Aditi looked at the attic in dismay. She was a little nervous about looking deeper into its cavernous belly. The cobwebs that clothed it did not inspire much confidence. Besides, she was terrified of any lizards that she might encounter.
“Akka, did you find them? The two trunks ? Amma made me put them in just before her stroke” said Alamelu who was holding the wobbling ladder on which Aditi was perched.
“Amma can I take a look?” asked Neha
“No Neha, Alamelu lets just forget it…! I am not risking a scorpion or a snake bite just so I can find two steel trunks full of I don’t know what…” grumbled Aditi stepping down from the ladder.
Neha appeared visibly disappointed. All the sense of adventure that her twelve year old mind had conjured up in its mind seemed to have collapsed with this decision of her mother’s. Alamelu looked annoyed. One of the old family retainers, she was used to getting her way with the family. This Aditi akka was as stubborn as Ayya!
Aditi, washed her hands in the old bathroom in the back. It was a wonder that water still flowed through the taps. No one had visited this house after Amma’s stroke two years ago.
Aditi, had rushed in from Delhi and had taken her mother with her once the doctors had given the clearance. Her brother as usual, had only communicated over phone telling her the million reasons about how he could not make it- how Sheila would be upset if he had to cut short their holiday etc. But what else could she expect from him? Why was she even surprised that he had not shown up for the funeral last week?
She wiped her hands on a towel and went out into the backyard. The mango tree with its foliage made the backyard look almost eerie in the twilight. She remembered it as a small sapling that Amma had planted many summers ago.
Amma, her unconventional mother… A lady who was far ahead of her times. With Appa being employed on a ship, Amma had almost single handedly brought up both Aditi and Santosh. A person of interesting contradictions, she played western classical music on her violin after reciting her shlokas in the morning. Though she had only completed schooling till her tenth standard in Tamil, she could read Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters in the original English version. She could still remember Amma in her Chungudi sarees sitting at the carved desk by the window writing in her leather bound notebook. The muted light from the lamp shade on the table cast a beautiful glow around the room and of course around Amma’s face as she wrote.
It was strange but she had no such images of Appa. His was a fleeting presence in her life. He was there for vacations and all that she could remember of those visits were the goodies and the perfumes that he brought with him. There was a lot of laughter and fun while he was there but when he was gone it was as thought things went back to being “normal”-studies, homework, regulated outings – all of which formed the comfort zone that she called her life!
CRAASSSSH !! Aditi started at the sound and ran inside the house. Neha lay on the floor crying noisily. The ladder had collapsed and two steel trunks lay opened on the floor nearby.
“Really.. Neha you idiot! What did you think you were doing? Just imagine if one of those trunks had landed on your head” shouted Aditi picking up her daughter.
“Akka please don’t shout at paapa like this. She is scared” said Alamelu hugging the child.
“Oh please.. both of you.. leave me alone. All I need is a hysterical woman and a naughty child now. Alamelu please take her away from here!” said Aditi beginning to sneeze with the dust that suddenly seemed to have collected around the room.
“Come with me my child… come” said Alamelu taking Neha away from the room.
Aditi looked at the contents strewn on the floor.. yellowed pieces of paper, old black and white photographs that had become unstuck from the album, some music sheets, old first editions of some English novels , pieces of coloured embroidery threads, an old wooden cooking set….! So much of clutter!!! “ Why did Amma collect so much of nonsense” she thought as she started picking them up and arranging them back inside the trunk.
Just as she was putting back the things she found something lying inside the trunk- a thick leather bound notebook. She picked it up and opened a page randomly. What was this? Amma’s journal?
She wiped the dust off the covers and looked at the first page. It seemed to be a story. “ Padmini’s decision” was the name.
Aditi looked at it curiously….the story was written in English. The writing was very fancy- cursive writing that women of her mother’s generation adopted while writing something in “fair”.
It was getting on in the evening. Alamelu was sleeping over for the night. So Aditi decided to do something about dinner soon. There was no chance that the kitchen was functional. She decided to order something from Saravana Bhavan in the next street. They had a take away.
She was really annoyed with Santosh for leaving her alone like this to deal with the house. Her husband Sudhir was too busy to join her and so here she was alone in the house of her childhood with just Neha and Alamelu for company. Without Amma’s presence the house did not seem like a home.. it seemed like what had become – an empty shell of a happy past.
10.00 PM….Neha was asleep and Alamelu was snoring away on the living room sofa. Aditi sat at Amma’s desk with the leather bound notebook opened in front of her. The table lamp cast a similar glow.. but this time was the daughter whose face it illuminated.
“ Padmini’s decision” was an interesting story. Actually, it was more than a story.. not long enough to be a novel but not short as in a short story. It was the story of a girl from an orthodox family who had dreams of higher studies, travelling the world and meeting people. But life had different things in store for her as her parents got her married at eighteen. She had what many of her generation would have termed a good life. A good mother in law who did not interfere in her life and a life that catered to both necessities and luxuries… Yet there seemed to be an unfulfilled yearning somewhere for something unknown.
As Aditi read on .. she began to feel uneasy. Was it her imagination or did it have a parallel in Amma’s own life? Was Amma discontented with her life? If she was, then she had never let on..! Aditi forced her attention back to the story.
“ Why.. why have you come back to me now” asked Padmini of Rajan. Fifty years of marriage and they had not spent more than fifty nights together. Rajan seemed to chase some unknown dream as he travelled the world.. like Sindbad the sailor. His books and poetry had brought him fame but not happiness. It had taken him fifty years to realize that as he stood at the doorstep of his ancestral house waiting for Padmini to admit him inside.
Aditi, looked at the next page and the next .. all blank! What happened next? She went back to the trunks and rummaged inside – no there was nothing ! Amma had obviously left the story unfinished.. for some unknown reason…!
Aditi thought for a moment before she took out her pen and started writing
“ What gives you the right to come back to me in your old age when you left me alone to cope with the stress of life in my youth” asked Padmini
Rajan hung his head in shame. “ I also had dreams . Just as I left them aside when I became a wife, I would have expected you to do the same. But marriage has never been known to bind a man the way it binds a woman” said Padmini bitterly.
“Padmini, let us forget the past and begin life together” pleaded Rajan.
“What life? The one that you have spent enjoying alone or the one that I have forsaken. Go Away. Stranger.. I don’t know who you are” said Padmini as she closed her door shut..
6 months later
Aditi came out of the publisher’s office and got into the car. Sudhir sitting at the driver’s seat raised an eyebrow by way of enquiry.
“They will publish it” she said excitedly..
“But why are you including this along with your other stories. Shouldn’t it go under her name. ”?
“ No Sudhir. It cannot go under her name. It was too close to her life. A life that she had guarded fiercely despite all the discontentment that appears to have surrounded it. And anyway, Aditi is after all a part of Parvathi so what is the difference? Padmini’s decision with Aditi’s conclusion is still Parvathi’s story” said Aditi shutting the door as she settled into the passenger seat.
Sudhir stared at this wife in wonder. This woman would never cease to surprise him. He only hoped that Aditi’s decision had done justice to Parvathi’s creativity!