Oh I finally have some moments alone with you!
I have been trying to snatch a few minutes with you since morning, but all these visitors kept me busy. Finally, here I am, at your side to share a few unsaid things before it is too late.
Are you wondering what is it that had to wait till today, after spending so many years together?
Don’t be surprised; I just wanted to have conversations with you – the kinds we used to have every evening after you returned from office and we sat down with puffed rice and tea or every Sunday while having a heavy lunch, our fingers dried from the long-eaten curry and rice. I have missed them during the last few years when all we talked about was your dialysis, my arthritis and our sons’ futures.
Oh about our sons – they have been planning for some time to sell off this house to a builder for three tiny match-boxp-sized apartments and some seventy lakhs of rupees! This very same house, which we built brick by brick and where they have grown up now has a price tag. I still remember the days when you were clocking in extra hours at your office and I was saving every paisa that I could from the household budget. It took five long years to build it and several more to make it our home, and these sons of ours want to bring it down in one single stroke of their signature.
And those wives of theirs – they are one step ahead. They are already dividing up my jewellery between themselves mentally! No, no, I don’t need proof of this, I know their attitude; it’s called the instinct of a mother-in-law.
Oh! Don’t laugh at me. I know you will always be the indulgent father figure for them but I cannot but remember how our sons distanced from us within a few years of their marriage.
Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if our daughter was still with us. The cruel Almighty gave us only one year to spend with her. Yes, it has been over 40 years since pneumonia claimed her but I will never forget my first-born, beautiful girl.
Yes, I know she got all your genes, including that curly mop. Before you start gloating about it, I will let you in a secret – I hated your curly hair.
Okay, I admit that on the night of our wedding, I told you I loved it. What could I have said when you disclosed that you had poured bottles of oil to make your unruly bob of hair manageable and asked for my opinion? I wanted to escape the strong stench of coconut oil and have you concentrate on other important affairs of the night. So I lied and said that I love them as they were. You took my words to heart and spent your entire life without a second thought on how to tame that lion’s mane! I was trapped in my lies and suffered through nights after nights, tackling a head full of prickly hair close to my face!
Before these few minutes are up, there is one thing I must tell you now.
It is about the time we fell in love, 60 years ago!
Do you remember the first letter that I sent you, asking if you would like to communicate with me? Do you remember what you wrote in reply? That you were shocked to know that a girl from a respected family and still studying in school could write what was clearly a love letter to a boy! Despite your initial scorn, you sent me twelve more letters, in reply to twelve of mine. You were intrigued that a girl was pursuing you, given the societal fabric of our times. You were excited to know that a girl had a crush on you, just by seeing you on her way to school every day. You admired the boldness with which I posted my letters to your address, praying them not to fall into the wrong hands. You wrote even more daring letters in return and kept them at the broken post box as instructed by me.
Then we decided to meet during the Durga Puja on Astami, behind the local pandal.
When you arrived, took my hand in yours and said my name, my heart leapt to my throat! Not with love or excitement, but with shock – because you were not the boy I had seen and fallen in love with. You were not the boy I had thought I was writing to.
I wanted to blurt the truth out; or claim there was a mistake and leave. But something held me in my spot. May be it was the love with which you gazed into my eyes or the tenderness with which you were telling me how happy you were to finally meet the woman of your love.
My mind wanted to scream out the truth, but not my heart. At that moment, I realised that you too had accepted me without knowing who I was! My heart repeated every word that you wrote to me, laced with honest and true affection. I was torn – did I love the boy I thought I loved or had I fallen in love with the boy who wrote those letters?
Days later, I solved the mystery. The boy whom I had seen on the first-floor balcony of your house was one of the tenants of your family – the one who later got killed in the Naxal movement.
Ever since then, I have thought many times of sharing this hidden truth of my life – our lives, but each time, I could not find my voice. What was the need for you to know this, I told myself every time. But this had been a very heavy burden for me to carry all these years. Today was my last chance to share it with you.
“Ma, have you finished your last few moments with Baba? It is time we take him.”
I shut my ears as the air filled with rhythmic chants.
Bolo Hari Hari Bol.