My Christmas shopping spree in Kolkata: Where old meets new!

S. S. Hogg Market: Then (1905) and Now (2018)

Christmas is round the corner and the city of joy is all set for the upcoming holidays. Just a week before Christmas, on a fine sunny morning, we set off to explore the festive splendour of Kolkata. This city never fails to feed your soul with the ultimate joy of unique experiences.

We were headed to New Market–once upon a time called Sir Stuart Hogg market, which began its operation in 1874. Now, only one building holds the sign of the original name. As you enter the building, you can feel the air of old times even though most of the shops sell modern stuff. Yet there are a few places which have refused to give in to the external shine and shimmer of modern commercial places.

Nahoum and Sons

One of those places is Nahoum and Sons–the most popular bakers and confectioners of the city. Since 1902, they have been pleasing the tastebuds of the people of Kolkata with varieties of cakes, muffins, pies, tarts, puffs, candies, cheesecakes, breads, rum balls, pastries and many other savouries.

Savouries of Nahoum and Sons

We found out that there hasn’t been much alteration to the decorum of the shop ever since it became operational. As I stepped in, the mouth-watering aroma of freshly baked cakes filled my lungs. For a few minutes, I just stood admiring the glass shelves filled with delicacies. I bet you would start feeling hungry at the sight. We decided to try out a few of them.

There was the most delicious rum ball I have ever tasted. There was the ‘cheese samosa’ with a crispy crust filled with soft spongy cheese. There was this puff with a generous quantity of chicken filling. We even had deviled egg which was quite a delight.

We bought two packs of candies and fresh garlic bread. ‘This is how Christmas season should begin’, I said to myself as we left the shop.

The market was glimmering in red and green and all that’s glittery–Christmas trees and ornaments, wreaths, stars, Santa Claus dolls and crib sets. Everything looked magical–as if we had been transported to a land of fairytales.

We walked on looking for dry fruits, and we came across this store which reminded me instantly of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The shop even held the name: ‘Crazy Nuts Corner’! There were dark chocolates, milk chocolates, flavoured toffees and candies, lollipops and all that you could possibly imagine!

Crazy Nuts Corner

I bought dried blackcurrants, almonds, pistachios, cashews, raisins, chocolate chips and a slab of dark compound.

I went on looking for baking moulds and there were moulds of every shape and size for cakes and cookies. I got eight muffin moulds and two sheets of butter paper. My shopping was done for the day!

I had even forgotten to check my watch, and I was really late for office!

While walking hurriedly out of the market I halted and looked back. Two more minutes here wouldn’t have saved me from reaching late anymore. I stood for a while, gazed and mused.

The market had been there through a century, still flourishing in all its glory. There is something about this wonderful city–you can never know what treasures she holds until you explore her heart. She is adapting with the transformations of the age, and yet she has proudly preserved her beautiful heritage.

(Image of old S.S. Hogg Market: Wikipedia

Other images: My friend and myself)

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When Paintings Come Alive with ‘Loving Vincent’

866px-WLANL_-_h3m3ls_-_Vincent_van_Gogh_Self-portrait

Vincent van Gogh’s self-portrait

I do watch lots of movies, but I have never really written any movie-review before. I have never talked much even about my favourite movies. Today, after watching ‘Loving Vincent’, I feel the urge to talk about it. My heart is filled with a kind of ache, and a satisfaction–emotions that brew up inside you only after you experience being in the presence of a masterpiece. Yes, this work of art, named ‘Loving Vincent’, has done that justice to the greatness of the genius named Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh’s paintings have intrigued me since I was a child. I even remember the painting which introduced me to van Gogh’s world. Hung on the wall of a doctor’s clinic was a copy of ‘Fishing Boats on the Beach’, which kept my eyes glued to itself, when I was nine years old. I didn’t know what post-impressionism was at that point of time, nor did I know that he who painted it was called the father of modernism.

Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries by Vincent Van Gogh

‘Fishing Boats on the Beach’

I have explored his paintings and have felt in each of them a part of an artist’s soul which immortalized the mundane objects, bringing them alive with vibrant colours and bold strokes of brush. His eyes could see beauty in things we don’t even notice.

Since the trailer of ‘Loving Vincent’ got released, I was dying to watch it, and the beauty of it came out to be beyond my expectations.

The first thing that made me realize that this film was more than just a biography, was the line: ‘The film you are about to see has been entirely hand painted by a team of over 100 artists’, just before the beginning. Wow! That took my breath away!

The story begins one year after the mysterious death of van Gogh, when Armand Roulin sets off to deliver Vincent van Gogh’s last letter to his brother Theo, only to find that Theo was dead too. During his entire journey, he listens to different versions of stories from different people about the talented yet queer-natured artist who committed suicide.

In the film, we see van Gogh through the words of people who knew him. We get some pieces of pictures from his childhood, and some from his years as a struggling artist suffering from a mental condition called Melancholia. Bringing all these pieces together, we can get an almost complete overview of his life and character, though some parts remain still obscure. All of it materializes in front of our eyes through Roulin’s quest for the truth about van Gogh’s death.

Portrait-of-Armand-Roulin

Portrait of Armand Roulin

I don’t wish to give you spoilers, so I won’t describe the story anymore. I would like to talk about the movie as a piece of artwork. If you are a lover of van Gogh, you’ll be delighted to see his paintings placed everywhere throughout the movie. It makes you feel connected with the artist’s mind–thanks to those artists who recreated the beauty of his paintings. Over sixty-five thousand paintings had to be made to make this film come alive on screen! One wrong brush stroke on a single painting could have ruined an entire scene. Incredible isn’t it?

Another surprise was the casting–the actors were not only brilliant but also the lookalikes of the real characters from van Gogh’s portraits.

In the harsh reality of life, an artist with a sensitive and compassionate heart could have barely survived. Vincent van Gogh died at the age of thirty-seven, but he remained alive in the hearts of people he was acquainted with, he remains alive in his creations. Though he spent most of his life in misery, he never ceased to love.

You must watch this film, at least once, and I bet you’ll be reeling with emotions, and fall in love with the brilliant artist who was once marked as an eccentric. Kudos to the directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, along with the entire team of actors, artists and technicians!

I had goosebumps when I watched his ‘Starry Night over the Rhone’ unfolding before my eyes in the film. The sky full of stars, painted in van Gogh’s unique style, reminded me of his famous words:

‘Someday death will take us to another star’.

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‘Starry Night over the Rhone’

All I Want for Christmas

Rohan opened his eyes, feeling the warmth and brightness of the sun on his face. A new day wanted to welcome him, but he turned around and covered his head with the blanket.

‘Come on Rohan Baba, wake up! Your breakfast will get cold. Hurry!’, Kamla shouted.

Rohan groaned. Kamla swiftly moved around and opened all windows, parting away the curtains, humming a song in her mother tongue. The fragrance of fresh flowers in her hair filled the room.

She came and picked Rohan up in her lap. Rohan was so lean and light that Kamla didn’t need to put any effort to carry him.

Rohan’s face was sullen. For him every morning was the same. Nothing seemed to excite him, make him feel enthusiastic. He was ten years’ old and nothing like the children of his own age in nature.

Long eyelashes skirted his large eyes with brown pupils. His nose was small and round, and lips were thin. He didn’t like to cut his hair too short–they fringed his small forehead. He looked handsome but a little small for his age.

‘Where’s Mum?’, Rohan asked in a drowsy voice.

‘She went to school, for the fundraiser’, she replied gleefully, ‘Christmas is near!’

Rohan looked at the food on his breakfast-table: a sandwich, some scrambled eggs and a glass full of orange juice. He ate slowly, neatly and mechanically–like an adult.

He never complained about anything, though he seemed cranky almost all the time. He spoke very little. His father owned a textile business and had earned a good fortune. Every other child in the world waited for Santa to fulfill their wishes, but Rohan never had to. Perhaps that was the reason he never believed in Santa.

For his mother, Christmas was the busiest time of the year. As a part of an NGO, she attended a number charity events every year. This year she had arranged a fundraiser to save an orphanage from closing down.

A heap of toys waited for Rohan in the hall, near a huge Christmas Tree that stood in all its grace and grandeur. He entered, glanced towards them and moved away nonchalantly. He looked out of the huge glass window in the hall. The park was clearly visible. Little children were running around, playing and giggling. Their cheeks flushed. Wisps of vapour came out of their mouths and gleamed in sun. Some of them had dogs to play with. They pranced and laughed and cried out in excitement.

Rohan let out a sigh.

He didn’t notice that someone had crept up behind him. He turned around, and with a start he noticed the face of a little boy.

The little mocha-skinned boy smiled raidiantly. He wore some old oversized clothes and a blue sweater which was torn near the shoulder. He held a toy dolphin with both of his hands. It was a balloon made of blue shiny material, and it smelled really bad.

The skin on his feet flaked. He stood barefoot on that marble floor. He certainly felt cold.

He waved at Rohan. Rohan frowned at him.

‘Will you play with me Rohan Dada?’, he said.

Before Rohan could answer, Kamla came running into the hall.

‘Gopal! Why are you disturbing Rohan Baba? I had told you not to’, she scolded the little boy.

She gave a nervous smile to Rohan, wiping off the sweat with the end of her old and faded saree from her forehead–she had probably been in the kitchen.

She held her little boy in her lap, and he giggled.

‘This is my son, Gopal’, said Kamla.

‘Ma gave me this’, he said to Rohan, waving his toy. His eyes glittered and he never ceased to smile.

‘Rohan Dada doesn’t have a toy like this, does he Ma?’, he said.

‘I don’t even want that kind of toy. I don’t want any toy!’, Rohan thought.

All this time he was watching that little creature, who was incredibly happy about such a little thing.

‘Good boys don’t talk like that Gopal’, she said, ‘Rohan Dada has many toys! You don’t have any of those.’

Gopal suddenly fell silent and looked solemn, as he glanced at the heap of toys. Within seconds he smiled again and ran out of the hall.

‘I’m going to play!’, he shouted, when he left.

‘Please don’t mind, Rohan Baba’, Kamla said.

Rohan didn’t mind at all. He threw a distant gaze towards the park and remained quiet.

*****

It was Christmas Eve. The house was filled with the delicious aroma of freshly baked cakes and cookies. A party was in full swing. People poured into the hall as the evening set in.There was laughter, clinking of glasses, and jazz playing in the background. Rohan was dressed in his best tuxedo. He scratched his neck, and looked around. Each and every person looked self-obsessed. They all strove to look as important as they could. Rohan’s mother was at a distant corner, talking to some guests.

Rohan decided to sneak out of the hall towards his own room and open some of the presents, in the hope of finding something interesting.

After rummaging through them, he finally found something that was of his interest–a set of Enid Blyton’s books. He opened a few more presents. One of them was a red and white sweater with a reindeer knit on the chest. He found a pair of brown leather shoes too. He set those things aside and didn’t take a second look at any of the other presents. Some of them still remained unopened.

A different kind of music drifted into his ears from the window of his room. He saw a group of little children walking down the street, led by a man. They all wore red Christmas caps. Some of them played musical instruments while the others sang. They were carolers.

‘…and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing…’

The music seemed pleasing to Rohan’s ears. He listened to it until it faded away. He felt as if something wonderful was happening all around himself, and he missed being a part of it.

The door of his room was open and voices flowed in.

‘Can I go and see the party?’, the little boy asked.

‘No, Gopal, we can’t’, answered Kamla.

‘Why, Ma?’

‘We are not invited to the party, and I have lots of chores to do. Madam will be angry if I miss anything!’

‘I feel very cold.’

Kamla remained silent.

‘Ma, I’m feeling really cold. I wish I had a pair of socks.’

Kamla didn’t reply.

‘Can I have one of those pastries? The ones for the party?’

‘No, we can’t! It’s not for us’, she said, ‘Now be quiet!’

She had perhaps realized that she had been too harsh on him.

‘I’ll be done with my chores in an hour. Then we’ll go home and have hot and soft rotis and bhindi-subji for dinner. I have prepared some lemon pickle too’, she said most affectionately, ‘Now go and sit there quietly.’

Rohan didn’t understand why his mouth had started watering.

‘Okay Ma!’, Gopal replied. His voice was full of hope.

Rohan saw a glimpse of Gopal as he walked along the corridor, casting sideaway glances into Rohan’s room.

*****

At night Rohan’s mother came into his room. She was frangrant in the most exquisite French perfume. Her slender body looked regal in her blue silk gown. The party was over, and guests had left.

She sat on the bed and placed her hand on Rohan’s cheek.

‘How did you do today, my darling?’

‘As always’, said he.

He looked away while he spoke. She took away her hand from his cheek and placed it on his hands, holding them tight in hers. Rohan didn’t hold her fingers. His hands remained still, one upon the other, unaffected by his mother’s touch.

‘Don’t be angry my sweetheart!’, she said, ‘You know Mum remains busy at this time of the year.’

‘You’re always busy. It has nothing to do with the time of the year’, he coldly replied.

His mother stared at him for a few minutes and sighed.

‘I’m so sorry’, she said, ‘Please understand my child, I have so many things to take care of, that I don’t get enough time to be with you. Let this Christmas be over, and we’ll go for a trip somewhere. I’ll tell your Dad to plan something. The three of us could spend some time together, maybe in a resort in Goa, or maybe–‘

‘Mum!’, Rohan interrupted, ‘Can you prepare roti and bhindi-subji for me tomorrow, with some lemon pickle?’

‘What!’, she exclaimed.

She could not believe what she had heard from her son. Rohan looked down at his own hands. Suddenly she started laughing.

‘From whom did you learn about this food? Kamla?’, she said, stifling her laughter.

‘Yes’, Rohan said, ‘I overheard her telling Gopal that they’ll have it for dinner.’

‘That’s not what we eat. How do you know that you’ll like it?’, she asked.

‘I don’t know, I just wanted to taste’, he said.

He wanted to feel how it was like to eat a meal prepared by a mother.

‘Okay, I’ll ask Kamla to prepare some for you’, she said, and kissed his forehead.

Her breath smelled of wine.

‘Now go to sleep’, she said softly, tucking him in, ‘Good night!’

She switched the lights off and left, slowly closing the door behind her.

Rohan remained awake. His eyes became moist.

*****

On Christmas morning, Rohan found another heap of toys under the Tree. He segregated all his presents into categories: clothes, shoes, toys and books. He looked different this morning. His eyes glittered and he occasionally smiled.

For breakfast, Kamla brought two fluffy rotis, some bhindi-subji and lemon-pickle made by herself.

‘Madam told me this morning to give it to you for breakfast’, she said as she put it on his breakfast table.

Rohan gave a broad smile. He ate it all wholeheartedly, savouring each morsel. Kamla watched him with eyes wide in wonder and delight.

‘Do you need anything else, Rohan Baba?’, she asked.

He shook his head.

‘Where is your son? Hasn’t he come today?’, he asked.

‘Yes he’s here’, she said, ‘playing in the garden at the backyard.’

‘Can you bring him here?’, he said in a serious tone.

‘Yes sure’, she said and left to fetch her son, frowning in anticipation. Had her son done something wrong?

Gopal came into the hall, but lingered behind his mother. He hesitated to go near Rohan.

‘Come here’, said Rohan, in a commanding voice.

Gopal looked at his mother. She nodded in affirmation.

He slowly walked to Rohan, avoiding eye contact.

Rohan gestured towards a box and asked Gopal to open it. Gopal obeyed him.

There were two sweaters, a jacket, two pairs of socks and a pair of brown leather shoes. There were two toy cars and an airplane. Gopal stared at all of these without blinking his eyes.

‘Do you like them?’, Rohan said.

Gopal gaped at him.

‘These are yours’, he said, ‘my Christmas presents for you.’

Both Kamla and Gopal stared in disbelief. They stood still.

‘Don’t do this Baba’, she said, ‘Won’t Madam scold you?’

‘Why would she?’, said Rohan, ‘I have more than enough!’

Kamla’s eyes filled with tears. She embraced Rohan tight in her arms.

‘How can I thank you enough Rohan Baba? You’re an angel’, she said, kissing Rohan on his forehead.

‘Do one thing’, Rohan replied, ‘Ask Gopal to take me out into the park, to play with me.’

Gopal had already started dancing around Rohan, around the Christmas Tree.

‘Thank you Rohan Dada’, he said, hugging Rohan.

‘Now wear sweater, socks and shoes before we go out’, Rohan said.

Gopal got dressed in the red and white sweater with the reindeer on it. He wore a pair of white socks and the shoes fitted him perfectly.

Gopal pushed Rohan’s wheelchair and took him to the park. Gopal was stronger for his size and age. He moved the wheelchair round and round. Both of them shouted and laughed.

They chased butterflies and ran after puppies. The sweetness of winter sun caressed Rohan’s face. Other children came and started playing with them.

For the first time in his life, Rohan felt free. He felt he was flying. The fact that he couldn’t walk didn’t matter anymore.

‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!’, they shouted together.

Mother

Chapter XI

I cannot describe how I had felt when I saw my father’s picture on the wall of Mammam’s bedroom. It felt like the worst nightmare. I remember I was running away, as fast as I could. There was no noise, yet I felt as if a thousand peple were shouting into my ears. My head was pounding. I was thinking over and over again–about everything Mammam had said. I remembered her face. I remembered the beginning of the morning. Her sandalwood fragrance hadn’t left me yet. I could still smell her on my clothes. When I kept my head on her lap, everything in the world had seemed beautiful.

Now I knew she was the woman for whom Papa had left us. I had met my step-mother.

I couldn’t decide what was to be done.

My phone started ringing. Sidhharth had called.

‘Ellie! Where are you?’, he was breathing heavily.

‘At my apartment’, I replied.

‘Thank God!’, he said, ‘I’m coming as soon as I can.’

He paused for a second, and said, ‘Mammam’s been crying since you’d left.’

My heart wrenched. Tears filled my eyes. I wished to go back and hug her, and in the next moment, reality struck me hard again.

She was the reason behind all my sufferings since childhood.

I went into my mother’s room. Some of her belongings were still there inside her cupboard. I opened it after a long time.

I picked one of her oversized shirts which she loved to wear. I held it close to me and went to her bed. I lay there and cried until I exhausted myself. I had almost dozed off when something fell from the cupboard with a loud thud. I opened my eyes.

A gust of wind came and I could hear some papers flapping.

One of Mamma’s journals had dropped from the cupboard. I had forgotten to close it.

I picked it up from the floor and was about to put it back into the cupboard when a piece of paper slipped out of it and dropped on the floor.

It was a letter in Mamma’s writing. A closer look revealed that it was addressed to me.

I sat on my bed, and started reading.

‘Dear Ellie,

I have written so many books in my entire life, but I never faced such difficulty and hesitation as I am facing right now, while writing this letter to you. I don’t know whether I would ever have the courage to hand it over to you. Anyway, I have to tell these things to you before I die, so that you don’t have to believe a lie for the rest of your life.

I know you find it really annoying when I tell you to forgive your father. You find it odd when I tell you that your father had been an ocean of love for us. You wouldn’t if you knew the truth. You wouldn’t love me anymore if you know why Rajeev left us.

He left not because of his affair with some other woman, he left because I had cheated on him.

Yes you read it right my dear. I had cheated on your father. Do you remember when I left you with your Aunt Melissa and went to attend a conference in Mumbai for a week? It all happened during that trip.

He was my publisher’s brother, and a photographer in profession. I had seen him quite a few times before the conference. I didn’t know how it happened and why it happened. Perhaps it was the feeling of loneliness. Your father remained busy with his job and we seldom had time to spend with each other.

In those lonely times he came into my life and we started talking to each other. I found him attractive. I had tried to keep a check on my feelings but the situation went out of my control. He and I were very similar. We both didn’t have our feet on the ground. Both of us lived in a world of dreams. One night we both were drunk, and I felt like he was the one with whom I should have spent my life.

Next morning when I woke up, my phone was ringing. It was your call.

Shame and guilt filled my heart as I heard your voice. I felt terrible. I couldn’t look at the man lying beside me. I couldn’t look at myself on the mirror. I hated myself.

I broke off my relationship with him and came back to you. I remember your face lighting up when you saw me coming back before the expected time. That day I hugged you and took a vow–that I would never repeat this kind of act again.

I am not as brave and honest as you think I am. I didn’t have the courage to tell your father the truth. He soon found out the truth, from some marks on my body.

He was heartbroken. He stopped speaking to me. I was so ashamed of myself that I didn’t even have the courage to ask for forgiveness. The next time we spoke, we agreed on a divorce.

It was not very easy to get a divorce, when you were there. He badly wanted your custody. He loved you beyond any measure, and so did I.

My love for you, my child, was as pure and deep as as a mother’s love could be. I couldn’t bear to part with you. He couldn’t force me to part with you since giving birth to you was entirely my own decision, though after your birth he too fell in love with you.

I had been fiercely selfish about you. Even after shattering your father’s emotions into pieces, I asked him never to disclose my wrongdoings, so that you never hate me.

He didn’t have any option left. After all that I did to him, he still couldn’t hate me. He silently left. He had to bear all the pain of leaving you in false belief against himself.

I was the reason behind all the pain and suffering. I have died several deaths every moment, in the fear that you might meet your father and come to know the truth any day, in the guilt of betraying your father and keeping you misinformed about everything.

The cancer brought a relief. I am being punished for what I had done, and I don’t have to bear the torments of my soul any longer. I had always wished to die before you came to know the truth.

I have put you in a great trouble, haven’t I? You must be hating me now after all this. Please try to forgive me if you can. Go and find your father. I’m sure he’s still waiting for you. You can hate me for the rest of your life. I deserve it, but at least I will be at peace if you and Rajeev are together again.

Please know and believe, that I love you.

With love,

Your Mamma.’

I stared blankly at the wall. My entire body shivered. I don’t remember what happened to me next. Perhaps I had lost my senses.

When I woke up and found myself lying in my own bed. Siddharth was sitting beside me. His hand was on my forehead. For a few moments, I couldn’t recall what had happened. Slowly, one by one, all of it came back to me. Siddharth was watching me. He held me tight in his arms as fresh tears started flowing out of my eyes.

‘All is fine, my love’, he said reassuringly, ‘I’m here for you.’

*****

‘I know it’s overwhelming’, he said, as I recovered a little, still leaning on his shoulder, ‘to have so many truths unraveled in one day and shattering your beliefs altogether, but there’s one thing that you are not noticing.’

‘What?’, I asked.

‘You know I have parents who don’t talk to each other, and don’t talk to me. They never cared for me. Just a sum of money deposited into my account at the end of each month, until the end of my college days–that was our only mode of communication. And yet when I expressed my wish to join an art-college, they turned against me, and tried to force me to join their family business.

‘You know it all. Still I’m telling you all this because I want you to realize that not all people are loved. Though you have faced a lot of problems in your life, no matter whatever your parents did, they loved you. And now Mammam loves you too, like her own child.

‘They all have faced huge troubles in their own lives, but they haven’t stopped loving you.’

I remained silent and pondered over his words. I clung to him like a child. He held me patiently.

*****

How can one single day change one’s life completely? It was a severe blow. Whatever I had believed was a complete falsehood. I wanted to talk to Papa so badly, but I had lost him.

Till the last day of his life he had waited for me, but I wasn’t there.

I had lost my way. My mind went blank. After a long time, I closed my eyes and prayed. One by one they began to emerge. I could see Mamma and Papa smiling at me. I looked at them. They were there, but beyond my reach.

What they did in their lives didn’t matter anymore. What I had done didn’t matter to them either.

I felt better, I felt loved.

I remembered Siddharth’s words: ‘…they loved you.’

I went to pray with a lot of questions in my mind. When I opened my eyes, I had found only one answer to all of them.

My parents were not here, but there was someone who waited for me, who deserved to be loved. Who waited for me sitting at the steps in front of her house. Her face had become pale due to starvation and lack of sleep for two days. She forgot to arrange her hair. She gazed towards the front gate with anticipation in her eyes. Life had taken away everything from her–her child, her husband. Now I wasn’t going to let that happen anymore. I wouldn’t let her suffer one more loss.

As I entered I saw Siddharth standing behind her with a tray of breakfast and coffee, which she probably had been refusing.

She saw me as I slowly stepped in.

She stood up and her face changed colour. Perhaps she could not believe her eyes that I was there.

I felt an urge to run into her arms, and I did.

‘I’m sorry my little girl, I’m sorry…’, she repeatedly said in a feeble voice.

‘It’s not your fault, Mammam’, I said, wiping away her tears.

‘I’m sorry I left that day’, I said to her.

‘Come here’, she hugged me again.

Her eyes were tearful, but her face shone bright in happiness.

‘I’m never going to leave you alone’, I said. Her sandalwood smell had somehow fainted. I hugged her tighter to breathe in her smell. Surprisingly, I felt I was hugging my mother for the first time in my life.

‘Can I join in?’, Siddharth said, and he took both of us in his arms.

The sun was rising higher in the sky. A bird whistled from somewhere near us. Dew-drops glittered on the tips of grass at our feet. A butterfly fluttered near us–rays of sun reflected off its blue wings. I looked into Mammam’s eyes. There lay the answer to all my doubts, sufferings and problems–it was love.

There is only love that is true.

—The End—

Mother (Continued…)

Chapter X

Placing my head on her lap, I watched dry leaves falling down like drops of blessings from the heavens. We were enjoying the sweetness of sun in the garden at the backyard of the house. Mammam was on her armchair, and I knelt beside her. Our just-emptied coffee mugs were still letting out fumes. She stroked my hair.

Siddharth was painting something on his canvas, standing at a distance.

‘This garden was my husband’s favourite place’, she said, closing her eyes, ‘We used to sit here for hours when he was home. Sometimes we had our lunch here in the garden.’

‘He loved you very much, didn’t he?’ I said.

‘Not exactly in the beginning’, she replied, ‘We had to marry in the most difficult circumstances.’

I looked into her eyes with curiosity in mine. She read it, and smiled.

‘I was in a relationship with another man’, she began, ‘when I met him for the first time. We were working on the same assignment. In those times we became really good friends. I could trust him more than anyone. We never had any romantic feeling towards each other. He was happily married to the woman he loved and had a beautiful daughter.

‘The circumstances changed soon. I got pregnant. Shashank (the one I loved) refused to take the responsibility of his child and left me alone. I was devastated.

‘Rajeev was the only person who stood by me, but the society didn’t approve of our friendship. Everybody started to believe that I had an affair with Rajeev.’

She paused to take a deep breath. Hearing the familiar name ‘Rajeev’ gave me an unsettling feeling. I continued to hear her anyway.

‘Meanwhile, problems arose in Rajeev’s marital life. Once I had decided to end our friendship, considering it to be the root of our suffering. I insisted on him leaving me alone. Yet he stayed like a true friend would. He had assured me that his problems didn’t have anything to do with our friendship.

‘He got divorced. He had to part with the daughter he loved more than anyone else in the world. He moved out of his house. During those times I was struggling to figure out how to give birth to and raise a child without a father. I had left my job. My parents abandoned me. How the little one would face the torments of the society was my biggest concern. I couldn’t kill it in the womb–I would have been a murderer. I was afraid to go out my house as soon as my baby bump showed up. I was at a loss.

‘I had once become so depressed that I decided to kill myself. Rajeev came just in the moment and saved me when I was about to cut my wrist. He snatched the knife and threw it away, holding me in his arms. My body trembled and I cried like a child.

‘He said he would marry me just for the sake of the child.’

My heart raced faster. Dread fell over my entire body, as I sat motionless, glued to her story.

‘It’s not what you think’, I repeatedly told myself. Still my hands and feet were getting cold.

‘I had fought the hardest battle with the world to bring my child here, but I couldn’t’, her voice trembled.

‘One morning, I was having tea in this garden, when the telephone rang in the hall. Rajeev was at work. The maid was not around. I got up from my armchair and started walking towards the house in a hurry. I stumbled at these very stairs and fell down. I don’t remember the rest of it. When I opened my eyes in the hospital, Rajeev was there. He held my hand in his. He looked haggard. I looked at my own body and realized something was wrong. I looked at him, and he shook his head. I had lost my baby.’

Her eyes glistened. She held my hand tight.

‘The doctor said I would never become a mother. But look’, she said, ‘Now I have Siddharth, and you.’

‘During those difficult times, we only had each other in our lives. We didn’t know exactly when our friendship had found a deeper sense of togetherness. The years that I had spent with him, though very few, were the best ones.

‘The one person he missed terribly was his own daughter, who refused to talk to him, though he had tried to contact her for years. He used to tell me that one day she would probably understand him.

‘He was returning home from one of his trips, when the flight crashed.’

The world started spinning around me. I was unable to stand up. My limbs got numb. My own tears mingled with hers. There was a desperate hope that I was wrong.

‘Can I–can I see his photograph?’, I managed to speak.

‘Yes there’s one in my room, but why–‘, she stopped mid-sentence. Her face turned white. She had realized what I was thinking.

I ran to her bedroom and there it was.

I was looking at a picture of my father.

(To be continued…)

Mother (Continued…)

Chapter IX

I used to look at families, and envied them. I watched every house I passed by and imagined the people inside them, their activities, their conversations, their joys and sorrows. I felt as if I belonged to a different world–abandoned and trying to get through each day. When I had a headache or ran a temperature, silently curled up in my bed and trying to bear with the pain, I wished for a tender hand on my forehead, with a touch just enough to assure me that everything was going to be fine, even if I had an important meeting next day.

The truth was that I had grown up only from outside. I still had that child inside me who always wanted to be loved, and cared for. I had realized long ago that in reality, you have to deal with everything alone in the end, no matter whether you have anyone by your side or not. Expecting to be loved was a useless emotion. Yet there was an emptiness that was slowly devouring me.

How Sandhya Devi loved me instantly on our first meeting was beyond my understanding. That evening I tasted the most delicious dinner prepared by her. I was very hungry, and the aroma made my stomach grumble. I started eating really fast. Siddharth watched me in amusement–he had no idea that I could eat that much. I always preferred to eat in small quantities. He was trying to stifle his laughter at the sight. My eyes darted on him and I realized that I had forgotten my table etiquettes. I flushed, and began to eat slow.

Sandhya Devi watched the two of us, but she didn’t find it amusing. She looked worried.

‘Ellie’, she began speaking in a serious tone, ‘What do you usually eat for your meals?’

I hesitated at first, then replied, ‘Sometimes I get food from outside, and sometimes I prepare it myself.’

‘What do you prepare?’, she asked.

‘Pasta or noodles’, I replied, feeling ashamed, ‘or sometimes bread and soup.’

‘Packed soup?’, she said, staring at me, ‘I mean the ones in which you just pour hot water and stir?’

She looked aghast.

‘Yes’, I meekly replied.

‘My God!’, she was literally disappointed.

She seemed to be lost in thoughts for some time.

After dinner, Siddharth took me to his painting-room. With the smell of paint mingled the smell of wood and linseed oil. On one small table, there was a jar in which he had kept paint-brushes of different sizes and shapes. Beside the jar, there were tubes of colours in heaps. The room was messed up like his hair.

I moved around the room, and observed all the paintings. He mostly painted in post-impressionist style. Each one of his works had a uniqueness about it.

I was staring at one of the paintings. It was a usual sight of the street from the cafe–only the representation made it look like I was watching the place in my dream. In a dream I can be at a real place, but there is always something new and unusual about the place. My trance broke as I felt a touch on my shoulder. Siddharth was looking at me.

‘Thank you’, he said, holding my hand.

‘For what?’, I said.

‘For everything’, he said, ‘for coming into my life, for making it beautiful.’

‘I should thank you instead’, I said, and recalled a similar conversation on the first day we talked.

I paused, as I looked into his eyes.

‘Thank you for introducing me to Mammam. I love her already.’

He intently watched every movement of my face. I noticed that when I laughed, he stopped talking, just to watch me.

‘Your smile is like sunshine’, he said, ‘and I’m glad I could help you remove the clouds that overshadowed it.’

He stepped closer. I could feel his breath now. He held my face in between his palms and planted a soft kiss on my forehead. My eyes involuntarily closed as his lips found mine. I again felt I was melting into him. I became a part of him. I was him.

He embraced me, and I listened to his heart beating. I wished the moment never to end. I could be in his arms for ever and ever.

When it was time for me to go back to my apartment, Sandhya Devi handed me a bag. It was quite heavy.

‘Some nutritious food’, she said, ‘Avoid those stupid pasta-shasta. It’s not good for health.’

I felt glad to receive her scolding. Even my Mamma never did that to me.

Every night, I prepared a proper Indian dinner for myself from then on. Sandhya Devi sometimes called me to check whether I was eating properly, and I could not lie to her.

Both Siddharth and I had found our abode of peace in Sandhya Devi. Both of us were abandoned children–the only difference was that Siddharth’s own mother was still alive. I had heard from Sidhharth that Sandhya Devi had no children of her own and her husband had died long ago. She bestowed all of her motherly love upon us.

It was as if someone had made a plan to unite the three of us, when we needed each other the most.

(To be continued…)

(Image source: the Internet)

Mother (Continued…)

 

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Chapter VIII

It was the evening before Diwali. We were walking together. He held my hand. I occasionally glanced at him–his eyes reflected the fairy lights that adorned the houses at both sides of the street. Some children were burning crackers. Fireworks and paper lanterns occasionally lit up several parts of the sky. Everything looked magical.

‘I love those fairy lights’, I said, pointing towards some arrays of white and blue lights over one of the houses.

‘Yeah, but I like these more’, he said, gesturing towards another house. It was beautifully decorated with little golden fairy lights.

‘Those are softer to look at’, he said, ‘I would like to see these even inside my room.’

I was surprised. It had been one of my own little dreams too–to live in a room decorated with fairy lights, and I was happy to hear that he shared a similar wish.

I watched the golden lights. They looked heavenly–far more gorgeous than the white and blue ones.
He stroked the back of my palm with his thumb. Whenever he held my hands, I felt as if my body did not exist, as if I was melting and dissolving into him.

‘Let’s go’, he said, ‘I’m going to take you to meet someone’.

As we reached the place where he lived, I saw a woman clad in a golden-bordered white saree, placing a Diya at the side of the front gate.
She had aged gracefully–with her partially white hair held in a bun, a pair of glittering eyes, under which wrinkles had formed, and a smile that made the place look even brighter. She looked at me with affection in her eyes.

‘Meet Mammam ‘, he said.

She was not the woman who gave birth to Siddharth, but he loved her as his own mother. When Siddharth arrived in Delhi two years ago, he was striving to make his own mark as an artist. He had little money and no friends. When he was struggling to find a shelter, he came across Sandhya Devi, who was looking for a tenant.

Over the course of time, their bond transformed into a mother-son relationship. Siddharth had never felt the warmth of a mother’s love since early childhood, until he met Sandhya Devi.

‘Come inside, my dear’, she put her hand on my cheek.

At that very moment, I wanted to hug her. I had terribly missed my Mamma all those years, and she reminded me of her.

And I did hug her.

Her embrace felt like a universe full of love and affection. She smelled of sandalwood and camphor–probably she had just done her puja. She held me tenderly. All that I had suffered till that day–all the pain, loss and despair, seemed to come up to my throat and felt like a lump. Slowly the lump melted and a drop of tear left my eye.

‘There’s something in your hair’, she said, and picked up a dry leaf that was sticking to my hair. With her palm she wiped my tear.

She ushered us into her beautiful bungalow with a gabled roof, and a long front verandah. She had lighted Diyas on one side of the front steps that led to the portico. I went ahead and helped her light up the other side.

I had never celebrated any festival after Mamma left me. I had lost the faith that anything good could happen to me. I thought I would remain abandoned for the rest of my life–fighting alone relentlessly against odds. I was afraid of forming bonds, for I believed that I was not worthy of affection. Deep inside my heart, I craved for love.

That evening, a little voice came from the corner of my heart and rekindled my hope for being loved.

I watched Sandhya Devi, as she placed the remaining Diyas with me.

I badly wanted to call her ‘mother’.

 

(To be continued…)