Based on a true story
Vijaya cupped the steel tumbler between her palms. She felt the warmth seep through her. She couldn’t keep her lips from smiling. She lifted the tumbler to her lips and took a loud sip.
“Aaah!” She hastily clamped shut her lips before another sound could escape. Then it struck her; she was alone. It was a feeling she was still not used to. She took a deep breath. The strong aroma intoxicated her. She felt calm and safe.She took another noisy sip. The coffee cascaded into her throat and fell deep into her heart, washing away the years she had longed for it.
When she had seen her husband, Rajesh, for the first time on their engagement day, she was swept off her feet. He was the tallest among the men in the room and wore the smartest of clothes. When he spoke, his voice was deep and husky and his words seemed carefully weighed.
She had felt she was the luckiest girl in the entire city of Madurai. In her community, there was no other man so widely read and respected at such a young age as her fiancé. Friends and relatives constantly spoke to her about his huge mansion of a house and the life of luxury that she would live.
“I can’t believe he is so rich, mother. He came here by bus. Why not a car?” Vijaya’s questions were hushed away by the entire family. After all, there were four more daughters in tow. They couldn’t be bothered with simple idiosyncrasies.
Long before the wedding, Vijaya realised Rajesh was a man of contradictions. One day, a few weeks before the wedding, Rajesh turned up at their door without any notice. The entire house was astir. Vijaya’s heart missed many beats. ‘Did he come to see me?’ She hid in the puja room and eavesdropped on the conversation between him and her father. She could hear only scraps of it – hurricane, homeless, dead, 50 grams, and donation. She waited with bated breath to see if he would ask about her but he didn’t.They were discussing something about the mangalsutra that his family had to gift her on the wedding day.
The next day, she had read about it in the papers, ‘Young Doctor from Rajapalayam donates Rs 10000 to Atlantic Hurricane Victims’.The article went on to say how the young doctor had siphoned off a portion of his wedding expenses towards this good cause. ‘So, my mangalsutrawill not be the customary 80 grams of gold. It is going to be lighter,’ Vijaya had thought. The thought did not disturb her. She accepted it in the same way as she had accepted this alliance. Vijaya expected the wedding celebrations to be subdued. After all, her fiancé was the single biggest donor from India who had sent abroad such a huge sum of money for the hurricane victims.
When her father gifted him the usual diamond ring and gold bracelet on the wedding day, his mother was disappointed. Right there, on the stage, in front of some 500 people, she commented, “Not even a diamond bracelet. I told you to marry that girl from Salem, Raju.” Only when Vijaya’s father promised a diamond bracelet for the first Diwali, did his mother simmer down.
Rajesh looked on disinterested in all these dealings, never once intervening on behalf of her family. ‘Didn’t charity begin at home?’ Vijaya had wondered.
On the first morning that Vijaya had woken up in her husband’s house, she went straight into the kitchen and searched for the coffee powder. She loved her morning coffee. Not finding any, she approached her husband.
“Coffee? Coffee! It is poison, you idiot. No. I’ll not permit coffee in my house.” Vijaya had looked on helpless. She had not known that a request for coffee could send her new husband into such extremes.
When the question of coffee needed to be brought up again, Vijaya had waited for the right opportunity. After a steamy session in bed, she had broached the subject carefully. “No intoxicants, Vijaya. No coffee, no tea. And when we have children, no morning milk for them. It is this morning milk that gets the kids into wanting to have coffee or tea in the morning.”
Vijaya had nodded dumbly. Every morning, she woke up with a thirst for coffee. She had thought she would eventually get over this craving but there was never a single morning that she could remember waking up without this ache in her throat.
Once, a diabetic friend of hers had mentioned how she constantly dreamed of motichurladdoo. Vijaya had constantly dreamt of coffee.
Right from her childhood days, Vijaya’s mother had been on a mission to prepare Vijaya for her husband’s house.
“You cannot wake up so late. What will your mother-in-law say?” Most mornings, Vijaya woke up before dawn hearing this same refrain from her mother. She was only 8 years old then.
“The rice has to be soft but firm, dear girl. Will you serve this to your husband?” She had been 10 years then and it was one of her first forays into the kitchen.
“Bend, bend and bend. You cannot sweep the house properly with such an upright back. Bend properly or your mother-in-law will punch your back.” She was 12. By now, she was an expert in most house-hold chores.
She had been taught to sweep, mop, wash dishes and clothes, cook and serve even before she turned a teenager. There was no respite from an education too. She was trained in all this in the after-school hours and holidays. However, her mother had failed to prepare her for one thing—to give up coffee.
Each day, after waking her up at an ungodly hour, her mother had pushed under her nose a fragrant steaming cup of coffee. Her eyes had opened with the first sip. As she grew older, she had to brush her teeth before she could have the coffee. Still, it was the first thing she woke up to. Some days, when she had had a tough day, her mother made her another mid-morning cup of coffee too. Those days were special as the mother and daughter enjoyed the company of each other along with the coffee.
“Cheers,” Vijaya used to call out as she tapped her cup with her mother’s.
“Your mother-in-law will be a second mother to you,” her mother had told her when Vijaya had gotten married.
‘What a joke,’ Vijaya thought.
She could clearly recall the day she lost all love and respect for her mother-in-law.
“Athai, can I ask you something?” Vijaya had approached her mother-in-law guardedly.
“No. You cannot go to your parent’s house now. Who is to cook for your husband?”
“No Athai. It is not that. Every morning, when I wake up, I really yearn for coffee…”
“But you know my son doesn’t permit coffee inside the house.”
“I know, Athai. That’s why I thought let me not make it at home. I can get it from outside.”
“How do you plan to do that, Vijaya?”
“The milk man agreed to get me a glass of coffee every morning along with the milk for an extra ten rupees a month. Will you agree to it?” Vijaya had asked.
“We need not tell him about it,” Vijaya had said. “He might be upset if he comes to know, right?”
Her mother-in-law informed Rajesh the second he had walked into the house. “I cannot understand how a woman of this house could hob-nob with the milkman of her desires. Oh God! What is happening?” She had said and broke into tears. “Raju, this is what happens when we marry beneath our status.”
That was the day Vijaya realised that her husband and his mother could stoop quite low. Rajesh stomped towards her in fury and gave her a reverberating slap. And then, he stopped speaking to her. He had continued to enjoy the meals she cooked for him. He had delighted in ravishing her body every night after the household was asleep but he just wouldn’t speak to her.
After a few months, just as he had abruptly stopped speaking to her, he suddenly resumed speaking. Later, she realised that her mother-in-law had informed him that she was pregnant and he decided she was worthy enough for a conversation again.
The first son was quickly followed by a daughter and life moved on. Everyday, she had grandiose plans of how to explain to him her need for coffee.
‘What gives you the right to choke me with your high ideals? Marriage?’ The day she had thought of this line of attack had been the day he had sent away all his salary to some Flood Relief Fund. There was to be no new dresses or crackers for the children for Diwali that year. Coffee had to take a backseat that day.
‘You are no different from your beloved Gandhiji. Forcing the women dependent on you to live to your principles! I want a divorce! I want coffee!’ Again, she couldn’t speak her mind that day. For the first time in his life, he had done something for his daughter. He had found her a suitable groom. She had to give up coffee that day too.
Vijaya took another loud sip and looked up at the wall in front of her. Her husband looked back at her from the huge framed photograph. The flowers that adorned the photo were starting to wilt. She realised she had to replace the garland but that could wait. Now, she would enjoy her coffee. She took another boisterous sip.