Monday, May 13, 2019

Ashima, the Zamindar's wife, all of twenty-three
Married for five years now to the oldest son of a middling estate somewhat past its prime
Was expecting their first baby and feeling very large
And cumbersome

The Zamindar, Ashima, and the Zamindar's brother
Waited in the drawing-room for the Ranisaheba to emerge
From her living quarters, ready to go to the movies with her family
A matinee

Ranisaheba now widowed and mainly uninvolved in the daily workings of her estate
Had taken to social work and gin rummy, a common combination of pastimes
Among the ladies of her generation in her neck of the woods, if they were born into wealth
Or had married it

"It's too hot!" said the Zamindar's wife, fanning herself with a magazine
"Especially for a whale as large as myself. I should be swimming in the ocean,"
She declared, with a faraway look in her eye, a look her husband never understood
Or dared to address

Her devar chuckled and said,"Boudi, you are such an imaginative creature
You should write! I'm sure you'll tell your kids the best stories ever
The kind Darwan used to tell us when we were kids. He spun them fresh
As he drawled in Bundeli"

The Zamindar nodded and shook his head in the same gesture
A 'yea and nay nod' peculiar to our part of the globe
That no other nation on this large blue planet has mastered or fathomed

"Fatso, make me a cup of tea," said the Zamindar pointing at his wife with his chin
A rather unremarkable unimpressive chin, superseded by thin lips and a Brylcreemed mustache
His wife started to wiggle her very pregnant body to the edge of her seat in an attempt
To get out of it

The Zamindar's voice droned in her direction, in an Ox-Bridge Indian accent
"You have gotten so lazy, you haven't made me breakfast in months.
My mother made my scrambled eggs this morning because the cook didn't show up.
At least make me tea."

The Zamindar's brother blanched a little as he spoke
"Dada, every time Boudi goes into the kitchen these days
She runs out the backdoor almost immediately and throws up behind the hedge.
Don't you know???

Boudi, relax, I'll make us tea. Ramu left for Begusarai early this morning
To attend his sister's husband's funeral. The poor man died of cholera.
I told Ramu he will be quarantined for three weeks when he returns.
Jamini cooked lunch today"

With that he sped toward the inner rooms to get to the rasoi a hallway and a verandah away
The Zamindar's wife finally spoke,"No wonder the jhol was so good today, I overate,
Not the oily mess Ramu prepares. Poor man, I hope his sister will be okay.
Perhaps we should employ her.

Let me talk to Ma,"said the Zamindar's wife, and her husband rose from his chair, glaring,
"I say what happens here! My mother is a nobody!! I own the estate!"
His wife cringed as he spoke and for the next fifteen minutes couldn't bring herself to look away from
The tiny black stain on the rug

The Zamindar's brother returned with a tray laden with goodies, a teapot, and four teacups
Precariously balanced while nesting awkwardly due to the delicate handles that protruded
Finely crafted, but not designed to fit well together. He put the tray down on the ottoman
And his mother called out to them

"Sorry darlings, let's go. I was on the phone forever with Brigadier Jaslok's wife.
She is new here, and we were just chatting, and I couldn't be rude. We can go now"
"There's tea Ma", said her younger son, triumphantly, "I made it."
She smiled

"I should've made cha," said her daughter-in-law. "I am so sorry I am so sick."
"You're not sick! You are the brightest light in the family. You are a mother.
You are the only person in the family who is doing something about the next generation,"
declared her devar as he snuck a look at his older brother

Ranisaheba laughed so hard the teacup clattered dangerously on the saucer in her bejeweled hand
"Ashima, never forget, you are a mother. You are the bringer of life," she said to her daughter-in-law
The Zamindar looked reasonably chastized, a tiny bit remorseful, and plenty aggrandized
A baby on the way is a joy already

A few weeks passed and the newborn was here with a loud healthy cry that gladdened the hearts
Of all who heard him. The place without the pitter-patter of little feet had grown too serious
In its demeanour and decorum, and decor, a lot of people thought, especially Ranisaheba.
Now that was about to change

She held her little grandson and cooed sweet nothings in his ear, as did his father, and his mother
As they passed their little bundle of joy around for introductions
His kaku was away, and when he returned in a week, he ran to the nursery to say hello to his nephew
"Look at you!"

He said,"You got your grandfather's nose, and your mother's eyes, and my mother's eyebrows.
You're so funny, I can look just at you and see my whole family in your one little face. You are a Family Album. Here, go back to your mumma, she misses you already. I hope someday I'll have kids
Half as cute as you."

Boudi smiled as she understood why her devar saw so much in her, "He sees the world in everybody.
It's a certain kind of human being who sees the best and the most expansive version of another.
They don't ridicule or minimize or restrict another, they see them in their every avatar,
And they see them with eyes filled with love.

No wonder he saw in me a mother, a writer, a bright light, a whale, a someone who throws up behind hedges, and none of that was incongruous to him. He valued my feminine fragility and my intellect.
And then there are those who can see nothing good in anybody. All they see are slaves and masters."
And there began her search within herself for herself

A quest for the inner being that the sages had named Prakriti, Saraswati, Lakshmi, to name a few
This inner being, the Ashima  beyond the Ashima everybody saw and some loved tenderly
Her mother, her Dida, her nanny, her brother, her puppy
The Ashima that either blossomed or withered, nay, lived and died amongst microtransactions

                                                                                                        ~ Sonali

  1. Zamindar - a landowner, especially one who leases his land to tenant farmers
  2. Devar - husband's younger brother
  3. Boudi - brother's wife
  4. Darwan - gatekeeper, guard
  5. Bundeli - dialect of Hindi spoken in Bundelkhand, in North-Central India
  6. Rasoi - kitchen
  7. Jhol - curry
  8. Cha - chai
  9. Kaku - father's brother
  10. Prakriti - Goddess of Nature / Creation, avatar of Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva
  11. Saraswati - Goddess of learning and the fine arts
  12. Lakshmi - Goddess of wealth and prosperity
  13. Dida - maternal grandmother

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