By Rimli Bhattacharya
I found Ma (mother) standing with a broomstick at my door.
“When did you come Ma? I was at the wedding.”
“I was at the wedding.” Ma mimicked. “My prophecies are always true,” Ma continued, “Insults and only insults, is that your fate buri?” (Aside: buri is my pet name, given by Ma).
“Now don’t start again please, Ma. My counsellors are trying their best, but you are the one who inflicts pain continuously.”
Ma raised her hand and tried to slap me as she did when I was a kid. No, even after my marriage. No, even after Riya was born. No, till the last time she was in her senses. This time her hand didn’t land on my cheek, but I could feel a gush of air.
I opened the door. Ma entered through the keyhole. This time she was sitting on the stick.
“Where is your witch hat?” I asked.
“As if that matters to you. In my lifetime not for once you had listened to me.” Ma was on the verge of tears.
I sighed. A tear drop trickled down my face. Didn’t I listen to her? Me? All my sacrifices had gone in vain the moment I had married a Christian boy at 22.
“How is Baba (father)?”
“He is now in a different world with another woman. I had tried to enter his sphere to shoo away the woman but then Yamraj (the God of the dead) demoted me from my married status to that of a witch. You were asking for the hat, na? I am a Hindu witch and that too a Brahman. I am not a divorcee like you. I was spared of the hat, but you won’t be, I know it.”
“So, Baba has found someone in his life, right?”
“And you think I will allow it? I am not like you, a home-breaker.”
“Now, enough. Why did you come on this auspicious day? That too without any notice. You know I cannot speak to you in the presence of Riya (my daughter).”
Before she could utter anything I turned on the gas stove to prepare some tea for both of us.
Ma would visit me often. Initially she would come in my dreams, and we would chat for a little while. She would lament for her natni (granddaughter) and curse me for choosing singlehood in place of errrr…being a married woman. I would wake up panting. I would stare at my tiny toddler who slept peacefully unaware of the fact that her father had agreed to the condition of refusal of visitation rights and also the fact that he need not have to give a single penny for her. I would whimper and run to my Baba, who would be sleeping. I would wake him up and he would pat on my head with his usual fatherly touch. He would say what he always said, “Don’t play the victim; be a victor.”
Once or twice, I had heard him say that Ma visited him too in his dreams. But then Ma would stand still, throw him an accusing glance, and leave.
It was a Monday. I was sitting at the visitors’ room at Wockhardt Hospital where my father was admitted for septicemia. For the first time, my mother walked in. I threw a terrified look as if someone had seen her.
She said, “I have magical powers.”
“Don’t start here now, Ma. Baba is fighting for his life.”
“Don’t worry, he will be fine. I need to see him in the ICU.”
“Ma, you cannot visit. You don’t even have the visitors’ pass and moreover ghosts are not allowed.”
“I have magical powers. Mind your own business and let me do my work. And don’t insult me by calling me names, like ghosts and so on.”
I would walk after her when she vanished through the ICU doors. The guards looked at me doubtfully and cautioned, “No entry before time.”
Ma’s prophecy came true. Baba survived. He came back home after each of his hospitalizations. And I found Ma sitting at his bedside smiling at me.
“See, I told you I possess magical powers.” Ma would continue, “You will never get these powers as you are a divorcee. You have no husband to light your pyre unlike Baba who did for me, and I got a ticket straight to heaven.”
Those days Ma always wore a white sari. She roamed around the house. But she would mostly sit on Baba’s bedside. She sipped her tea keeping a watchful eye on Baba. Sometimes Baba would ask me who I was speaking to. I had to lie.
“Riya r baba phone korechilo (Did Riya’s father call you)?” Ma would often ask. I would nod disagreeably with a guilt deep down my heart.
But my life was never the same after that. Baba had several hospitalizations. My life revolved around my father and Riya. Ma was my constant companion in the hospital. There were some nights when I couldn’t stay at the hospital. Those nights she sat at my Baba’s bedside and kept me updated about Baba’s condition. Once she even stole a laddoo and ate as she was hungry. “But you have magical powers. You could have gotten a better sweet for yourself and not the sugarless laddoo of the hospital,” I said.
“Ekadashi (fasting mostly by widows) tar opor ei tor Baba ke niye tension. Ekta mishti khele kichui hobe na (My fasting as well as this tension. I needed a sweet to ease my anxiety).”
After baba returned home, I had enquired about the missing laddoo and he said that the hospital staff ate all the sweets which were meant for him. He had complained several times and the awestruck staff said that the sweets had been disappearing on their own. “Jottoshob baje kotha (All this nonsensical talk).” My father would say before burying his face in the newspaper.
Eleven years later he left me and his natni. Ma came in a rich red sari. She watched as I lighted the pyre. She left late in the evening but not before consoling me.
“Why red, Ma?”
“From today onwards your Baba will be with me for seven rebirths.”
Ma left. And then she never came.
“Why vent your anger on the gas?” Maa sipped the tea while I glared at her. “So, they didn’t call you for the Haldi ceremony (Hindu ritual with turmeric meant for brides), right?” she continued.
“No, I was not at home. They went away.”
“Haha. Lying to your Ma. I was at your place. I didn’t see anyone come to invite a divorcee to join an auspicious ceremony. And why wear a white sari for the reception? We are upper caste. Hindu. Brahman. We are the privileged ones.”
“That is why Baba has chosen a different woman now. And you have been turned into a witch. Yamraj also knows about your nosey behavior.”
Ma wept. She pulled her hair. She threw away her cup, went out of the window, sat on the tree, and quarreled with a poor crow. She returned to my room saying that she would be back soon.
I smiled. Whom is Ma lying to? Baba found his love. Ma had always given him a tough time. I knew that. I knew it all. Ma wanted me to remarry. Wish I could tell her that Baba was the only man I had loved.
To marry or not to is completely my choice. Yes, I am not being called for certain auspicious ceremonies. My tribes betray me very often. But do I really care? The society never understood. And never will.
Rimli Bhattacharya is a first class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering with a MBA in supply chain management. She has contributed to two anthologies, A Book of light and Muffled Moans and has written two solo books, The crosshairs of life and That day it rained and other stories. Her other works have appeared in twenty-nine literary magazines & E-Zines. She is also an Indian Classical dancer.
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