Wednesday, February 8, 2017


I sat in the veranda with my tea, watching the leaves falling from the trees. I sighed, feeling much like the loose, dry leaf. I felt one with the tree with the bare branches.

Sapped of youth, separated from my roots, I seemed to be waiting for time to destroy me, for earth to consume me, for fire to burn me, for winds to blow me away, for water to wash me...

"Naani," a tender voice called out to me.

I paused, wanting to indulge my thoughts, my melancholy. But the voice had already tugged at my heartstrings and melancholy was giving way to a sort of reluctant joy that only a grandchild could evoke.

"I am here, beta," I called Advit to me. I heard his feet pattering as he ran out and threw his arms around me. My four-year-old grandson fitted the description of a cherubic angel. The curly rings falling on his forehead, the rosy, chubby cheeks... I scooped him in my arms and kissed him. "Chalo, let's get ready for school," I said and got up with him in my arms. My body swayed and I panicked. I sat back; luckily, both of us were safe.

Advit laughed. "Again, naani," he said, thinking it was a game.

I put him down gently and said, "And miss school?"

I took him into the house. My son-in-law Brajesh was in the kitchen, making coffee while daughter Neetu rushed around, getting the day organised. Advit dutifully hugged them and then came back to me to get ready for school. The usual tantrums, the running around the house, the cajoling, the coaxing, the shouting...

When Brajesh went to drop Advit to school, it was like the calm before the next storm began in the afternoon.

I sat on the dining chair and Neetu served breakfast. "You indulge him too much," she complained as usual. "You were never this lenient when we were growing up!"

I chuckled. The best way to deal with this.

"You make it difficult for me to discipline him," she went on, with her mouth full.

"I didn't succeed in disciplining you either," I joked. "Speaking while eating," I said with mock distaste and shook my head.

Neetu grimaced and I felt sorry for her. Where was the light-hearted girl that used to laugh at even the slightest joke and make me laugh too?

She whipped her phone out. "Papa? Happy birthday, papa," she said enthusiastically. Oh, I had forgotten it was my husband's birthday! "How are you? What happened? Did you go to the doctor? Does Sanjay bhayya know? Let me speak to him!" she plied him with questions. "Ya, mama is here." She handed me the phone with a displeased look.

"What happened?" I asked with concern, forgetting yet again to wish him. Seeing my daughter gesture, I said, "Happy birthday... haan, haan... What happened?"

"Nothing, just some back trouble... Was finding it difficult to move..." he tried to dismiss it lightly. But the fact that he had mentioned it and that his voice sounded tired were enough proof that he was suffering.

"Shall I come?" I asked. My daughter, who was clearing the table, stopped and her eyes widened.

"No, no, it's okay Sharada... Nothing serious," he said softly. "Just some balm... Shail's hands have magic. When he applies the balm, all pain vanishes," he said with quiet pride. Shail was our son Sanjay's 12 year old son.

Neetu mouthed something. Since I didn't understand, she said, "Ask papa to come here."

I got up, unable to contain the bubbling hope her suggestion had sparked. I relayed the suggestion, "Why don't you come here? It's...been a year..." My voice sounded hoarse... I blinked back tears and rushed to the veranda.

He sighed, just a hint of it. "Shail's exams are on and Renu needs to be at work... Someone needs to help Shail... Can't you get away for some time?" he asked, the question coming out very hesitantly, with just a hint of expectation.

"Neetu and Brajesh are going to be on tour this month..."

"Shail needs me... Will talk to you later," he said and disconnected.

I looked out the veranda. The ground looked deceptively rich with the fallen leaves, but the tree itself stood alone.

"Ma..." my daughter called out to me on her way out to work. "I will be late tonight. Brajesh has a dinner meeting... Don't let Advit wait up for us..."

I nodded and watched her go. I longed to be with my husband. But our children needed us.

The silence pressed against me. I wiped the tear that rolled down my cheek and busied myself to keep thoughts at bay.

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