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Not so young Fashion Graduate From National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Delhi, India. Aspiring journalist. Amongst other eclectic hobbies, she likes writing and has written several poems and articles over her school and college life and now for a living. She would someday like to be be a more popular writer than just on her blogs. 'Tis a lady of grand splendor, who waketh in my bed every morning while the sun beckons her towards night...

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Farewell

Even before I settled down on my desk, the phone rang. It is a nineteen forty vintage instrument with Black Pagoda like structure. The smooth and heavy receiver and krring…..krring… sound are the two things I always associate with the word ‘telephone’, and therefore refuse to part with it. My colleagues have got swanky push-button phones and flaunt their colorful instruments at the centre of their table. I keep my instrument on the side table, hidden from the visitors as far as possible.

The tired voice of the operator in the Old-age Home is very familiar to me… a call from my mother. She never calls on my mobile. I am not sure she has my mobile number noted in her diary even. She always gives the refrain,‘I can’t hear when you speak from the mobile’; She never admits that these days she can’t hear properly.

The old man is still mumbling something; Why is Maa not coming on phone? Is she not well? I hadn’t bothered to listen to the old man so far. I never ever did; Usually Maa comes on the phone after one or two sentences. How could I ask him now to repeat what he has already said? My silence irked him. He asked in a very matter of fact tone, “So, will you be able to come? Or, should we go ahead with the funeral? In that case, we don’t want to delay her last rites.”

It took me few seconds to work out the riddles from the words I heard now from the old man and infer that Maa is dead. Now, I have to give an answer to him relying on the inference and, that too within the few seconds of patience left in him. Without much thought I answered, “I am coming”. No response from the other side. After sometime only ‘beep’… ‘beep’… He had disconnected the line.

I heard some commotion and looked up. My colleagues gathered around my table. Once they heard the news they worked out the whole days program for me, including the number of days of leave that I required, the arrangement of money, train-bus-taxi and the list of dos and donts for a son at the time of his mother’s funeral. Knowledgeable people, I must admit. One senior colleague accompanied me to the boss; the other fetched a rickshaw for me to reach railway station on time and they were at the gate to see me off.

The first thing I did, after I was out of their sight, was to light a cigarette. The bitter taste and foul smell drove away the cobweb of emotions from the head. Maa never liked to display her emotions even when social obligations or propriety demanded. When my father died we were very young, me and my sister Sona. She left for Kolkata immediately after the rituals leaving us with our grandparents. Within a few months she got a job in my father’s office on compassionate ground and shifted out from the village. All along it was only cold, steely resolve, no argument, no emotion. She practically severed all relations with her in-laws and even her parents from the moment her husband died.

The train left Kharagpur at 12.05 hrs. It will take at least three hours to reach Howrah. The Old-age Home at Sodepur is another hour from there by taxi. I managed a window seat and looked out. Small and big houses near the railway track were like small islands. In one house a young bride is putting her clothes to dry, in another, a man is carrying a bucket god knows where. Only I could see each of them like a kite looking down at the earth from the sky, and longed for a simple life like any one of them: wife, children, cows, pond…… I should call Sona, did they inform her by now? She picked up the phone as if she was waiting for my call. She wept silently, then said “Bhai, I am not coming. She never bothered about us, put our house on rent and lived in the Old Age Home rather than staying with us. Paritosh uncle was everything for her. Now, there is no point in reciting some ‘mantras’ over her dead body.”

The local trains have one advantage; one can have tea and snacks any time. I asked for tea in a plastic cup. Paritosh uncle! He was a colleague of my father. He came to our house for the first time, when Sona had been critically ill; called the doctor, got the tests done, brought medicines and then onwards became a frequent visitor. A bachelor, with no immediate family, he became a part of our joys and sorrows, but not a part of the family. Initially, tongues wagged all around. But, everything has an expiry date. The scandal also died its own death.

It takes about an hour to reach Sodepur from Howrah, but it is difficult to get a Taxi for that part of the city. At last one Sardarji took pity on me. He even permitted me to smoke….. Things changed when Sona got married. She asked Maa to sell the house and stay with her. Maa didn’t agree. Sona got wild, “Do you think we are deaf and dumb? We know why you don’t want to move out of Kolkata. Both of us will be away. Now, you two won’t have any problem to stay together. Have you ever thought how we will face the society?” Maa remained silent but Sona went on and on. At last Maa got up and said, “It was my mistake that all along I thought exactly like you. Once you are married you became a part of the society. Where were you and your society all these years? Where do I go from here? ……Become your liability! What about Paritosh? Now that my son has a job and daughter is married I should forget him and go back to society as a successful mother. Isn’t it?” Sona never came back to Sodepur thereafter.

By the time I reached the Home it was five. They were waiting for me in the office. I was offered a glass of water. It tasted bland. I was longing for a cleaner bell-metal glass, very cool and comforting; Maa said it was a gift for me when I first tasted rice on the sixth month. Suddenly I felt a shiver ran down my spine. She is lying there in the Hall, waiting for me to light the pyre. She had held my hand when I lighted the pyre of my father. Now, who is going to do that? I got up and slowly moved towards the Hall. I pushed the door ajar, and saw him stooping over a human form covered with white cloth. He was whispering something; in the silence of the mortuary each word distinctly audible: “he has just reached. I made all arrangements; Fruits, sandesh and tea in the flask….. He will come. Wait a little while more! Try to understand his pain! He has lost his mother; Mother!”

Helpless rage engulfed me like wild fire. I held his shoulder with both hands and turned him towards me. “What do you know about pain? Have you ever felt it? You had been a dumb fellow all your life. Even today you are behaving like a fool, talking to dead, cold body. Yes! She is dead today, but even earlier she had been cold throughout her life, to me, to you, to herself.” Paritosh uncle smiled, as he used to in difficult situations and said, “Khoka, she never liked displaying her love and emotions; she used to convey it through her actions. Unfortunately, we seldom recognized it. I have got so much from her that I won’t be able to repay it even in my next birth, if at all it exists.”

My throat choked, my vision got blurred, and I could not speak. Paritosh uncle hugged me tightly and whispered in my ears, “Khoka, now you have to take over and see to it that she gets a beautiful farewell. I shall come tomorrow and hand over the bank papers, the ornaments and her will.” He moved one step closer to the plank, where the woman was lying inert, closed his eyes for a few seconds and left the room in hurried steps. I wanted to shout “stop!”, but couldn’t. he saw my outstretched hand, came back and said, “calm down! I know you will understand.” I removed the white cloth from the face. I could guess she must have been seeing someone or something beautiful when she died from her half-closed eyes and smiling lips.

- Amar Mudi

My father is an author, poet, theater enthusiast, bengali translator and is worse than me at maintaining blogs.
 So i keep posting some of his poems on my blog from time to time. Please do read and comment. 
You can also email your response to amarmudi@yahoo.com to get in touch with him tell him your opinions.
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