As hard as it was to save the dreams of glass, was to take care of this household …. lose of life fear, Fear of being hurt by splinters, fear of losing your dreams, kept tensing, and squeezing the veins …. Untimely and unexplained manipulations kept me on my heels.
Especially when this stupid lock-down started, my loss of life fear were more troubled than ever. On top of that the work was so much more …. Fear of the strangers was so frightening that even my own hands began to look alien. It is as if the hands have become untouchable, from placing them in your lap, from touching your face, from placing the scattered strands of hair in the right place, each bit of their usage became uncertain and full of unease.
As if somewhere the surroundings got corrupted and endangered. Even if the surrounding air passed through the mask, it seemed pathogenic … Corona! Corona! everywhere …. Vegetables, milk packets, potatoes and onions were washed crazily …. For now, I have made my arrangements, whatever came from outside was first kept in the sun on the table and then was brought to the kitchen only after sanitizing it.
The work has increased manyfold. A sole worker, sick mother-in-law … who has been bedridden for the last two years … and what can I say about my husband … this stupid lockdown has brought me at my wit’s end ….
He is my master, and I am his slave, at his beck and call throughout ….
God has created an unusually wonderful relationship of husband-wife, love-hate, king-subjects …. Corona came, and the lockdown resulted into an increased pile of work for women …. “Kamal, isn’t the tea ready yet … what do you do the whole day … no work is done in time …? Ah! Everything is at sixes and sevens … there is no sign of any cleaning …? Biji has called you numerous times … are you stone deaf? Can’t you hear me …? … so on and so forth.” Listening to such discourses all day has become my daily routine.
Let us see how many days … someday the lockdown will open surely …. My anguish will also end …. What do you say …? I am asking you, you who are listening to my story ….
Now I religiously pray daily, O God, please drive away this Corona, this torment can no longer be endured.
We even tapped on the plates and drums at the behest of our honourable Prime Minister and lit candles too, but this nasty Corona is not even close to death.
… and on top of that these rats have created a havoc in life. Since the day, the work of laying sewerage across the roads has started, all the rats have started rushing towards the houses …. I feel sick because of rats … they wander and squeak all around …. Rubber pipes were also installed under all the doors of the house, the doors were also kept closed but there is no respite, God knows where these rats come from …. I do not forget to put a rat trapper; I also don’t forget to put the sticky-pads to kill rats …. If the rat gets trapped and then making it meet its end was also my responsibility … I would also drown it along with the rat trapper in a bucket of water … and the rat would die … Still, I do not know from where they emerge again, herd after herd ….
“Kamal, isn’t the food ready yet! Biji is hungry since long …,” yelled Ravi over-boiling with anger.
“It is ready, I was just bringing it,” I said patiently.
I know there is no point of explaining, without reason there will be an overhead collision … there is no point in arguing with this person. I have become stubborn now … This does not affect me any more … “it is all smoke and mirrors ….”
You may be wondering what kind of woman she is … no hesitation … she does not even care about her mother-in-law ….
Nevertheless, I was never like that … ‘Kamal’ as my name goes, I was just like a lotus flower when I was studying. Happy, gentle, innocent …. Got married and everything went for a toss …. You may ask any woman, was she happy before or after her marriage …? All the women pull their weight, fulfil the responsibilities of the family … must be feeling oppressed, often ….
Biji, browbeating me every now and then, she bothered me a lot … she said, “I need a grandson … only a grandson.” Now the hag is bed-ridden, suffering from paralysis, I still look after her, giving her medicines and food, help her shower, the whole day I rotate like a spindle doing chores.
I would only feel myself when Ravi goes to the office. Compromising with Ravi and the situations I had learned to live by my own now ….
After sending Ravi to his office, I would make a nice sandwich for myself, take a big mug of coffee, and play on old Hindi songs … would have my breakfast in leisure with pleasure. Before drinking coffee, I wished to absorb the aroma of coffee in one deep gasp of air.
Earlier, the housemaid would come and do the cleaning, the dishes, but it was not safe to call the housemaids to the house in this lockdown. Because of Biji, Ravi would not let any housemaid enter the house ….
He would know better; everything was being done. After all, the work of looking after the guests had also reduced now. Neighbours too did not visit each other’s homes. Own home, our own world and our own troubles had become the norm.
Between, whenever Ravi was home, I would not dare to have the pleasure of watching a serial or a movie on TV. My me-time started only after he left home …. and now phew! this lock down.
Do you know why Ravi is cheesed off … he doesn’t like to be at home …. If was at office, he would have a scope to meet and see his sweetheart ….
That silly goose works in his office …. Whenever her husband would be out of town, the two of them would meet … I know, I have heard them talking many times … Every time whispering on the phone, but seeing me around, Ravi would change the topic, I do understand his wandering eyes ….
But I also feign ignorance, as if I have no idea. Being naive, I keep pretending to be absorbed in work.
Since the lockdown started, both are lovelorn …. because they cannot meet each other. The heat would obviously rise to the head … that is why being at home all day long he would be agitated and annoyed. May he go to dogs, I not care a hoot … I have learnt to be happy and busy. I am past caring now ….
I have created my own world. I give water to the pots on the roof of the house, while putting the clothes in the sun I hum some songs. To survive it is better to change oneself than to take up the cudgels. Floating in opposite direction to the flow of the river would increase the discomfort only. So, surrendering yourself to the waves and floating along patiently makes life a little easier. And that is how I learnt to live and survive.
As time went by, I was good at masking and not showing my true colours in front of Ravi. In front of him I used to take great care of Biji too … but otherwise I was not that innocent, while giving her medicine I would also give her a sleeping pill. The hag then would sleep quietly … otherwise would call me time and again ….
But now the things were different. At present Ravi stayed home the whole day. I was also losing onto my space. I had no choice but to endure whatever was happening. This too shall pass; Corona is not here for eternity.
Poor Ravi’s condition was worth a notice. I would grin from ear to ear when they would secretly call each other … even her husband must be at home now … Alas! the Laila-Majnu off the cuff, I was tickled pink with this thought.
Have you ever talked to the wind? When it is quietly whispering something in your ear … Have you ever felt the love from within the warmth of the sun, or the expression of happiness while watering the plants …? I have such a treasure, sitting in the outer gallery of the kitchen, I have been taking oxygen from these very feelings.
There are a lot of rats in the house … roaming all around … kitchen, rooms every nook and cranny … sometimes I feel like a rat will come in by biting the wire-mesh door. Looks like there must be some rat around … I do not like even an iota of the noise of these rats, their running around, their uncalled-for merriment.
Whenever I would complain to Ravi that the rats have got onto my nerves as they are on the increase, then you know, what he would say next, “The rats like your pathetic food ….” He would never listen to me ever.
I wish! If t were possible a person would have a mind and a heart, but … without rest of the organs. Then he would never ever have reprimanded as Ravi used to say … you have all dried up. He had no idea that it only takes a couple of minutes for a woman to get wet.
At times I felt like leaving him and going somewhere … but no, even this was not possible for me.
Tired of this attitude, I created a different world for myself …. Do you wish to see …? Let me show it to you … no, you just feel it ….
Before slicing an apple, sniff it, What an amazing aroma! Aa-ha-ha-ha, the smell of vegetables that are being made when the cooker is whistling, the smell of the shallow fried pranthas … you definitely have got water in your mouth, the tik-tik sound on the chopping board when the iron cutter would chop the vegetable into two …, the warmth felt by the plants as the sun rises, the longing to fly somewhere in between the wandering clouds … the scent of phenol used to clean floors …. When Ravi could not meet his special someone, then the aroma of his burning heart obvious from his attitude ….
The whiff in the air coming from the fish while washing it … a-a-a-a-a … and the irritation from the saliva leaking out of the mouth of Biji when she would clear her throat …. there is so much to savour in my world, the habit of asking for the happiness of my family in gratitude while putting flour in the dish to knead, the sweet smell of the kneaded dough …. A woman’s life is just like the burning of flat bread on a griddle, no matter how carefully you go from one or the other end it gets burnt. You would think she is crazy. No, I am not crazy, but Ravi would have called me crazy and asked for sympathy from the other woman. That is how he must have got a chance to have an affair with his office sweetheart. Sympathy ground … you must have understood by now.
Even I do not care anymore. Not that I did not like the noise from the beginning, I liked it … I liked it a lot … but since the time I had two miscarriages, I started getting hysteric from the cacophony. The smell of my unborn baby coming from the pool of blood at the time of miscarriage … was very painful …. At times I felt guilty too … that is why I do not think it is appropriate to say anything to Ravi, even if he is happy with his office sweetheart, that’s also fine ….
Sometimes I make all the flat breads of different shapes … Lost in my own thoughts, I start singing lullabies and start making dough sparrows and baking them on the griddle. Then I do not know why I put those birds made of flour in the bowl that feeds the birds ….
Poor Ravi, today he is engaged in a video call with his office sweetheart … Even the sweetheart too is wearing a nightie to seduce him … How do I know? I watched them in a sneak peek, and also listened to the talk of love birds, as if a Hindi serial was on telecast.
Today the doctor came to see Biji. She has got bed sores on her back. Her blood pressure too is high, and the doctor has prescribed a blood thinner pill.
The love of mother and son is also strange, just in terms of talking; service, and cleanliness is the duty of just the son’s wife …. There is a strange smell that comes from Biji’s room too, of medicines, of bedsores stickiness, bad smelling, horrendous and disgusting ….
On the other hand, rats are also roaming around in the house …. Ravi reprimands me daily. The next step after the scolding is slapping and after slapping dragging through the hair, bruises, swelling and much more …. And you know, he even strangles me on the bed as if he was taking revenge on the enemy.
The noise of all this keeps boiling inside me …. I too practise tit for tat … I deliberately put some hardened lentils in his dal. In a glass of juice, I just add few seeds, and then let him make the noise, as much as he wants to.
Today the limit has been reached. Getting free from the morning work I turned on all the fans in the house, I liked the curtains flying in the air very much, it seemed as if I too had got some wings on and I was also flying around with the curtains. And the ambience of the home is also all breezy and fresh, doesn’t it?
Putting the loud music on TV, I had just had my first sip of coffee when I heard a loud thud from Biji’s room …. After finishing my coffee when I went to Biji’s room, she had fallen onto the floor from the bed and was lying there. There was blood flowing from her head … what could I do, the story was over by the time Ravi came. What difference does it make, finally her cycle came to an end, good riddance! I had done nothing, and I was not guilty. How would I know that I had to give her the blood thinner medicine once a day, by mistake I gave her twice a day, anybody can be mistaken? Due to the thinning of Biji’s blood, the flow of blood did not stop. Due to excessive bleeding, it was fatal ….
But then my condition, Oh-ho-ho Ravi’s beating … and my whole swollen body …. It took me several days to recover.
But the pool of blood around Biji and the blood that flowed during my miscarriage; its texture, what was the difference between the two …? I do not know, I do not even remember now, you can tell me …? … so, let me know …
Today I went to water the plants on the terrace and with their soft touch I remembered those unborn children again …. The touch of their soft little hands would have been just as soft. The presence of a baby in the house, baby soap, baby oil, how aromatic it is, intoxicating, because of that lack only maybe, I cannot stand the noise.
But these rats … screechy-scratchy biting their way … what do they need …? Why don’t they leave my house …? these evil little things have disrupted my life. How many times have I mixed rat poison in flour tablets! One or the other would die, but again another one would still be visible. At times I just feel that I am hallucinating …. But in an instant this thought would have no validity.
“Here, come all the rats! Today I will bake the flour for you, you do not like raw flour … anyway you will just tear it apart … sometimes clothes, sometimes paper, sometimes wood …. Uff! Oh my God, I am just upset with you … let me treat you to pancakes and muffins today. Pancakes and muffins laced with rat poison …. Come on, come on now … why are you hiding?” In my own way, I start talking to rats.
For Ravi too, I made special chicken masala today …. Soon he will create a commotion, dinner is not ready yet …. Quickly arranging the salad and chicken in the tray, I call out to him, “Ravi, dinner is ready.” In fact, Ravi likes to be served exclusively with some formality entailed.
In the rush for dinner and pancakes, I forgot to pick the washed clothes from the roof. Don’t know if there will be any drizzle at night. The smell of muffins baking in the microwave was enticing, why not take them out before taking off the clothes, otherwise they will be overbaked, then the rats may not like the taste. When they get normal, I will put them at the hiding place for rats. “Now tell me, little evil ones, where are you going to run?”
Pleased with my scheme, I ask Ravi to pick up the dinner tray. Going halfway up the stairs, I remembered that the muffins were also lying on the shelf there …. In a hurry I call out to Ravi, please take your dinner tray, and do not eat muffins.
The mist laden wind was blowing on the roof. Somewhere a cloud was wandering here and there with the wind. The pegs on the wire were dancing to the beat of the wind and enjoying the scent coming from the clothes, I quickly started taking off the clothes from the wire. I was also very hungry.
The sound of something falling violently shook my thought process. I come down the stairs quickly …. Ravi was lying on the floor helpless. The tray too had broken after falling on the floor, and all the food was lying on the floor.
Ravi, Ravi I shouted, jolted him but the bumble bee named Ravi had probably flown out of the cage. Now I wonder what would have happened, I left him all good, he must have done what I told him not to do. At times even the bad habits can lead to loss of life ….
I do not even know where the rats have gone. I do not feel their screechy-scratchy ways anymore.