Sundari Villa at the end of the road in the city suburb stood still. The house had seen very little activity since the children grew up. The two old souls residing there passed their days not lived them much anymore.
However, inside the villa today, Subhadra, the lady of the house, was busy cleaning her daughter’s room. Her grand-daughter was coming home for the first time. Subhadra had to clean up the entire house before they reached on Sunday. It was Tuesday already and not much had been done. Her daughter’s room needed to be arranged and ready to welcome them. She had another important thing to arrange for her grand-daughter.
Subhadra called out to her husband of 48 years, “Are you listening?”
“Humm, now what?” grunted old Damodar Dutt, from inside the fold of his newspaper. After his retirement from a government job that’s where he spent most of the daytime, on the lazy-chair, under the newspaper.
“I was thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if we can get Damini’s cradle out for her daughter to use?”
Damodar peeked from a folded corner of the newspaper, annoyed, “What? Where will I find her cradle, you crazy woman? Go get a new one.”
“It’s there in the attic. I had put it there so her child could use it one day.” Subhadra smiled as her mind brought up memories of Damini’s childhood. She didn’t get much of a choice in selecting the cradle but she had loved it none the less as it was used by her daughter. The much-cherished child she had after multiple miss-carriages.
“Never part with junk! So you want me to go up there to get it?”
“No, no, I was just asking if it was okay with you. Ramesh will get it down, what is he here for?”
“Humm…do what you please, leave me alone,” Damodar barked almost in response.
Subhadra knew that asking Damodar to do any work at home was useless. From the moment she had walked into this house she was made aware of the house rules. Men of the house go out in the world to earn, they do not work at home. Women were expected to do the household work, look after children and elders in the house. The roles were in black and white. Earning was such great responsibility, besides, what would the ladies do if men did the household work as well? Women should do something at least to make themselves useful.
After about an hour after this conversation, Ramesh called out, “Babu! Babu! I found this box inside the cradle.”
Damodar startled from under the newspaper, maybe woken up from a deep slumber, and grunted at Ramesh, “Why are you disturbing me?”
“Babu,… I… found… this box…” Ramesh murmured, scared at having disturbed his master while extending the box to Damodar.
“What is this? Where did you find it?”
“It was inside the cradle in the attic.”
“Ok, give it to me.” Damodar took the box.
Ramesh handed the box over but lingered on with curiosity.
Damodar looked at the box, he didn’t seem to recollect where it came from. It was a wooden box with some delicate design carved on top. With neglect, the colour of the wood had darkened. The box was heavy too. Damodar opened the box. There was something covered with a silk kerchief. Damodar cautiously pulled on the cloth from the top with just his two fingers and realised the whole thing was wrapped with it. ‘God knows what’s this’, he thought. At that moment he realised Ramesh standing there.
“What do you want? Go do your work.”
Ramesh nodded, somewhat embarrassed that he had lingered on, then hurriedly left the scene.
Damodar took the heavy package out and unwrapped the silk kerchief. It was a camera. He was mighty surprised as he didn’t remember ever buying one.
Subhadra came huffing and puffing from some corner of the house where she had been cleaning.
“Whose camera is this?”
Subhadra stopped mid-stride as she saw the camera. Memories came flooding to her.
“Whose camera is this, Subhadra? We never had any. Where did this come from?”
Subhadra remained still, no reaction at all. Damodar was puzzled and getting no reply from Subhadra enraged him to no end. He burst out at her, “I am asking something. Do you know where it came from?”
“It’s mine.” Replied a visibly shaken Subhadra. It was now Damodar’s turn to be shocked.
“My father got this for me as I was very fond of photographs. He even taught me how to click photographs. I had brought this along with me 48 years ago,” Subhadra stopped, she could clearly see that day in her mind.
“But the new bride that day was told that a woman’s place was inside the house taking care of the family. Her passion should be to look after the well being of the household, that a woman should not do anything according to her wish. A bride should not dream for herself. Your mother asked me to keep it in the attic. When I tried to tell you, you shushed me off and asked me to follow what your mother wished for. I too had forgotten about it, till now.” She said mostly to herself in a detached tone.
“You know to use this?” Damodar was still a little sceptic. Subhadra extended her hands to take it from him.
“Yes, probably you don’t remember, I had told you then that the portrait of my parents that hangs in our room, I had clicked that.” She cradled the camera fondly, cleaning the imaginary dust with her pallu.
“I don’t remember,” grunted Damodar.
Subhadra was fumbling with the camera. Suddenly she realized there was a film role in it. She tried to open the camera and get it out.
“What are you doing now? Do you even remember anything about it?”
“There is a film on it. I am trying to take it out,” fumbled Subhadra.
“No need to waste time over it. This is not what you should be occupied with. Go finish your preparations” Damodar snatched the camera out of Subhadra’s hands and carried it to his study.
Subhadra didn’t know what to do, she did not know what to do even 48 years ago. She stood there, lost in her thoughts. Damodar walked back to the hall, “What happened now? Go finish your work, it’s almost time for lunch.”
Subhadra was jostled out of her train of thought, she willed herself to finish her work. This episode, however, was soon forgotten and everyone got ready to receive the grand-daughter.
Sunday morning was a very happy day for Subhadra. Her grand-daughter was coming home for the first time. She had cleaned the entire house and made arrangements for a comfortable stay for her daughter and her family. Sundari villa was ready to welcome its daughters.
Damini walked in carrying her little bundle of joy in hand. The house was abuzz with relatives and friends. Everyone was there to welcome the little one. Subhadra carried her grand-daughter and placed her in the newly polished cradle. Damini was surprised and looked at her mother questioningly, to which Subhadra smiled and nodded, “Yes, this is your cradle only.”
Later that night at dinner, Damini was telling her husband, Amit, about the cradle. “Ma had kept this for so long, now our daughter will use the cradle that I had used, isn’t this very special?”
Amit smiled, “It is special indeed, thank you Ma for this wonderful surprise. Am sure your memories are all freshened up.” He looked at Subhadra.
Damodar jumped in the conversation, “Damini, did you know your mother was an aspiring photographer? She even had a foreign camera. She used to take pictures it seems.” He started laughing hard as if he cracked a big joke. Subhadra’s eyes welled up, he didn’t even see what she had clicked and mocked her in front of her son-in-law. She stood still, not looking at anyone in particular and tried her best to control the tears. Damodar kept laughing loudly.
Damini and Amit exchanged glances and looked at Damodar and Subhadra.
“Really Ma?” Amit questioned enthusiastically. “Where is your camera? Oh! It will be such a wonderful moment. Did she tell you? Damini is taking music lessons now like she had always wanted to,” Amit paused for a moment, looked at Damodar, then continued, “She will surely sing to the baby and you can click pictures of them both! What say, you talented Sundari Villa ladies?”
Damodar’s attempt to mock Subhadra fell flat against the son-in-law’s enthusiasm. Damini smiled at her husband while Subhadra hesitated for a while then replied, “That was so long ago, I don’t even remember how to hold a camera. Actually, that day when we took down the cradle the old camera was found in it. My father had given it to me. Latest model Yashika.”
“Wow! That camera will be worth a fortune now. Can you show it to me after dinner, please? Actually, I am very interested in camera and photography. I have even taken a photography course recently.”
Subhadra looked at Damodar, and he replied, “It’s in my study. Useless old junk it is, why do you bother Amit?”
However, after dinner, Amit pestered Damodar to take him to his study and from there Amit got hold of the camera. He came and sat in the hall and looked at it. “Seems like a high-end model of that time.”
Subhadra was lurking around, like a curious little girl, “Yes, my father always got the best for me.” She chimed.
Amit looked at her and smiled. “Hey, there is a film role inside. Do you think there will be pictures in it?”
“I don’t remember. After coming in this house I never used it.”
“Can I keep it with me for some time?”
“Sure, it’s of no use to me now.”
Amit took the camera and went into his room. That night Amit and Damini discussed at length about what they should do next.
Three days later, Amit came in excitedly on time for evening tea. “Everyone come here, see what I got.”
Subhadra and Damini rushed to the hall. Damodar was already sitting there in his lazy-chair under the newspaper. He was getting frustrated by the entire hullabaloo with his son-in-law.
“What did you get?” Damodar asked.
“Actually Papa, I took ma’s camera to a photo studio the other day. They were able to retrieve the film role and develop it as well. The camera is too old to repair now. But the last photos that it clicked are here.” saying so he dumped the ten photos that were developed on the centre table.
Everyone became interested to see what pictures they were. Even Damodar felt curious.
The images were black and white but were beautifully composed. There were people and houses and everyday objects. Each frame was a magic. Amit and Damini pulled Subhadra next to them and asked many questions about the pictures. Which one was taken where, who the people in the pictures were and what not? Subhadra delved into her past life as she looked from picture to picture, remembering people and places and things at her father’s house. There was a picture of her pet cat, Meao, in another, her mother was preparing her favourite kheer. One picture of her father’ house and another of their baraat, from the terrace of her father’s house. There was one picture of a kite flying high in the sky as seen from inside a grilled window, enjoying its freedom in the vast sky. The picture of the kite was the only photograph that she took in her new house, she told them. Amit and Damini were full of praises for all her clicks.
Damodar saw the pictures while listening to the loud praises from his daughter and son-in-law. He scanned through the pictures with disdain but to his surprise, he seemed to like the photos. He was slightly agitated as well that Subhadra had the audacity to click his baraat’s photo on their wedding day. How did she not maintain the decorum?
Damodar reached the last picture of the kite and stared at it for a long time. He seemed to remember the exact moment the photo was taken. Something stirred in his heart, a realization hit home. Suddenly, among the chatter in the room, Damodar’s voice boomed in a whisper, “That’s my kite, I was flying it that day!”
The room went quiet, the chatter stopped. All eyes were on Damodar now. Subhadra looked at Damodar, with years of pain hidden in her eyes.
Damodar looked up from the picture at Subhadra, he could not meet her eyes, and then he hung his head and walked out of the room.