From the gate of the house, a passage leads to a big veranda and all the rooms are spread around it. All the doors open to the same veranda. In the corner of the veranda, she sits washing dirty dishes. She sat on a wooden stool wearing a pink suit which was faded because of too much washing. Pulling back her unevenly tied hair, with her soft and fluffy hands she’s washing the dishes with sweat dripping down her forehead; but you would hardly see a frown on her face. She must be 40 back then and I must be 10. People say I resemble her and that I am her favourite child (out of 2 daughters she has). The moment she saw me entering the house, she left washing and said: “Go keep your bag in your room, change your clothes and wash your hands.”
“Ma, I just entered.”
“You will only get food once it’s all done.” I would not call her OCD but yes she’s a hygiene freak. She would not even ask me how’s my day till the time I have changed my clothes and washed my hands and face. I never understand why I can’t have food before changing clothes but never dared argue because I know I would not win.
I kept my bag in my room and picked my clothes from the cupboard. We had a separate bathroom, a common one next to the gate. As I walk to the bathroom, I stopped by the kitchen and asked her, “Why are you doing the dishes?”
We usually have a maid who comes home every day in the evening.
“The maid is on leave today.” She wipes the sweat from her forehead with her suit sleeve. Back in those days, we did not have an air conditioner and because the veranda was open the sun kept the heat on throughout the day.
I came back after completing all the tasks and my food was served on the dining table. We did not have an air conditioner but we had a fridge, a car, a maid and a TV. All the luxuries those were essential to maintain the social status of my socially active father. So I was hopeful that we would have an air conditioner soon.
“Ma, can I watch TV while eating food.”
“No” A straight reply as she resumes her washing.
“But why can’t I…”
Another blunt “No”, even before I could start my argument.
I had just finished my food when the doorbell rang and two of my bus friends entered all dressed up.
O Shit! I forgot to tell her.
It was my birthday and I had invited two of my friends from my bus for a party. Birthdays were like any other day, the only time I would get some importance was when the school was on. I loved the attention I got from my classmates and teachers. I used to announce days before that my birthday is coming so that no one misses to wish me. As a school ritual, I took my favourite toffees every year to distribute amongst my friends and teachers. I remember, I always used to take more than the count so that I could give them to the new friends I made every year on my birthday. But this year I invited my new bus friends and forgot to tell my mother when I reached home.
We never had a closed door. The house was always open and we never felt a security threat. So the moment after ringing the bell, my friends were almost in the middle of the veranda where my mother was washing the dishes. She hurriedly left the dishes and wiped her hands with her dupatta. She quickly opened the drawing-room door and made my friends sit. The drawing room is always clean just like the entire house but the drawing door was always closed so that it’s clean for any surprise visits from our guests. We often had people who would bump in just like that because my father had a huge social circle and the door was always open.
I immediately joined her with my friends in the drawing room because I could sense her anxiety and definitely I will be a dead meat soon. She left the drawing room and started to walk towards her room which was adjacent to the drawing room. I walked behind her waiting to get scolded and sort the matter with her. It always relieved me when she had poured her heart out to me rather than holding it inside and suffocating herself.
She pulled out a party dress from the closet and threw it on the bed. “Change into this, now.” She was very angry.
While I was changing, she opened her cupboard and started looking for something.
“You invite people and don’t even inform.” She started scolding me like she’s forgotten it’s my birthday. She kept her voice low enough that the kids next door don’t feel unwanted.
“I am sorry.” Tears started to line up at the corner of my eyes but they won’t fall. I knew seeing me cry would make her angrier.
“I don’t even have money to buy something for your friends to eat. I never have money” She fidgets with her bag and a box in her cupboard where she saves all her money.
I feel miserable seeing her miserable. The state of the house was not hidden from me. My father has been spending time and money in helping people who would never repay him or even appreciate his efforts. On one hand where my mother believes “save your house before you save others”; my father believed “if you have one slice bread, give it to the needy and work hard to earn another one for yourself.”
“Your father never gives me any money. He also takes away whatever I save.”
“He spends all his money on helping others and now the daughter has invited her friends without telling me.” She flips purse after purse and drawer after drawer but no luck. All I was hoping that this moment I wish I could just vanish.
Her looks changed from angry to anxious, as she failed to find money to treat my friends.
I started to feel guilty for bringing this hell to her. Slowly her discomfort was growing and so was my fear of her going into a fight with my dad over this.
God saved me for a while as she remembered keeping some money for my school fees next month.
“Sit with your friends. I’ll get something to eat.” She pulled out some money from the school fees booklet. She keeps the money every month in the fees booklet to submit the school fees.
I walk silently to the drawing room. I tried to keep my friends entertained and soon we started playing. I tried to forget what happened but I could not forget what she said. I could still visualise her desperately looking for money everywhere because she didn’t want to disappoint me. After a while, she got samosas and a cold drink for my friends and me. I could hardly swallow the samosa, but the cold drink was a treat which we were only offered on special occasions like Diwali or weddings, so I quickly finished it before my guilt starts to resurface.
She left us to play. After an hour I heard my father enter the house. I told my friends will be back soon and walked towards my parent’s room. I stopped right at the door.
“You never give me money.” My mother was complaining to my father.
“You know business is not running fine.” My father justifies.
“Our daughter invited her friends for her birthday and we have nothing to feed them.”
“You should have told me, I would have arranged something.” My father tried to raise a logical argument.
“She never told me. But the point is I never have money. I should have at least some money for times like this.” I could feel her helplessness in her voice.
“My office is nearby, you should have called me. I would have sent someone with the money.”
“You have money to give to your brother’s kids but you cannot give a penny to your wife for her kids.” She bursts into tears.
Soon the conversation turned from a complaint about less money to complaints about not caring and not respecting. I felt like I was the culprit for the mess. I stood there like I was stoned and my feet were glued to the doormat. Tears started to escape my eyes and my heart felt like it would burst out from my body with the pain growing inside it. I wanted to enter and a ceasefire by taking the responsibility for the mess or run away to the other room and play with my friends and forget about what’s happening here. But it was the same woman crying in the room who was miserable because of my silly mistake. Inviting friends for my birthday felt like the biggest disaster I could do to disrupt the peace of the house.
My father opened the door with the intention to leave the house but instead saw me standing at the door. I quickly wiped my tears and looked at him, hopeful that he would be able to save this from getting more damaging. He kept his hand on my head and walked out. My mother was sitting on the bed trying to hide her tears from me.
“Go sit with your friends.” For her, it was still more important for me to be with my friends. She may not give presents on my birthday but she definitely didn’t want to give me tears.
My mother was a self-respecting human being and this incidence is more than just about money. It was more about her vulnerability that she was not ready to host an awesome party for her daughter. I wish I could sit on her lap and give her a hug and tell her that, even if she cannot feed a feast to people whom I meet and play with every day; she’s still the best mother who keeps my toothbrush in the bathroom every morning with paste on it, keeps the water for bath with the absolute right temperature I want, hangs my clothes ironed while I’m taking a shower, sings songs to pep me up when I  have a rough day at school, makes sure I am disciplined and hygienic and much more.
“Go,” she said in a firm voice.
I left because at that age and at that time I could not find the right words to stop her misery. I also felt that my presence made her feel more vulnerable to a lot of other aspects. I went back to the room where my friends were sitting and pretended like nothing happened.
It was late evening when my friends left and she just finished cooking dinner. No matter how angry she was or how to hurt she was, our house always had food for all of us. I never heard her banging doors or banging dishes while cooking. And the food always tasted the same as it was made with love to feed the loved ones who are hungry. As soon as my friends left the guilt was back. She was still upset and was not talking to me. I didn’t attempt to talk to her either. I started cursing my birthday. I went to my room and pretended to sleep. On weekdays when we had school the next day, we always had dinner early and slept on time.
It was already late for dinner; I thought she doesn’t love me. The thought that she would abandon me, for what I have done today, scared me to even approach her for dinner. I turned off the lights of my room and believed that my birthday was over. I heard someone opening the door. I didn’t move. It was her, she turned on the lights and I saw her holding dinner thali.
“Get up and have food. I made your favourite rajma chawal.”
“I am not hungry.” I was guilty to the power of infinity.
“You know I can’t let you sleep empty stomach. You have a long day at school tomorrow.”
I took the plate and smiled. She smiled back and stroked my hair. She kept watching me while I finished my food. There were no tears, no words yet that moment was priceless. There were vibes all around that no one would ever love me so much to not let me sleep hungry; no matter how big my mistake was. Once I was finished, she took the plate from me and walked out. For many years after this incidence, I never invited any of my friends until I made friends who would not want samosas and cold drink but instead rajma chawal cooked by my mother.

8 years later I finally invited friends.

“Ma, I have invited my friends for lunch tomorrow.”

“What do you want me to cook?” She got excited.

“What you cook the best; rajma chawal.” I thought of boosting her confidence a bit.

“How about rajma chawal and chilli paneer?”

“Where did you learn how to make chilli paneer?” I was amazed and amused at her enthusiasm.

“Try it once and I guarantee you, your friends will love it.” Her confidence 10/10 and excitement 100/10

“Ok, done” I smiled and left for college.

I entered the house at lunchtime with my friends. The house was the same.

“I thought you would have decorated the house for the party?” I teased her because even though the house was the same “clean as always”, the difference was she was all dressed up herself. She wore my favourite blue suit with black stripes, which looks fabulous on her; a small blue bindi, kajal and a mauve lipstick. She looked simple yet stunning. Her face glowed not with makeup but with pride that her daughter has invited her friends and both her house and she was full on ready for the big day.


%d bloggers like this: