The sun has taken its usual place at seven thirty in the morning. The very same Keteki bird is there again perched at the branch of the Bel (Wood apple) tree, cooing for her companion to arrive. The front yard is again littered with the tiny leaves of the Amla tree. Kaberi has not arrived yet. All of Rohini’s household chores are kept undone. But this delay made by Kaberi has not vexed her. After sweeping the entire house herself today, she reclined on the chair in the verandah to await her maid. Rohini knows that today is Kaberi’s son’s birthday. So, she must have taken him to the village’s Shiva temple to seek the lord’s blessings. This is something Rohini knows very well. An understanding seems to have matured between them. So, Kaberi never asks for permission for delay on this particular day. And Rohini secretly grants her the same without making any fuss. Rohini has even wrapped an adorable high-neck pullover for Kaberi’s son as a token of her affection for that cherubic boy. Winter is about to arrive and the nature is soon to assume its icy form. Her gift would be a welcomed addition to an otherwise meager collection of Kaberi’s winter clothes. “Kaberi would be elated,” Rohini mused with satisfaction. “But I hope it fits him,” she muttered. It is an old pullover intently knitted by her many years ago. But it still retains the shine and quality. The last person to wear it was Rohini’s own son. He had worn it only twice or thrice and soon he outgrew it, even though Rohini had made it twice larger than his actual size. “It itches my neck,” used to be his frequent complain. Rohini had then decided that someday she would pass it on to her grandchild. It is indeed agonizing to cope with the memories of the person and the labour associated with it. All of a sudden, restlessness pervaded in her heart.
“How old would he be now?” she wondered. 35 . . . . No. . . . 34. . . . Yes 34. Saurav. A round face, bright eyed boy who would never leave his mother’s side. His dimpled smirk was enough to win over a frowning face. A very talkative one though. So talkative that he could entertain guests even if his parents were not around. This was Saurav as a toddler. Years went by only to find him excelling in his studies. However, despite having a commendable academic record, he could not find a stable job. Refusing to lose his hopes, he decided to go for a teaching job in a school. An expert guitarist as well, he would turn into a guitar trainer by evening. Somehow, he seemed to have attained charm in his new but unexpected role as a teacher. Like every young man of his age, one fine day, he too was struck by Cupid’s arrow. Nandini.
Rohini suddenly fell out of her reverie. A slow and soft smile that had prevailed till now, declined. Since the last ten years, she has been treading down the same lane of nostalgia, and has always stopped treading when she met Nandini in it. And like every time in the past, today also she did it. A surge of anger bubbled up in her heart. The unheralded dark clouds that had accompanied Nandini, struck a lightening eroding every bit of happiness that was lingering in Rohini’s world with her son. Following the untimely demise of her husband, Rohini had taken the entire responsibility of her son. Both of them were each other’s world. But it was the arrival of Nandini that drove a wedge between them. Saurav and Nandini’s marriage was a hasty decision, Rohini had realised later on. An opulent affair, Rohini did not want to leave any stone unturned for her only son’s wedding. Everything was fine. Rohini could not be anymore happier. She wished her husband were alive that night. It was only after the vows were taken and the guests were sent off with the contentment of a sumptuous meal, the problems began to crawl in. “She is not happy in our home,” Rohini once heard herself telling it to her sister. “She shuts herself inside her room and does not even appear when guests visit us.” It did not take Nandini much time to create a sullen atmosphere in their house. It did not take her much long to take Saurav away from his mother. “So what he excelled in studies? So what he is a teacher? Despite all these, he is a spineless man whose individuality is bolstered by his wife’s commands,” Rohini had told herself as she gradually began to sink in her situation.
Rohini still remembers the day Saurav had left her home – his home, with his wife; him carrying the luggage and stuffing it into the car and driving past her, leaving behind a cloud of dust and a promise (to visit) with hardly any beam of sincerity. Rohini had wistfully witnessed them leave. She could not turn behind. No longer was it a home that stood erect at the back. It was a graveyard; of her dreams and her memories. That day she was glad that her husband was not alive to witness it. That day and the days and years that ensued, she realised the agony of being snatched away from one’s own son; yes, she now realised how her mother-in-law must have felt when Rohini had left with the latter’s son forty years ago with a dream to build their own world without having to bear the unwanted responsibility of a crone. Little did she know that the dagger she had drove into a mother’s heart years ago would be stabbed onto her later in her life. Years of pain and guilt enervated her but little was there to alleviate. The pangs increased when she heard the birth of her grandchild; not from her son or his wife, but from stray lips. Still she had a faint hope that they would come to show her the child’s face and she would lovingly give the pullover to her first grandchild. But there are times when Hope does betray us. People came to congratulate her but she tried to conceal with utmost difficulty that let alone inviting, she was not even informed by her own son. As days trailed by without any tidings from Saurav, she realized that the baby boy will probably never know about his grandmother. Her wish subsided, so did her hope of Saurav and his family’s return.
Today, her relatives console her by dismissing Saurav’s wife as characterless, diabolic- minded witch and unworthy of a mother-in-law like her and a whole lot of curses. Rohini ruminated, “Did her in-laws’ relatives also pile curses upon her after they had left? Was she too, a characterless, diabolic and unworthy witch to them?” Perhaps, Nandini did nothing wrong to her. Perhaps she was an agent allotted by the supreme judge to punish Rohini for what she had done. She could not make a complaint to God. How could she? After all, she had committed the same act years ago.
The gate clinked and a sugary voice wafted in the air. “Baideo, O baideo!” Rohini became aware of Kaberi’s arrival. Swiftly, she wiped a tear that has brimmed out of her eyes and cleared her throat. “Sorry for my delay, baideo. Don’t worry, I will soon finish the chores,” Kaberi tried to persuade. “Don’t bother about it. I have already taken care of the work. You go home and spend time with your son. Isn’t today his birthday?” And she slowly took the gift out from her behind. “Also, take this for him and tell me later whether it becomes him or not.” Kaberi gasped with amazement. “It was not required, baideo. I am already indebted to you. I feel embarrassed to take it. I cannot take it baideo.” Rohini smiled but firmly said, “Don’t deny my love for him by denying my gift. I have already lost a son. I don’t want to lose one more. Why? You son is my son, too. Right?
Kaberi, convinced, gladly nodded.