Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A Turn of Events

‘Who would have thought that I would live here one day?’ she pondered. Born and brought up in a traditional Hindu, and that too Vegetarian, environment, she could not believe the odours of the unknown curries and fried meat would be part of her world one day.
Animals had always been used for work in the house she came from and the only animal product that she had ever tasted was cow’s milk. So the day her husband announced that they would be shifting into a new colony that was being developed, where the flats were still cheap around a church that had recently been built, she had had plenty of reservations. It was already difficult to settle into a bustling metropolis and get used to the multitude of accents & languages that people spoke but now this was complicating her somewhat settled life even more.
“Do not worry”, he had said. “There are only few people who have started living in the area and I am sure you will make plenty of friends as time goes by”. That was something she was only willing to accept when it happened. Anyway she was headstrong and would survive even this change. She had spent half her life struggling to fill her stomach before sleeping. Being the seventh sister in her family and having seen most families around her struggling to get even a couple of their daughters  married off, she had given up the hope of ever tying the knot. Deep within her she had even dared to imagine that one day she would walk off with the first person who came to call her at her doorstep.
Thankfully, her brother and her luck brought in a match before that extreme step needed to be taken. There were plenty of unwed sisters in her future husband’s family too. So it was decided that she would marry a brother whose sister would marry her own. Things like that happened, as simple as that, an exchange marriage. None of the concerned parties had seen each other till a few days before the appointed day, no major planning was required either and funds were anyway limited. She had received one gold chain & ring which in her mind were prize enough to get married. Little did she know back then that this marriage would bring her the chance to open her eyes & mind so much more.
In the 10 years with her soldier husband she had experienced so many firsts.Sea sickness on her month long voyage to a foreign city called London. Seeing people eat with forks & spoons instead of their hands and touching the soft and white ice-cream from the skies that was known as snow. She had learnt that people can survive in cold climates, so cold that even if she would wrap all the saris she possessed around her she still felt cold. And that the concept of walking barefoot at home was good but only back home.
So now after a decade of adventure and continual change, finally they were to settle down, throw in the anchor. She was to start her life anew. She had already seen that the nearest bus stop was a kilometre away and their building was almost enveloped by woods. In a way it was a return to her roots since she had not seen so much greenery from a long time now. At night wild boar and fox could be heard scuffling and scavenging in the distance. The roads, that were yet to be completed, had no street light to provide shelter from the looming darkness. The water supply to the colony had not yet been connected making the neighbourhood well the nearest daily source. Yes, life promised to be hard but being so close to nature had so many advantages. The mango, guava, chikoo, custard apple, berry and lemon trees provided an ample supply of fruits and the Jackfruit & Drumstick trees helped her complete her stock,  when in season.

Now that she had started settling in, she was constantly anxious about the differences that she and the other ladies of the building had. She was older than them and her children were already bigger than many of the other babies. They loved eating meat whereas she could only suggest spices for their recipes hoping that it would add to the flavour. They called her Mrs Ram whereas she called them Mrs D’souza, Smith etc. In the city that was how it was done.
Then one day, something happened that would change this forever. Her youngest son had gone mischievously searching for some mithai on the shelf where she stored her grain; a box of sweets that they had left over after distributing the rest among all the neighbourhood to celebrate the wedding of a cousin. Her little boy climbed onto the open kitchen counter and the first shelf and was about to get hold of the box when the sole of his foot touched the end of a knife placed just below a vessel. The vessel was full of boiling hot milk that had been placed on a higher shelf to keep it out of reach of the children. The knife worked as a lever and the whole pot of hot milk flew over her son. He was wild with pain and she rushed to his aid. What could she do? What were the first aid reflexes that she had learnt from mother back home?
No question of getting him under a running tap since there was no water in the first case. The nearest chemist or doctor were at least a kilometre away and no one she knew owned a telephone. Then she remembered a distant voice telling her, reminding her,  that raw meat or fat rubbed against a burn can help immensely. In the village back then, wasn’t that what she had heard had been used when the butcher’s helper had been saved from the accident after the Eid festival? She now remembered clearly hearing her uncle discuss it with someone while she was sweeping the courtyard. Was it true or was it just her mind sending her unclear signals at this critical moment ? She had no choice but to find out. She ran to her nearest neighbour and asked for some meat....the lady answered immediately and they both tried to calm the yelling boy while rubbing the meat on the wounded area. Again & again, over & over she rubbed while cooing sweet nothings into his ear. Reassuring, placating & loving words......after what seemed like an eternity the boy could be heard sniffling, complaining, murmuring & finally succumbing to a deep slumber brought on by the shock of the events that had just past.
She finally stopped rubbing the meat and after laying her son on the floor mat that also served as a bed she turned around and looked at her neighbour. She could read concern in the woman’s eyes and her own replied with gratitude. She was now conscious of the piece of flesh in her hand and thought about how it was now completely a part of her being and her son’s. How, no matter how many prayers she said, she would never be the same. How, no matter how many times she thanked her neighbour, it would not be enough. She just held on to the lady’s hand in silence. No matter what barriers she possessed till date they had all fallen down and led to this one moment. From deep inside her, the neighbour heard her say, “Call me Amma”.
Sensing that she was seeing a new side to the reserved & different woman who shared her daily living space she said “Amma, call me Susan”.

1 comment:

  1. Lekha, that's a very well written tale, which held my attention right to the end. A bit of editing and you can submit it as a short story.