By Smriti Mahale:
Last night’s dream had left me restless. Even in the world of the unknown I could sense it was her. The warmth I felt last night could have emerged only from an aura like hers. It had been ten long years since I had seen her. But the threads of time had forever bound me to her: through her thoughts, her values, her ways, and her morals.
I was six years old when I met her. The class bully had thrown my lunch into the dustbin and I had been helplessly crying out of hunger and anger. She had fondly taken me to the room reserved for teachers and treated me to a feast of crispy pooris and spicy chole. The taste still lingered in my heart, and so did our first meeting. I had run out of the staff room shouting out that I would ask the class bully to throw away my lunch everyday!
What built over the next ten years from that day at school was beyond a student-teacher relationship. She had become my mother at my second home, a companion with the understanding of a timeless comrade. She secretly had treated me with pooris and chole. On Saturday mornings, she undid my hair and plaited them into impeccable plaints. At the age of ten, she introduced me to the world of literature. From Blyton to Wordsworth, she unfolded a world I loved to explore. She kindled poetry in me at the age of twelve. I effortlessly wove magic with words she taught. She instilled me with culture and traditions, a quest to intrigue, a thirst for knowledge, a temptation to explore, the unexplored, the dome of unquestionable humanity… She did have a son, but she had resurrected her unborn daughter in me. And I revered this bonding beyond the ties of blood.
Even after school had ended, I was still in contact with her. Over the years that came over, she predominantly was given an authority to voice her views in the important decisions of my life. Until my marriage, when I settled down in the States forever.
Marriage had not only distanced me from my homeland but also from my dear ones. It was only birthdays and anniversaries now, that calls were exchanged. I had created my world over here and I had no regrets. I spoke of her often, to my husband and daughter while reminiscing olden days.
The whole day I only thought of her. Her words echoed in my ears throughout the day. There was some invisible force compelling me to see her again. I scampered through old photographs to reinitiate the bonding with her. That night, I buried myself in my husband’s chest and cried. Cried for the distances I created, for lost moments, for happier times. He simply held me tight. It was his way.
After two days, I found three tickets to India on the breakfast table. I was more than surprised. Just last month, when my in laws had called inviting us for a marriage at home, my husband had stubbornly refused to go, giving an excuse of an important meeting. Miraculously, the meeting had been put off the previous day. She had once told me, I would find an understanding husband.
After a decade or so, I was back in my homeland. My daughter was intrigued with every small thing. She asked about the dusty streets, the fragrant chamelis, the half clad women, the temples, the richness and the poverty. My husband and I patiently answered them all. The marriage was a fortnight away. I had my time.
After making a full fledged search, I finally found her. In fact, I found her son. He immediately recognized me. The ties of satin and silk had not weakened over the years. He was married now, fathering a son. And what he told me about her left me shattered.
She was suffering fromÂ Alzheimer, a disease much dreaded and feared. It was a question of now or then for her. Days and nights had lost count and she was dissolving into an ocean of nothingness engulfed by the dimness of confusion and grief. She lay quiet for most of the time and sometimes shrieked in sheer confusion. She called out to strangers and estranged people she knew.
I wasted no time in gong to visit her in the hospital. She was wrapped in a brown blanket and stared at the roof. Guilt and tears stung my eyes at the same instance. I went and sat down beside her, told her things I had planned to tell her when we met. I knew it was of no use. I gave her the book she had gifted me on my eighteenth birthday, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’. She gave me her benign smile. After a few hours, I decided to leave. My dream had come true. She had forgotten me and I was helplessly crying for a reconnection.
As I turned to leave, I heard my name being called out. The same way she had done on our first meeting, this time with the quivers of a pointless existence. I turned back with all my hope coming back. What I saw stupefied me then and there.
My nine year old daughter, Aakriti was my shadow. She resembled me in every angle. Except for the dimple she had inherited from her father, her features were bestowed from my genes. Very often she would hold my old photographs in her hand and admire the impeccable resemblance. I often relived my childhood in her. There she was, my daughter, on her lap. She had undid her hair and was braiding them into the same plaints. For once, I envied my daughter. I wanted to snatch her away and sit there instead. Very soon the envy was replaced with what she had always taught me. I resurrected myself into my daughter. It was the only way for are connection!
The following story is published on my blog http://kaleidoscopemirages.blogspot.com/.