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Now Jaya had only one unfinished business-- to find a suitable boy for her daughter and arrange her wedding. Then she would be free from her responsibilities.
Now Jaya had only one unfinished business– to find a suitable boy for her daughter and arrange her wedding. Then she would be free from her responsibilities.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Swagata Tarafdar is one of the winners for the September 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Manjul Bajaj commented, “I liked how this was written though the grammar needs a bit of attention in places. I would leave out the very last sentence. It is not needed. Allow the reader space to arrive at their own conclusion.”
“Love is love
Everything else is something else.” — Scott Stabile
Jaya looked from the open kitchen door towards the adjoining living room, while stirring the vegetables in the pan. Teesta was sitting cross-legged on the living room sofa, her eyes trained on the television screen. Head slightly tilted, the spectacles perched on her nose, she was chuckling silently sometimes. She was probably watching a comedy movie, Jaya thought.
Watching movies was Teesta’s only source of entertainment during Sunday evenings. In her tumbleweed hairdo, loose fitting t-shirt and pajama, she was looking more like a truant schoolboy than a grown-up woman.
Sighing silently, Jaya poured a little water into the pan and placed a lid on it’s top. Those sparkling pair of eyes behind the specs reminded Jaya of Tarun, her husband. Teesta had inherited her father’s brilliance. How unpredictable life was! Jaya wanted to spend her entire life with Tarun, yet destiny had other plans for her. The vegetable curry had started to simmer.
“Maa! Listen!” Teesta’s yell broke her reverie. “I have invited a few of my friends next Sunday to celebrate my new job. Is that okay with you? You don’t need to bother about the food. I’ll order something online,” she informed her.
“Okay, dear. No problem.” Jaya turned off the gas burner. Dinner was ready.
When Jaya looked down, the magnificent spectacle took her breath. It was the confluence of the two mountain rivers– Rangeet and Teesta. Nestled among the mountains was this hamlet Tinchuley, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city life. There were verdure pine forests all around.
“Beautiful! Isn’t it?” Tarun’s voice jolted her out of her reverie.
“Yes. It’s simply breathtaking,” a beaming Jaya replied.
It was their honeymoon trip to the mountain town Darjeeling. They stopped on their way back to Kalimpong at this Lovers Meet View Point to witness the surreal view.
“Lets make this trip memorable. I have decided to name our daughter Teesta, if we ever become fortunate enough to have one,” he suggested.
“But what if we have a son? What will be his name?” she asked in a teasing tone.
“Hmm… well, we can name him Rangeet,” he guffawed.
All those seemed to be the memories from a previous life now. Jaya wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. The coloured photographs of Tinchuley on the open pages of the magazine ‘Manabi‘ made her travel vicariously to the place. She was a regular reader of the women’s magazine. Its latest issue covered Tinchuley in the travel section. She absent-mindedly turned the page over. The next couple of pages covered the Lets Talk section where a panel of expert counsellers answered readers’ mental health queries. She tried to focus on reading the questions and answers and forget Tinchuley.
“I was in a relationship with a boy in college for more than two years. One day, he left me saying he never loved me and always wanted to end things to focus on his career. I am shattered. I tried to move on, but I never did. Please advise me. –Anonymous”
Jaya rolled her eyes. These young girls! The only problem they ever faced in their lives is break-up with a guy. Irritated, she shut the magazine. They would never know how difficult life could get sometimes.
Tarun had died in a car accident when Jaya was seven months pregnant, leaving her all alone to fend for herself and her unborn baby. It was a long, arduous battle of raising a daughter single-handedly while managing to secure a livelihood.
Teesta was a brilliant student. True to her name, she was bubbling and effervescent like a mountain stream. After obtaining her engineering degree, she landed a lucrative job at a tech firm. Now Jaya had only one unfinished business– to find a suitable boy for her daughter and arrange her wedding. Then she would be free from her responsibilities.
It was a sultry Sunday night. Teesta’s party was almost over. The guests had started to leave one after another. Jaya looked at the mess at the dining room, took a deep breath and tucked the pallu of her saree in her waist. She needed to clear the left-overs from the plates and place the plates in the kitchen sink.
“Can I help you, mashima?”
Jaya glanced up. It was Imran, Teesta’s friend from college. The boy looked quite handsome in his bristly moustache and straggly beard.
“So nice of you beta, but I…”
“Please mashima. Let me help you.”
The boy was surely trying to be helpful, but was there any specific reason? Her brows furrowed in anxiety. She had often noticed him glancing with admiration at Teesta. She was liberal enough to not bother about her daughter inviting her friend belonging to a different faith at home, but surely Teesta and Imran couldn’t be a couple. That would be… well, that would be simply impossible.
Teesta was humming a happy tune while getting ready when her mother stormed into her room.
“Where are you going you?” her mother accosted her.
“Maa, I’m going to Imran’s place. I told you yesterday about today’s party. Today is his sister’s birthday,” she answered calmly.
“Are all of your friends invited?”
“No, Maa. All of Shabnam’s friends are invited and only I am invited among Imran’s friends.”
“Why only you? Tell me.” Jaya started to lose her temper. This couldn’t be happening. Her daughter couldn’t let her down in this way. She would try to prevent the disaster with all her might.
“Maa, you know how much I love to eat biriyani. And Shabnam makes delectable biriyani. That’s why she has personally invited me to her birthday party.”
“What are you trying to hide Teesta? Do you… err, do you love Imran?” she asked hesitatingly.
“What? No!” Teesta waved a deprecating hand. “Bye for now, Maa. And stop overthinking.” She left the room in a huff.
It was Sunday. Teesta was watching a movie sitting cross-legged on the living-room sofa. Jaya finished cooking dinner and entered the living room. She tiptoed to the sofa and sat silently beside her daughter.
“Teesta, I have something important to discuss with you.”
“What? Tell me,” she replied, her eyes still glued to the television screen.
“Dear, you have finished your education. You have got a job too. Now it’s high time to settle down.”
“Settle down… what do you mean, Maa? Am I not settled?” Teesta was baffled.
“No, you are not. It’s high time I should start looking for a suitable groom for you.”
“No, Maa! Please! No!” she sounded horrified.
“Why? Do you have anyone in mind? If you have anyone in mind, don’t hesitate to tell me. I don’t have any problem if he is suitable for you.”
Teesta switched off the television.
“I have someone in mind. But I’m afraid if it will be a suitable match according to you.”
A shiver ran down Jaya’s spine. Was her worst fear going to be true?
“Is it… Imran?” she trailed off.
“No, Maa. It’s not him.”
Jaya sighed in relief. “Who is he? Please tell me. You can bring him home someday. I want to meet him,” she sounded eager.
“Maa, it’s not a guy. It’s a girl I love. I’m in a committed relationship with Shabnam, Imran’s sister,” Teesta answered calmly.
“What? What are you saying? Have you gone crazy? She is just your friend… isn’t it?” Jaya shrieked in disbelief.
“No. She is more than a friend to me. I never felt attracted towards men. But I never had the courage to confess this to you. Now that you want to get me married, I think it’s important for you to know my truth. I don’t like men, I like women.”
Jaya was shellshocked. She sat motionless on the sofa for hours. If Teesta and Imran being a couple was impossible, Teesta and Shabnam being a couple was simply preposterous.
It was a bright, sunny day. The morning air was crisp. Jaya was sipping her morning tea sitting on the balcony. The Gulmohar tree across the road was in full bloom, it’s chartreuse branches with fiery red flowers a stark contrast against the pale blue sky. The breeze bullied the reeds forcing them to swish and sway to it’s vagaries, forwards and backwards, this way and that. Everything was as it had been yesterday and the day before. The cuckoo bird continued it’s ‘coo-coo-once-is-not-enough-here’s-another’, coo-coo call, pleased with its own poetics, its rhythm unfaltering. So much had transpired, yet nothing had changed. Jaya felt as if her world had turned upside down. Whenever she thought of Teesta’s confession, her eyes turned moist. She was suddenly overwhelmed with sadness. If only Tarun were alive, things could have been different. He could have counselled her, comforted her. All these years, Jaya tried hard to be a good mother, but now it seemed that she was an utter failure. Where did she go wrong?
The morning ritual of having tea sitting on the balcony was over. Jaya got up, the empty cup on her hand. Suddenly her eyes fell on the stack of magazines on the glass-top table in the living-room. Yes, the counsellers of the Lets Talk column of Manabi could help her. Hurriedly, she put the cup in the kitchen sink and washed her hand. Then she opened her mailbox and started to compose a mail.
“The major issue I face is about my daughter’s sexuality. She is a lesbian and feels no emotional attachment with any male. I feel very depressed sometimes. I just want her to marry a man and live a normal life like everyone else. Please help me. –55-year-old single mother.”
Jaya opened the latest issue of Manabi with trembling hands. She glanced through the contents quickly and took a mental note of the page number of the Lets Talk section. She quicked flipped over the pages. Yes, her letter was there on the top of all others. She was too excited, her heart beating wildly, like a teenage girl secretly reading her lover’s letter. She started to read the reply:
“Your daughter is very brave. Coming out to one’s family requires a lot of courage because we live in a heteronormative world. If we are not able to step into who we truly are and remain closeted, we may feel deep sadness. I encourage you to seek support groups for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their family members. Your daughter is absolutely normal and she is not alone. You have two choices — either you want your daughter to marry or you want her to be happy. You can only get one.”
Jaya decided to visit a psychologist for further clarity. It was about her daughter’s future and she didn’t want to take any wrong decision.
It was Sunday. Teesta was sitting on the edge of the sofa, fumbling with her mobile. She placed the dinner order online. She was feeling knots in her stomach. She didn’t know why her mother didn’t cook and instead asked her to order dinner online. Apparently, her mother had important discussions with her, so she didn’t waste time cooking dinner.
“Order placed. Now tell me what you want to discuss now,” she said nervously.
“I have some questions. If you want to spend your life with a woman and not with a man, what will do about children?”
Teesta was elated. It was a good question.
“Maa, I can always adopt a baby. There’s no problem in that.”
“What about security? What if you want to go to a hospital at three in the morning?”
Another thoughtful question.
“My partner will be with me in any crisis situation. Besides, we have safer cabs now.”
Jaya fell silent for a few moments.
“Invite Shabnam for dinner next Sunday at our home. I want to meet her. Tell her I can also cook delectable Biriyani,” she said finally.
Teesta was beaming with pride. She knew her mother could never be wrong. Never.
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been sent by Manjul Bajaj, the author of Come, Before Evening Falls (shortlisted for the Hindu Literary Prize in 2010) and Another Man’s Wife (shortlisted for the Hindu Literary Prize in 2013) and In Search of Heer (listed for the JCB and other prizes in 2020). She has also written two books for children—Elbie’s Quest and Nargisa’s Adventures.
The cue is from her book In Search of Heer.
“The breeze bullied the reeds forcing them to swish and sway to its vagaries, forwards and backwards, this way and that. Everything was as it had been yesterday and the day before. The cuckoo bird continued its ‘coo-coo-once-is-not-enough-here’s-another’, coo-coo call, pleased with its own poetics, its rhythm unfaltering. So much had transpired, yet nothing had changed.“
Image source: Tanishq Mother’s Day ad/YouTube
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An engineer by education, I am a civil servant by profession. A doting mother. An avid reader. I try my hand at writing as and when ideas tussle inside my head. read more...
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