Friday, 13 June 2014

Soldiering On


The last black pin pierced the tiny bun of white hair at the nape of her neck, completing the neat circle. She patted it in place with a dab of oil. And then she looked at herself. What was once a cascade black as the night had lived its life over the past 80 years. It had turned thin, turned white. Does white mean an absence of colour, or is it black which signifies a vacuum in life? She smiled, raising her chin ever so slightly so as to show the mirror the jawline, set as tight and taut as determination itself. Her hair, her companion who never cut-away from her even when so much else severed …

A trickle of sweat down the side of her face reminded her of today’s task which lay waiting to be done. To defeat the 46 degrees of heat. With creased fingers nimble as those of a tea-picker she rolled away from the comb’s teeth those stray strands which seemed to part her head every time she combed them. She rolled them into tiny white ball, no, silver … like a ball of pure silver wool.  

She called it silver, her hair, ‘as silver as the thunderous lighting in the sky, powerful, alone and brave in all that darkness’ she used to tell her granddaughter when she would play with her plait. But that was when they stayed together. Now, Simar stayed in the same city but in a different house. Bigger. Better. Where her son moved with his family when the confines of Amar Colony and even more claustrophobic memories of what was once refugees’ shelter disturbed his peace, his dream of upward mobility. The day he drove into his lane in a Maruti Esteem too big to park, bigger than anything the coiled wires or shoulder-to-shoulder clotheslines overhead had ever seen, that day he left Amar Colony behind. The car was now parked in its own garage, in a plush Delhi locality. Along with a few more signs announcing how far he had come away from all things past.

And that is where she was headed, S-13, Green Park. Always putting in an extra effort to look her best. Hair all neat, fresh clothes from the cupboard and not those partially worn ones off the hooks in the corner of her two bedroom flat. ‘Mummy ji, please use this before meeting the guests,’ her daughter-in-law had asked her once, giving her an expensive looking bottle of perfume. She was over for Simar’s birthday party and had forgotten to change her suit after rolling 50 besan laddoos at home specially for the occasion. Foolish excitement had made her board bus number 469, totally unmindful of her dusty slippers, a mismatched synthetic dupatta and patches of sweat all over the body. It was July! She had done as the daughter-in-law told her to, but had quietly left soon as Simar had cut the cake, and the guests got down to eating chocolate fondue and tiramisu.

And so, when she handed over her house key to the tenant above and boarded bus number 469 this day, she was neat and fresh. She even carried a newspaper to shield herself from the sun. After all, the doctor had given her strict orders to beat the heat. Strangely for Dr. Singh, there was a connection between her failing kidneys, the arthritis in her left knee and a developing cataract in one eye. Or maybe, he was just being caring, that handsome sardar! She smiled as she remembered how far back they went. Dr. Sukhjinder had come from Pakistan’s Punjab the same year as she and her husband. A widower now, he practised and lived alone a few houses away from hers. All efforts of his son’s to make him shift abroad went in vain. At least that was the story Dr. Singh, MBBS, liked to tell his neighbours.

The bus barely stopped for the passengers to get off. She almost fell on the hot tarmac road, but steadied herself before she could get hurt. Or her clothes dirty. In Hardeep’s house everything must be presentable. Just like the kind woman who always opened the gate to her. She was about her age, reminding her of her best friend from those days of gay abandon we call school. They would chatter at the gate itself, like excited girls, but just enough. ‘Madam will get upset if she sees me away from work for so long. I better go. Come, come inside. I’ll ring for her once you make yourself comfortable,’ and she would sit on the chair closest to the door. Closest to the door. You know, where one hangs umbrellas and caps and keys to storerooms. Things which have no use, no business no point being inside, on marble floors and under chandeliers. It was that corner in S-13 where she usually felt most comfortable. Never far from the door.

How are you, daadi?’ shrieked Simar when she saw her grandmother sitting uncomfortably on that chair they jokingly called "In the middle of nowhere". They hugged so tight no air could pass between them, and talked so fast an express train would hide in shame. Simar told her about that boy in class, ‘Oh and I won the tennis championship so mummy got my hair styled at fancy Madonna Salon and papa says if I do well in school we will holiday in Europe this autumn and how do I look? We’re going to the pool party at Sainik Farms …’ and she just sat there listening. Smiling and listening and enjoying the excitement in Simar’s voice, an excitement that made her feel … how should I say? Um, it makes me feel … wanted! Yes, wanted. And what is wanted is loved too, right? She loves me so much…

Hardeep’s leather soles announced his arrival. As he bent to touch his mother’s feet, she got up to caress his cheeks, as if he was a little boy, her boy, still. As if. They sat for five minutes of silence sipping lemonade, broken only by Simar’s interjections of things she wanted to share with her daadi, skipping whole words and certainly all punctuations to fit into this moment as much talk as any 8-year-old could manage. You see, time was short. The farmhouse the family had to go to for the pool party was far.

Plus, the rickshaw walla who was to transport the cooler and her daadi back to Amar Colony was already clocking his fare outside the imposing gate.

Silently, she saw her daadi get on to the tiny cart next to the cooler they no longer had any use for. Will you be okay, daadi? It’s so hot and what if the rickshaw bumps plus you have so many kilometers to go and papa, don’t you think we can drop … but before her thoughts found breath as spoken words, she was waving a good bye. She looked at Simar straight and smiled, that chin-raised-that-tight-jawline smile the mirror had seen just this morning. As if her teeth were gritted inside, proudly, determined to make her journey comfortable, and safe. She tightened the black strap carrying the kirpan and looked ahead.

Like a soldier on a mission. 

Wait till Dr. Singh learns. I must carry his favourite jalebi next time I go visit him to tell him about my new companion. My own cooler. How pleased he would be that I am taking care of myself ...always mumbling how we children of a past lost to time are our own sentinels to our selves, to take care of our selves. 

The sunlight bounced off her hair, hair which shone as silver as the thunderous lighting in the sky, powerful, alone and brave in all that darkness.




[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts. The prompt for today was - Take Care - When you’re unwell, do you allow others to take care of you, or do you prefer to soldier on alone? What does it take for you to ask for help?]



52 comments:

  1. Wow, that sure was some tale there. Just out of curiosity, did the picture inspire the post or was it the other way around? Am sure the pic inspired the post itself :)

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    1. The picture, then the post, Jai.
      Thanks for reading. :)

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  2. I was thinking the same as Jairam. The introductory para was scintillating.

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    1. I caught this picture a few days back. And wrote a story around it yesterday. Thank you so much for stopping by, Alka. :)

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  3. It is such a shame that growth hinders relationships. Here, it is not just the Hardeep-Mom relationship that is hindered, but in a way, the Simar-Naani one too. The story was nicely woven, but sad.

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    1. Leo, you read exactly what I had in mind and wanted to convey through this post. A sad truth which needs no stories written around it, but I could not have left this picture without any parting words.
      Very good to see you here, and thank you. :)

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  4. Loved this story, Sakshi! Visually and emotionally rich. Leaves a strong impression, really.

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    1. Thanks a lot, Beloo. Your one sentence made me so happy I forgot there is no electricity since an hour. ;) Very glad you enjoyed this.

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    2. Seems like this year dilliwallas are getting a good taste of what we in Tamil Nadu are so used to, year after year :) I hope the mother in your story can get enough electricity to use that cooler.

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    3. I hope so too. :)
      Yes, I wonder where all the power went? In my 14 years of existence here, I have never seen such a dearth. So TN suffers routine crunch? Can't do much, except keep ourselves and our tanks filled up with water. :D

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  5. Sakshi hello!!!
    This story was so engaging and it really touched me more so because i have my granny who no longer lives with me due to her illness! U just struck a chord in my heart! I so miss my granny

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    1. Oh dear! Smile, please. I am sure you'll meet your granny soon. :)
      Thanks, Juhi. My mere words seemed to have touched you deeply. Feeling good that you stopped by and left your comment.

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  6. The circle of life ... encapsulated in the photo and story. Wonderful, Sakshi

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  7. The story is lovely because it is not all cliched, but a reality that we see all around!

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    1. Thanks for reading me, Ghata. Good to see you here!

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  8. True story! Very well written :)

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  9. A sad, yet probably true story of the grandma/ mother in the rickshaw. As Leo correctly pointed out, growth hinders relationships. All kinds of ones. Nicely narrated Sakshi

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  10. This broke my heart and also made me very very proud of the old lady! Keep writing, Sakshi!

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    1. Good to see that word 'proud' for the old lady. The least distance that she covered on that cart was Sarita Vihar to Ashram, Dipali. Then we went our ways, and I lost 'touch'. I though it was marvellous.

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    2. That's quite a lot, especially in the oven that we are currently living in. I hope the cooler is hers and that it gives her good service!

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    3. Who knows, Dipali. I found the 'Stay Happier' board on the other side of the road quite fittingly here too. Brave, strong woman. Yes, physically too.

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  11. As always well done..Moved me and my eyes became moist..Re-reading again and again

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  12. Very nicely written Sakshi... from the comments above I realized that the pic inspired the story.. for all we know it might truly be her story...the emotions were so realistic and full of depth..

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    1. You make a point which I had in mind all along as I wrote this, and even when I saw this lady. What if this indeed is her story? Whoever she was, I wish her better than this.
      Very happy you liked the way the post was written. You are a good writer and your feedback matters, Seeta.
      Thanks a lot!

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  13. oh no...
    I am not sure what to say .. because no one knows about the circumstances of the lady and family whose foto is up there.. but if it was me I would be ashamed if the foto was of my mom in that state..

    This is the biggest turmoil in my life at moment , my mom is in india , alone, and maybe she is a bit stubborn she does not want ot come to UK, although she visits. I do phone here everyday but I am sure she doesnot tell me everything and SOLDIERS on as you say.

    the way you have written the story makes it combined with my situation ever so Realistic and saddens me as to what desitny holds and what must i do for this to be taken care of..
    money is not a problem as mom has enough but I do feel that maybe i should do more but what I am lost .. it sometimes make me feel that maybe I am not a good son and above as i wrote i would be ashamed maybe others are ashamed of me :(

    maybe when we grow old we become more stubborn :(

    this made me sad as it hits hard and nearer to home..

    coming back to the story it is perfectly written and obviously so realistic hence hit hard.. Thank you for sharing .. and God bless Daadi and I hope she gets some relief from the Heat wave in india at moment ..

    Bikram

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    1. ooops I am sorry for the POST instead of the COMMENT .. that we are supposed to write.. took too much of your space .. my bad

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    2. Bikram,
      I hear you when you talk about yourself being torn, and older people getting attached to and almost rigid about doing it all on their own in a land of their choice. I am sure your mum doesn't think you need to be ashamed. As for 'others', do you really care? Let your mum decide how to define 'good son'.
      Thanks a lot for reading, Bikram. And to think how close I came to documenting a truth out of your own life amazes me. :)
      I wish this daadi cooler times. Literally! :)

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  14. The 'aam log' in your stories are etched rather chiseled , Sakshi , that they come alive in front of the reader's eyes. A beautiful sad story. Affluence hampered the growth relationship of mom-son.

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    1. Happy to hear that about the characterisation, Kalpana. Keeping it real and rooted in the surroundings you and I belong to is very important to me. Many thanks for taking time out to read this. :)

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  15. Now, what should I comment! This pierced through my heart. Such a sad tale. And all I can hope is that, the lady in the picture has a better life. Once again you awed me with the narration. The "hair which shone as silver as the thunderous lighting in the sky, powerful, alone and brave in all that darkness" reminds me of my Granma's best friend who now settled in US with her daughter. When she was around, it was wonderful to see the *girls* gossip and giggle. And now though they regularly talk through phone, I miss her. I miss hearing them giggle. Ah! I really don't know why I'm babbling here. But your post just brought back all these to my mind. A really beautiful post it is.

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    1. And what am I supposed to say to your comment here, Parvathy? I can see this struck a chord with you as much as this picture did with me. I often hang around old ladies in the park who sit on benches eating oranges and discussing the latest fashion in suits with their girl friends. I love those giggles too. :)
      Big thank you and hugs, Parvathy, for always stopping by.

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  16. Given that it comes from you, I'm not amazed, Sakshi,at the way you've crafted that story ever so beautifully. I'm happy for daadi, because she 's soldiering on. I don't think most of us from our generation are bestowed with this kind of strength. We tend to look for support, and an outlet for our emotions, mostly. But people like her have their own support !
    I'm sure I've seen the likes of daadi in many people; even my Nani ji was a silent soldier, so much so that when she passed away,she had remitted in a bank FD, a certain sum which she wanted us to use for her funeral rites. Such foresight and strength !

    Thanks for this story. This might be fiction on this blog, but a fact for so many dadis around us.

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    1. Oh, Sreeja, you are so right. I could not have sat on that cart in blazing heat and traffic and fumes and for that distance without sobbing for rescue. Maybe, when you and I are 80, we too will develop a resilience and determination we think we are never capable of right now.
      That's quite an incident about the FD, Sreeja. I think your daadi just left me with an idea too. :)
      Thank you to you for liking this.

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  17. Such a powerful and scintillating story Sakshi. Loved the use of words, the flow, the storyline, everything.

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  18. You create a movie, with your vivid narration. I had a neighbour who died without seeing her son for years and in the hope of seeing him. Your story is as close to reality as it can get. :)

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  19. Your stories always leave me asking for more .... they are polished, fluent and oh-so-real. Truly magical. And the way you express the emotions, just wow :-)

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    1. Coming from you, this means a lot to me, Amrit.

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  20. The reason I love reading your fiction (not friction this time :P) is, they are almost real close to reality. Hard hitting facts...touching story and the picture...both went so well together...Hope the woman gets some cool.

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    1. Thank you so much for saying what you said. I try my best to keep it as real as reality gets too. :)

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  21. Was this a true story, Sakshi? I hope not. It brought tears to my eyes. Maybe, I am just too sentimental these days. How and why do we end up doing this to our parents? That lady with her silver hair and bun reminded me of my mother-in-law. She wears her hair similarly. Thankfully, nothing else relates to her. Beautifully written. A sad tale. Children talking nine to a dozen with their grandparents was so true to life along with other precious nuggets shared in the post. Well done!

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    1. One thing is true -- why do the elders become so stubborn? Why do they not choose comfort instead of soldiering on?

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    2. This is not a true story, Rachna, at least not in my life. But snippets of stories heard from others made me put this together. So yes, it is not unreal. Very glad the story moved you, as did the writing.
      I do think that rigidity in elders keeps them from really living life to the lees in their twilight. More often than not, it makes me feel frustrated and angry. But I always think ... what if it is something I will understand when I myself am 80?
      Many thanks for stopping by, Rachna. :)

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  22. Wow!! Such a powerful storyline and very emotional...The usage of words is simply amazing ..Keep blogging :)

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  23. Such beautiful weaving from just that pic?

    Impressive!!!

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