Ma has to come. Kona declared. No, no, nothing doing, she hastily added as she saw Suresh opening his mouth. Lolita has given notice, she is leaving this Friday.
How can she leave so sudden! Suresh was exasperated. What does she want! Increase her salary, yaar!
She won’t stay. She is providing a replacement, her niece. But she is raw and has just come from the village. Knows nothing of city life and moreover, she is to be trained as a cook .
But why can’t you do that! Why call your mother on the drop of a hat. You know how I feel, Suresh sounded irritated.
Yes, so you say every time I call her .Pray tell me how I manage everything single handed! Tell me, na!
Teach the new maid everything including cooking. Prepare nasta for Birju. Prepare him for school. And who will be here to receive him when the school bus drops him at the gate, hungry and tired. A little boy, all alone in the flat, with a new maid, who knows what type she would be. Or are you suggesting I leave office and stay home to look after your home and son!.
So Mrs Malati Roy arrived with her baggage to the utter discomfiture of Suresh.
Didu , why are you leaving so soon! Please stay a few more days. Birju tugged at her pallu. Malati looked affectionately at the face she loved so much. The cute little nose, innocent eyes , and the full mouth, curled in a pout.
I have to go beta
Well, my house is empty. Your dadu is lonely. There are so many more things to do; but you don’t worry I will talk to you over phone from time to time! She tried to console the little soul.
Why did dadu not come? He whimpered.
Darling dadu had some work to attend to. Next time we would come together, ok!
. She had a lot to do in the beginning. Both Kona and her husband usually returned late from office. The maid was new and Tamil. She did not speak Bengali, nor did she knew how to cook, specially the Bengali dishes. Malati had a trying time teaching her the basic dishes like dal, sabji and fish curry,the Bengaly way.. To her relief, Christine, the maid, had picked up very fast and she turned out to be a good cook.
“Malati, have you noticed whether I have taken my medicines, I can’t remember” . Biman stood at the kitchen door looking lost and vulnerable. Malati missed a heartbeat, he is so helpless. They have traveled together such a long path. They got married very young, Malati was only sixteen and Biman twenty, when their elders fixed the match. From then on they have lived on and had become so used to each other that the thought of being separated, the thought crosses her mind very often these days, makes her extremely sad. Who says life loses its colour for the aged, that old people find life boring, that they just live life for the sake of living. Nothing is more wrong. Malati clings to life these days, these days of the twilight , she feels that she has not seen life enough, that she has not lived life in the full, that she cannot bear to be taken away from Biman. It was nearly a month and a half that she had come here. The Durga Puja, the most revered festival of West Bengal was due in October and Malati had a lot of preparations to make. The house had to be dusted, washed and cleaned thoroughly. Gifts for all are to be purchased. She felt happy to go back where she belonged.
She was lost in her thought when Birju came running –“Didu Didu, come see, there is another didu sitting on the steps. Birju was only about twelve years of age and he referred to all aged women as didu. So they came out in the small varanda of their first floor flat. There on the steps sat a lonely old woman. She had fresh but cheap cloths on her and had a small cloth bundle beside her. Malati noticed the woman was wearing glasses and a pair of chappals as well. Malati asked her what brought her here and whether she was waiting for some one. But the woman looked at her dazed and expressionless , obviously not understanding anything. Then it dawned on her that the woman did not know Hindi or English. Briju came to her rescue. In fluent Tamil the boy conversed with the woman The woman was a dalit widow with two sons and lived with her elder son and his family in Avadi in Thiruvallur district . The son was poor and without a regular job and had five mouths to feed including the mother. For some time the son had been coaxing her to go and visit his younger brother who lived in the city and so he helped her board a train with some money and advised her to get down at Chennai and wait for her son, who was supposed to come to receive her in the station itself. She waited for her son to come for the whole morning and then came out of the station and started walking. Her second son was also married with two children and he worked in an eatery near JJ Road It appeared that her sons had taken her for a ride and had abandoned her as an unwanted baggage. Malati, offered the woman some tea and biscuits. The woman seemed very scared and withdrawn and might be because of the trauma of being left alone in an alien place appeared a little disjointed too. Malati called her daughter and apprised her of the woman’s plight. Kona and Suresh arrived, irritated and distraught, why should your mother take the trouble for a complete stranger and she is not even a Bengali. There were others in the neighborhood, who were Tamils, but oh no , your mother…….
Suresh called in the Police and they took her to the Police Station. Next evening they were informed that thankfully the Police could locate her sons, both residing in the city as well as in the suburb and called them at the police station. The sons arrived hanging their heads low in shame and after apologizing for their beastly behavior took back their happy mother with them.
Birju gave his parents tight hugs and declared “You are the best parents in the world”.
Suresh laughed and asked “why so generous Birju “.and pat came the reply” Because you are not cruel like those sons of the new didu, abandoning their own mother on the streets. You will never do that to my didu, will you ever?” He asked seriously.
“Of course not beta..” Their eyes met over their son’s head.
One night before Malati was to leave for Kolkata she felt Birju tossing and turning on the bed. Birju suddenly sat up and asked her in an urgent voice..
“Didu will you take me with you to Kolkata.”
Surprised, Malati said
‘of course, if you want to. But have you asked your parents”.
Briju shook his head vigourously:
‘I don’t want to tell them anything. I just want to leave them’ and putting his head into her lap started crying uncontrollably”.
Panicked and flustered Malati said
“What is it baby, what happened, shall I call your parents?”
Again Briju shook his head vehemently and said in atrembling voice ..”
“No please don’t tell them anything. Promise me you won’t”
“OK, but tell me what it is. “
Briju took out a crumpled paper from under his pillow and handed it over to her . Malati found to her surprise it was a letter. She switched on the bedside lamp and went through the contents. It was a letter from the Sarkarpool Mental Hospital, Kolkata to Suresh Dasgupta, dated 3rd October, 2008 , about a year back and it read as under:
“This is our third reminder of our letter dated 23/02/2005 no. SK/M/2034 regarding release of patient named Mr Abhoy Kanti Dasgupta. As you have been informed earlier, your father Mr Abhoy Kanti Dasgupta, aged 81 , who was admitted by you in our hospital on 05/01/1996 and was diagnosed as suffering from acute depressive disorder is now cured and can be taken home . The patient is 80% cured and once put under the loving and friendly family care, is sure to regain his normal self as far as possible in such cases. It is also seen from our records that the patient had no one visiting him for nearly three years. You should know that rejection by family members is dampening and quite a deterrent to the treatment of such patients. We therefore request you once again to please come forward and take back your father with you.”