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For most of her life, Geeta had put the unceasing demands of the family first. At 60, when she finally gets to go on a trip with her friends…life is beautiful.
Geeta was a little girl again on her first trip without her family, at 60. Her silver-greys, wrinkly careworn fingers and bent back spoke of a hard life in a middle class home. She wore her sari drape demurely, with steel pins keeping the pallu in place – because her husband never liked it otherwise.
The trip wouldn’t have been possible without her friends Rekha and Jaya who had coaxed her to join…chalo saath mein..maza ayega.. and travelling with her bubbly friends had made her feel young again. As the train sped on, she let loose her sari pallu and stood at the door inhaling the wood fired air emanating from villages nearby; the green paddy fields, coconut groves, temple ponds filled with lotus blooms played upon her mind’s eye…it was homecoming for Geeta at last.
The women were part of a senior citizens satsang group and the prospect of sightseeing had put back the twinkle into their aging eyes. It was Geeta’s first trip and she had packed her best gold bordered mundu neriyathu, a few leggings and kurtis, a pair of brand new sneakers and a nice bag from the local brand stores.
She felt guilty having blown half her monthly pension, not being accustomed to spending but the good stuff had surely lifted her mood. She was careful to pack her Aadhar, Pan card and tickets, not forgetting an umbrella and shawl as it was unusually cold this time of the year.
Initially, she was afraid that her husband Krishnan Nair would tag along as he couldn’t do without her and never let her anywhere alone. Krishnan was a staid man set in his ways, quite unfriendly too and that had restricted her movements in their early years of marriage. He was quite irritable, being someone who found fault with nearly everything in life – the extra sugar in coffee or spice in curry, the temperature of the bathwater, a missed bus, crowds or traffic on the street or a cloudy day were enough to rattle or make him grumpy for the day and it was only the arrival of kids that made life tolerable for Geeta. Married women have very little resources to stay happy so as the years passed, her friends and work sustained her.
As the children grew up, like most women Geeta was occupied with cooking, chores and running a household; later, their marriages and raising grand children took up her life. Good! You must stay occupied and make yourself useful to the family – people told her, but wasn’t it that she always did since growing up? Geeta was glad to be of use, but she longed to have a respite from a routine which had become weary with habit; so it was that her temple visits and satsang group became her window to the world.
The pilgrimage to Rameshwaram was something she had kept hidden from the family or else they wouldn’t let her go. At one point of time she was afraid when Advait her older son had argued, “Why do you want to travel alone with senior citizens and how do think you’ll manage, times are hard these days.” She had half a mind to tell him that she had held a job for 30 years and life with a difficult man in a joint family had given her enough lessons but held her tongue, lest it ruin things.
“Nikki won’t be able to manage with the kids and I can’t take leave with the new Managing Director joining…”, Advait snapped, irritated by his mother’s new found adventure. Nikki, his wife, looked sullen, as the thought of running a home appeared daunting for someone not very inclined to do it. “Papa won’t be able to manage without you and what about patti (grandma)….” that was Advait holding the final threat. Later, Navin, her younger son tried to reason over a video call from the US telling her to call off the trip and not create problems for the family.
Strange, when it was Geeta who had encouraged Navin to pursue his dream of migrating to the US in the face of family resistance, but ironical that women are required to live under the shadow of their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.
Geeta had seen the problem coming and said, “I’ve fixed a cook and instructed the maid for additional work, so there won’t be a problem. After all it’s only a matter of 7 days”, she said soothingly, not wanting further argument. It annoyed her to have to listen to the children now when nobody had thought of her problems earlier.
The vacation did wonders to the women in the group who chatted animatedly, laughing noisily like little kids on a picnic. Geeta slurped her davara filter coffee, relished the last bit of her favorite masala dosa at Sharda Tiffin Home – her favourite place since childhood. It reminded her of old times when she came there often with her father and siblings.
It was a quaint old place with hard benches and long tables laid in community style dining that had a nice feel while sharing meals with happy faces around. It was a long time since Geeta had sat down for a ready breakfast without having to worry about cooking lunch or having to mind the milk left to boil or count the whistles of the pressure cooker or remember the clothes in the washing machine.
She strolled aimlessly through the temple town in a kurti and leggings that kept her free of sari hassles, with her hair combed loose and the new sneakers keeping her feet warm. In the evening she watched the shiveli and deeparadhana in the temple, the procession of caparisoned elephants to the rhythmic beats of panchavadyam that transported her to another time… when she came there with her father and siblings. Geeta sat through the dance and music performance at the temple complex that she loved, all through the night with stars keeping her company.
Free of chores, not having to answer the doorbell or having to wait upon anyone, she overslept for the first time after marriage. She licked her ice creams, relished her payasams, ate her favorite snacks and drank coffee whenever she felt like it, something she couldn’t have done otherwise as Shankar was a man of fastidious food habits.
At Rameshwaram, as she took a dip in the blue ocean waters, her hands up in thanks for a life lived well, if not entirely on her terms, she felt a strange sense of peace as if liberated from all her baggage.
Never had she felt closer to God as she walked on the white sand, the returning waves playing over her feet…the red orb of the sun sank into the expanse of cool blue waters leaving the sky painted in the most vibrant hues, holding out a promise of another day.
Top image from the movie Lipstick Under My Burkha
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