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Aanya dropped her overnight bag and rushed to hug her mom, breathing in the familiar scent of Nivea cream mixed with her mom’s unique scent. Maya, caught off guard by the sudden hug, sensed something wrong, but didn’t say a word.
It was moving day in the Krishnamoorthy Household.
Three year old Aanya stood mesmerized at the freshly painted doorway of Lakshmi Niwas. Her mom, Maya, climbed up a step ladder and deftly strung a garland of sunny chrysanthemums woven with fragrant jasmine over the doorway. She climbed down and scooped Aanya up. The glee in her daughter’s eyes at all the hullabaloo around her made Maya want to jump up and dance too. Her own house, at last! It had seemed such an unachievable dream when she and her husband had planned for it years ago and now, that dream was finally coming true!
Maya looked down at her daughter, nestled in her arms and whispered “This will always be your home, sweetheart…your shelter from the rest of the World..a place where you will be unconditionally loved…no matter what, you can always find your way back here.”
In response, Aanya giggled and began playing with her mom’s silken tresses. Together, mother and daughter walked up to the front gate and settled down to the task of laying out a large and colourful rangoli in front of the gate.
~~~~9 years later~~~~~
Maya worked quickly in the hot kitchen. It had been a long day at the hospital where she worked as an anesthesiologist. Cooking was her stress-buster. She smiled as she deftly ladled a scoop of the Vada-batter into the hot oil. Vadas were Aanya’s favorite and today, of all days, her twelve year old definitely needed a pick-me-up.
As she finished making the vadas, Maya turned to see Aanya standing glumly at the entrance to the kitchen. In her hand was the familiar, green, laminated school report card. “There you are! Just in time for your favorite snack. Take this plate. Let us go sit outside in the courtyard- it is so breezy outside!” Maya hustled her 12-year old daughter outside.
The large rectangular courtyard in front of the house was bordered by several potted plants- jasmine, roses, herbs and an assortment of vegetables. An avid gardener, Maya had toiled long and hard over four difficult years. In the end, she had been rewarded with a perennially flowering garden that she took great pride in tending to. At one corner of the courtyard, was a huge banyan tree. A large, cream-colored bamboo swing swung from its sturdiest branch.
Mother and daughter were perched on this very swing, munching their way through hot vadas and sipping on piping hot filter coffee. Aanya had still not spoken a single word.
“So, what happened?” Maya probed gently.
“Well…ummmm…they…report cards” Aanya could hardly get the words out between large sobs and big gulps of air.
“They gave out the report cards and…?” Maya prompted
“I got second! Stupid Aditi got first rank!!” Aanya wailed loudly, burying her face in her hands and flinging the report card at her mom.
Maya could hardly keep a straight face, as she glanced through the report card. Aanya had scored above 90% in almost every subject. A mix of pride and amusement surged through Maya.
“Second is not bad, Aanya. Why are you so upset?” Maya asked, after the sobs had subsided.
“I worked so hard to get first rank this time! Even worked on those irritating geometry problems in Maths, which I detest! After all that, just because Kamala ma’am likes Aditi better, she gave her 3 marks extra in English! And now, she’s gotten first rank. It’s just not FAIR!” Aanya yelled the last word out and sighed, having exhausted all her angst.
“How do you know Aditi did not work as hard as you did? Maybe she worked on those stupid geometry problems equally hard too…” Maya shrewdly asked.
Aanya squinted at her mom through swollen, red eyes and said begrudgingly “Maybe she did…”
“Don’t you think it is wrong to call her names then?” Maya asked
“I guess. But, but… I so wanted to get 1strank this time and make you and appa proud!” Aanya protested.
Maya took her daughter’s hand in her own, touched at the little confession. She turned Aanya towards her and looked her square in the eye. “Who said we aren’t proud of you? Everytime Aditi’s mom comes over, I show her all your trophies, don’t I? As long as you work hard and do your best, Appa and I will always be proud of you, sweetheart. Don’t ever let yourself think otherwise. OK?” Maya finished and wrapped her daughter in a bear-hug.
For the first time since she had received the report card, Aanya felt joy. And peace.
~~~~7 years later~~~~
Aanya yawned and got down from the car, leaving her dad to begin his ritual of parking the car ‘the correct way’. She was home for the summer holidays. It had been a tough semester at college. Tougher yet because of the recent devastating developments in her young 19 year old world. Akash and she had been dating for the last year and things had been going great. But just last week, out of the blue, he had decided he wanted to break up. Aanya was distraught and had spent much of the train journey home, mulling and crying over what had gone wrong.
As she walked through the gate of Lakshmi Niwas, she couldn’t help but notice the faded paint of the doorway. The banyan tree in the courtyard had become leaner and the cream bamboo swing had browned with age. Her mom’s potted plants still stood proudly, though a number of pots seemed to have cracks in them. The raccoons seemed to be winning the courtyard wars, she mused.
“There you are! Your train was quite late!” a familiar voice echoed, as Aanya walked through the front door. Aanya dropped her overnight bag and rushed to hug her mom, breathing in the familiar scent of Nivea cream mixed with her mom’s unique scent. Maya, caught off guard by the sudden hug, sensed something wrong, but didn’t say a word.
Finally, Aanya let go and glanced at her mom, smiling for the first time in days. Who needed Akash when she had unconditional love right here at home?
~~~~5 years later~~~~
Aanya stood in the courtyard, empty, shattered, blank.
Eight months ago, Aanya had been enrolled in a Masters’ program at UCLA and had been doing exceptionally well, discovering and shattering new boundaries and living life to the fullest. Maya couldn’t have been prouder of her independent, fiery, free-spirited 24 year old. All that came crashing down when Maya collapsed at work, one fine day.
A panicked phone call brought Aanya home on the first flight back. She still remembered the day of the diagnosis. When the doctor came into the hospital room and asked to speak to her father alone. She had followed her father, unable to bear the wait. “Cancer…advanced….difficult….treatment”, she could only hear a blur of words before her head started spinning and she had to hold onto her father for support. Hours later, when Maya woke up in the hospital bed, she grinned at her family and stated cheerfully “I am going to beat this!”
But even Maya’s indomitable spirit couldn’t defeat the dreaded disease and pretty soon they were counting down the days.
Hope sprung a little when one day, Maya had sat up in bed and hungrily gobbled an entire bowl of rasam rice. After finishing the meal, Maya and Aanya sat talking in bed, about all sorts of random things. Reminiscing, laughing, and crying together. “Take good care of this house, Aanya. This Lakshmi Niwasis not just a house. It is my legacy. For you. So that you’ll always be protected, no matter how far you go in life. You can always make your way back home to rest, rejuvenate and head out again. Remember that.” Maya’s voice was halting and strong at the same time.
The downward spiral had begun shortly thereafter. Maya’s vitals crashed and she became comatose during the night. As midnight drew closer, with her husband, daughter and son around her, Maya Krishnamoorthy breathed her last. Now, as she stood in her mom’s cherished courtyard, Aanya smiled a small, watery smile. “Goodbye amma. I’ll miss you. Keep visiting.” she whispered to the courtyard.
~~~~3 years later~~~~
“I am back”, sighed Aanya. Her father struggled to lift the first of the heavy suitcases out of the car and she rushed to help him. It had been a decade of staying in the USA. More than a decade since she had left Lakshmi Niwas. Now, by a strange twist of fate, life had come around full-circle, bringing her back to where she had started. Back home. At twenty-seven, she was back where she started with no idea where life would take her next. She felt strangely at peace, content to be back home.
As she lugged the first of the heavy suitcases through the courtyard, Kieran, her adopted black beagle mix bounded ahead of her. He sniffed around intensely, found a favorite spot and proceeded to mark this new, strange place as his territory. Aanya burst out laughing. “Did you have to bring this difficulty along also? Couldn’t you have left him back in the USA? Already peeing in the front-yard. He is going to make the whole house a mess!” grumbled her dad.
Aanya turned and smiled at her father. “Remember. This is your home. You can always come back here” Maya’s words echoed in Aanya’s ears. “No, dad! How could I? This is my baby. You wouldn’t leave me behind in a strange country, would you?” she winked at her father
“If I had known you’d do things like this, I may as well…” her father grumbled some more.
Both of them walked through the doorway and stopped short in astonishment. Kieran had stopped in front of the large portrait of Maya that hung in the living room. He gazed up keenly at the portrait. The next moment, he gave a small whine, a little bark and proceeded to settle down for a snooze right beneath Maya’s portrait. “Looks like mom has welcomed him home. Guess he stays!” laughed Aanya and turned to her father, just in time to see him wipe a small tear away.
~~~~9 years later~~~~
Aanya stopped at the doorway of Lakshmi Niwas and took a deep breath.
Once she went inside, a whole new phase of her life would begin. The thought was over-whelming. She took a few more steadying breaths and looked down at the tiny bundle in her arms. “Am I even ready for this? Did I make a mistake?” her mind began whispering again.
Nine years since she had come back home, Aanya’s career had grown in leaps and bounds. She was now Engineering director at her company. Life seemed to flash by in a blur of meetings, friends and vacations.
But peace was always to be found when Aanya came back home to Lakshmi Niwas. To her mom. One day, as she sat on the bamboo swing in the courtyard, immersed in her thoughts, a moment of pure epiphany flashed in front of her eyes. Since that day, it had been a flurry of paperwork, convincing her dad, waiting and hoping, preparing herself before she finally heard back from the adoption agency.
Now, Aanya stood with her new daughter in her arms, at the entrance to her old home. To the place that had always been her solace, her rock, her comfort. As she walked in, her mom’s familiar face gazed down at her from the portrait on the wall.
Maya’s voice echoed in Aanya’s ears, crystal clear. She stood in front of the portrait and whispered those same words to her new daughter “This will always be your home, sweetheart…your shelter from the rest of the world..a place where you will be unconditionally loved…Whatever life has thrown at me, I have always managed to find my way back here. I hope you will too”
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the November 2018 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.
Image source: shutterstock
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