A Bloody Poem

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Bloodied, she stood at the door-step.

Droplets of nascent red slid down

the pink of her lips –

submerging with the rusty pattern of old blood

– now dried and dusty.

Her eyes spoke of disbelief,

rimmed with steady haze of moist tears.

The twinkle, now replaced with

the dark pall of a bloodied pain.

Her cheeks flushed now and then

– alternating between pain and more pain.

With trembling fingers she held out

– the little memento of lost infancy

– her first milk tooth!

The Power of Love

apple-570965_1920I looked at the heap of leaves near my feet. The garden needed de-weeding for a long time. With a two year old toddler, I hardly had the time to manage everything impeccably.

“Amma, here…only one has come”, Nagappa smiled as he pointed to a stout little purple amidst a whole lot of green.

Aha! A brinjal! Finally my little kitchen garden was bearing fruits. I couldn’t help smiling.

“Let it grow for another day or two and then we shall pluck it”, I advised him. Nagappa nodded his head in agreement.

As I walked back into my house I felt exhausted. But I let my exhaustion melt into the rustle of the dry leaves. I felt happy. That small little brinjal had ushered in a lot of happiness.

“You back ? So soon?”, I was amazed and amused at the sight of my husband in the living room.

He gave back a nervous smile.

“Lunch? Shall I serve?”, I asked in hushed whisper. I did not want to wake up the sleeping baby.

“N..No..no”, he answered, smiling mildly. His fingers held on to a dying cigarette. It was unlike him to smoke in front of a sleeping baby.

“Anything wrong?”, I asked. A soft hush of fear swept past my mind. Not exactly fear but a sort of uncanny feeling.

“N..No..no..not exactly”, he answered. This time his eyes didn’t meet mine.

“Has anyone told you anything ? Any bad news ?”, I asked, holding his hands in desperation.

“This “, he answered in a single word – holding out a crumpled piece of paper that looked like a telegram. His hands trembled.

“And what ?”, I desperately tried not to let negative thoughts over power me.

“Your mother….”, his voice trailed off.

“Sick? Let us book a ticket…Soon. Right now. I..I..I want to be beside her. If she is sick she needs me”. I tried to cling on to different spheres of hope that were hovering around me.

My husband got up from his seat and held me tight within his embrace. I felt breathless. I needed breath. I needed hope.

“I…I..We can go, na? Can we get tickets? At the earliest ? She needs me….”, I tried out different tricks to fool my growing fear.

“We can go…right now infact…We have to. Though we would not be able to meet her any more. She passed away two days ago”.

I looked at his face for many minutes. He held my face within his palms and kissed my forehead. I could see little droplets glistening near the corner of his eyes. I was not sure if it was a joke.

Why would he joke ? But may be it was a joke ? Just to fool me?

He could sense the disbelief perhaps. He enwrapped his hands around mine and kissed my forehead again.

“She died”, he spoke again.

Silly tears. Who on earth informed them? Why were they trailing down my cheeks? In search of what solace?

I suddenly did not know what to do. I felt desperate, helpless, angry, worthless.

I set myself free from his embrace and ran towards my bed.

I needed comfort. I needed to smell my mother. I picked up a pillow and held on tightly. I buried my nose in the pillow, just in case I get her smell – a strange smell of sweat mixed with Moti sandal soap. I had to feel her around me – somehow.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

The station looked dim and dull. The lonely lamp gave an eerie look to the entire atmosphere. I looked around in desperation , as the last train wheezed past us. The sudden movement of the train breathed out a small whirl of wind that caressed my frock.

‘Where from Sir? And where to ?”, the station master blinked – trying to traces faces of the only set of passengers who got down from the last train.

“Nopara. My brother in law stays there”, my father answered, trying to manage the entire lot of three tin trunks,his wife and his five children – the youngest being barely six months old.

“You can walk down. But be careful. The roads are dark and dingy. You may try and find a van rickshaw down the road”, he tried to sound helpful.

Somewhere far away I could hear a strange howl.

“Tiger”, the sister above me whispered into my ears.

“Shut up. Stop scaring.”, the other sister pinched her. Then turning towards me, she smiled.

“Just a baby fox”, she pacfied.

I shuddered. Coming from Calcutta, fox was an equally terrifying presence. I wanted to go back to our three storeyed house in Calcutta – the sound of the trams, the honk of the buses, the chaos at the public tap…..Our house in central Calcutta bustled with people and laughter. Cousins, their cousins and cousins of them filled in every nook of the household. Bundles of silks and bordered sarees came from the only departmental stores in the city. The women chose their likings while we children tried to look into them through the huge circle of feminine enthusiasm. My father was the unwritten lord of the household. Anyone who wanted to come to Calcutta only had to inform their ‘Sotu Dada’.

Being small there wasn’t many things I understood but I could sense the dwindle – in people, in trust, in fortune….till we were the only ones left in that huge mansion. Night after night I could see my father counting his last bit of savings to pay the huge burden of unpaid rent.

But at that moment I wanted to go back to our house in Calcutta and tuck under the cosy blanket.

The road was dark, rough and the hunger was over powering.

“Don’t worry, we’ll stay for a day at your uncle’s house and then I shall find a house for you by tomorrow”, my father offered his solace as we walked towards an unknown tomorrow. There was a certain lace of uncertainity in his voice. It was scary.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

“Carefully. Here. One more step”, the men held on to my father – tightly holding his near limp body. Three of them held on to his body while the fourth widened the door enough to pull him through.

“ Which way sister? He needs to be put to bed.”, one of the men asked my mother.

Speechless, she pointed to one corner of our room.

The doctor who had accompanied the men set on to do his duty as soon as he was laid on the bed.

‘Cerebral hemmorhage’, he shook his head.

‘You can shift him to a hospital but I cannot guarantee anything. It can be today, tomorrow or anyday’, he sounded the death knell.

The men from George Telegraph looked at mother helplessly.

“We tried our best sister. He just collapsed while working”,they sounded apologetic.

“It is okay Sir. He hasn’t been keeping too well off late. Since we shifted to this semi rural area he had been upset”, my eldest brother pacified politely.

My sisters sobbed inconsolably. I did not know what to do.

“Ma”, I tried to hold on to her saree.

“Hushh”, she pulled me up to her lap. I put my head to her bosom. I could hear her heart beat.

Her lips moved in murmur. I trained my ears to hear her.

“The Lord is my shepherd ; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul, he leads me in the paths of rightousness for his sake. And when I shall walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me”.

I knew it was a passage from The Bible. Her trust on her Lord was unshakable. It somehow rubbed on to me too. At that moment I could feel a sense of comfort.

I was very small to understand the economic repercussions but perhaps big enough to know that with the clock ticking away for the only earning member, it wasn’t going to be too easy for a family of seven.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

It came very slowly at first. And then as days passed it hurled itself at us with unending ferocity. Every day I would see my brother going out in search of work. Everyday we would count coins, just to know how far we were from the brink of absolute poverty. And everyday we would see the snowballing effect of hunger and poverty over powering our desire to survive. But amidst all this my mother would wake up at four thirty every morning, take a bath, freshen up her paralysed husband and then sit with her Bible. Turning her face towards the rising sun she would read aloud passage after passage from The Bible – tears streaming down her eyes. Nascent rays of the morning sun would play around on the printed verses. Her voice would brim with pride – pride of her unrelentless belief in the Almighty. No poverty, no hunger could touch that one area.

One by one she sold all her remaining assets – her jewellery, sets of brass utensils which we used for our eating….almost everything that we had. But she ensured that not a single day would go without food. With minimum ingerdients she would rustle up such marvels in the kitchen that neighbours would find excuses to peep into the kitchen.

Till the day there was nothing left to sell anymore.

“What now Ma?”, one of my sisters asked.

“Hushhh…have belief”, she smiled.

She brought down the green tin trunk from the attic.

Sitting around the tin trunk we rummaged through the contents. I noticed my mother. Her lips quivered in silent prayer.

From amidst woollen garments and old shawl emerged volumes of Encyclopedia Brittanica. It smelt of moth balls. I remembered the series on butterflies – pages after pages of colorful butterflies.

“Shall we, Ma?”, my elder sister asked. The reddish tinge on her nose was unmistakable. She faked a sneeze. A tiny droplet from her eyes fell on my dusty palm.

My mother held on to the books for a while.

Then with a firm voice she answered, “We shall”.

“Can we atleast keep the book with butterflies”, I pleaded.

“For as long as we can”, she assured.

The ‘as long’ was too soon enough.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

Thirteen years, three months and twenty five days – that many days my mother held on to the belief that miracles do happen. Every single day she walked through the valley of death, knowing that the Lord is her shepherd. That many days unfailingly she bathed her paralysed husband, kept the room absolutely neat without a speck of dust, cooked the best ever dishes, fought with individual destinies of each of her children, ensured their education. Those of us who at times wondered if her belief was worth the effort, failed to realize that the very fact that we were all there to see the day was a miracle in itself.

Thirteen years, three months and twenty five days since the fatal day- on the morning of 26th of January my father died. Normally there would be a sense of relief or a sense of grief. My mother had none. A calmness adorned her countenance.

My marriage followed.

The day before my marriage she called me to her room.

“Will you sleep with me tonight?’, she whispered into my ears.

That night I slept with her. Like my childhood days I buried my face in her bosom. She let her fingers run through my hair.

“I am sorry my child. I couldn’t give you anything as you were growing up. It was a constant battle with poverty instead”, she cried.

“Don’t tell like that Ma. You are the reason we are what we are. You have ensured education, marriage….everything that we could ever ask for.”, I sobbed.

Throughout that night we spoke to each other like long lost friends.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

“Close the window”, my husband advised.

“Let it be”.

“Won’t you catch cold?”, he was concerned. He wanted to pull down the shutters of the train window.

“No”, I answered. I wanted my mind to be preoccupied. The acres of passing greenery soothed my failing nerves.

I recalled what my sister had told me over the phone. The line was bad, the voice cracked but I had held on to the receiver as close to my ears as possible.

“Not once did Ma let us know what pain she was going through. When finally we could understand we took her to the hospital. Not once did she wince. Instead she recited Psalm 23. At the hospital the doctor had at first refused to give her water. She kept asking for a glass of water. But when the doctor knew there was not much time left, he asked her if she still wanted some water. You know what Ma said ? She said, ‘Son, now I do not need water. My Almighty is waiting there for me with a glass of water’.”. She couldn’t continue thereafter. The line had got disconnected.

“Ma”. Someone touched me with her soft wet fingers. I shuddered. This was the same touch I had felt when my mother had touched my hand just the day I was to leave for Bangalore with my husband.

“What if I die ? May be you will never see me”, she had smiled her glorious best.

“Don’t say like that Ma. You’ll always be alive”, I had chided her.

“Still…in case….be my good girl then. Keep everyone happy. There shouldn’t ever be a reason for anyone to point fingers at my upbringing”.

I had kissed her – once, twice, three times.

That was the last I ever saw of my mother.

“Ma”, someone called again. I realized my little daughter was calling me. My tears had worried her.

“I am here little one”, I picked her up and put her in my lap. She pressed her nose against my bosom. Did she too get the same smell ? Of sweat and sandal soap? I didn’t know. I just hoped desperately that I did smell like my mother.

Epilogue: This Valentine’s Day I wanted to write about love – the power of love. The more I thought about the extremities of love the more blurred became the images of soft teddies, scented candles, red roses, heart shaped muffins. I realised that there could never, ever be a love more powerful, more all encompassing than a mother’s love! With growing age the worries about my mother are becoming overpowering. And suddenly I realize what she would have gone through, having lost her mother when she was just a new mother herself and barely out of her teens. Being of only two years, I hardly remember my maternal grandma. Two floating images – of a peach complexioned woman with a cotton soft touch and a pair of hands making a porridge of puffed rice in the dim light of a lantern appear now and then. But as I have grown up, I have come to realize what a powerful story of motherhood she symbolizes. Her story is a story of the strength of womanhood, of belief and of unfailing love for her husband, her children and family. So Ma, this is for you. A story you wanted to tell the world – the love story of you and your Ma! Happy Valentine’s Day!!

GRANDMA

From me, To you

background-image-965382_1920The train started with a jolt and I was almost about to tumble off my berth. I caught hold of the side guard lest I tumble down on my co-passenger below. That should be the last thing to ever happen to a young girl….to land herself on the young man seated below. And with his dark moustache and rugged looks he hardly looked amiable. I took some time to adjust and then settled down with the book that I had brought along. With the top-most berth hardly offering any view I had no option but to resort to my novella.

And before long, I got engrossed in the crime fiction that I had laid my hands upon in the book-store in the railway station . My mind got so engrossed in the maze of the suspected list of assailants that I failed to notice when my scarf had slipped off my nape and had landed straight on to the lap of my co-passenger. And worse, I didn’t hear his mumbled call either. It was only when he stood up and called out loud enough to surpass the din of the train that I happened to notice an extended hand holding out my Rose pink scarf.

“Excuse me Ma’am, I guess this is yours”, he spoke in voice that seemed to come from the depth of his stomach. Startled, I looked at his face- straight! And strangely enough I could almost see an amused smile hanging precariously from his tobacco-tinted lips. And yes, he was handsome!

**

My Love,

It is raining yet again today. Little drops of water are landing on the window and then sliding down the glass, washing away the specks of dust that have gathered on the window. A lonely ray of light has made its way through the silver threads of water and is falling right over this paper as I am writing to you. How many years would it be since I’ve written a letter to you ? Years or ages? No, no I should rather be saying “seasons” !

Remember how I had laughed out loud that day? And all because you said, “ In love you don’t count years, you count seasons”. I had taken a moment to reconcile with the fact that I was actually hearing what I was hearing and then I had burst out laughing. I laughed and laughed till my jaws began to ache. That it came from you was the last thing I could imagine. You, who would rather buy me a dozen bananas than buy me a bunch of roses ! You, who would make his lover walk and walk and walk till she would huff and puff like an engine which had run out of steam!

I would have gone on laughing forever had I not noticed the vexed look on your face. That little hint of hurt was so visible in your crossed eye-brows that I knew I had to stop there. “ Oh my, my…did I hurt you ? I am so sorry…its just that it was you who said that….”, I really had no words to apologize.

And then came the final assault. “No, no, not at all. I wasn’t hurt at all. In fact all I was trying to do was to calculate the exact number of seasons we’ve crossed. I mean, taking the fact that there are five seasons in an year and we know each other for four years now, it would be about…….”.

That was us ! So extremely different! While I absolutely loved poetry and music, you were into hardcore sports. Like every girl I dreamed pink and wished blue for my man but you were out and out into white and muted grey.

“Atleast you can try some black, you know. Some guys look cool when they wear black”, I had tried to reason with you. And what was your answer?

“Hmm…I’ve tried wearing black once or twice but I’ve noticed that black attracts a lot of mosquitoes. Every time I’ve worn black I’ve ended up with mosquito bites”.

And no, you weren’t joking ! That was you and me. Our differences in thoughts, feelings and attitude was never a problem to us but our differences in religion, language and up-bringing was a problem to the rest of the world, to our families! That you belonged to a Tamil Hindu Brahmin family and I belonged to a Bengali Christian family made our togetherness an impossible proposition. And that we were neither college-mates nor colleagues and were merely co-passengers in a train made it even harder to approach our parents, mine especially.

“ Don’t tell me what I am hearing is right ! Co-passengers ? You mean one night in a train and you thought he was ‘The Man’ for you ? “, my father had thundered.

And I hadn’t yet revealed the fact that you were ten years my senior! But then we knew we had to marry. Do you remember Andy, my batch-mate from college? When he heard that we were getting married he gave a fabulous two-liner: “Don’t worry, atleast one thing is common between you both: mustard! While the Bengalis make a paste of it and use it in every dish possible, the South Indians make it splutter and add to any dish they make”.

But you were always different from the others. Remember the day our daughter was born ? The nurse held out the little bundle in a towel and whispered, “ Here Sir, here’s your little flower”.

You clutched the baby carefully, looked at her lovingly and said, “ Yes, my little hybrid flower”.

There was a hushed silence in the room for a second and then there was a roar of laughter from every corner of the room. So much so, that the baby started to wail loudly, wanting to hide back in her mother’s womb.

“ Your hubby is really charming. He has a great sense of humour”, my best friend Anita has quipped in later.

But within my heart I knew that it was not just your sense of humour, it was your simplicity that had made you so special! I knew you wouldn’t hold my hand to express your love but I was assured of a pair of strong hands holding me while crossing the road. You would be the last person to stay awake with me and look at the stars but you would never fail to stay awake and look after my children if I would be sick.

For heaven’s sake you would never organise a candle-light dinner for me but I knew I would never be left hungry! And that was why I had chosen to marry you amidst all odds.

Our life was going on fine – our little home, our daughter and us….it was bliss all around ! And then it happened….What day was it ? Was it a Monday ? No. no it was a Tuesday, ofcourse ! The next day was Ria’s birthday – her fifth birthday. My guest list was ready, the balloons had come, birthday cake was ordered and I was waiting for you to come. You had to bring in the rest of the items – the vegetables, the fruits, fresh cream…You came in a bit later than usual. Both Ria and I jumped up at the ring of the bell.

“Yay, Dadda’s come home”, Ria screamed with joy as soon as you came in.

I took the plastic bags from your hand, one by one. And then I looked at your face. The pale smile on your lips didn’t do justice to Ria’s enthusiastic welcome. Tired perhaps, I had tried to reason with myself. But when umpteen cups of hot tea wouldn’t wash away the tired look on your face, I knew something was wrong. I kept coaxing you but you wouldn’t open up….not until Ria was tucked off in the coziness of her bed. It was the first time we sat up looking at the stars, it was the first time you let your fingers cling on to mine like a child.

“Rini, I lost my job today”, you uttered the words – slowly and softly, as if you didn’t want the words to cross the barrier of your tongue. Surprised, puzzled and confused I’d stared at your face for many minutes till I could sense a small stream of tears struggling to come out of the ducts. It was not that I did not anticipate this – I got a whiff of it when you’d told me a week back how you had caught your senior officer red-handed. He had been presenting fake bills and false statement of accounts. You were overjoyed, recalling with utmost precision, how you nailed him. You were happy and I was apprehensive. Though years younger to you, the woman in me told me, something not nice would happen very soon! And here it was !

The man in you wouldn’t cry and the woman in me didn’t want to cry. But I was terribly afraid….We sat in silence for many minutes. Or was it light years? And then you spoke. “Rini, do you see the stars in the sky ? There are billions and billions of them….we cannot count them, we cannot tell one from the other but the good Lord up there knows each one of them…he never loses count. The same God takes care of us too. Didn’t you read in The Bible that God protects us like a bird, keeping us under his wings ?”

My love, today I want to confess to you that that was the day, that was the moment I actually fell in love with you! Till that day I was crazy about you, adored you, worshipped you, had a huge crush on you but perhaps that was not what I could really call love…But that moment the world stood still, the night-bird stopped singing, the Jasmine creeper forgot to sway to the tunes of the soft wind….mesmerized, they listened to you as you spoke. Uncertainty gave way to comfort and love replaced fear. And I knew, together we would cross every hurdle!

But as they say, it is easier said than done. And all the problems came one by one with amazing frequency and timely precision – they put false allegations in your name and wouldn’t give you your dues, your father suffered a stroke and you had to rush to Chennai leaving behind a scheduled job interview, Ria fell down the stairs and fractured herself hip downwards and three weeks into all these I discovered to my utter surprise and dismay that I was pregnant with our second child! I didn’t want the child ofcourse, not at this crucial juncture and made an appointment with the doctor. I did not want to trouble you so I took Anita along.

“Mrs.Shekhar, why do you want an abortion? You are fine, your first child is already five years old and you are well settled…so why should you think of an abortion at all ?”, the doctor quizzed me.

“ Well, if you are thinking about maintaining yourself then I can assure you that with a little bit of gym and exercising after the mandatory rest period you can easily lose weight post-delivery…and if you continue breast-feeding then you can get back to shape in no time”, she joked.

I wanted to scream back, “Hell, no! That’s not why I want an abortion. My husband is jobless. Do you get it ? HE IS JOBLESS!!”

I knew I couldn’t do that so I just smiled and came out of her chamber.

“You can talk to your parents…atleast they can help you…”, Anita tried to comfort me.

But I knew I wouldn’t do that…I could not bear to see my husband tried and tested in the court of justice of the rest of the world . Was he guilty ? May be he is lying. May be he was just thrown out because he was a non-performer. Or may be it was him who tried to fudge the accounts…?? May not be my parents but definitely other relatives….And I couldn’t bear to see that.

Days passed by but our troubles didn’t. My pregnancy was complicated and we could not put Ria in the prestigious school that we had planned. Your office wouldn’t give you an experience certificate and you had no other experience elsewhere. Your age was not on your side and you were too honest to supress the past history to prospective employers!

Amidst all this uncertainty our second child came into this world….Contrary to his sister he was born in small, dingy hospital where two women shared a bed. I had to undergo an operation so I was luckily given a cot all to myself. Do you remember the day we took him home from the hospital? We stepped out with him and it began to rain. That year the summer was harsh and not a drop of rain was in sight and finally it rained that day! You opened your big, black umbrella over us and uttered, “ Rain, welcome rain!” That is how he got his name : Rain !

Ria and Rain were growing fast and our savings were dwindling faster. With no other option in sight you took up a marketing job and I gave private-tutions at home. Do you remember how apprehensive I was about Ria’s reaction to our changing life-style?

“Don’t worry, children are the most compromising people on earth, they mould themselves according to the need of the situation”, you’d assured me.

And sure enough she adjusted faster than we did. She wouldn’t ask for Barbie dolls, she would be happy to get as small a thing as a pencil. And just to make you happy she would say, “ Wow Dadda, this is exactly the pencil I was looking for. How did you guess?”

Though I knew how much it hurt you to hear her say so. Once your sister Jayshree was visiting us and she had given Ria a ten rupee note to buy chocolates for herself . How excited she was to get that note! She hopped down the stairs, and ran off to the shop. She wore a happy look when she back from the shop. Your sister was in the balcony. Your daughter tip-toed her way to the kitchen and pulled out from her pocket the coveted treasure : a packet of tea leaves. My tears just wouldn’t stop flowing.

Till date I don’t know which fairy had whispered into her ears that tea leaves was something her mother was frantically looking for in the kitchen! And not only did she compromise with the situations herself she taught her brother how to face poverty and neccessity – boldly and with a smile intact! Everyday while returning back from the school they would pause in front of the big toy store, they would press their nose against the glass-case and make a choice.

“ I want that pink teddy”. “I want the red engine”. They would make their respective choice and then say in unison, “One day when I shall become big and I shall have a lot of money I shall buy that for you”.

Then they would burst out laughing and make their way back home. And every single day I would burn within myself. I would cry, you would burn within yourself but we survived. Friends became rare and relatives rarer but four of us were enough for each other. The love that two of us shared with each other blossomed into four and each of us, irrespective of our age became each other’s support.

And whenever I would breakdown you would say, “ Rini, gold becomes pure only when it faces fire. If your children are walking through the path of fire today, they would emerge as pure gold tomorrow”.

How right you were! Remember what Ria and Rain gifted each other this New Year? Ria gave Rain a pink teddy and Rain gave Ria a red engine. As they opened each other’s gifts they laughed their heart out but only we both knew how many more tears were flowing within their heart.

Today they are big, they have lots of money and they can give each other the gifts that they want but what is precious is the fact that they have not forgotten the path of burning ember through which they had to walk one day. And they are what they are because we had built our citadel on the foundation of love that was rock-solid!

And why am I telling you all these once more today? Why is it that once again I am rewinding our love story? Because they will take away your body in another hour or so and before they do that I want to finish my letter. And then I would tuck it inside your shirt pocket. That was our deal, remember? That would not be the end of our story of course. That would only be the beginning of a new one. Hope you will not forget the deal….whoever reaches first waits for the other!

Ria and Rain were apprehensive to leave me alone in this room. But I have assured that I will be okay. I am not crying, I am not sad either, I am a tad tired! The rain has stopped and a handful of rays are glistening through the window. The leaves have been washed afresh, they are ready to begin their new life. I am preparing myself too…for my new role : that of a mother and a father!!

And from here begins my wait….my rose-pink scarf would fly down once more. I know you shall be there to get hold of it yet again. You shall hold it out to me and say….. in your deep-throated voice, “Excuse me Ma’am, I guess this is yours”.

With Love,
Your Beloved Wife

__END__

Originally Published at: Yourstoryclub.com