His amma was past eighty. Well past it. Her hearing prowess was such that an explosive gunshot would hardly tickle any of the handfuls of live cells in her ear drum.
She was trying to cross the road. Not exactly bustling by his mundane standards but still a far shot from empty the road was. As the honking from the majestic four wheelers filled the air the weak acoustic system in her seemed to pick up beacons of noise. He could sense the shiver in her hands which he was holding. Her view through the foggy screen called cataract didn’t reflect the familiar empty street it was a few years ago.
Today, the only thing familiar about the street.... was unfamiliarity.
The touch-me-nots on the roadside seemed to stare at her as if a mysterious and unfamiliar visitor had thus encroached upon their peaceful dominion. Seemed to whisper they did, “Never seen you here before dadiji...” Shaking his reveries away he tightened his grip on amma’s hands. It ain’t the old way anymore. Careful...
One part of him doubted. If the pressure of his grip were the reason for the grimace on her visage. Maybe her octogenarian limbs would’ve found his energetic grip a far cry to handle. Maybe, she didn’t quite relish the midday heat. He never volunteered to consider if his presence made her uncomfortable...
The same set of hands that once lifted him to the skies, so that he could touch the moon. The same gentle pair of hands that used to thrust steaming hot sambar idlis into his mouth, which gave him the power to run away before she could fetch another idli from the kitchen. Those pair of hands now looked a little less energetic than a withered throw-away drumstick leaf.
Out of nowhere, he was thrown back a few decades in timeline. To when he was in fourth – fifth standard at school. She used to wake him up early in the morning. That was when he did his homework assignments. After homework he would always try to feed their cow and play with her. But amma used to chase him away and make him open his textbook and read out aloud. When she was finished with preparing the breakfast, she would come and take him for his bath. The bath used to happen behind the house, in nature’s haven. He used to love to make bubbles with that 10 anna Medimix soap. And half the soap would be wasted in his bubble generation activities. Mostly amma used to smile. Secretly, he used to wonder if she also used to do the same. He never asked.
It is a universal phenomenon with mothers while bathing their children. Scrubbing is all but an understatement as she used to go about “cleansing” his body. So much so that he used to sometimes wince, “Ammaaaa.... It’s paining.”
He couldn’t really comprehend the pain she felt on hearing those words of his.
Amma knew. That her hands weren’t made of satin. He found it hard to believe they weren’t gentle. In the mornings, when she used to go for the municipal corporation’s street cleaning activities, her hands would be bruised by the abundant thorny weeds. Tiny red spots of blood would adorn parts of her hands for as long as he could remember. In the afternoons, as a result of cleaning utensils at neighboring houses using acidic soaps ended up squeezing out puss from a lot of her wounds. And the stint at the dhobi ghat from late afternoon to dusk, washing clothes used to heal her wounds miraculously. Leaving brownish spots and ruggedness for residue. Gentleness long deseted whatever physique was left of her.
Gentleness. It long deserted him. In the run to attain a better life, he had left behind his life. Never did he recollect a moment he touched her wrinkled pair of hands with a cauldron of love she so richly deserved. Oh yeah, he did it a lot. When he was a kid. But then, he studied. He grew up. He became big. Big...?? Big....
The coffers grew. He stopped walking. He started running. He stopped running with the world. He started running the world. His official “stature” demanded that he reside in the sixth storey of a residential apartment in the heart of the city. And as she did not want to be left alone with her cobweb of thoughts, amma came along with him.
There was no one to redraw the kolam in front of their house hence. And as they say, an idle home is a termites’ paradise. And when the number of exotic species in the periphery of the home increased, he put a mensum price on the structure. Tenants moved in.
It was a Sunday evening, over tea when his mother expressed the desire to go to the village for a visit. To see the house, the everything that once comprised her world. And that was how they ended up back to where it all started.
Getting out of the car that was parked opposite the gate in front of the road, she stared from in between the grills of the gate. “Is this my home?” she might have wondered. As if to confirm, she looked to the left – aaahh, the guava tree was still there. With a measured degree of certainty back into her countenance, she turned back to look at me.
Who stays in our house now?
They’re a family. A bank employee, his wife and their two kids.
Errr.... Amma... You want to get in...?
Are you teasing me? They have the keys to the house, don’t they? That answer threw him aback. The guffaws of the midday sunshine possible made her eyes flicker. Good. Hopefully she didn’t see the expression on his face the moment the last of those words left her mouth.
By the time he made a tour around the periphery of the house and got back he saw his mother going down the stairs in the direction of the parked car. “ Seems the mangoes are falling off before ripening. Maybe some little attention would do good. I’ll ask the people here to contact the Agriculture Department for.... ”
His words were abruptly cut short as she turned back at him and said, “Let’s go.”
The two words pierced through him like shrapnel emanating from a bomb explosion. If only he could call up the tenants a couple of days in advance to inform them of their visit. If only he could somehow get the doors of her home open up to her once. Just once....
“Sir, we’ve reached your home.” He was woken up from his reverie by his chauffeur. “Oh, thanks Mohan as ever for the smooth ride,” he remarked. The chauffeur smiled. He would manage to get a hike for Mohan sometime at the start of the next financial year. After all, someone who made his fifty-odd kilometer drive from the city to this village daily, a comfortable affair, ought to be rewarded to his satisfaction. Mohan had been with him since he decided to shift from the hassles of the city to the dusty silence of his village, along with his mother. A week after that village trip.
“I hope she’s prepared payasam for the night, as I had pleaded with her in the morning. All day along I’ve been dreaming of it in office.” His thoughts thus, he opened the gate to the house with verve. The gate to the smaller pleasures in life...