Ruma Masi sat in her favorite arm chair with her feet propped up on a small, square shaped, blue cushioned ottoman. Wearing a floral long sleeved house dress, a golden rim glasses perched on her nose and with her long hair neatly tied in a bun she looked beautiful even at sixty four.
“Bless your kind heart Dattaji for worrying about my comfort,” she said to herself.
Ruma Masi still remembered the day her husband had bought the footrest for her. She had chided him for splurging money on unnecessary luxuries. A smile settled on her fine wrinkled face as she thought about Dattaji – the man she married and then fell in love with.
Balancing a plate of watermelon on her lap, Masi painstakingly removed every single brown seed from those perfectly cut triangle shape fruit.
“Munna wouldn’t touch the fruit if he finds those seeds.” Ruma Masi grumbled as if complaining, but the happiness in her voice and eyes told how fond she was of her grandson.
When the clock struck Eleven she rushed hurriedly, “Oh-ray baa baa, there is so much housework to do and here I am lingering around.”
DattaJi, can you go to the market and get some Macha? You know how much Saurab craves for them,” she called out to her husband. That she didn’t get any response seemed irrelevant and soon Masi went about her daily work mechanically.
Ruma Masi took a bath, wore a crisp starched cotton saree with sleeveless blouse, lit the diya in the miniature marble temple of lord Krishna and said a little prayer. She then unconsciously burnt an essence stick and walked toward a garlanded photo frame, but when she stood in front of it, her eyes looked confused. As if fighting an inner turmoil she momentarily wavered, but soon it was placed by a blank stare and she retraced her steps putting away the essence stick.
Taking up the housework she cooked an elaborate meal except for the fish. “Dattaji has gone to the market for too long. Must have met some friends on the way and forgotten all about what I said.”
“I will make Saurab’s favorite payesh (kheer). He won’t miss the macha then. Bahu has yet to learn to cook a decent payesh.” The one person talks continued.
Masi was so engrossed in work that she lost track of time. She cleaned the house for the second time that day, waited for Dattaji so that they could have lunch together and then out of exhaustion fell asleep. She slept for the most of the afternoon and in the evening when she woke up the twilight confused her to the point that she pulled the blankets and went back to sleep again thinking it was nighttime.
It was the shrill sound of the telephone which rang through the house that woke Ruma Masi unceremoniously. She wondered who was calling her in the middle of the night.
“Hello?” she spoke in a groggy but worried voice.
“Ma? It’s Saurab.”
“Saurab Beta! Why aren’t you at home? Where are you so late in the night?”
“Ma… I am at home. And it’s just morning here. Were you sleeping?”
“Yes, I was but I am sure Dattaji must be awake playing with Munna and waiting up for you.”
“Baba? But Ma…” Saurab was stopped in his tracks.
Saurab’s concerned voice triggered a cautious response from her. She looked around at her home and even in the darkness of the home she could see things clearly for the first time since that morning. Scared she slowly found her voice, “Don’t worry about me beta. How are Munna and Bahu?”
“They both are fine. Munna keeps asking about you. Are you ok Ma? Do you need any help? Someone to stay with you? Or maybe you should come and live with us?” Saurab suggested.
“How can I leave my home and go anywhere else? I am fine beta. Don’t worry about me at all.”
The mother and son spoke for some more time before ending the call. Saurab who was in New York with his family sensed something amiss in his mothers’ talks. Two weeks back she had almost not recognised his voice. He wondered whether loneliness was causing a strain on her. It would be another year before he could go back to his hometown and that made him feel helpless.
Ruma Masi put the lights on and had a look around her home. The meal she cooked was cold and untouched. The watermelon pieces were now stale. The house was devoid of any company and the essence stick lay orphaned. When the garlanded photo frame caught her eye, her steps wavered and with eyes full of memories and tears she cried.
“Oh Dattaji. What is happening to me?” she worried about herself for the first time that night. Maybe she did need help after all for though she has lost her loved ones, Ruma Masi couldn’t bear to lose their precious memories.