|Making rounds at relatives, a customary practise for all the newly weds among the Bengalis; Mrs Chino Mazumdar and her husband chief officer Mr Mohan Mazumdar were following norms. They took the local-train from the suburban Habra to visit Mrs Nita Bhattacharya at their home in Ballygunge.
Nita and Chino were first cousins. Chino addressed Nita, Didi, and her husband Mr Swami Bhattacharya, Jamaibabu as per their social custom. Chino adored both of them as her model gurus.
Her Mummy's Empty Flat - Graphic by Jayati Gupta
The day being a weekday Jamaibabu was not at home. Didi, Jamaibabu provided unconditional help and assistance to Chino at her wedding ceremonies, helping her father; Nita's paternal uncle Choteau-kaku with moral support and more. In anticipation, she wanted to thank -- by an extra treat. She proposed going to the cinema.
Changing into a dry-cleaned silk sari without dressing Mini, Nita was preparing for the extravaganza. This was unusual. Mini wondered if ma would be going for movies as Aunty Chino Mashie insisted.
'Why ma not dresses her before getting herself ready,' thought little Mini a wee bit puzzled. Normally Mini accompanied her mother everywhere.
Enjoying the advantages of being the only daughter from her very early days of grasp; Mini was father's pet and mother's dream; showered attention wherever she went; always favored by Nita's only brother, 'Mamu' Mini's affectionate uncle.
When Chino Mashie proposed cinema Mini remembered, with her uncle Mamu going to the cinema Kabuliwala and feeling sad for the turbaned, bearded man who wept because he had to go to Sasurbari something, which he disliked to do.
'Mini, Sasurbari means the house of the in laws and all girls must go there once they grow up,' explained Mamu buying Cadbury at break. Mini was full of questions about what she saw on screen. Mamu never lost patience to answer her non-stop curiosities.
Though a full time Ayah looked after her three children, Nita would never leave Mini behind. Two boys Sam and Ram both born behind Mini each with two years gap kept the Ayah on her toes...
Her brothers were too small to take anywhere by hand. One was a toddler another mostly hibernating. They needed to be carried, an idea not very feasible for a long stretch of hours outdoors. Those days Prams were not popular in Calcutta middle class families.
To add an extra dash Aunty Chino Mashie brought out her vanity case; Mini ran to her observing in detail as she applied fresh coats of glossy red nail polish on her finger and toenails. Her nails wore beautiful sheen and the golden ring with green stone made her fingers, that of a fairy. Little Mini contemplated.
Unable resist look alike her, she stretched her tiny fingers, asking if Chino Mashie would let her wear the same red lustre.
'In your left hand finger nails only,' she said.
'Right hand fingers need to be free because you eat your food and the paint is chemical, unhealthy for children'
'You can wear in all ten fingers when you grow up and work in office; then you may eat your food with fork and knives' she added.
'Mashie I can already eat my food with fork and knife' replied Mini.
'Oh! You do?'
'That's a good girl but nail polish today is for the left finger nails only'
Good enough for Mini who felt joyous to wear her permission.
Tiny nails' coral sparkle made Mini turn her hands in all directions; fingers spread carefully, so, as not to smudge. Now and then, she held them to her nostrils, sniff, swish in air, turn, and swing her arms, sybaritic indeed. She not only enjoyed her finger nails gleam but also its odor. She gave her Aunty a big hug as thank you, carefully protecting her nail varnishes.
Happy playing her adornment, she did not forget to check for her mother to see whether she was really preparing to go to the cinema without her.
Satisfied, she backed to her red-hot current hobby of admiring her nails hopping skipping and jumping like a kitten.
'The film was not 'U' thus, children not allowed,' Swami had said to Didi. Nita was not too enthusiastic to leave Mini back. However, she did not want to disappoint her cousin either. Slipping away quietly they set off. The Ayah helped them to tip toe out of the house. Mini danced and frolicked oblivious of proceedings.
A sudden silence made the child suspicious and she ran searching for Nita. Not finding her, 'Where is mummy?' she enquired from the Ayah.
'Mummy is in toilet,' answered the Ayah lightly.
'Oh!' she said unworried. 'Has Aunty Chino Mashie and Mohan Uncle left for the cinema?' enquired further the little girl.
'Yes, they have just gone'
'Then let us go to the balcony, I want to say bye, bye to them' Mini dragged a reluctant Ayah to the veranda.
Mini looked through the balcony to wave at her uncle Mohan and Chino Mashie when suddenly the rustle of her mummy's turquoise silk drape arrested her attention. She was startled. Her instant reaction was an anxious scream 'Mummy'
Nita turned and smiled at her daughter.
'We'll come back soon, this film is not for children, and so we cannot take you,' came floating from her.
Nita's voice drowned at Mini's wailing. She only heard her ma say 'we cannot take you.' Crying loudly 'Mummy I want to go with you' Mini could not hold back her tears.
She could hear 'cannot take you' hammer her ears which made her cry louder calling out 'Ma, ma, ma I want to come, I want to go. You cannot leave me.' Nita did not stop or stay back as wished by her daughter; waving her hand, she left with her cousin and brother in law. Would she enjoy the picture at all?
Mini wept bitterly sobbing all the while. How could mummy leave without her?
What was so wrong if she went? Why they could not take her? Mummy never ever did this before. Holding mummy's hands, she went to Robibharati on Sunday evenings even though - children not allowed - at the adult Bhagawad-Gita recitations.
Nita had managed special permission to take her daughter along with her. Carefully tutored to sit through quiet, listen, and not utter a word while the pundit in white dhoti and chador spoke to the crowd; explain paragraphs from the Gita; Mini was very obedient. Always still, folded legs on design-woven, mat spread across marble floor.
Participants were welcome with a cool touch on their foreheads. Daub from marigold in liquefied sandalwood cream by an assistant. Corner of the room a large bouquet of Rajnigandha from a pretty vase, silently emanated fragrance blending curl emits, from a bunch of incense with glowing heads.
She was hopelessly sad and angry with her mother that day. Incredible sorrow made Mini weep inconsolably and the Ayah did not aggravate vulnerability by adding tales of reasons as to why her ma left, leaving her alone. Mini would soon tire crying, and doze away for sure. The Ayah knew child make-up and went about her cores.
Giving vent to her grief stricken anger, little Mini took all her mother's saris lying outside the dresser, carried them to the washroom, one after another, and soaked all of them into the tub full of water. Every one of them, turquoise, and pink, yellow, red, orange all length dived into water.
Bend low while soaking mummy's saris she splashed water from tub swirling and turning with her small arms, literally battling to accomplish her retribution. Mini loved to play with water, another of her pet activity.
She watched the patterns in the liquid, try catch the swirls with hands. Dripping wet, closing and opening her fists under water, she did this for hours, trying to understand and wonder, why water slip away through fingers.
'All wet saris for not taking me with you, mummy' she murmured to herself.
By enhancing the volume of work for her mother, she felt satisfied. However, an hour in water calmed Mini; wiping herself dry, she emerged from the bathroom.
Angry little Mini back to sense felt a bit scared. What beating waits her back for her deed in anger? Guilt panged her. She remembered again Mamu took her for Kabuliwala, and mummy stayed back without complaining. Not a good deed by Mini, was she a naughty girl? Never would she do this again! She thought to herself. The Ayah had no idea to the occurrence. Tired, she snatched a catnap while the babies were on siesta.
Taking out her drawing book, Mini sketched landscape filling the same with colors. Green grass, golden sun, blue sky, birds in heaven, brown branches, and yellow for the walls of the house... in no time she was fast asleep with her head over writing table.
Finding Mini's head down on desk, Nita lifted her up tenderly as not to wake her but she was wide-eyed at her touch. Seeing mummy back Mini put her arms around Nita's neck and would not leave, kissing repeatedly not revealing her naughty action.
It did not take Nita to discover the situation, with her soaked saris. She was thoroughly amused at her little girl's anger. To Mini, she smiled asking if she felt happy at her act. Mini was ashamed of being so cross with mummy. Added embarrassment, mummy did not even scold her.
Mini was sure of her mother's love ever more. The incident touched Nita too. She never left her daughter for any extravaganza that came her way until the babies were old enough to carry and Mini could understand better. Her children were always there wherever she went, when not in school. Visiting friends, relatives or to the post office, bank, marketing'
Emptiness terribly upset Mini. Vacuum filled her heart. At fifty-two, Mini felt herself like a helpless child. Tears blinded her vision. She returned to her mummy's empty flat. Her mother was lost.
It was Mini who had gone away like normal practice in society; for quite some years from her ma, only because Swami Bhattacharya took her away. Besides Mini visited ma often and again. There should be no ground for mother to leave without notice. Where could she go plagued her mind. How should she go searching?
Mini felt left behind. She wanted to follow her mummy on 15th March the day she went away leaving Mini feel like an orphan. She regretted having delayed response to her mother's call. Nita had asked her daughter not to leave when she last visited her. Though she could afford to stay, unforeseen held her away.
Now it was too late. She was annoyed again, angry at self, vexed just like that day when Chino Mashie visited them and mummy slipped away without saying. Helplessness encompassed her. What so ever Mini did, there was no way she could express her agony. Though more than half a century mature she felt like little Prince William; wake up to find his mother never ever to return.
Her aches doubled picturing her own son; unable to hear grandmother speak; ventilator stuck in mouth and gullet, into the lungs. From abroad he had rushed to her side leaving his entire contractual obligations. Mini visualized Nita's eye glisten joy and sorrow seeing her grandson Aryan. Awfully painful replay of hospital ICCU broke her into sobs.
Feel the satisfaction of a sound reprisal. There were no takers for her acrimonies. Deprived was her feeling. Her greatest treasure ' mother lost forever. No detective, no authority, no mighty could find her and bring her back. How useless were promises of mortals, to do this do that, bring this, bring that'
Mini arranges her mother's saris fold them neatly. Holding them up close to her heart, she takes a deep breath. Mummy's smell settles in her as wealth. Tears stream her cheeks, adequate to soak her mother's saris!