Eleven years is a long time, some would say a life time. Yet when I close my eyes and look back upon the brick backs and the creases that fall, it seems to zip past in a flurry of here there s and nowhere s of emotions, twists and turns. As a dainty bride when I took my first nervous steps into my, to be home, I was greeted by a somewhat smiling somewhat nervous face of my Mother- in- law for the first time. In true Bengali tradition, she had not been to her son’s marriage and this was the first time she was a part of the brouhaha that surrounded the home coming of a bride. Amongst nervous steps and smiles that slowly changed to steady and confident ones we covered a dual journey that was somewhat formal and somewhat caged. Yet amidst it all, a happy presence prevailed. When the daughter-in-law cooked, she sang a song to entertain. When the Kolkata heat pervaded the kitchen she quietly placed a wet towel nearby. In flip flop ways, and now sauntering now gurgling manner we managed a precautious balance.
The death of a close one always affects us severely and so it did to her, on the death of her husband, as the sudden realisation of what loneliness was dawned on her. In true Indian tradition she separated her vegetarian kitchen from ours and her already God inclined persona turned into that of a shuttle between the Puja room and her own limited corridors. Amidst the hustle and bustle of our daily life, in cities now here and now there, she staunchly refused to let go of her home. But all of a sudden in a sudden departure or perhaps the whims of age, she gracefully descended on us as we made home of Chettiand country. The busy schedules and hustle and bustle continued here too, but as each of us went about our work, a quiet presence made its way into each of our lives in such soft footed manner as was unprecedented.
When I forgot breakfast, she was the fruit seller, when as a couple we wanted private space, she was baby sitter, when arguments ensued in our home she was the balm, when we came back home tired, she was the smile. For my child returned from home she was the adorable grandma, for a tired me, she was my cup of tea, for a tired husband, she was the hand that ruffles the hair. A generation and more apart, this white, creased and frail image of dignity taught me a lesson everyday in love, the love of giving and not expecting. Today she left us, to go to another home that of another son, another visage and another life for a month or two and she shall perhaps spread her light there too.
As I browsed through her room, among little packets of spices, fragrances, bits of clothing, small spoons, the neatly folded bed, God and her Godliness, I sat in silence and watched how the little things of life matter so less and yet so much. In cooking, collecting, buying, yet leaving behind it all, she spread a fragrance far more potent than the headiest of perfumes. It’s the presence that matters after all, I guess. In a house that is suddenly full of loneliness more and less of the ‘US’, I miss the absence of someone I call MA.
© 2010 Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury