Being God’s Wife: Nandini Sahu

Nandini Sahu
“I look up the grey cold sky

and try to feel the warmth

of my father’s eye.

 

His grave exists nowhere

but in me

and

I am his epitaph”

 

Baba. Father. My Gandhian father, who incarnated truth. Such a calming, heartwarming, touching, euphonic word.

Sometimes, nay, most of the times, I address my son as ‘Sonu-baba’. Baba lives in my blood’s flow. Baba lives all over my home, he follows me everywhere—to the university, to the libraries, to my lecture halls, to my TV sessions, to the interviews, to my book launches. And even to the kitchen, when Sonu, my son, looks and talks like him while eating. In my basic habit of keeping things spic and span, Baba echoes, replicates. So does he, in my edginess, ambition, motivation, sentimentality and optimism.

There have always been speculations vis-à-vis a likely historical assembly between present day genetic findings and classic mythological characters, who are Demigods. Its main attention could lie in tell-tales by exploitation of myths to analyse any such unique character around us. To understand my father, I read, re-read last five years many ancient texts, under a new light, trying to find new directions for explorations of his character. Objectively thinking about him, not as Nandini, but as a devotee of the Deity, or as a seeker, I can draw a hypothesis that Demigods actually do exist and I can prove that. The upshot of hybridization between Baba’s ancestors and progeny, of modern girls like us and imaginary people of the past who could have been Demigods like Baba is a curious concern for me now. The hypotheses talk of beings of mixed human and divine origin, often in the milieu of an ordinary family like ours. Telluric hybridizing between my Baba as an ancestor of us modern humans and the daemons that supposedly existed somewhere, in some far-off land, would appear to be an elucidation of this story. I would rather talk in harmony with my present state of knowledge about a Demigod incarnated as my Baba. 

Baba constantly wanted to push the envelope towards progress, as anyone can put it. He stood for women’s empowerment. In a rural household of six daughters, both parents as simple government school teachers, living most of their lifetime in rented houses so that they could educate their daughters, and no luxuries for themselves—who could have thought of this kind of a life except my Baba? Baba had a big heart, he was so popular, virtuous and pious that people called him a ‘Living God’. Baba smiled to such appreciations as he was above human emotions like flattery, jealousy, greed, possessiveness—in fact any such negative emotions. He lived life of a saint, he was innocent like a five years old child even when he was 75. Education and food for all, kindness for everyone—these were the goals of his life. When my parents bought a house towards the fag end of their lives, after we six girls were settled, people named that colony as ‘Krushna Nagar’ in the small town Udayagiri, after my father’s first name.

Baba had a peaceful death at home, on the lap of Maa, the love of his life. He was diabetic, and unfortunately he contaminated psoriasis in a saloon when he was in his early forties. He lived with it lifelong; his blood sugar didn’t allow the wounds to heal. He was very fond of us, his daughters, and he never missed having a son. In a rural Odisha villages, where everyone around was worried about a school teacher having six daughters, and their prospective marriages, Baba was relaxed, because he had six ‘worthy daughters’. He believed in educating his girls, making them independent, self-reliant. We lived in a narrow, train kind of house of five rooms, with relatives always around. When he could afford to buy his own house, we had flown the nest. During the last few years of his life, Baba was left alone as he got his retirement and Maa still had a few years of service. I was teaching in the local college for a few months before I left Udayagiri.

Every morning after Maa left for her school, a petha-walla came discreetly and handed over a few sweet pethas to Baba, which he guiltily consumed, and skipped the hot lunch Maa kept for him in a large lunch box. He wasn’t hungry when Maa wasn’t around. Maa was six years younger than Baba, and those six years of her service period made Baba lonelier than ever. He got high blood sugar and acute psoriasis due to those pethas and unhealthy lifestyle. Soon, he took to the wheel chair. The cruel truth was, all of us had to leave the small town for our careers and marriages. Two sisters left for the U.S. Two of us left for Delhi and Chandigarh; and the two in Odisha got busy with their jobs and children, with less time left for parents. We insisted that our parents should live with us; in fact Baba used to be very happy to live with me in Delhi. But Maa had her job for a few more years, and then she did not want to leave the house she had built for herself and Baba after all those years. It was her dream home, which is understandable.

The worst part about the health care system in India is, we are so conscious about physical health, but no one talks about mental health. Baba started dementia a few years after all of us left Udayagiri. He went back to his early youth with six small girls playing in the other room. He addressed Maa by my youngest sister’s name most of the times and asked her to fetch a glass of water. He spoke to Maa as if she was one of his little girls, and pretended that we were around. Maa and the maids used to smile, thinking Baba was childlike. But I found it alarming. Some treatment was also done for it, but nothing helped. High sugar took over, and he had a brain stroke at 76. He was in the ICU when I met him. I couldn’t control my tears, I couldn’t imagine the tall, fair, handsome , ever-smiling man lying helplessly in the hospital, his mouth wide open, eyes fixed on the ceiling. My heart broke. We stayed in the hospital with him for more than a month, holding his hand, caressing his forehead.Sometimes he tightened his fist, smiled, made weird sounds like a child. Most of the times he held Maa’s hands and Maa talked to him incessantly, as if he was listening. I was heartbroken to see Maa talking to Baba like we talk to normal people. After a few days, he slept peacefully on Maa’s lap and died a silent death.

Memory of the virtue and gullibility of Baba makes me smile. His eccentricities were far from being commonplace. He was rather childlike in his behaviour, but rigid like a mature adult. I am reminded about an incident from 2006, when I came to Delhi as a Professor of English. He was proud of me. I asked him to visit us, and he promptly agreed. I sent him flight tickets, e-tickets. He didn’t consider that as a ticket, and insisted that there should be glossy papered, coloured tickets, like the “real-real tickets”. Everyone told him that he can take printouts of the e-tickets I had sent; but he was unbending. So I went to the Airport Authorities of India office and asked the officer for colourful, glossy-paper tickets, the “real tickets”. He laughed. I too laughed with him. But Baba was happy receiving those by speed post. He showed those tickets to everyone. “See! My daughter has sent air tickets!” And then, in the flight, he created a tough time for the Airhostess. Initially, he asked her to open the windows once the flight took off; they thought he was joking. When he insisted on it, the girls explained that it’s not possible. He was obstinate, as ever, and insisted on getting down midair and taking another flight that would open the windows for him. Poor Maa had a hard time, pacifying Baba and apologizing the crew. Once they reached my home, Maa fought with him. But he was nonchalant, he knew that he was right.

Poor Maa had several such occasions when he put her in difficult situations. Before the wedding of my second sister, Maa called the goldsmith home to take orders for the wedding jewelry. Before the jeweler arrived, Maa gave some instructions to Baba. “Goldsmiths are clever people. He will ask us to make the entire payment before he delivers the jewelry, but we will not accept his conditions. He may even disappear after taking the money. So we’ll pay him only a small advance amount and pay him the whole amount after he delivers the jewelry. Ok?”

Baba nodded like an obedient child. Maa was right, the goldsmith requested them endlessly to pay the whole amount, but Maa said we have to take the amount from the bank which will take a lot of time. Baba kept quiet. Once Maa went to the kitchen to get some tea for the goldsmith, the clever man pleaded before Baba for the whole amount. Baba said, “Beta, we cannot give you so much money because goldsmiths are clever people, and you may disappear after taking the money.”

“Who said that to you Sir!!”

“My wife.”

“Exactly! I was thinking that. You are such a fine person, you are pious like Gods, only Madam can think such things about us.”

Maa was standing there by then with a cup of tea. She kept the teacups on the table with a jolt and left the room, banging the door from behind. She had to come to her daughters’ room to cry.

The goldsmith left with only the advance money. But then, Baba had a hard time handling his wife and giving an explanation to his feminist daughters. But at the end of the day, they were always together, my father and mother. If someone asks me the definition of love, I’ll simply take their names. By the way—we used to take their manes jocularly as ‘Meera and Jeera’, though their names are Meera and Krishna. Who says proper names are non-connotative!!

We have never seen our parents having their food separately. They were always together, except for the times when they were at their workplaces. Baba would call ‘Meera, Meera’ round the day for every small thing, and we were assured, reassured that life was good, life was beautiful, watching Meera-Jeera as a team. Not that they had no differences of opinions—but both of them were ready to reconcile, resolve, reunite after an argument. Probably they never said ‘I love you’ to each other, during our childhood, parents never said those things to each other—we understood that. But ‘love’ defined them, and their love protected us.

Years back, when I was in B.A final year, I asked Baba about being a strict disciplinarian, when it came to studies and cleaning the house. Baba has a ready-made answer. He said, only a disciplined person is successful. He had anecdotes galore and quotes from classics. He said, “God helps those who help themselves”. Our slippers and shoes were kept under the bed by drawing lines with permanent markers for each one of us, with a specific number assigned to each girl. We didn’t dare to put our slippers even an inch beyond the specified block. He put circles and dates on the calendar for every small thing, including a reminder for him to shave his beards or reminders for us to submit assignments. When we wrote letters to our eldest sister living in a hostel in Berhampur, our letters were read aloud, they were a public affair, Baba having a red pen handy to round up, underline wrong spellings, if any. That was the time when I precisely developed a tremendous love for English language. I learnt the art of writing from him, with a clear understanding of “quality, quantity and contents”—as he put it. Once I wrote my sister, “please get a nail-police for me”. Baba laughed and underlined that, and corrected it to ‘nail-polish’. I felt insulted and cried the whole day, my feminine ego was hurt, and I behaved in a way as if my kidney was given away to someone without my permission—today I remember that and laugh. Old habits die hard—today I find myself strictly following the values and the organized way of living—perhaps that is what makes me what I am.

During my childhood, I kind of loathed my name; ‘Nandini’ perfectly rhymed with the word ‘kanduri’, meaning a ‘cry baby’ in Odia. I wanted to change my name to ‘Pallavi’. I beseeched Baba to change my name if he wanted me to stop being a cry baby. Baba took my hand in his hand and told, “Maa, you are born to be Nandini. Sabko aanand dene walli Nandini, you see!” I was convinced. I loved my name, I loved myself, and I took the responsibility given to me by Baba very seriously.

Baba wanted me to be everything that he couldn’t be, due to family responsibilities. He wanted to be a Professor, a writer, but he was trapped into multiple responsibilities. Being the father of six girls (three of his boys died early) was no joke. Still, the center of gravity of our household was love, Baba never regretted having six girl children. He stood for women’s education in rural Odisha, as I already said. He was the harbinger, almost the founder, of the local college at G.Udayagiri—he ran from pillar to post to convince the Collector, and then the Government of Odisha to introduce a college in that sleepy, small town where people had not imagined about women’s education. Even today when the senior teachers of Kalinga Mahavidyalaya meet our mother or anyone of us, they have a word of respect for our Baba.

In a house of six girls, birth of a son was more than any celebration, which Baba accomplished nonchalantly, because he loved all his children equally. When my younger brother was born a couple of years after me, the entire focus of the family shifted to him. I was sent to the school way too early so as not to disturb the boy, and Baba had to get me admitted in class-I by increasing my age by thirteen months as I was not of the eligible age to get admission. Such things happened in villages, no one cared about people’s age, future or career, for that matter. Anyway, my brother passed away at a tender age, even before going to school. Maa was devastated, so was Baba. An old woman, Phulabudhi, who used to get flowers for our daily supply, commented, “Gosh.. any one among the six girls could have died today, why the only son!! This is terrible!” Even on the worst day of sorrow, Baba hated her statement, shouted, drove her away. My sisters vividly remember that morning, and we feel so grateful to be the daughters of such a father who loved and respected us for who we are. But as it was fated, two sets of grandmothers and most other relatives held me, the crying-asthmatic-fretting-fuming-bookish-girl, responsible for the sad, untimely demise of the only son. They commented whenever I coughed or cried or fell sick. I wanted a place to run away, a place to escape, to hide myself. Baba understood. I was hardly eight years old when he offered me his school library, he made it accessible for me, Rest is history. I spent my childhood in Hubback High School library, cataloguing, sorting, arranging books—reading each and every book luxuriously, with a Quixotical interest. My world was flooded with books, more books every single day. Today when I look at my enormous personal library in Delhi, I close my eyes and visualize Baba and me sitting on the floor in his school library, and discussing every book.

Tears roll down.

Baba had a typical sense of humour— but of course he didn’t know about it. There was a Sanskrit teacher in his school, Hubback High School, who used to get drunk every so often, and tried to blabber with people. While everyone avoided him, Baba was compassionate; he even invited him home and counselled him. Once the teacher got drunk and closed his doors, excreted in the middle of his house, put incense sticks on his shit and waited. People knocked his door, but he didn’t pay any heed. Finally he opened the window when Baba called him from outside. Baba was taken aback and asked him what was going on—his answer was, “Sir, I am trying to see what happens when we combine bad and good odors, Sugandh and Durgandh.” Baba managed to open the door, get the house cleaned up and from that day, he took his responsibility. After a few days, to the surprise of all, the Sanskrit teacher became a teetotaler.

I was ‘Daddy’s Girl’; I was proudly my Baba’s beloved daughter because I was a bookworm, and I spoke in English with clarity, conviction, and because I stood for justice. I remember one such queer incident. When I was in Class X, my menstruation started in the school. I rushed home. In my typical Drama Queen demeanor, I ran to Baba to show him my frock, shouting, “Baba, Baba, see I have Blood Cancer !!” (unfortunately there was no awareness, no sex education in villages at that time, and of course no Internet to keep the girls informed.) We used to watch movies where characters having Blood Cancer coughed restlessly, spitting blood into a white handkerchief. I suddenly romanticized my bleeding, though I was in pain. Baba was at a fix; he asked the domestic help to make me sit patiently till Maa came back from her school. I was traumatized with all that warm blood between my thighs, seeing my school uniform blood-soaked. Baba took the Bhagavat Gita, read out five chapters to me aloud-- on serenity, penitence, dedication, commitment to duty and detachment to life in an attached way. That kept my mind engaged till Maa came, though I was sipping warm water and sobbing. Today I realize why Baba did that, though I wish he had explained a bit about human body, menstruation as a normal phenomenon for any woman, hygiene and health.

Baba firmly believed in justice and fair play in examinations, in fact in the entire education system. A spoiled brat of a rich businessman, politician in the village requested Baba to allow him malpractice in the examination, but Baba put his foot down. Maa had to bear the consequences of facing a few Memos at her work place. We grew up like this.

After Baba’s retirement, Mr.Ratha, the Head Clerk of his school, expected some bribe to prepare his pension papers, but didn’t say that openly; he came to our place to settle the matter. He said, “Sir, Chai-Paani ke liye kuch chhahiye”, (I need something for my tea etc!). Baba simply requested Maa to make some tea for him! He was annoyed and said, “Don’t pretend. You have to make me happy by giving ten percent of the amount you will get, I’ll make you happy by preparing the papers promptly.” Only then Baba knew that he was asking for bribe. Baba delivered a long lecture to him about ethics, morality, quality of mercy, as expected. But then, Mr.Ratha was incorrigible. He said, “nothing doing. I am leaving”. Baba lost patience, said, “This is my lifetime’s hard-earned money which will be used for the education of my girls, and you are asking me to get into unfair practices? How can I give away that money to you?” Mr.Ratha misbehaved, and said, “Do what you like, you foolish, impractical man”, and he was about to leave. Baba got up from his chair and gave him a tight slap. Coming few days, we saw that Maa had to face the music. She arranged some money and discreetly gave it to Mr.Ratha. Only then the pension papers were cleared. All the while Maa griped, but could do nothing to change Baba, her Demigod.

After a few days, the wedding of three of my sisters was fixed and Baba went to the State Bank of India to withdraw a few lakhs for the ceremony. The Branch Manager neatly packed, handed the money in packets and Baba came home. Maa and Baba sat together on their dining-cum-study-cum-multipurpose table and chairs to count the money. Lo and behold! The Manager had actually handed over a wrong packet to Baba with three lakhs extra. In 1997, three lakh rupees were a lifechanging amount! Baba got up, asked me to accompany him to the Bank immediately when everyone was whispering to each other. When we reached the bank, the Manager was already rushing out of the Bank with two police personnel. Baba returned the amount to him, dispassionately. I practically saw the Manager and a couple of other staffs touching Baba’s feet, sniveling, telling him “You are God incarnate Sir!” My eyes were beaming, teary though, and Baba told me, “Maa, if we take any money from people which is not ours, it’ll ultimately go to the hospital, right?”

 “Right.”

Till today my Gandhian father’s invisible eyes follow me, protecting me from any kind of unfair money.

Baba watched films and TV with great interest. He was the most faithful fan of Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Manoj Kumar and Rajesh Khanna. Haathi Mera Saathi was his all time favorite movie. We used to sit cozily in the hall, watch Doordarshan while Baba explained us the programmes, including Krushidarshan. We watched award programmes on New Year nights, when Baba applauded to Dharmendra, Hema Malini receiving awards. Decades later, when Sridevi, Madhiri Dixit, Shahrukh Khan etc received awards on the award functions, Baba protested stridently. He would say, “Meera, see these bokka(foolish)people, they are not giving awards to Dharmendra, Hema Malini!” We tried to explain it to him that with changing times, new actors come up and they too deserve awards. But no! Baba never was convinced.

Dussehras and Diwalis were celebrated with aplomb at home, thanks to Baba. Baba was very cautious that we played a safe Diwali. He had kept six neatly cut bamboo sticks where he fixed the crackers (Phuljhadiyan) in the carefully made cracks and handed over to us, while our neighbours laughed at us. It created a scene—six girls holding the crackers sticked to sticks in a row, while Baba carefully scrutinized and ensured that no one actually touched the Phuljhadiyan. It was so embarrassing for us, but then, there was no other choice for Baba’s girls. Now whenever someone sends a Whatsapp message, ‘Safe Diwali’, on Diwali, I go back to the memory lane of playing a real-safe ‘Safe Diwali’. Dussehras were full of celebration, with Baba reading out the Bratkatha, (the scriptures) while Maa made pithas( rice and flour cakes) in massive amounts day long. We tried to focus there, but our mind wandered to the distant drumbeats of animal sacrifice rituals by some clans, some sects, that created awe and fear. We sneaked to Baba and Maa if it was too much—and they never told us how much was too much.They were always available, never busy when their daughters needed them. In the evening, we dressed up in new dresses to go out with parents, similar pattern frocks with same fabrics for six girls, sometimes even Maa’s blouse was stitched in the same cloth, if there was excess amount of cloth. One month before the celebrations, all of us went to Sahoo Vanijya Pratishthan with Baba to select one whole rim of floral cloths, maybe fifteen or twenty meters, same print same colours, and handover the cloth with measurements to the tailor, in a queue. When we grew up a bit, my third sister protested this and ensured that the patterns and the clothes were different for each one of us—to Baba’s great dissatisfaction.

Baba believed in secularism, to the true sense. Baba and Maa were with me in 2014 to celebrate Diwali in Delhi, in my university campus government quarters. Baba didn’t like to see that Sonu was holding the Phuljhadiyan in his hands, without the help of a stick. I tried to explain it to Sonu, but he couldn’t understand how on earth a Phuljhadi can be fixed to a stick. He dismissed my explanations, laughed at me, and ran away to play with his friends—to Baba’s displeasure again. So I tried to engage Baba elsewhere. I used to invite all my friends home. We cooked a lot of food with the help of female colleagues, friends. Baba was excited to see that my Hindu, Muslim and Christian friends celebrated Diwali with me, cooked in my kitchen. Baba patted my shoulder with appreciation and gave the example of Mrs.Indira Gandhi’s family where there were people from all religions, truly secular. A Muslim colleague’s wife, Mrs.Khan, was frying Puris in my kitchen. Baba asked her to sit beside him for awhile and told, “Beta, see my daughter, she believes in sarva-dharma-samanwaya, she is secular. That is why, even if you are a Muslim, you are cooking in her kitchen”. The lady couldn’t get the essence of his innocent words, felt offended and left. I had to go to her house, leaving the guests, and explain it to her that it was his simplicity to say so, and he was actually appreciating our togetherness. Well, she never understood. In fact, everyone misunderstood his words, misinterpreted his intentions. Late evening when everyone had left, I reprimanded Baba, “Must you, must you, always deliver a long speech on every occasion?” Baba kept quiet. He was absentminded, thinking about solidarity and secularism.

After a few years, after all of us were married and had left the village, Baba became kind of detached from us; his TV serial characters and their issues took over our issues at home. When I was going through domestic violence, miscarriages, both my parents were offhand. ‘He doesn’t romanticize sorrow’ -- Maa put it this way if I was angry with his callousness. Whatever might be the issue, I was broken. I hated Baba for being so apathetic to my pain. That is when one of the books that Baba introduced me in his library, came handy. I felt connected to this poem:

 

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal…

There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.(Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”)

I developed an acute love-hate-relationship with Baba after losing two girl children to marital-rapes, just before their birth. I looked at the fetuses both the times and wanted to hug Baba, cry aloud. But he maintained a stony silence, as if I had merely lost my toys and was crying mulishly. Baba had a weird detachment to my snags. But now I guess I should have understood, during his last few years, he remained nothing but Maa’s husband. He had Dementia, fractional Alzheimer’s. He traveled back and forth to our childhood after his six girls got married and flew the nest. Now I remember how he longed to check our Maths note books, ask us spellings of difficult words like ‘pneumonia’, ‘psychology’(he always said, ‘p’ silent here!). Playing ‘spell-the-word-so-and-so’ was our favorite pastime. Baba longed for those games with me during his Dementia days—I wish, I wish I had given him some more time. I wish I would not have been running the race of life at that time as the single mother of Sonu, searching for a central government job and doing PhD, while struggling to run errands for the two of us with just a Junior Research Fellowship from Santiniketan. I wish I could have told him loud and clear—Baba, I need you now! Save me from drowning into this bottomless pit. Hold my hand. In return, I’ll hold your hand and take you happily to the lanes of childhood through Sonu’s infancy, Sonu’s juvenile joy. But lot of things remained unspoken between me and Baba.

During his last few weeks after a sudden brain hemorrhage, I was with him in Apollo Hospital, Bhubaneswar, where he was in the ICU, his mouth agape, eyes moist, where he was waffling the quotes he had mugged up from the Books of Wisdom. It was therapeutic for me to take care of him there -- I don’t know if he understood that. Even I heard him whisper, “God is in the heaven and all is right with the world.” I wrote a poem for him in the hospital and read it aloud to him, I don’t know if he could hear that.

 

That Foot

(for my Baba)

 

That foot that has walked

 on thorns

 all through the day for you.

 That foot which has shown

 you foot-steps to follow.

 That foot.

 That foot behind the orange sun

 has walked through arches

 bare foot

 on fire, on water

 near parapets

 has cracked doors and windows

 for you to enter safe.

 That foot.

 That foot walked, crossed the

 never-ending roads

 when you aspired for the colossal.

 That foot. Your passport

 to utopia, to dream of

 new truths, passport to planets uncharted.

 

 That foot, is walking away, weak,

 parting with fantasia forever.

 Will you join?

 

‘Poetry as therapy’, ‘literature as witness’ , ‘art for life’s sake’ are concepts that Baba had taught me. He was a happy man, with zero understanding of adulterations and ways of the world. After months in the hospital, the doctors advised us to take him home. He was sent home in an Ambulance, that was the last I saw of him, touched his feet.

I was told, the next morning he looked happy, talked to everyone. In fact, he spoke to me and Sonu over phone, asked me to read more, write more, take care of myself and Sonu. By then he had performed all his duties, educated his daughters and married them off, built a big and beautiful house for his dear wife. That morning he had spoken to everyone over phone. So he decided, it was time for him to leave. His duties were over. He knew , he had lived a good life.

I could never gather myself to visit our home at Udayagiri after Baba; I made it a point to meet Maa in Berhampur or Bhubaneswar all these years. Last week, in mid-June 2022, I visited Udayagiri, after five years, and saw Baba’s wall clocks, watches, books, clothes, tables—all in place. Maa hasn’t removed anything (Baba never liked if his stuff were misplaced!). I cried to my heart’s content the whole night, I roamed all over the lonely, eerie house till the wee hours, I tried to talk to Baba. No, I couldn’t find a trace of him anywhere. There was just an uncanny silence and deep, dark, intense pain in the air.

The next morning I had to be normal for Maa’s sake. Poor Maa, she has been learning to live alone, and I felt she is good at it! She is doing well, and I felt proud of her. She finishes her daily dose of missing and crying for her adorable husband in the morning. Then she cooks a healthy meal for herself, takes her vitamins and supplements, wears nice cotton sarees and watches TV serials, calls her daughters regularly, reads Grihashobha and Katha, gossips with her five happily-married daughters about their in-laws and feels contented.

Over breakfast, Maa and me started telling anecdotes about Baba to Sonu. I didn’t allow her to cry, I teased her, tickled her, pinched her and made her laugh over Baba’s innocence, simplicity. We remembered a few incidents related to our domestic helps. Sukamaa was a delectable woman, she took care of us when we were very small. I have written a complete poetry book about her, Sukamaa and Other Poems(2013). After her death, there was Zarina, who stole massively from our house with the help of her brothers; she robbed us of everything precious. Then there was one Pushavati who tried to seduce our handsome, gorgeous Baba (my sisters always say, ‘our Baba looked like Dharmendra and Manoj Kumar, that is how our pedigree is so rich!’) ,and how Maa threw her out. Then came Tintumaa. She was this clever woman who used to take advance money from her salary every month, but never bothered to return the amount. At the end of the month she would plead for her entire salary. Baba wrote the advance amount in a note book, but paid her the entire salary which Maa didn’t approve of. Maa had a point, Tintumaa had been cheating us. After more than thirty months, one fine morning Maa decided to be very strict with Tintumaa and she put her foot down. She asked Baba not to pay her any salary for a couple of months so as to adjust the advance money. Baba was too kind-hearted to deduct the domestic help’s salary. At that time Tintumaa was crying foul in the veranda. Maa picked the note book and showed Baba angrily, “See! See, how much money she already has minted from us. We have our limitations, how much more can we pay her!! After all we have six daughters to feed and then marry them off.”

Baba found a way out. Yes, Tintumaa was too much. Enough was enough. She was too much of a disturbance at home. Something must be done about her! So he simply took the notebook from Maa, tore it to pieces, and said, “Naa rahega baansh, naa bazegi banshuri. Meera, now Tintumaa’s tension is over. We have no idea, no evidence as to how much money she has minted from us. Now happy?”

Maa created a tough time for Baba the whole day, but at the end of the day she had to come to terms with whatever had happened. She had to make peace with Baba, because she only loved him, and she loved only him.

Sonu laughed aloud when Maa and I narrated this incident to him.

I saw, Maa had moist eyes. I asked her, “What happened Maa? You ok?”

She sighed deeply. And said, “I had a great life with your Baba, your Gandhian father. I have seen it all – being God’s wife!!”

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Prof.Nandini Sahu, Amazon’s best-selling author 2022, Professor of English and Former Director, School of Foreign Languages, IGNOU, New Delhi, India, is an established Indian English poet, creative writer and folklorist. She is the author/editor of seventeen books. She is the recipient of the Literary Award/Gold Medal from the hon’ble Vice President of India for her contribution to English Studies. Her areas of research interest cover New Literatures, Critical Theory, Folklore and Culture Studies, Children’s Literature and American Literature.

 www.kavinandini.blogspot.in


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