Our house had an open-door system. I never remember the front-door ever been closed; except in the night may be. And that meant a steady flow of visitors – from sellers to semi-permanent visitors to almost-permanent guests. As children our duty was to huddle in the front room and be a silent observer to the circus around us. We had to observe from the side-galleries with the utmost keenness, as colorful characters – each varied from the other played their part; skillfully displaying their talents in front of hungry pairs of eyes. They would gladly display their colorful selves and we would be satiated in our study of human nature.
The God-sent and the God-forsaken…..
Ours was a strange mad-house where eccentricities blended smoothly with serious philosophies. So while my grandmother and her sisters toasted themselves in the morning sun while discussing about religion, life and death, they also entertained Sadhus, Fakirs and Semi-God-men on their way to Himalayas with equal elan. In exchange of a few coins or even a handful of rice they soaked themselves in the ‘deep philosophical discourses’ imparted by these God-men, often interspersed with lavish blessings for the children, grand-children and many generations thereafter. These holy souls would often depart with a parting gift of a pinch of some ‘holy ash’ with the declaration that this was their final journey to the path of salvation, only to return the next year with the same philosophies and same declaration.
But one stand-out among those God-blessed souls was a woman named Kanak . More God-forsaken than any, she used to be a sudden visitor – mostly on Sundays. Her knowledge of The Bible was envious – ranging from discourses to explanations, she would marvel everyone till she would be ‘possessed’ by spirits. Happily sipping tea and bread, her eye-balls would suddenly pop out, tongues would roll in strange wavy motions and she would then speak in strange language only known to her. She had nearly convinced my grand-father into believing that Devil and his children reside in the electrical systems and wires and would have nearly pushed us into the dungeon of pre-historic, electricity-less existence, had she not thought of a solution herself. So up there, atop the electrical meter-box sat a piece of paper –supposedly carrying her house-cleansing, devil-protective prayer! It was only recently that we ‘dared’ to throw out that tattered piece of paper, quite convinced that the current load of sins and Devil’s equipments in the household were too many to be combated by the poor piece of paper!
With her hair bundled into a ping-pong ball sized bun, her once-white-now-grey ‘widow uniform’ roughly draped she would sob in between sips. Her tears would merge with her tea sips as she would speak about the troubles and turmoil in the life of her Bablu – her only son. Who she was or how she was exactly related to us I really do not recall. But from grandparents to grandchildren, she had only one identity, one name : Bablu’s Maa.
Her visits were too-frequent for comfort but her stories were myriad – all ranging around Bablu. Bablu, who was almost the same age as my father, was both the hero and the villain of her stories. Sometimes Bablu would be the mother-torturing monster, sometimes he would be the all-loving only begotten son of a widowed mother. At times the hero of the story would be terribly sick, almost ready-to-die unless medicines are given; at times he would be jobless. But the moral of every story was: Give me till you are done and frustrated!
No one would believe a word of her but would still hand out a note or two. Tying the money in the edge of her saree, she would leave with all humility and a promise to come soon.
But Bablu’s Maa and her Bablu-stories reached a crescendo when one day she came sobbing her heart out. She would neither take a drop of water nor have a sip from her favourite tea-cup. After much coaxing and cajoling, all she could mutter amidst sobs was that her beloved Bablu was no more. Shocked to silence, everyone was in tears as she narrated how she struggled to keep her son alive and how, with great difficulty, she had managed a decent funeral for him.
“Tch, you should have informed us. Atleast we could have gone for the last rites. ”, my grandfather spoke with genuine grief. The others nodded in agreement. And at the end of the day, she went back with bundles of notes and assurance of our assistance forever. Long after she was gone the elders sat reminiscing about how Bablu was as a child.
And things were about to turn emotional when my father returned from office.
“You won’t believe whom I met in the bus today? Bablu…”
“Bablu? Which Bablu?”
“Bablu of Bablu’s Ma fame…who else?”, my father shrugged his shoulders, unaware of the drama that had unfolded minutes ago.
I had expected a turmoil and a barrage of angry expressions but all there was – was astounded silence.
And if you think that was the last we saw of Bablu’s Ma, you are sadly mistaken. Unashamed, she appeared again after weeks, armed with her Bablu-stories till someone reminded her that her Bablu, as per her story, had already been a martyr. She blamed it on her ‘memory loss’ – for which she needed regular check-up and for which she didn’t have enough money. The end result was however that we continued the ‘Save Bablu and His Mom’ campaign till her death – only, no one ever wanted to hear her stories anymore!
She wasn’t the only one in the category. There was also this old grandmother who used to come armed with strange gifts for the family like sick kittens or soggy flowers picked up on the way.
And then there was Asamma – who was an old-man wearing laced converse shoes with his dhoti, with a terrible shake of his head – almost resembling a vibrator. My grandfather would religiously hand him a two-rupee note for ten full years till he angrily refused one day.
“Don’t mind, but my bus fare one way to your house is now two rupees! Your two rupee notes have now become my return fare”.
My grandfather was both hurt and ashamed and promptly increased the amount the amount by a full one rupee!!
**** More to follow in my next post *******