Here I am
The vermillion saree with yellow tassells was hanging from the cot. I remember wearing a similar saree on the day Sundar was born on a summer night in the village. Only it had many golden checks on the body and a floral border. Sundar walked past yelling as usual, “Amma, look at your saree falling on to the floor,” he loves the marble flooring way more!
“Sundar, do you remember this colour? I had the saree with me till you turned eight.” He doesn’t get excited about the story of his birth as much as I do, every time I narrate it. And the doubt surfaces again, “Am I deaf or is he?” And today it was just him yelling.
My grand daughter is awake now, The music she plays is too loud, even for me. I longingly wait for her hands around me and a moist kiss on my dimpled cheeks. My fond scolding would follow, “Go brush your teeth first.” Those were the days! Once she got busy with school, all she did was hop by and say, “Hi granny!”
But now, a beautiful teenager, she walks in the same grey pants almost every day, or maybe different shades of grey which are too difficult for me to name. Her world is in her palm, her eyes don’t see anything other than that mobile phone and she has those thread-like wires hanging from her ears. “Are they hearing aids?,”I want to know.
Arakku (crimson), kilipachai (light green), manjal (yellow), kathiripoo niram (violet), these used to be her favourite colours when she was a toddler. And she used to draw a round-faced, stick figure of me in the vermillion saree.
“When I was your age, even though I had Sundar in my hands, I was able to cook for 50 people at home. You, on the other hand, cannot even make your own tea.” Was I inaudible or invisible or both?
Her mom, my daughter in law, finally made her presence felt in the living room.
She ordered the cook to place my food by the bedside.
“I have an important meeting to attend today and won’t be coming until late at night, Chaya will come in one hour”. She didn’t care for a reply. She doesn’t have time to wait until I stretch, turn, bones cracking, and try to sit straight. Those five minutes are invaluable for her. So without checking if am physically present or not, she closed the main door shut. And the undraped vermillion saree fell to the floor.
She is the only one who hasn’t spoken about the patch of land I owned and had to sell for Sundar’s education. All the others keep talking about it till date and justify their collective decision of handing over the burden of taking care of me to Sundar and his wife. They conveniently overlook the fact of me visiting everyone for their childbirth and babysitting needs. The hardest part here is that they say that I am forgetful and I keep repeating the same old stories. I remember it all crystal clear, each one of them taking turns to talk about the land that I sold just once.
My daughter in law was upset with the fact that I chose to move my cot to the living room. And stopped even the pretentious listening.
In pitch dark nights, I have walked on stone studded village roads looking for missing calves.
Once when Sundar got typhoid and the muddy roads got flooded I swam across a rain fed river carrying Sundar on my back. Sundar isn’t my only offspring. I had five of them and have faced the death of two of my children, as snakes kept paying regular visits.
I have stayed sleepless for years together just to guard my children from those invasive reptiles.
But staying in a cozy room of my son’s house where no body visited me for days together scared me. The tiny mirror like gadget in which they take photographs with me was frightening. Ten years back, I used to get bored of customary questions like “did you have food, is there enough stock of medicine, did you receive any courier, has my daughter come home?”
Those questions are a luxury now.
Chaya, the helper entered the house with a rock like expression. I always wanted to teach her how to smile. Its too late. She speaks a different language but ensures that I understand her swear words.
She was cursing me for having dropped the saree down, she took it to the wash area using a stick.
She loudly spoke about the untouched food and threw the dishes in the sink, she was mentioning about homeless orphans who don’t get food, and I was wasting the food served with love and sympathy to a useless me.
I laughed aloud, until the dimples ached.
Has she ever seen me feeding the villagers? Does she know I could speak to cows and dogs and knew their hunger and pain too?
Chaya went about her chores for some time and watched few shows on the TV. She had the enslaving gadget too, that her eyes were glued to, till dusk.
“I have a guest at home, am leaving early today”, she declared to the empty house and left.
The Sanskrit book that I read lay open on my bed… and the pages with the mantra to turn oneself invisible, were fluttering in the evening breeze, it was accidental that I came across the book from among the pile of my leftover treasures.
This was my final hope, my last straw, that anyone of them would come closer and check where had I vanished!
But I had forgotten that there wasn’t a need for a mantra to stay invisible!
– Anuradha Sayeenathan