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Date of Publish: 2017-04-22

MOTHER

(A short story by Sneha Devi)

 

 

Aditya never has quite noticed the picture. He casually directed his eyes towards it. This is the picture Aditya’s mother would come and fix her eyes on devoutly whenever she would get a chance.

An ordinary calendar of some company hung in the wall which had the picture of a mother holding her child accompanying their address.

Aditya was sitting in the tiny verandah. Last rays of the sun fell on the verandah and inside the room. Tarala went on playing songs recklessly that suggest of cheap love in nasal tune in the gramophone. In between she would come and see herself in the mirror, adjust her hair and pleats of her chadar.

Aditya pretends to be writing something as if of utmost importance. He puts on an expression that would amply indicate playing gramophone in such close distance from his ears is an injustice. Could he really do it? Neither can he decide whether he should just stay in the same position or go inside. Tarala knows very well that Aditya would come towards her anytime soon, so she makes sure that she put all the blame of their brawl onto his mother.

Haters say that Aditya has considerably changed after marrying Tarala. Aditya also realizes Tarala’s tricks have turned him into a different person altogether. Tarala would haughtily proclaim that until six months back Aditya was a very gullible person, and that his training is not over yet. Of the innumerable things haters spread, one or two fairly decent would enter Tarala’s ears. Not being able to say anything to others, she would come put every blame on Aditya’s mother. Do you have any idea? What is her job tell me? She eats, relaxes and talks nasty things about me. Had she been in my father’s family, she would have been locked inside by now.”

A true anecdote- in December cold with just one piece of cloth women were locked inside a bathroom on the wet floor-a conventional way in her family to teach women a lesson. Tarala heard it many a time from her father, grandmother and her aunt.

Hearing that from his wife Aditya who was a wretch for everyone except for his mother thought for once if his mother really is worthy of such punishment. In other matters their opinions would not match, but in this regard they shared a peculiar affinity. That is why he could get rid of that thought instantly.

He does not remember being remotely obedient to his mother. Just because she gave him birth does not mean he should be answerable to her all the time. No matter how hard it had been to raise him up for her, all that matters is he provides her everything now. What more could he do? What else does a widow need?

The past makes Aditya very angry. Difference-huge difference; it did cross past his mind, but not fully. Sometimes all of a sudden it strikes him. He can’t easily keep it away. He sinks in defeat. His mother has been a steady witness to all his past. He feels even more outraged then. Why should people live for so long after all?

…Aditya is a different person now-totally different. Who would say he is the same Aditya sitting in the chair neatly dressed who caused havoc in school. He attended school in his own terms, escaped school in his own whims and when his mother said something harsh, Aditya kicked the plate of rice when his mother was eating leaving the floor all white. He disappeared for sometime after that. When his mother went searching for him in the neighborhood, he entered the house tip-toed and took the hard-earned rice to sell in the shop so he could pay for his cup of tea and sweets. That is just one instance among many. When his churia was torn for his own carelessness he took his mother’s only long white piece of cloth and hung out with his friends in the city. After shower when she could not find her cloth, the wet cloth dried up in her body, she was terribly shivering in cold. Aditya grew up amid such misdeed. He was in the same class for three to four years, when he got bored after completing two years in high school, he left school forever.

While asleep, she would fondle her fingers through his hair and bless him with all her heart. Every evening under the basil plant she would light an earthen lamp and pray for his well-being. The harsh words from her son hardly deterred her from advising him to stay in the right path always. But the day when Aditya for the first time pick pocketed in the evening market he was tightly slapped for a couple of times he fell and rolled down the edges of the road. For the first time defeat and pain of condemnation made him weary. He came home silently and cried. His mother saw him. Knowing everything she did not speak a word, instead walked away and prayed in utter helplessness.- “ God, for what else would I have to live ? ..Why?..”

She fell on the dingy bed all of a sudden. She became destitute with nothing left to lean upon. She became free from all earthly bonds. When hope was lost, the intensity of not getting what she wanted also disappeared. Without cooking, without eating she spent the whole night. When she got up she found Aditya laying on the other bed in deep sleep. She cast her eyes on the swollen cheek. She extended her hands towards him but withdrew them back and stepped out of the room….She remembered she did not lock the door last night, but the door was closed. The cow was tied as usually she would do it. Thatches were still here and there. Who would do it? Who would care to fetch thatches for the cow?

Aditya’s mother stood there. Slowly two drops of tear rolled down her cheeks…She forget the distress of twelve hours back, she felt the intensity to live again.. It was no less than a worn out seed plant dried up in scorching sun regaining its life in the fresh rain. She thought her prayers were answered—“If I die, who will take care of my son? Let me live, God, until he grows up…”

Like every morning she kept a bowl of snacks and a cup of tea. Aditya unlike other times silently took to eating without whining for a single second. At other times he would have complained about the tea being cold. On asking if he needs some more tea, he gently shook his head. What could be more painful for her than that condition of Aditya, but she somehow felt a sense of placidity. Without going anywhere she went close to her son—“ Are you okay?” “No”, he would cover his face. When he sits for lunch he finds his favorite food being cooked. If she does not sell some of the procured milk, it becomes really difficult to meet the expenses, so seeing the glass of warm milk he asks—“Did you not take any milk for sale?” “You do not need to think all that. Just finish it”, she said.

Aditya got to bed again. His mother went out for her daily work. She could somehow get a work of stitching a mosquito net, the wage will be enough for two meals.

When she returned from work, Aditya was talking with couple of his friends. She felt good that he felt better but somewhere somehow a strange fear troubled her. When Aditya is on bed with little sickness she feels somewhat assured.

Many years passed by. Aditya managed a job of a scribe for a contractor for a small salary. Whenever he would get a chance, he would trick to get money from laborers, and he would manage his money for his cigarettes and movies. Where he stays, what he does his mother does not get any clue. He visits home after every two three years, and comments on the cup of tea offered by mother as “tasteless”. He sits to eat, but after the second morsel he would disdainfully walk away. Yet she would eagerly wait for her son. She would not eat, but save for him. Aditya does not give a single penny to his mother. Only in rare occasions, he would bring few grams of potato or pulse.

One morning Aditya was walking about in the street. The previous night he returned home very late. Finding his clothes all scattered everywhere she meant to keep them properly in the trunk. As she opens it, she is taken aback. She felt like a criminal and left the clothes in the same place.

“The boy grew up.” She thought hesitantly-“ Aditya grew up so fast! Why isn’t he the same small boy?” Some photos that she saw inside the trunk would just not leave her mind; a photo in a different pose with who seems to be Aditya’s girlfriend. And some pictures of some girls exposing their voluptuous youth. As if the boy in the photo is not her son, -yes, her son is naughty, disobedient and uneducated-yes, hundred times, but,- no, she thought again-he really grew up. May be it’s time he married.

A new tension troubled her. Her duty is to find him a family. He did not grow up to be good enough. But there was not a single person to have tried to bring him back to the right track. Had his father been alive, he probably would not have become that bad. But what is Aditya bad at? He earns, he wears good, he eats good. He probably eats better than home. That day he in fact brought some ripe fruits and some sugar.

But his mother did not have to think for that long. She heard from others that Aditya himself has seen a girl. He also stays in her house.

Aditya listens to the stories of Tarala’s father about some distant Mymensingh. He mistakes it for misfortune of some king as if of a golden city that they are here today. And, Tarala…princess Tarala!...

The village that Aditya’s forefathers came from , he does not know anything more than its name.

Although he does the same old job, he has become a small time contractor who handles contracts worth 40 to 50 rupees. He has collected a pair of table-chair. He has stopped using the cheap pencil, he uses a pen these days. He would always keep a fountain pen in his pocket although without any ink…He would have to be worthy of Tarala after all…!

In the wedding of her only son she did have opinions or her say into the matter, but no one really cared about the wedding. Yet the mother consoles herself. Her daughter-in-law would enter the house…lucky girl…must have grown up all pampered! She would offer a glass of water, a plate of rice with her own hands…so much peace she feels inside out!

Before she could know Tarala well, her mother and aunt came to the house. The things her mother said the summary is that it is her daughter’s misfortune that she got such a family. Otherwise they have such magnificent palace-like house; let some days pass, Tarala’s father himself would build a house.-Or, how will the daughter live there? They were least bothered about the mother. The aunt said, “ This house is your very own. This mother should be more close to you.” But when drums are playing, you can not really hear the serene tune of veena.

In his two roomed house, one was used as a bed room, and the other living room. If his mother stays in the other room, it becomes too congested for guests- she has heard this many times from Tarala, so she herself decided to shift her bed to one corner in the kitchen. Aditya erected a wall extending the room about one and a half meter. That day his mother wept in silence. She comforted herself, “my son has not forgotten me..he can’t….”

The house was built according to Tarala’s choice. She put some curtains made from her mother’s old torn saree. She kept a bottle of small opening with colorful woolen balls inside it, put some handbills of cinema on the walls and increased the beauty of the house. She made Aditya buy a cheap gramophone with three records in installments by constantly nagging him. Aditya paid the first installment by selling in half its price the much old ring saved for ages by Aditya’s mother and which was gifted to Tarala.

Tarala hardly pays any attention to household works. She stated it clearly- “I’m not a cook.” The mother-in-law does everything. When the concerned neighbors pop up any discussion on that, the mother would softly say, “ She is too young to cook right now, she will, eventually.”

Aditya regularly goes to the market to buy the essential stuff. Tarala would comment again disdainfully that the expenses are still very high even though she does not go to the kitchen ever. If half kilo gram of sugar cannot cover a week, she would say, “how can two people consume so much sugar?” Surprised at what she said, Aditya also wants to say, “Two people? Really? ” “Then what? Widows are not supposed to have sugar. At least we believe that. May be your mother does not really follow all that. Otherwise why would there be so much expenses?” Even Aditya cannot find an answer for Tarala’s questions.

Unlike earlier she can not go looking for stitching job, she stopped after her son and daughter-in-law complained that it hurt their esteem. So sometimes she also had to starve. The people who empathized with her earlier because of Aditya’s misdeed, now she has to lie to them about the goodness of his wife, to avoid the tantrum.

At the end of the day, she returns to her dingy bed again and prays “Do not punish even the enemies this way, god! No one should get this pain. Or are you really testing me? No one on earth ever tried to understand me, not even my own son.” Infinite agony comes out as an indifferent laughter. The clamor of utter pain “ah..ha..ha”!

When Tarala hears that she distorts its meaning and says, “ The old woman must have found something funny. Listen to her how she is laughing!” Tarala , saying that, fell on the floor laughing.

But even the peace of night was not intact. Someone pushed her door at night. “Who is it?” she opens and finds the son and daughter r-in-law. Aditya started interrogating his mother – with whom she talked in the neighborhood-with whom she dare to talk about things from his family, all that.

An old man today has said to Aditya,”No one can repay the loan of a mother, Aditya. But you are a disgrace. You are bound to sink one day.”

Tarala would nag again, “ How do you expect me to stay here like this? You better leave me at my home.”

After several questions from Aditya his mother would say,” I’ve not told anything to anyone Adu. I stay home throughout the day. Tarala has seen me.”

“Then why would people come and talk about what is going on in our family? Tell me what you lack. Have I not provided you cloth, food?”

She actually wanted to say, “ My son, people have eyes.” But that would have fuelled an already burning fire.

Tarala would shake her head-“That’s right. People just drop things out of the blue. She only eats, relaxes and talks behind my back. Why do you keep looking at the same picture like a kid?”

Aditya’s mother wants to scream loudly and say “ What would you understand about children. But one day you will also understand. It’s my bad that my son has never become a good person. Whatever was left, you have destroyed it totally. Yes I like looking at the picture. Why do I look at it? A mother holding her child. I can’t really get enough of it. What happiness, what peace!..how would you understand?”

The two of them walk out of the room angrily. Aditya’s mother lies again sleeplessly with the fire burning inside. She feels she has no tears left.

Almost every evening same thing repeats. As if Tarala would have no peace without it. She must have had a fascination to make the biggest of the silliest thing that would enter Aditya’s ears.. The neighbors listen to what is going on. At midnight they start verbally bashing her. The mother would sometimes say, “ Adu, just kill me, my son”-believe it or not, Tarala jumps in happiness- “have you heard what she just said? Beware. The police tomorrow may come anytime accusing us of murder.”

………………

Aditya entered inside the room before the last of the seven songs finished. Tarala laughed-laughter of victory. The neighbors would say, “ Tarala, you are really restless.” Some others would say, “ Tarala is a pot of pure poison full to its brim.” Thankfully these do not enter Tarala’s ears.

Time passes by. Tarala becomes the mother of a baby boy. The responsibility of cleaning the dirty clothes became his mother’s. But she seems not to have the right to take the baby close to her. She spends time looking at the picture of the mother holding her baby. When she was looking at it one day, Tarala loudly said, so Aditya heard,” Look at your mother. She is giving the look of a witch. I feel scared.”

She feels really tired asking for death, she has become more resilient and indifferent. That is why, even after hearing such things, she could keep on sitting in the same place in the same manner.

 

Aditya also looks at the baby Tarala is holding. For no reasons, he feels very optimistic. He thinks- his mother must have also brought him up in the same way as his own son. His mother also loved him in the same way. His mother raised him, alone. His father died even before he was born. He looks at the eyes of who Tarala called a witch. He strangely does not feel any affinity with Tarala today. He thinks, he truly thinks. He must have given his mother so much trouble. But he does not remember a single day of his mother beating him up. When Tarala hits the little kid, he becomes rebellious.

With all these things in his mind he reached Tarala’s house. After exchanging a few words the aunt asks, “Your mother was really sick that day. Is she alright now? He could not answer. He hardly knows his mother falling sick. She does everything from cooking, cleaning the dung, washing clothes to wiping floor, every work in the household. The aunt asks again, “Who cooks, Tarala right?” “She is fine”, he walks away. He hears what Tarala’s mother has to say “I have not sent my daughter as a cook to be anyone’s servant.”

Coming back home, he finds his mother. His widow mother has raised him up all by herself, thinking one day he will be a good man, that her miseries will end, once he becomes a good person. Surviving the worst of its ordeals she is still alive with deep dark-circled eyes, pale skin and an extremely morbid body.

She was looking at the picture at the verandah in the same devout manner. He silently stood behind her. He attentively looked at the picture. A mother and her son. Suddenly he realizes he is also standing with his mother. His mother and he. The mother turned around and walked away guiltily.

The baby is crying inside. The mother stopped for a while. He was standing at the same position. Suddenly his mother realized someone called her ,”Maa!”. She turned around. No, she was wrong! Adu has forgotten to call her that way…But why is he looking at her that way? Mother came close to him- “ Adu! The little one has been crying for the whole day. Would you bring him once to me, my son?”

He fails to speak anything. He fails to hear anything. She says again, “Bring him once to me.” Tarala came out then, outraged she said, “What on earth are you doing here? The baby is creating so much problem and you are roaming about?” He obediently enters the room. The little one went on crying more for whole night. He has puked several times. Aditya’s light sleep got interrupted at his cry. The baby turned pale. He seems to scream in pain. He finds Tarala in a messy condition with puke and stool. The bed was in a disastrous condition. He takes the baby into his lap. But failing to stop him again give him back to his mother. He remembers his mother saying “Bring him to me once, Adu.”

Tarala feels tired. She could not get a second to even tie her messy hair. With all her strength and anger she slaps the little one “Die, why don’t you just die. Die soon. You came to destroy me?”

Aditya jumps all of a sudden; “Stop it, you are destroying him now!” He takes the little one out from the room in the speed of air, as if he has saved someone from a deep fire.

He pushes the broken door of the kitchen and screams “Open the door”. In a strange pain, his voice becomes distorted. Opening the door she steps backward-“ What happened, I have not done anything Adu! Nothing has happened for me. I’m no witch!”

Each word she spoke broke his heart asunder. He keeps the little one at his mother’s bed and holds his mother’s feet tightly. “Forgive me, mother, forgive me!” ,said he in broken voice.

The tears of realization, of grief for the first time from the deepest recesses of his heart soaked her two feet. He kept on thrusting his head on his mother’s feet “forgive me, forgive me, would you?”

Reality or a beautiful dream?-what just happened? The mother failed to understand. When little one cried again, she took him close to her bosom! …In sheer delight, emotion, pain, surprise few drops of tear from her eyes fell over Aditya’s head as blessings.

 

Translation from Assamese into English - Daisy Barman

 

Photo courtesy - Dr. Ajir Bharali, ADP College Nagaon

About the Writer :

Sneha Devi or Shehamayee Devi was a prominent Assamese short story writer of 20th Century. She was born in Jorhat in 1916. She was married at the age of 12 years and brought to her husband’s place in 1931. With very little formal education, she gradually started writing short- stories and became the one of most important female short story writer of her time. Her first collection of short stories, Krishna Dwitiyar Jonak was published in 1957. She was honoured with Sahitya Akedemi award for her collection of short stories “Sneha Devir Ekuki Galpa in 1990.

About the translator:

A doctoral fellow at the Department of Folklore, Gauhati University, Daisy Barman is a scribbler and translator. She can be reached at maa.daisy@gmail.com

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