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)

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. KP
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 06:50:50

    There are people like this who depend on others mother or wife and incapable of attending to their own needs,let alone helping mom or wife.What should you call them-selfish,unsocial or inconsidearte.In a way I was happy Anusha walked out but if you have not concluded your story,i am eager to know how you would end it.

    Reply

  2. Harish
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 13:38:04

    Awesome story. I really hope Mira, you will publish your stories. Your short stories remind me of R.K. Narayan. Perhaps, the only difference was he sketched out his plot and characters a bit more. There was never an unnecessary word in his stories. Vivid, crisp and focused. But then again, your The Gift series had that quality throughout. Your talent is immense.

    Reply

  3. Harish
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 13:45:18

    I meant *Meera (not Mira) in my comment above. Apologies.

    Reply

  4. Aditi
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 14:56:02

    Loved it! Both the characters of Ambika and Anusha are strong in their own way!

    But I still feel the urge to know more…what happens to the father, will Anusha make efforts to find Amin?

    I really hope you try and publish your work…it’s really good! 🙂

    Reply

    • Meera
      Aug 28, 2013 @ 13:29:36

      Aditi, this story probably appeals more to women. Yes, both mother and daughter are in their own way very strong women!! Thanks for your encouragement and yes, the story is now complete!

      Reply

  5. Meera
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 17:30:42

    Thank you all for your encouraging comments!

    Reply

  6. Meera
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 17:34:32

    @KP a lot of men are brought up like that – it is called “learned helplessness” 🙂 As long as there is someone to do something for us then we will not do it yourself! I know somewhere it hurts that Anusha seems to be abandoning her father. But then he cannot expect her to clip her wings / her ambitions and stay near him to look after him! A lot of parents expect that – generally from sons but it extends to daughters too. A child who cares will do so no matter where s/he lives. Those who do not want the responsibility of aged parents will ignore even while they stay next door. Give Anusha some time- she feels a bit guilty about how she has treated her mother. She was always in awe of her father and admired him. She sees him differently now. She will come round 🙂

    Reply

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