan. And add to that all the crap that was fed to me by my relatives and friends regarding mother in laws in general, I was very scared. I would get nightmares about my evil mother in law.”
Payal sobered and continued, “You’ve proved everyone wrong. You are the most loving and caring person that I’ve ever met.”
“Chalo, don’t make me cry now.” Shirin said. “Let’s get working before those rascals ring the bell.”
Payal chuckled and heaved a sigh. She dialed her husband to fill him in about his mother’s escapades!
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the October 2018 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.
Image source: a still from the movie Kapoor & Sons
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