By Parineeta Khar
The bride and the groom were just out of the precincts of the courtroom. They had successfully got their already-solemnized marriage registered. Relief and elation dominated the atmosphere. Parting gifts, Algath and cash were being distributed. I was being counselled to discard my selected saree for something more colourful and pretentious, as the occasion demanded. It was the wedding reception of my son and his new bride. The evening was one of rejoicing and feasting.
Amidst the array of occupations and engagements, while I pray for an extra pair of eyes, ears and arms, my brother hands to me the liittle gadget, “Call for you.”
Now who calls me on my brother’s phone? “Who could this be?” I mutter under my breath. Am I not already a bundle of nerves? I barely lisp a hoarse “Hello”. The caller is some Mrs. T. No, I do not have any fri by that name. The voice on the line gets animated and a little aggressive.
“Aire stupid”, her address sounds intimate, Nobody referred to me with such familiarity any more.
“Arre Phetir.........this is U Kaul.” Oh my God! Yes, I know, she lives in Delhi. My legs buckle. I slump on to a sofa. Some forgotten and long unused recess of my brain is activated. I am thrilled. Meanwhile, I get admonishing looks from family. Was time not precious enough to waste on phone calls from, a phantom fri!?
“Please come, do come...........”, I implore. I give the location of the venue and hang up, only to be engulfed by a thousand waves of urgent attention.
I reach the venue, my eyes probing the crowd, searching for a familiar face. But I must be out of my wits, for the face can certainly not be here. I am looking for a bespectacled face with two longish pigtails, on a lanky girl’s body in white slacks and Kameez. That is how U looked in college.
I am escorting my new daughter-in-law, our respective hearts fluttering, hers with apprehensions at being on the threshold of a strange life ahead, my own out of unforeseen times ahead.
I entrust her to her love-my son, her place is beside him.
I walk past two standing figures and then suddenly two strong hands grasp my nape like the arms of an octopus. “Arre Pagal ladki..... you mad girl”.
The nasal baritone assaults my auditory sense! When was it that somebody last called me a girl?
The grip loosens; I turn and hug the towering figure U, the sweet companion of my teens. The journey of the years has left its mark on her face, but eyes behind the glasses as lively as ever. A second figure erects herself beside her and challenges my memory.
“Now who am I?” I try to recollect that gang of twelve in women’s college,Srinagar/
This is fine, graceful middle aged woman. She removes her gold-rimmed spectacles but my brain cells fail to associate her with delicate, narrow waisted, cream and peaches complexioned H. How could this dignified matron be her?
“Your eyes have been scaled over with the newly attained status of a mother-in-law,” rebukes U. H adds “No, the fact is that she is completely engrossed in her own world, the years prior to her marriage have faded into oblivion............isn’t it so?”
I have no answer. In a flash, my memories rush back to the long lost days of youth. My jaws are locked, I am not able to apologize. My head reels; I have not slept well for ten consecutive nights, my body can’t take this ecstatic shock
But the gentle taunt nudges me towards a reunion I have been longing for. I hold their hands and we settle down on a sofa. U is a cousin of my first cousin’s wife. The knowledge of my son’s marriage in Delhi had been carried to her. The upshot of the whole thing was that they seized the opportunity to meet me, the long lost fri.
Was I touched? Yes and certainly overwhelmed .We were meeting after thirty-one years. The conversation that followed was akin to that meaningless chatter of teenage girls sitting on the freshly mowed lush green lawns of Girls College. It was a continuation as if there had been no interlude of thirty-one years. The music played by the DJ, the clatter of crockery, the greetings thrown by the guests at each other, formed only the background score to this drama of lost and found. This moment......I am once more an eighteen year old, standing in the ring of noisy girls.
We did not brag about the achievement of children and husbands; neither was any allusion made to our households and absent careers. Each of us strived to slip into the garb of carefree girls to peep into our past.
“Hey........ it seems Prof_______is in Hyderabad.
Do you still get a scolding from him?” and without waiting for my reply, both of them related the incident when he had thrown my books out of a window during class; the hard bound Chemistry textbook had hit a gardener working on a flowerbed. We laughed and clapped our hands in mirth. To get the feeling was sheer physical delight!
“Remember, how twelve of us would enter the class, after every girl was seated and then occupy the recesses of the windows?” The English teacher had named us The beautiful dozen.’ “We are no-beauties now.......Alas!”
But they were no patients of melancholia at this moment. While me and my fris were merrily roaming around the now-forsaken corridors of youth and enjoying the bygone idiosyncrasies of our teachers and fris, my family was not really comfortable. They gave me nasty looks grudging my moment of relaxation at such a time. “Hey, what if I call my husband?” H suggested with gusto, ‘You know.... I have told him a lot about you” she added.
‘Like what?” I wondered what remarkable feats I had accomplished. “You were quite popular in university”, U quipped knowingly, though she herself had enrolled in Aligarh university. “But most of the time I was either engaged or married” I said wistfully.
“I was present for your wedding, I gave finishing touches to your make up; somebody had put blotches of eye shadow on your eyelids”. We guffawed again on my unskilled ways at decking up.
The word marriage jolts my senses to the fact that I am the hostess.
“Why don’t you have something to drink?” I call one of the waiters and discover my husband observing my uncanny behaviour; totally lost in insignificant chatter. He beckoned me with a finger. I beckoned back at him. He promptly obliged; more to disentangle me from this hypnotic hold of my fris than because I called him over. He gave his trademark dimpled smile, greeted them politely and very gently, he poked my ribs-They will be here any moment.” He meant our new relations-our daughter-in-law’s family.
How could I be so tactless? They deserve all our attention and reverence - this fresh relationship, who had handed over their dearest joy to our care; their daughter was now the grace of my house, the better half of my darling. “Why don’t you have something?” I offer again to my fris. But they have hardly come to savour the delectable feast. Their only object being to revive a spark of youth, dead in the ashes of worldliness. I leave for a while and come back to see if they have helped themselves to some eatables.
“How is your husband?” H asked, taking the benefit of his absence. “He is fine” I replied casually. “Arre Phetir.......We are not inquiring about his health. Tell us......how is he as a husband ......... a human being?,” U explained. Had they expected me to enumerate his merits or display a passionate outburst- ‘Of! 1 worship the very earth he treads upon’? I have no clue. “Oh, he is like any other husband.........you see........All men behave like six year olds with their wives.” We giggled again.
“Six year old boys,” I ventured to explain, “now sweet, now mean. One moment very hungry, next moment they lose their appetite; sometimes terly caring but never sharing........ They want everything for themselves, their way. And yes, prone to throwing tantrums at regular intervals.” They were grasping the truth of my observations, and were reminded of my fiery write ups, I had given every ‘gang member’ at the of our session in college. “I still have your write up”. He said lovingly. I was thankful but I could laugh no more.
“Do you still write?” “Yes sometimes”, I reply with a sombre tone. “We know you have written some books”, they let out but not with emotion. “Hey.....
Do you still sing?” “No”, I whispered. Now there is a knot in my throat, my eyes misty.
“Remember you used to give a full throated lusty rering of Bindu...... Gulabi Raat Gulabi. And they giggled, all I could manage was a chuckle.
“I can’t sing now my lungs are deflated. My sinuses make my notes like croaks” and we laughed again at this helplessness of advancing years.
Then somebody tore me away from my temporary Utopia. I owe the guests some attention, won’t they feel slighted?’ Yes, I admitted my callousness. But the overpowering feeling of escape and freedom has mesmerized me and I am drawn back to my fris. In the milieu of bustling guests, video cameras, gifts and colourful attires, I was not able to locate them. My eyes are again trying to trace the dear faces that had brought back the whiff of an assuaging breeze and I wanted to let it touch all my senses and drink in the essence.
They have their plates and I join them. I don’t eat, my desire is to fill my ears with that carefree laughter, enjoy that uninhibited conversation which is refreshingly natural.
No reservations of social bindings, no artful repartee, no guarded questions and no diplomatic answers. Words came in a flow of lucid currents.
“How come your son has less hair than your husband?,” asked U. “Stress- he left India when he was barely twenty one.......”, I am a fond mother again. “Do you mean your husband leads a stress free life even after being married to you,” teases H. We laugh again. We talk about our children; all proud and protective mothers. It was a pity we have mothered three pairs of male offspring, otherwise an alliance could be fixed then and there.
Then U made a remake in her typical candid yet tactless manner “Oh! There are marvellously turned out glamour dolls all around. They all look just out of Ekta Kapoor’s K serials.” H was always a sensible girl. She checked U with a little “Don’t be silly........They all are her close relatives”
“I observed that she stands out......though nothing less of a Plain Jane” U added and I retorted, “Hey!.........you dare call me a Plain Jane,”. This was more a high pitched shriek and several heads turn. I hardly cared. My present and future had hazy outlines. At the spur of this sweet moment, that nostalgic past intoxicated my better senses.
We talked about Veena ke Ande- one of our fris whose egg curry in a picnic became her permanent adage. And more giggles followed. We did not make any references to unpleasant events which other fris had suffered. There was not even a passing reference of widowhood, bereavements suffered by one of the fris, neither was there a mention of the of marriage of another one. Was it a deliberate omission? We talked and giggled, but alas! They had noticed that the cauldron of my family’s patience had run dry; they decided to leave.
Later, I realized in our excitement we had not even exchanged contact numbers. I shoo my girlhood away and again assume the frescoed existence shaded with the colours of bashfulness, piety and responsibility.
I wonder how and when I had imprisoned the little girl inside me in a fort of values, morals, duties, constraints and sacrifices; surrounded by an uncross able moat of virtues and a strong sense of doing right. Who had, I still wonder, indoctrinated into me this perpetual sense of morality? Must I only do right!! My teenage fris had perhaps been sent by an agency which desired me to throw the cloak of dignity and stature away and enjoy myself for some moments. I looked at the debonair young and naively beautiful face of my daughter-in-law and my young son, eagerness personified. At this moment he is all ears and eyes for his new bride. When the novelty of the relation wears out, the romantic lover would become a demanding husband. I wish this little girl is able to retain a little fragrance of this girlhood tightly stored up in her fists, so that thirty years from now, when she is engulfed in the suffocating smoke of pressing responsibilities, she retires to a remote corner, to inhale from this stored up freshness and gets rejuvenated. I pray that my boy is no impediment in letting her be the symbol of the nursery rhymes’ definition of little girls -
- - - - - - ”What are little girls made of- sugar and spice and all things nice “
Let the ponderous fatigue of married life have no place in their lives. Let her existence be only sugar and spice and all things nice.
*(The author is a noted short-story writer. Her two collections - 'On the Shores Of Vitasta’ and ‘We were and we will be’ received rave reviews.)
Source: Kashmir Sentinel
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