Cool Buddies

Savithri [by Ratheesh]

Posted in Life by Ratheesh & Sharada on September 12, 2014

“Ma!”

“Yes darling”, Savithri replied, as peacefully and lovingly as she always did. The tone was no different from her “Breakfast is ready” or “Go to sleep now, don’t sit on that computer”. Savithri rarely lost her temper. In fact the only time she did, was when Abhi, her elder son in a fit of rage had hit a classmate so hard on his face that the kid had collapsed. The incident had led to Savithri and her husband Raghunandan being called to the principal office. She hated sitting in front of the principal; shamefully, looking at the floor like one-of-those-mothers-who-could-not-bring-up-their-kids-right. Later at home Abhi had got a thrashing. But that was ten years ago. Abhi grew up to be a handsome young man no one could complain about. And Savithri was a proud mother.

“Ma! Ma! Ma!”.

“I am coming, baby”. While Abhi grew up to be rather silent, his younger sister Anu was the polar opposite. Right now, she cried out loud from the room because her hair-clip was missing. “Look carefully, you must have left it under the pillow or something” Savithri spoke as she searched the room keenly. Arranging the bed linen and moving the pillows aside she said “.. or you must have put it into your bag itself”. “Ma, you always tell the same thing”, Anu retorted. “And you always lose the same clip”. Both of them smiled.

“You are slowly becoming careless and losing …”

“Ma”

“… your things all over the place. Young girls should … ”

“Ma”

“… have some discipline and …”

“Maaa! I found it under the cot”. Anu was holding it like she found a gold coin under her cot. “See? didn’t I tell you that you always leave it there”, Savithri said while feeling much better about the situation. “You never told me that, don’t bluff”. “All right, all right, why don’t you quickly get ready; papa will drop you in 15 minutes”.

Savithri’s household was the synonym for chaos during mornings. If her husband putting on the daily news on TV did not contribute to the noise levels, you could rely on Anu to throw a tantrum. If her father-in-law did not complain about the breakfast then it was the maid who constantly nagged about the quality of washing-powder given to her. “Madam, my hands don’t get so slimy washing clothes at the neighbors'” she had once declared. “They are rich people; not like us” Savithri had retorted. Raghunandan, who wore his pride on his sleeve wanted the earth to cave and suck him in; he buried his head under the newspaper. It was always better that Savithri dealt with all this; he had neither the inclination nor the time.

“I want to be a doctor”, Savithri had said.

That was decades ago, when she was in school. Her teacher had asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up. Sometimes, during the afternoon when her father-in-law slept and the maid had finished her work and gone, when Savithri had the entire home to herself, she would lie down and stare at the ceiling thinking about how silly she was to even think she could become a doctor. While her eyes moistened, she thought about her journey through life. “Should I have opted not to marry?”, “Then again, did father have the money to send me to medical school?” she wondered. “Oh come on, money was not the problem … or was it?” she argued with herself. “Anu needs to get a good score in those exams”. “Why is Abhi so silent these days?” and then her thoughts trailed away.

“Why are you looking so dull?” asked Raghunandan. He meant to ask “You look like you have been crying” but avoided it altogether since Savithri was very particular about being a strong person; last thing he wanted was a situation where she would retreat into a shell. “I am not dull” came her reply. “Okay, if you don’t want to tell me, then don’t, but don’t try to convince me that you are alright” said Raghunandan almost regretting the fact that he asked; he might have as well got lost in some pending work from office instead.

“I am worried if Abhi is into some bad habits”. She was peeling away the cover from her pillow and looked away when she said that, almost whispering as the sentence ended. “What? What bad habits?” Raghunandan paid keen attention. “Like … bad habits … like” she said. “You mean he has a girlfriend or something?” Raghunandan tried to extract some humor out of the situation. “No. No. He has no girlfriends” Savithri replied a tad too seriously to that query. “Oh! now like that is a bad habit. Tell me what you meant first” he asked chiding himself not to kid with her again. “I don’t know, I don’t want to talk about it. But he has become very silent and dull. He was not like that before”. Raghunandan knew where this was going. She was starting to think her son was into some form of substance abuse, but even thinking about it caused her fear.

“You know Savithri, I really don’t think so. He is a smart boy and responsible, probably it’s just the work pressure. He just started working right; all that must be getting to him” he replied, trying to ensure that her fears do not take control of her senses. It was a sensitive situation and the last thing he wanted was for her to go and ask him something like this directly. “But you know what, I think you should speak to him” she said. “You hardly speak to him these days, I have noticed. I at least talk to him in the morning when he eats his breakfast here. You are always reading that newspaper or watching TV. I don’t know when those news channels will run out of money, at least you will have time for others”. “Ah, now its all my problem” Raghunandan said. It was not long before that conversation ended in bitter silence and both of them went to sleep, or at least pretended to. Staring into the darkness above both of them wondered about how to bring this up with Abhi.

“… your time is not good right now. All kinds of misfortunes await you. Shani is …”

“Appa, could you please switch off that TV” Savithri told her father-in-law who stared at the screen where an astrologer spoke to people over phone. “Shani it seems” she muttered to herself as she carried a hot Dosa towards the dining table where Abhi sat staring at his plate. Raghunandan sat next to him reading the newspaper. Savithri nudged her husband lightly as she walked past him. Raghunandan had completely forgotten the discussion from the previous night and looked at her and asked “What?”. These were moments that she hated. “How can he act so dumb, like he does not know. Whole night I was thinking about this while he snored away” she thought and walked away.

But he seemed to have remembered, because she heard him from the kitchen. “So Abhi, how is work?” he asked. “Ok” came Abhi’s reply, after what felt like an hour of silence. “Are you happy with work? Do they pay you well? Do you want me to ask Venu-uncle for openings in his company?”. “Dad! did I tell you they pay me bad?” Abhi finally spoke. “No”. “Did I tell you that I want a change of job?”. “No”. “Then why don’t you leave me alone”. When Savithri came out with another Dosa she found the dining table empty. Abhi had left for work and Raghunandan sat in the living room staring at her with the it’s-all-your-fault look in his eyes. “Ma”. It was Anu, and Savithri knew this episode ended here for the day.

“Where are you off to?” Savithri asked. Her husband and son seemed to be wearing their little used sport shoes and getting ready for something. Both of them looked sleepy-eyed but nevertheless spoke high-spiritedly. “Me and Abhi decided to go for morning walks from today. He did not agree first, but now he seems interested. After all he is my son” Raghunandan declared as the “my son” part invited certain looks from Savithri. “my son, yes of course when he is in the mood to say that”. Still wondering about the turn of events she moved to the garden to pick some flowers for her daily puja. “If not anything, at least he might get some time to talk to Abhi about his dullness” she thought as she plucked the best-looking flowers.

“Savithri, you make the best garlands”. “Savithri aunty this chutney is super”. “Savithri-akka the rangolis you draw are the best in the neighborhood”. “Savithri, no one has served me like you did during my illness”. Everyone seemed to shower praises on her. But yet, during most of the day she spent time thinking that she was somehow inadequate and was destined to do larger things in life. Although she never really concluded what those larger things were and why she could not attain them. “I am happy if my family and children are happy” she once told and forced herself out of a vortex of depression that she feared would consume her.

“You need to start behaving like a lady, Anu. Sit properly” Savithri spoke rather loudly for her usual self. “Ma, I sit like this all the time. I think you are angry with dad, so you are taking it on me” Anu said. Since Anu was right, Savithri did not want to accept it “Just because you sit like that till now does not mean you can always do. You need to behave; especially in public”. “But Ma, where is the public now? Come on!” she replied as she walked away into her room. “This girl will not understand” she told loudly enough so that someone heard, at least her father-in-law who sat with the small transistor to his ear. Her father-in-law, as always, never contributed to domestic communication.

Sarojamma was her name; Savithri’s mother-in-law. “A very kind woman” Savithri always opened conversations about her mother-in-law with that sentence. And she was not lying. When Savithri walked into this household, Sarojamma had tears in her eyes. Savithri never understood why but cried along and that is how they had bonded. Much later, she heard stories of Raghunandan’s little sister who had passed away while on a school excursion; a trip to the banks of Kaveri where the river had claimed her in a freak accident. Sarojamma had been waiting since that day for another daughter to take her place. “We cannot have a family without love and affection for one another” Sarojamma had once told her. “I understand” she had replied. The Savithri of today was very different from what she was when she was newly married. The only thing she did then was shadow her mother in law in the activities around the house and when she got a nod or a nudge from her, she retired into the room with Raghunandan. “What a timid lady!” Raghunandan had thought.

This was only till Sarojamma had suddenly succumbed a jaundice related infection. After his wife passed away, her father-in-law had turned into a very silent persona due to depression. Savithri hesitantly picked up the reigns and started taking care of the entire household. Nothing was left to abandon, every detail was looked into. Who gets breakfast when? Who likes what? When are the bills paid? Are we due for paying taxes? Do we need to fix the plumbing? “How much work!” Savithri sometimes exclaimed. Then again she liked it. In a weird way she had found her purpose. “Life does not come on a silver tray for everyone” she remembered Sarojamma’s words.

“Abhi likes a girl in office” Raghunandan chose what he considered a safe time to tell this. Savithri had almost got sleep and her eyes were shutting off. “What?” she replied drowsily. “Abhi likes a girl in his office, and he wants to marry her”. Savithri got up and sat on her bed, then without even asking any further questions she raised her eyebrows and straightened her lips and seemed to conclude something. “Oh. So that is it. I knew it was a girl. Poor boy must have got trapped” she said. “Hey, don’t claim things. You never thought it was a girl. In fact you thought he was onto some kind of drugs or something” Raghunandan corrected her stand. “Drugs? When did I say drugs?” she replied. Raghunandan did not pursue the matter since it was pointless with her. She probably just wanted him to handle it, and he had done it. Morning walks gave him ample time with his son where these things could be discussed in a man-to-man fashion. He was a proud dad.

The next morning Savithri declared “No chutney today, have some pickle instead”. Abhi stared at the plate. Raghunandan did not look up from his newspaper. It was Savithri’s childish punishment for both father and son because she was being kept out of this. “Ma” It wasn’t Anu for a change, it was Abhi who now held his mother’s wrist tenderly before she could get away into the kitchen. “She is a nice girl. You will like her. I was worried about telling you, that’s all” he said. “Okay. fine. Invite her for Ganesha Habba, but strictly with her parents. Dad told me they know already”. Savithri said as she moved away into the kitchen to wipe her tears. She was unsure if she was happy or sad.

Raghunandan and Abhi left for work. Anu retreated to her room. Father-in-law was sleeping in the living room. Savithri sat at the dining table humming a devotional song. “Thank god that is resolved” Savithri prayed to her deity. Finding absolute peace with no one to disturb, she decided to make some sweets for the Ganesha habba.

“Maaaa”. Anu wailed.

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