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Sumati stood by the window of her small kitchen, where barely anyone could enter except her; it was so hot, humid, and small. Aarti, her daughter, would often complain that she could not stand by her mother in the kitchen and discuss her school issues. She was divorced and looked down on as always by society, and that would often set her in the doldrums. Few questions she could not solve scourged her from within often, and in these forty-five years of life, she had no one to look forward to except her daughter.
Sumati’s parents lived alone in Puducherry and, during the summer, welcomed their granddaughter in. Somehow Sumati had stopped fitting into her previous family, and even though she really missed being a part of it, she would still abide by her mother’s last words.
“Never step in; leave your daughter here and move out.” She still had trouble digesting the bitterness.
No one was happy with her marriage, and the man turned out to be exactly the way her mother had imagined. When Sumati saw her mother’s imagination come alive, she had no other option but to leave him. But leaving was as difficult as getting the man, since it was not easy for a man like him to be convinced of marriage.
Sumati’s parents had given her a simple life and simple beliefs. They always told her that beauty lay in one’s simplicity. They also made her aware of the futility of life’s actions and told her about the frugality of life and actions. That life is temporary and uncertain like the waves is something she knew very well, as did her daughter.
But the man she married was way away from all these beliefs. Ravi was a man who had a lot of fears, and any man who harnessed their fears always ran into the wrong people at the wrong times. When Ravi was just out of school, he fell prey to a small-time thug turned politician. He needed men like Ravi who did not have a defined path ahead of them. Slowly, he drew Ravi into his net by fulfilling his childish desires and making him smoke free.
The day he met Sumati, he told her he could have as many cigarettes as he wanted. When Sumati asked how he managed the money, he laughed and said, “I have the blessings of Ramji on my head.” Then again, indicating upwards, he stressed, “The real Ramji is oblivious, but there is another Ramji in men who blesses me.”
Sumati did not know Ramji, she was a simple college-going girl who was elated at being followed obsessively by a man who fairly looked good and rode a bike.
Today, she knew it was her likings that had led to all this.
On a Sunday afternoon, when her teenage daughter came home with a rose in her hand, Sumati, for a moment, grew anxious. Controlling her anxiousness, even before she fed the child, she asked her,
“Who gave you this rose? It’s very beautiful.” She added with a smile, but her heart was beating faster than usual in all this.
It was leave day for her, and she worked as a supervisor in a nearby food factory.
“It was Rose’s birthday today; she distributed flowers and chocolates to all. Mother, can’t we do something like that on my birthday too?” Sumati knew she hadn’t taught her daughter to lie to her. Mostly, she knew her lies to her mother cost Sumati dearly once, and she had pledged not to inculcate the same in her daughter.
Sumati always had a grudge against her mother for not teaching her everything about the world. But it is only later; she knew that her mother could not teach her everything, as she herself did not know or understand much about the world. So Sumati would think while sitting at her desk, she would teach her daughter the finer and intricate ways of the world and words.
After smiling at her own relieved feeling, Sumati nodded to her daughter’s request, “Why not? We can do it. But you know there is a catch.”
“What catch?” The daughter turned attentively to her, rotating herself on her chair to face her mother, who sat on her right.
“The catch is, the world knows we are poor. They give us enough to eat and mercies us, so we live. Now, if we celebrated your birthday so lavishly, they would want to know where I got the money from. So let me think for a while. If I feel I can find a way to convince the world about the money I have to spend to do what you desire for your birthday, we will surely celebrate it.” She ran her hand over her daughter’s head.
“Mom, why do we have to worry about the world?”
“We live in the world, and every action of ours is judged by the world. Even if the action seems insignificant to you and me, people would still judge it. We need to often hide what we have, what little we have from those who make their living by snatching others.”
“Is it only our country that is like this, or is it the whole world?” Aarti’s eyes widened further.
“The whole world is like this, beta, and it always has been this way. Some people talk about what they see, and some prefer to see silently. If they observe anything that is not according to the maps they think can keep the world straight, they raise their swords and chop off the branches that grow wild.” Sumati tried choosing her words very carefully, intending to put the message in her child’s head yet not terrify her about the world.
“Is it right what people do, Mom? Was it right what Dad did to us? I heard dad has remarried and is having a child with her.” Aarti hardened a bit.
Her mom found emotions welling up.
“Mom, mom.” Aarti tried to bring her mom back to reality.
“Yes, I am here. What I can only say is that what your father did was to better fit in with the world. By leaving us and marrying the young, bright star of the world, he made himself fit better with the world. He aligned himself. Your father had a great desire to live forever, which is not wrong. But such men often choose themselves over others, Aarti. Therefore, you must know, you are also growing up. You must find a giver. But make sure you judge people well, as takers often pose as givers and yet, remain takers at heart.”
In reply, Aarti adjusted again, still fiddling with the rose in her hand. “Why should I choose someone?”
Sumati smiled, “You might.” She added.
“Well, I may not. You know, Mom, I have realized one thing. Now that you are telling me all this, let me tell you this.”
Sumati had never been so eager to listen to what someone had to say.
Like a big girl, Aarti stood up and went and sat on her favourite couch, and then said, “There is no real love in this world, Mom; what we see and what we feel are all ways people are trying to be able to live every day. There is no true sacrifice. That day, when Rose got surrounded by a herd of bulls who ran around her, and her best friend, someone she never forgot breaking bread with, ran off far, deserting her in between them, I realized how people talk more. How by talking more, they often lose their true essence. How they are all trying to survive and live, and how it is only they who want to survive, and it is their own survival alone that guides them to become fake people. Dad was like that; even you were like that to an extent until you responded to your inner voice and rejected marrying that asshole again. So, I wouldn’t do anything unless I really understood why people are always trying to live when what we all do is die in the end. Why is it so hard to embrace death? It does not mean we die every day and not fight, but I need to understand when we must fight and when we must die, first. If only I can will I take a step as you say but if I don’t, I will leave it at this.”
Sumati looked at her child without even blinking her eyes once. A new dawn had given way to a new morning, and Sumati could see the sun rising again in her life. She sat there quietly as it began raining heavily amid bright sunshine.