Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Indumati

Indumati could give anyone her age a serious competition.
Not only is she gadget savvy but also ever willing to learn more.
Not many people at ninety-two are.

She knows how to operate a remote control. She learnt it years back. An occasional, "Ram Krishna Hari" chant isn't such an uncommon utterance while she is glued to the television. These deodorant commercials with hundreds of women in bikinis running to a man make her squirm and remark, "why are these girls running in Hanuman Chaddis ?" The fact that the root cause of all this commotion was a heavenly whiff of the famous body spray escapes her.

Her great grand-daughter chirped," In another five years we will celebrate your centenary. We will call everyone!" She glared at her great grand-daughter duly correcting her,"I am only ninety-two not ninety-five".

She knew her math. She had learnt it the hard way.

Oh how they fought. She and her husband! It was a fight for survival that had taken the shape of daily squabbles. He was a government servant, mostly away on revenue inspection to other villages. She stayed back home with seven children, ailing father in-law and a sister in-law who was old enough to be her eighth child.

Everyone remembers the day India got independence as a historical moment.
15th August, 1947.
So does she, but for a completely different reason.

Indumati wasn't even thirty then.

Tiny cough syrup bottles refilled with kerosene, served as excellent lamps when infused with homemade wicks. No study tables, no table lamps and no separate room for children. They all huddled around such lamps and studied to become officers of repute in their lives.

Indumati was lucky. There was a street light right outside their house.
Electricity was rare and she was happy to have one beam right into her kitchen, free of cost.

She would light a lamp in front of brass statuettes of different Gods. An oil lamp, not a kerosene one. Children would sit in a line to say their evening prayers. She insisted they sing in rhythm but they rattled them off as if they were reciting counting tables.

After that, they would open their books and study while she cooked.
It was sheer pleasure to cook in a room full of light, albeit borrowed. She had the most prized corner in the house to herself. The kitchen. She deserved it. She had earned it. 

On the morning of the fifteenth of August 1947, she had a few worry lines that sat stubbornly on her pretty face. They refused to move. Her husband traveled for 25 days, stayed home for a week and would leave again. Being a circle inspector in Bombay Regency was a tough job. He would hand over money to her for household expenses every month. This time it was different. It had been over a month and a half since her husband was home. They lived a hand to mouth existence and the rations were down to the last morsel.

Her youngest son came home crying.
The village shopkeeper had refused to give groceries to them on credit anymore.

She handed over two huge copper pails to her eldest son and asked him to trade them for some money from the local moneylender. Just as he was about to leave, her heart sank. These were a few of the items her parents had gifted her in the wedding. She didn't feel like parting with them.

There was just enough ration at home for two more meals.
She thought she would somehow stretch today. Hoping against hope that her husband would arrive by the evening bus. She called her son back. They were not going to mortgage the pails yet.

It was a peaceful afternoon. General happiness lingered in the air even though there were not many festivities related to the independence day. Evening went on as usual. The street lights came on, children went back to their studies, she started cooking. Her husband wasn't back yet. There were just three fistfuls of rice and nine mouths to feed. She had never been to school but she knew this math was difficult. As with all women those days and now, she wasn't a part of the math. It was given that she would have to go hungry.

She was about to separate the rice water from the cooked rice to make Kanji when the street light suddenly went out. That had never happened before. The only light she had now was that of the wood chulha. Things were going wrong one after the other. It was quite overwhelming as she tried to contain a sigh. She was pouring the rice water into a vessel when she heard a knock on the door.

Tears rolled down as she expected familiar footsteps to walk in.
She was right. Her husband was back. She could now go to the grocer and prepare a good full meal for everyone. She ran to greet him but was taken aback by his condition. His clothes were torn.

The independence day celebrations in the Taluka (district) headquarters had been a burden on the delicate and scarce electricity supply. All the surrounding villages were under forced load-shedding blackouts. It was a wonderful night for the thugs and thieves.

Now there were three fistfuls of rice and ten mouths to feed, her not included.

That was the last day anyone ever slept hungry in her house. The pails and anything remotely expensive went into mortgage. She stepped out and started taking up odd jobs which ranged from making 30 feet long Rangolis in marriages to chaperoning the rich.

Children studied as usual and had one student - their mother. 

"No one will ever go hungry in my house again" is a resolve that can bring about seas of change.

3 comments:

  1. Nice!
    "No one will ever go hungry in my house again" is a resolve that can bring about seas of change.
    truly very inspiring! :)

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  2. Shriraj and Anagha :) thx
    a mother's dilemma is always the worst.

    ReplyDelete