STRANGER (Part 4)

Anusha adjusted her seat belt as she waited for the plane to take off!   It was nearly two weeks since that fateful morning when Amma had “flown” out of her life!! She could not help wondering about what she might have done when she was onboard. Had she spoken to her co passengers? Did she have a window seat or an aisle seat?

It was probably during the time they were serving breakfast that the fuel tank trouble had been diagnosed. Had they announced it ? Had the crew tried to calm people?

But most importantly, what had been Amma’s thoughts? Had she thought of her dear Anu? What about Appa or her younger sister? Did they figure in her last thoughts? Or … had it been Amin?

Amin…..!! The mystery man from her mother’s past…!

Anusha had called Saleha Aunty late last night and asked about him.

All  she had said was “So you know!” and Anusha’s response had been “Does he know?”

“Yes” said Saleha.

She had let the question about why had not contacted her with at least a condolence message hang unasked in the air.

Perceiving the question Saleha said “ Anu, he had wanted to call or email you with a condolence message but given the way, Amby had broken links with her past I advised him not to. But now that you know…” she said trailing off.

His email had come this morning. He had introduced himself as one of her mother’s “close friends” from college. He had written about how shocked he was to hear that she was no more. But as he explained to her, he had come to terms with her absence in his life nearly thirty years ago. He was living in Canada now. He had been married but was now divorced. He had a teenaged son who lived with his wife and visited him during vacations. He had enquired about what she was doing and ended the mail with an invitation to visit him if she ever came to Vancouver. He had signed off as “ Uncle Amin”!

She had wanted to respond to his mail but was unable to compose anything coherent! There were so many questions that only he could answer! She had wanted to know if he had bought her the bead chain and the glass bangles she had found inside her mother’s “memory” box. What were the stories behind the peacock feather and the withered flowers? Why were they so special to find a place there?

How many years had it taken for him to forget her mother and marry another woman? Did Ambika still find a place in his heart or was she just a distant memory in a far away land?

But she knew she could not ask him any of those questions because they were just too personal!! He was also probably very badly hurt with the broken relationship- twice unfortunately in his case!!!

She tried to imagine his life living all alone without his wife or child. She wondered why he had divorced? Was he unable to love another woman as much as his first love or was it something else? Well, if it was the former then it was unfair to his wife… After all, hadn’t her mother given her all to her marriage and ensured that it worked? She had never once complained about her husband or her mother in law to Anusha!! Instead, Anusha  had always been scolded whenever her mother felt she was disrespectful towards them or was disobeying them. But she also remembered how her mother supported her silently on important matters. The time when Appa had been against her taking up a course in communication. He had wanted her to pursue law like him and keep the family practice going. But Amma had been firm about letting her follow her own dreams.

“But what about this practice? This law firm” her father had asked angrily!!

“That is not her problem. We cannot impose our expectations on her” her mother had said quietly.

Her father had grumbled and sulked but finally allowed her to join the course.

Anusha smiled when he thought of her father. He  was like a child!

She thought of him now, all alone in that huge house at Luz. She had asked him to come with her to Mumbai for sometime as the change might do him good. But he had refused saying that the cases were piling up and he could not afford to leave them to his juniors.

Her father’s cousin had recommended a housekeeper cum cook. An elderly lady who was distantly related to Appa.  Anusha just hoped that this lady would be able to manage things the way her father wanted. Though not  yet sixty, he was set in his ways and quite inflexible. She wondered how a sixty plus lady would react to someone nearly ten years younger ordering her around….

“ He will have to learn to adjust. He cannot expect another Ambika” she thought with a sigh!

The landing announcement was being made. Anusha checked her seat belt and  opened her window shutter. The flight was circling over the Arabian sea.  Her eyes filled with tears as she saw the wide blue expanse below. This was where her mother was resting…!

She foolishly searched the water to see if she could find her mother. But what  she saw were many different people !  There was Ambika Sivaraman, the bright and intelligent older daughter of the  late Dr. Sivaraman , there was the beautiful girl who was Amin’s beloved, then there was Mrs Ambika Venkateshwaran, dutiful wife and daughter in law. Which one of them was her mother?

All of them, yet none of them!

She had had  her mother’s complete love all for her herself – every moment of her twenty eight years on this planet. She had experienced her mother in a way that no one else had. That love was special and she carried it close in her heart. She just knew that she was the person who mattered most to her mother among all those she knew in the world that she had recently left.

She could almost feel Amma next to her. She was running her hand over head and whispering into her ears “ Stop crying now you silly girl”.

Anusha looked for a tissue in her bag. The flight had landed and people were scrambling to collect their baggage from the overhead lockers.

She switched on her phone and as the signal came on called Appa to tell him she had landed. She knew he would be worried. It was just that he  had no idea of how express to  his feelings!

She walked down the aisle and into the terminal outside. Life had taken over….!!!

(concluded)

STRANGER Part 3

Anusha looked up at the clock outside the bank’s safe hold! The person before her was taking her own sweet time inside!!! She tapped her feet in impatience. This visit to the bank was rather sudden. Her mother’s boss, the branch manager of the bank where she had worked had called her in the morning saying that her mother  possessed a locker there and had named her as the nominee. He wanted her to come and complete the formalities around the transfer of the locker.

She was rather surprised to hear about this. She did not know her mother  had a locker in the branch where she worked. The only locker that she knew of was the one she and her mother operated jointly.

Well, obviously she had rented it during the time when it was difficult to get possession of one. Her ever practical mother must have thought that when her daughter grew up she might need an additional strong hold.

She could hear some movement inside as the lady who had gone in came out with a bulging plastic bag. Hah!! Must have cleaned out her locker! She must tell Malli Chitti about this. Both of them shared a private joke among themselves about how women wearing a lot of jewellery looked like elephants decked up for a temple festival!!

She  presented her key, signed her name and made her way inside, all the while thanking God for her aunt- atleast she still had her..!! Well, she now had three more aunts which was another blessing she thought to herself with a smile. Though she had felt very bereft when they left yesterday, the fact that they were just a phone call away  gave her a lot of comfort ..!!

“ I must  stay in touch with them” she thought to herself fitting her key into the locker.  It took a bit of effort to open it. She peered inside to examine the contents.

Surprisingly, there was nothing much- just a sandalwood box! She pulled it out slowly. It was a beautiful box with delicate carving. She felt around the locker and found a key-must be for the box..! She put them both into her hand bag and swiftly closed the locker shut. She was not going to keep others waiting outside for her.

She made her way home wondering what was inside.. Hopefully nothing too valuable. She did not want anyone to snatch her bag she thought clutching it close. Maybe she should have opened it inside the locker room… but then she always felt uneasy inside a bank strong hold. She quickened her pace and walked the ten minute distance home in five minutes!!

“ Where have you been? I have brought you lunch” said Malli chitti standing outside in the verandah.

“What about Appa?” asked Anusha.

“ I have fed Athimber. He is resting.   Please come in and eat. It is nearly two o clock” scolded her aunt

“Chitti, I have brought something from Amma’s locker in  the bank” said Anusha as she sat down at the table.

“Which bank” asked Mallika

“The one where she worked” said Anusha

“Ambu had a locker there ”? asked Mallika looking surprised.

“Apparently” said Anusha tucking in.

They were both itching to discuss this but something prevented them from doing it at the dining table. They decided to wait until Anusha had finished lunch.

“Chitti look here it is” said Anusha wiping her hands on a towel before taking out the box from her hand bag.

Her aunt closed the door behind her before sitting down on the bed with the box.

“ Look  here’s the key” said Anusha taking it out.

“Anu you open it! “ said her aunt.

So she fitted the key inside the opening and turned it feeling for a moment like Alice in wonderland.

The contents were unfortunately nothing that could be termed as exciting. There was an envelope, a peacock feather, a few glass bangles, some dried flowers, a bead chain and a ring made of shell.

Anusha looked at them puzzled. She opened the envelope and took out the contents. There were two photographs. One was that of a young woman with her hair loose, wearing a hat and trousers with a closely fitted top. She was balanced on a ledge and smiling into the camera.

The years that had gone by could not mask the fact that this was her mother –Ambika Venkateshwaran or Ambika Sivaraman as she was called those days! Behind it was written in an unfamiliar hand “ She walks in beauty”.

Anusha stared at the picture in disbelief? Was this indeed her mother? Her mother who never wore anything but a sari was here in trousers!!! She looked very happy- her eyes smiled more than her lips did! Again, something strange because her mother rarely smiled in photographs!

She handed the photograph to her aunt as she took out the second one. Her eyes seemed to freeze when she looked at the Polaroid shot. Her mother  was wearing a flowing skirt and a bright top with mirrorwork. On her head was the same hat ! But she was not alone in this snap. Standing next to her was a thin young man with longish hair and over grown side burns. He had his arms around her and there was the Taj Mahal in the background. Both of them looked immensely happy. As she turned the photograph around she found two sets of writing. One was clearly her mother’s sloping cursive hand which had signed “Ambika Amin Merchant” and the other was the same hand that had inscribed Shelly behind the other photograph. The name signed was “Amin Ambika Sivaraman “

“Who is this Amin?” she asked her aunt in a whisper.

“Saleha’s cousin” she said quietly.

“What?” asked Anusha trying to fight the multitude of feelings that seemed to be taking hold of her.

“Ambu and Amin were classmates. They loved each other immensely” said her aunt with tears glistening in her eyes.

“Then”? asked Anusha

“Well, Appa got wind of it, confronted her one day and she confessed. Amin came home the next day to formally ask for her hand in marriage but Appa threw him out of the house. You see, the daughter of Dr. Sivarama Iyer could not marry a Muslim” said Mallika in a dry voice.

“But couldn’t you have done anything?” she asked her aunt

“ Anu, you should remember that I am six years younger than your mother! I don’t know the details about this as our parents kept me away from it. May be they did not want me to know for fear that I would talk about it to others. All I knew was that Ambu was put under house arrest and sent off to Thanjavur the moment her last exam got over. Soon, they found a  Tamil Brahmin boy for her, a highly qualified  lawyer who came from a great pedigree and got her married to him” said Mallika bitterly!

“But she had an international scholarship didn’t she? And if I remember what Saleha Aunty said so did he. Why did they not run away and get married”? asked Anusha.

“Sweetheart, those were different times..! Girls had very little freedom. They had to toe the line. Besides, I now think it was also because she was concerned about how her actions might affect me. Appa may not allow me any freedom, might get me married as soon as I completed college” said her aunt tears rolling down her cheeks.

Her heart went out to her mother! At twenty one, she had been made to give up her dreams and marry someone she could not relate to! She recalled how as a teenager when she had once shared her dream of travelling the world her mother had just said “Lets see. There are still many years to go” She had felt very angry and  said “Oh, what do you know about dreams! You are just a clerk in a bank working from ten to five like a machine for a few thousand rupees!” She remembered the hurt look in her mother’s eyes and felt like a cad for her behavior. She had not recognized what her mother had – a strength of character and a strong sense of duty!

She admired this woman who had quietly taken on whatever was her fate and destiny without a complaint – Whether it was managing her  husband’s home, listening to her mother in law’s complaints and later attending to her as she became bedridden.

She looked again at the girl who “walked in beauty” and compared her to the thin woman with large eyes and worry lines creasing her brow! She had always appeared older than her age. It was difficult to believe that she had only been fifty when she had died!

A lot of things now fell into place.. Why she never spoke about her childhood, why there were no photographs other than her marriage album and Anusha’s childhood snaps at home. Not only had she left behind her past life and everything that was part of it, she had also tried to erase her presence as a person in this house. And they – her grandmother, father and she herself had also treated her like that –a piece of furniture that served a purpose!

“ Is this what is called breaking a person’s spirit” asked Anusha

“No Anu, Ambu was not entirely broken. She rebelled in her own way. You often asked me why she had that clerical job in a bank when she could stay at home and enjoy being a rich lawyer’s wife. It was her way of getting freedom within her limited circumstances! Every moment away from home gave her the opportunity to be herself-maybe she could not use all the talents that defined her complete self, but the eight hours of work  retained in her at least a bit of the confidence that staying at home would have destroyed completely” said Mallika.

Her thoughts went to her father sleeping in the adjoining room. Did he ever guess? Probably not. He was an extremely unimaginative person given only to seeing what was in front of him and not what might be in the shadows..! She saw him now for what he actually was- a man who was used to having things done for him, arranging his world according to his needs. He had been lucky that he had first had his mother and then his wife to attend to his needs.

She wondered how he would manage now that Amma was no longer around..! He was already dropping hints about her quitting her job or getting a transfer to Chennai.

Anusha shook her head slowly. She was not her mother. He should accept that fact. Afterall, did she also not share his selfish genes?

“ Chitti, I will have to start packing now. You know I am leaving tomorrow” she told her aunt.

“Yes, Anu. You take care. I will come tomorrow afternoon and drive you to the airport” said Mallika giving her niece a hug!

“Bye Chitti” said Anusha letting her aunt out of the house.

( to be concluded in part 4)

STRANGER –Part 2

When Anusha  checked her mail she found  twenty two emails in her inbox – from people she never knew were part of her mother’s life. Eighteen of them were from women and four from men. She wondered why her mother had never spoken to her about their existence?

Malli chitti had already informed her that at least three of Amma’s friends were coming for the memorial service. Anusha,  waited  in the verandah for them to arrive. They trooped in slowly one after the other in a matter of a couple of hours!

First there was a very chic and smart lady from Pune who introduced herself as  Saleha Merchant. Then there was Anita Kurup a serious looking professor from Ahmedabad wearing thick bifocals. And finally a plump and brightly dressed lady, Parminder Kaur from Delhi!

Malli chitti was seeing to their accommodation. She had booked them at a guest house nearby but Parminder ( who enveloped Anusha in a comforting hug telling her “Call me Pammi aunty”) said that they would rather stay with Anusha and her father.

Anusha was not sure about her father’s reaction to this. He did not welcome visitors , treating them often with suspicion. Besides, he came with a lot of prejudices about people from cultures that he was not familiar with. She was not sure how he would react to these ladies. But Pammi aunty was already making herself at home. Appa, was not in any condition to protest. So Anusha let it pass.

As the evening drew people started coming in for the memorial service. There were some neighbors, a few of her mother’s colleagues, some relatives and her mother’s friends. In all there were thirty of them.

The evening began with a prayer. Anusha  was hearing it for the very first time. It was in Hindi, a language that she was not very familiar with. Her mother’s friends sang as Malli chitti also joined in.

“It was our school prayer song” said Anita. “Ambi used to play the piano when we sang during morning assembly” she said.

Anusha was surprised! She did not know her mother could play a musical instrument. She had never ever seen a piano at her grand parents’ house in Thanjavur.

“Appa had to sell the piano we owned after he retired and moved to his ancestral home. It was too expensive to transport” said Mallika by way of explanation!

“She was a better singer than a pianist” said Pammi. “She used to win all the music competitions that she participated in”

Anusha could not believe this. She had never in her twenty eight years of life with her mother ever heard her even hum a line..!

The event continued through the evening.

There were some speeches, mainly from her mother’s office colleagues.

“She was a conscientious worker and sincere person” said her boss.

“ A very quiet person who always minded her own business” said a colleague.

“ A serious lady with a strong sense of duty. I admire the way she looked after her bed ridden mother in law for ten years” said a neighbor.

Anusha, nodded. Yes, she was familiar with these descriptions. They were more like the mother she had known and lost.

Slowly the visitors started leaving and finally it was just Saleha, Pammi, Anita and Mallika who were left behind. Anusha felt very lonely. She hoped they would not depart and leave her alone.

Saleha seemed to sense her fears. “Don’t worry Anu, we  are here until tomorrow evening” she said

Night had set in. Dinner was over nearly an hour ago. Anusha could not sleep. Appa had taken a sedative and was in deep sleep. She closed his bedroom door and slowly made her way into her room where the three ladies had been accommodated.

“Come on Anu, come here and join us” said Pammi beckoning her inside. She had an envelope with her filled with photographs.

“ Tell me can you recognize your mother?” asked Saleha with  smile. Anusha looked closely at the black and white snaps. They  were pictures of school girls in two plaits playing basket ball. Then there was a picture of a girl with a wide smile holding aloft a shield! “Is that Amma?” she asked tentatively as Saleha nodded.

“She was our house captain.  The very best that we had had in years!! We won all the shields under her leadership” said Anita.

“And what a brat she was!” said Pammi with a giggle. “Remember how she lead that boy from St. Paul’s on during the sports meet, before she complained to the principal that he was troubling her”.

“Yes and remember how hell broke loose as the Princi took it up with their school principal” added Saleha!

“ I remember all of you giggling together in Ambu’s room with the door closed whenever you came home. You never allowed me inside” said Malli chitti in a complaining tone.

“Oh, you were the kid sister who was all ears. Ambu was scared that you would tell her mother about our exploits” said Anita with a smile.

“Well I did manage to unearth your plan about bunking classes and going for a movie” said Malli chitti with a laugh!!

“You were a pest!! If it hadn’t been for you, we could have easily managed to scale the wall and jump out of the school premises. As it is the watchman had very poor eye sight” said Pammi.

“And remember how she used to imitate our Hindi sir” ? asked Saleha with a giggle

Anusha listened open mouthed!! Was this her mother they were talking about?

She remembered an occasion way back in time when she had wanted to go for a movie with her friends but Amma had forbidden her. The reason she had given had been that Anusha had not studied enough for the Xth midterm exams. But Anu had been very bitter about it. She thought about how she had shouted at Amma saying” You just don’t want me to have a good time because you don’t have any friends and you don’t know how to have fun”

“Tell me more” said Anusha.

“ She was a crazy girl!! Absolutely besotted with Rajesh Khanna. For a while she was thinking of running away to Bombay and pleading with him to marry her” said Pammi with a laugh.

“ And remember those crank calls she used to get from a guy who called himself Rajesh” asked Malli chitti joining in the laughter.

“ Hey how do you know that? “ asked Saleha

“Well, I used to listen on the extension” said Mallika with a grin!

“ You really were a pest!! It was so difficult to shake you off! No wonder people called you Ambi’s tail” said Saleha throwing a pillow at Malli Chitti as she ducked!

Anusha watched in amazement. She could not imagine Malli Chitti as a child. To her, Malli chitti was her foster mother, the busy and capable doctor who still found time to spend for her niece taking her for outings that her mother had no time for.

“ I can’t imagine you are a doctor! I still remember how the ayahs in the kindergarten used to complain to Ambi whenever you used to wet your pants” said Anita with a smile.

“ Oh pleeese don’t embarrass me” said Malli chitti turning red!

“Remember how angry Ambi was when the Maths teacher called her in to complain that you were failing in all the tests..!” said Pammi with a grin.

“Yes, that is the problem of being the younger sister of someone as brilliant as Ambu. You could never live up to her brilliant reputation” she said with a sigh!

Anusha stared at her aunt in surprise! She had always thought that it was her aunt who was the brilliant one. Wasn’t her mother just a graduate and a clerk in a public sector bank? She had always felt embarrassed about this whenever she compared her mother to the highly educated mothers of her friends. She had discouraged her mother from visiting her school because she came by an auto rickshaw and not driven by a chauffeur in a car ! She had been proud of her father who was a leading lawyer and had often wondered why Amma had to have that stupid job in the bank when she could stay at home like some of the socialite mothers of her friends, dropping and picking her up from school.

“But if she was so brilliant why did she stop with graduation? She could have done her masters or even a Phd” asked Anusha

“Well..she did have plans Anu. But it is just that it did not materialize” said Pammi with a sigh.

Anusha felt that there was something that they were holding back.

“Weren’t you people together at college?” she persisted.

“Yes sweetheart, we were all together at college. Your mother was the cultural secretary of the students union. One of the best all rounder that I know of” said Anita with a smile.

“Hey didn’t she win that Indo Canadian scholarship? ” asked Pammi

“Yes, I remember that year, two students from the college had won it. Rare moment !! Yeah, Amby and Amin” said Saleha  suddenly looking guilty as though she had said something she should not have.

There  was a silence after that. A sort of impalpable tension seemed to fill the air. Anusha looked at the four faces around her. They were trying not to meet her eye.

She wondered what was it that was the matter.

“She should have gone to McGill University” said Malli Chitti softly. “It would have changed her life. She should not have allowed herself to be bullied by Appa”.

“ Tata bullied her?” asked Anusha in amazement. Her gentle grandfather who used to play with her and buy her goodies?

“ Yes Anu.. “ said Malli with a sigh “ Even Amma could not do anything about it”. Anusha watched the tears rolling down her aunt’s cheek!

Yes, there was definitely something that they were not telling her!

(to be continued)

STRANGER – Part 1

Anusha  had been  devastated when she heard the news! She could not believe it had happened. And the sad thing was that it had happened so quickly and so suddenly!

It had been 4 .00 AM when she and Amma had driven out from her flat at Andheri. The flight was at 6 AM  and Amma was worried that they may not make it in time for her to check in. Anusha had been quite rude to her mother at having been woken up at 3.30 AM to get ready! She was sure that leaving at 4.30 AM would have been okay. But her mother was what she and her father called “paranoid” about everything! If they had to catch a train, she wanted them to be there half an hour early and if it was a flight then ninety minutes early!

Amma had already had her coffee and since Anusha was to leave for work straight from the airport, she was insistent that she bathe and have her coffee too. Left to herself, Amma would have also made breakfast and packed her lunch for her.

 She was still worried about Anusha’s health. Anusha had just recovered from a bout of viral fever! Amma had come down from Chennai to take care of her.  She had wanted her mother to stay back a few days longer but she was guilty that she had left her husband behind all alone!!

“Appa does not know how to manage by himself. I need to be there. Besides, I cannot extend my leave like this suddenly. There is an audit due and I have to get all the papers ready” had been her explanation!! Anusha had been rather sarcastic in her reply saying “ As if  your bank and Appa would fall apart if you are not there for a few days”!!

It was ironical that she had said that because now the world was actually falling apart!!!

She had reached office by 7.30 AM. There was no one around so she decided to have a leisurely breakfast at the cafeteria before starting work for the day.

The television was on and the anchor was excitedly screaming and saying something. Anusha looked at the screen in irritation wondering if she could find a remote to mute the sound! But what she saw on the screen chilled her blood. AI 521 flight from Mumbai to Chennai had developed a sudden fault just after take off. The pilot had tried to head back to Mumbai but in the  meanwhile the fuel tank had caught fire and the entire flight had exploded !! She looked up her email on the phone which had her mother’s ticket attached just to check if that was indeed her flight number. Unfortunately, it was ..!!

She became numb. Her body seemed rooted to the spot for a long time until her friend and colleague Siddharth walked  up to her table.

“ Hey Anu, how are you? Missed you yaar” he said depositing himself on the chair in front of her. She could hold back no longer.. she burst into tears pointing at the TV screen and sobbing!!

She did not how she managed the rest of the day. But Sid was a brick!! He called her father and came with her to the airport to find out what could be done!

Anusha, went through the next couple of days like a zombie. There had been no body to claim as everything was scattered around in the Arabian sea.  She took the next flight to Chennai to be with her father. Just as she was boarding the flight she thought about how her mother may have reacted if it had been Appa who had been lost mid air. She would not have allowed Anusha to come to Chennai fearing that something might happen to the flight that she was on. She would have come instead to Mumbai.

Malli Chitti, her mother’s younger sister had received her at the Chennai airport. Anusha had felt spooked when she saw her aunt. A younger version of her sister dressed in western clothes, Mallika was almost like Ambika’s twin. Anusha threw herself into her arms and started sobbing.

“Come on, hold yourself together Anu, we have things to do” said the ever practical Mallika!

She had driven her niece back to her late sister’s house at Luz. Her brother in law , was behaving as though nothing had happened. He told Anusha, the moment she entered the house that the fuse had blown off and the  plumber had not come to fix the motor despite being called a number of times. Anu looked at her father bewildered!!

“ He has still come to terms with it. Give him some time” said Mallika told her niece.

Anusha looked around the disarray inside her childhood home. Her mother’s absence was acutely visible! The living room had not been dusted, books were piled around here, sink filled with dirty dishes  and there were empty water bottles dotting the dining table! She remembeedr the spick and span house that was her mother’s pride!! Thiers’s was not a fancy house with too many decorations and artifacts but  it was what could be considered a very tidy house. Her mother had been obsessive about it, getting up at dawn on days when the maid was not there to clean everything up before she left for work. Every little detail was always attended to. Whenever Anusha returned from school, she had found the table set for her evening meal and the food inside the fridge ready to be put into the  micro wave! Amma was not much of a cook but whatever she churned out was clean and edible!

Mallika poured out some coffee from a flask and handed it to Anusha. “Drink this first.  Then we will start making plans for Ambu’s funeral” she told her niece.

Anusha looked at her aunt in gratitude! She did not know what she would have done without her. An only child she had no siblings who could help her at this time.

Organizing a funeral itself was a challenge, considering that there was no corpse! Ultimately, they decided to hold a prayer service inviting all their friends and acquaintances.

“But we have to first insert an obituary in the newspaper” said Anusha thankful for the coffee clearing her mind!

“Yes, but that would not suffice. Ambu had few friends in this town. Most of her friends were from Delhi and Pune where we had grown up and studied” said her aunt. After that, it was like a “ghost to ghost hook up” with phone lines buzzing across the world. Mallika had called a few common friends who had called others and others!  Anusha had to constantly keep her phone charged as people started calling in. She was exhausted by the end of the day and dropped off to sleep after feeding her father some dosa bought from Saravana Bhavan!!

Her last thoughts were about how her mother was rushing back to ensure that her father did not have to eat out any longer… “ I will have to get him a cook..” she murmured to herself.

A corner of her mind was also surprised at the number of calls she and Chitti had received! “ I always thought she was an introvert. Never realized that she had so many friends” she thought before sleep over took her!

(to be continued)

Wings and Roots

It was not clear to anyone (including herself) why she decided to move southwards. Maybe it had something to do with achieving her dreams or maybe it was simply a desire to spread her wings. And that was how she landed here one grey morning.

What she saw did not excite her. She was not sure if this was the place where dreams could be realized. But she told herself not to be hasty in her conclusion. She would give herself and this place some more time.  She promised herself a year -but that was before, she met him.

He was a native in every way that she was a foreigner. He had been here since his birth and he had never left it. He could not imagine life anywhere else. He did not know any other language, had not seen any other landscape or experienced any other season. He took pride in what he called his “sense of belonging”. He stood tall and proud drawing his sustenance from where he was.

It was probably destiny that brought them together. Otherwise how a traveler with a restless heart and wings on her feet could be drawn to an embodiment of permanence?  The attraction was mutual. He was fascinated by her- this creature who had seen and experienced things that he had only heard about. He found her exotic. A small built being with big dreams and a voice louder than her body. She in turn was drawn to the aura of comfort and security he exuded. She loved his height, his strength and his soft core under the hard exterior.

Thus began their life together. Days spent braving the terrible heat and nights swaying in the cool sea breeze.  She introduced him to music that he had never heard   before. But she was not sure if he enjoyed it. You see, he took time to adapt to anything different. In fact, people were surprised that he had  let her make her home with him.  Some of the others, who also survived under his care, began to feel a bit insecure about this relationship.   But such was their love that outside forces could do little to shake it. They lived together happily, oblivious to their surroundings.

I would like to end this story here. It seems like a good place to stop. It would make you, the reader happy.  But  that would be unfair as there is so much more that happened.

The change began with her craving for change. She missed the wide open skies through which she traveled. She missed the landing into a new land, the excitement of discovery of a new language, a new landscape and the feel of the new season. She got bored with the constancy in her life.  Boredom led to frustration and slowly, the frustration took on a form – his!

He sensed her discontent. It was difficult to handle. He could not understand why she should crave for something different when he was providing a secure existence.  But he also knew that he could not hold her back. If he did, he would lose her. So, he encouraged her to spread her wings and fly. She was not sure if he really meant it or if it was just his way of telling her to get out. She hoped not.  She was not sure that she really wanted to leave him.  He assured her that he was just encouraging her to live her dreams . He would always be there for her whenever  she decided to come back.

So, she took her first flight out, heading west. She traveled along for a long time enjoying the flush of freedom. She had experiences that would never have been hers had she stayed on with him! But she missed him. There was no one who understood her the way he did. No one who could listen to her as she talked aloud. Patience was not one of his virtues but tolerance was. She missed those strong arms rocking her as she slept. She wished he were there by her side experiencing all that she was! A good book, a tasty meal or a unique experience – all of these require a loved one by our side to make them complete.

When she could bear it no longer, she decided to head back to him. She was not ready yet to call where he lived, her home.  She always thought of him separate from his surroundings- a stupid thing to do because  he was so closely  linked to those same surroundings that she found suffocating.

His joy knew no bounds when he saw her coming back. He knew he had been right about letting her go. She settled back into his life as if she had never left. He heard about her adventures and her experiences seeing them through her eyes. She was happy and he was content. Life seemed idyllic once again- until the desire to travel consumed her again.

This time the separation was less painful.  She knew as he did that she would ultimately come back. And thus continued their existence, she traveling and he waiting for her to return.

As the years began to take their toll on her, she traveled less frequently and for shorter distances.

She had almost decided that this would be her last trip. She would fold up her wings and spend the rest of her life secure in his arms.  She was so lost in her thoughts about what they would do together in their sunset years that she did not see it coming. A sharp pain flashed through her on the left. She felt herself falling. It was through sheer will power that she kept her strength up. She had to get back to her tall, dark and handsome tower of strength! She was sure she would recover once she reached home- there she had said it! Home, where he lived and where she now planned to live for the rest of her life.

She could see the familiar surrounding s from the air. The pain was excruciating but she forced herself to stay focused on getting home. As she descended towards the ground, she looked around for him. Where was he? Had he left? But that was impossible!

And then she saw him as never before – horizontal! Who were those people and the machinery? Was he ill?

Her strength drained out of her completely as she realized what was happening. These people had killed him! They had uprooted him, taken over his space and were now chopping him into bits with that machine.

Ashvatha was dead! Her strong tower of strength was now just a mass of chopped wood. Pakshi could take it no longer. She made a dive towards the ground and landed with a thud. A strong whirring sound was playing close to her ears. That was the last thing she heard before it all ended!

“ What is the matter” asked the site supervisor as the machinery made a strange creaking noise.

“ Oh nothing sir!  A bird fell into the machine. I will clean  it up and complete the work” said the workman as he removed her mangled flesh and threw it away.

It landed near his uprooted stump- wings and roots finally coming together in death!