Kamala opened the door and entered the house. It had been a long day and she was tired. She worked with the local centre for dyslexic children and today there had been a new admission – a small boy, 5 years old and very shy. It had been difficult trying to bring him out of his shell and she suspected it was not going to be easy dealing with him. She walked over to the answering machine to check for messages – this was a new addition to the household ever since the children had left home and there was no longer any need for full time househelp.
The machine was flashing away in a rather desperate manner, willing someone to listen to all it had to say. Four messages – one of the children must be calling, Kamala thought. Maybe it was Navin reporting that his long job search had finally met with some success or perhaps it was her newly married daughter Sharada asking for a recipe because she had guests coming over that evening. Or was it their youngest one Vinita, homesick at her hostel? Kamala pressed the play button and was surprised to hear her husband’s voice. “Hi Kamala. It’s me. I need to speak to you urgently. Can you call me please?” Message two: Vinod again. “I see you’re not back home yet. Can you call me as soon as you return.” And the other two messages were also from him. Kamala wondered what the urgency was. Probably yet another piece of paper gone missing and needed as of yesterday. She picked up the phone and called Vinod’s office. His secretary told her that he had left already and was probably on his way home. He would be there in about ten minutes – that was the best part of living in Bangalore. The house was close enough to the office for Vinod to be able to commute without any problems as all. Kamala went into the kitchen and put on the kettle.
Kamala heard the bell ring. She could never understand why Vinod never used his keys – he always rang the bell and waited impatiently for her to open the door. She walked across the long marble lobby to the door, designed specially to display her wonderful collection of lamps put together over many years. “Did you not get my messages?” Vinod asked. “I told you that the answering machine is no good. You must get yourself a pager. This is crazy, I just can’t get in touch with you when I need to.” Kamala sensed that it was going to be one of those days when she would have to argue that she needed her own time and space and should not be expected to be on call all the time. “I just got back and called your office, but you had left already. Why don’t I get us some tea and we can talk about whatever is making you this impatient?” “Okay, why don’t you do that. I need to make a quick call to the New York office anyway.”
Kamala went into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with the tea. Vinod was still on the phone – typical. Kamala settled into her favourite seat in the house, the swing on the veranda facing their little garden. She loved their house and although now it seemed a little large for just the two of them, it had been perfect to bring up the children and look after Vinod’s ageing mother. “You’ll never guess all that has happened” Vinod said, breaking her revelry. “Do you remember Krishnakant, the guy who was sent out to the New York office about two months ago? He’s quit since he found a better job. Simultaneously the company has received an offer for a merger from an American company. Sunder called from New York earlier today. He wants me to fly out immediately to handle the negotiations. I am leaving this evening. That’s why I wanted to let you know”. “Should I start packing your suitcase right away?” Kamala asked. “When does your flight leave?” She was used to this – Vinod was always flying off to some place or the other at short notice given that he was the head for legal matters in the company.
“That’s not all Kamala” Vinod continued. “Sunder wants me to stay on in New York for about two years. We are going to have to move there. I’ll be moving right away and you will have to join me shortly after. The company will be sending in packers tomorrow to look at shifting our stuff. They’re going take the house on rent for one of the guys so that we don’t have to worry about all that. But you’ll have to look at disposing some of our stuff. The apartment in New York will no doubt be much smaller than this.” Kamala was dazed. Everything seemed to be moving far too quickly for her. The next two hours passed in moments with Vinod’s things to be put together and packed and before she knew it he was gone.
Kamala then started looking around the house wondering where to start. Vinod was right, they would have to discard quite a few things. She walked into what had been Vinod’s mother’s bedroom. They had preserved it intact ever since she had passed away. Her puja shelf was cleaned every day and flower garlands continued to adorn the deities. Amma’a little radio stood on the bedside table along with a torch and her box of medicines. Her cupboard still held her simple cotton saris and the one or two silk saris. It seemed almost as if Amma was still alive, perhaps just out in the veranda. Kamala left the room, not wanting to disturb its peaceful atmosphere.
Next she walked into what had been the children’s playroom. In stark contrast to Amma’s room, the playroom was completely chaotic. Sharada’s needlework set was strewn across the chair while Navin’s Lego set was lying all over the floor in bits and pieces. Kamala could also see Vinita’s dolls thrown around, some without arms and other without legs, a rather gory picture after all. Kamala had kept all their toys thinking that one day her grandchildren would use the room as a getaway from all the adults, just as her three horrors had done. It was probably there that Navin had decided to become an engineer, playing with the Mecano and Lego sets that Vinod brought back from his various trips. And Kamala truly believed that sitting in that chair Sharada had dreamed up the beautiful designs that she now created as a fabric designer while the dismembered dolls clearly showed that Vinita had the makings of the orthopaedic surgeon that she was studying to be.
Kamala climbed up to the girls’ room on the upper floor. The bed was covered in a patch work quilt that she had painstakingly made. She opened Sharada’s cupboard. Although she was now married and had a home of her own, she had not yet collected all the assorted gifts she had received. Kamala would have to remember to send them across to her. The study table was full of Vinita’s college textbooks while her cupboard had all her going out clothes that she only needed when she was home, preferring to live in jeans while at hostel like most other girls of her age. It was hard to believe that her little Vinu would soon be a qualified surgeon. Would they be able to come down from New York for her graduation, Kamala wondered.
The study – a treasure of books. They had every book they had ever bought – children’s books, her own special education books, encyclopaedias bought for the children and f course Vinod’s legal books. She supposed that he would want those with him, but what was she to do with the rest? It was in this room that her children had learned to read and that she herself had studied to get a higher degree to be able to teach dyslexic children, starting with her own Sharada.
Kamala bypassed Navin’s room, not daring to open the door, for she knew it would be complete mess. She entered the master bedroom. Her eyes fell right away on the giant dressing table that Vinod had ordered to be made for her to hold all the trinkets she had. There were places to store the semi precious stones he brought back for her from his trips – pearls from Japan, garnets from Kathmandu, Corals from Italy, the list was vast. He had also made the carpenter design a special area for her to store her glass bangles – some 100 dozens in various colours and designs. She never used them anymore, believing she was too old for them and neither of the girls had wanted them either.
Kamala sat down at her dresser and thought about all the rooms she walked through. They really had accumulated so much in the ten years that they had lived in the house, not just possessions, but more importantly memories. How was she going to bring herself to leave the house and all the sacred memories it represented? She thought of her children growing up and leaving home, Sharada’s marriage, Vinod’s increasing success professionally. The dreams they had all seen and then watching them come to fruition.
The reflection in the mirror of all her bangles caught her eye again. Of what use were they to anyone? Just a shadow of her youth, material objects representative of her experiences. Kamala picked up a pair of green bangles – she had bought them to match the sari she had been given at her brother’s wedding. The sari had since become threadbare and the bangles did not fit her anymore. Kamala threw the bangles into the bin – there. They were gone. She closed her eyes and tried to remember the day of her brother’s wedding and it all come rushing back as if it had been only a few days ago, rather than the 25 years that had passed since. She opened her eyes again. Was she attaching too much sentimentality to material objects? She did not need them to help her keep her memories. Her memories would live on anyway, notwithstanding the trinkets that were associated with them.
Kamala walked over to the phone and called her friend Veena. “Hello? Veena? It’s Kamala. I wanted to ask you – you know the mobile crèche scheme you run for children of mobile construction workers? Do you accept donations in the form of toys? I have boxes full of the children’s’ toys and I was thinking that perhaps you could use them. I was also wondering if you might know of an old people’s home where I can give away Amma’s saris? No, no. I’m not suddenly spring-cleaning. I just haven’t got around to doing these things, you know how it is. But then today I thought that I really must get going…It is time to say goodbye!”
Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Anu, Ashok, Conrad, Delirious, Gaelikaa, Grannymar, Magpie11, Paul, Maria the Silver Fox, Rummuser , Will Knott, Shackman and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get different flavours of the same topic.