The story of a mom

Telugu original1 by: Shahnaz Begum

Translated by: Atreya Sarma U

Cover of source book: Naannaku Salam

It was nearing 4 pm. Just a little while ago Hussain Bi got up from her siesta. She came out into the veranda and began pacing up and down. A few minutes thereafter, she stepped back in, to wash her face with cool water before returning to sit down in a chair and unwind herself.

She felt her tummy empty. Somehow, she couldn’t relish her lunch. The rice grains were dull, and the curries were tasteless. Unable to eat any of it, she finished it off by having some rice mixed with buttermilk.

If rice is not cooked with an optimal quantity of water, the grains, once it cools down, will loosen apart and turn stiff and dry. She could eat rice only if it was a bit soft and sticky, for it easily digested.

Hussain Bi mentioned it to her daughter-in-law.

“Las! But your son doesn’t like the soft, pasty rice. He can relish only the loose type. How can I prepare different styles of the same food?” The daughter-in-law replied in a warbling tone, with slick gestures.

That’s why Hussain Bi couldn’t take the liberty of asking her to prepare soft boiled rice separately for her. There were days when she used to recook the half-cooked rice by adding some water to soften it and then eat it.

But sometimes when she wasn’t strong enough to recook the rice, she would pick up the loose and stiff morsels and squeeze them as hard as she could to soften them enough for her to chew. Of course, it was laborious process. Of late, she had weakened quite a bit, unable even to move about as earlier. She became sapless with pounds in the heart, sleeplessness, and frequent sickness.

Trying to reconcile herself that all these problems were due to her advancing age, she was somehow pulling along. She had already crossed seventy.

***

Hussain Bi had no option but to relocate to his son and daughter-in-law and live with them after her husband’s death. Ever since, she was suffering loneliness and cold treatment at their hands. The son and his wife were both in work. Once they got up in the morning, they would hurriedly attend to their routine chores, pack their lunch-boxes, and rush out to their workplace, after laying her lunch containing rice and curries on the table. They would ask her to have breakfast along with them, but it would be too early for her. She wouldn’t feel hungry until after nine o’clock, and sometimes for that reason she would skip breakfast and have lunch direct.

She would eat the food placed on the table, but she would feel lonely having none to talk to. She had two grandsons but both of them stayed away in the hostel. She didn’t know how to pass the time.

Post-lunch after some hours, feeling hollow in her stomach, she liked to eat something. She looked around for something or the other to consume but didn’t find anything. She opened the fridge, only to find veggies but not something like fruits.

Then she suddenly remembered that the daughter-in-law’s brother had brought them chocolates from America a couple of days ago. She began to rummage for them. Somehow, she was too fond of chocolates and would crave for them like little children. When she was young, she gobbled up lots of sundry chocolates and she couldn’t overcome that temptation even at this age. She wanted to ask his son to buy them but felt delicate and shied away. Though she was his mother and he her son, she never felt comfortable to ask him for anything. Anyway, she was now thrilled that she would find out the chocolates.

She searched every inch of the fridge, and every container in the kitchen, but could find not even a single chocolate. The daughter-in-law might have stored it in her wardrobe. She got to open it but found it locked.

Disappointed and tired, she sat down. Then an incident that happened a few days ago hovered before her mind’s eye…

Her son brought a basketful of mango fruits. And they were the pedda-rasam variety, her favourite.

The grandsons were also at home for it was the vacation time. The wife and the husband kept them covered in the basket saying that they would ripen after a couple of days with their unique sweetness. But the children couldn’t wait, so they bit the half-ripe fruits here and there and dropped them down half-eaten, finding that they weren’t delicious enough. Hussain Bi expected that her son or daughter-in-law would take out one or two of them from the basket and offer her. But the son was totally indifferent.

“Lassie, the mangoes seem to be ripe and good enough,” she said, looking at her daughter-in-law. “And couldn’t you give me a couple of them?” she asked, with a mixed sense of hurt and taunt.  

“Tsk! They’re very much there, attaiah! You could have picked them out yourself, and you can do so right away,” chirked the daughter-in-law.

‘Anyway, let me eat them tomorrow morning,’ thought Hussain Bi.

The next day after everyone else had gone out, she went to the basket and dipped her hand into it. To her surprise, it was empty. She searched the entire house for the mangoes, but she couldn’t find even a single one, except the ones scattered here and there. They were the mangos the kids had half-eaten and left over. After washing them well, she squeezed the juice into her mouth, relishing every pulpy tittle and drop of it.  The taste was so delicious that she greedily finished off all the leftover mangoes to her heart’s content.

Nobody in the family had any concern for her likes and dislikes.

When her son was young, she gave away all the chocolates and mangoes to him, without keeping anything for herself, on a number of occasions, since he loved them so much. The reel of memories made her hearty heavy. All of a sudden, she began to be clouded by dullness and debility. She lay down there itself for some rest.

Her eyes closed. And they never opened again.

***

A year rolled by.

That day, Hussain Bi’s son and daughter-in-law arranged a big banquet and invited their kith and kin, colleagues from office, and other known persons.

The couple also visited an old-age home and distributed a number of mangoes and chocolates.

“Today is the death anniversary of my mother. We’re doing this charity in her sacred memory. She was very fond of mangoes and chocolates. That’s why we are gifting them with our own hands so that her soul should rest in peace,” said the son and his wife, both shedding crocodile tears.

People who curtly dismiss the sensibilities of their dear ones and neglect and even ill-treat them when alive, put on their best face and resort to extravagant displays. What should such people be called?

Anyway, may the Almighty forgive them! May Allah bless them with goodness!

******

1. Original Telugu story titled ‘Oka Amma Katha’ from Naannaku Salam (Salute to Dad), a collection of Telugu stories by Shahnaz Begum. Fazulullah Khan (Late), Anantapuram, Jul 2019, pp 111, ₹ 100.

 ******

Shahnaz Begum
Shahnaz Begum

Shahnaz Begum (b. 2 Jul 1953), from Anantapuram of Andhra Pradesh is a well-known Telugu storywriter and translator, whose works include a novel Manasa Bandhavyam (Hearty Kinship), and three story-collections – Mouna Poratam (Silent Struggle), Anumanam Katesina Vela (When Suspicion Stung), and Sesha Prasna (The Remaining Question) with over 200 stories. She has taken part in many AIR (All India Radio) programmes. Some of the prestigious awards she has received are – Best Woman Writer award from the Potti Sriramulu Telugu University (2007); Binadevi Award (1991); Vasireddy Award; Ananta Ani Mutyam (2000).

Shahnaz comes of a well-educated family. Her grandfather Roshan Saheb, IPS was a Dy. Inspector General of AP. Her father was an officer in the LIC of India, and her husband Fazalullah Khan was Secretary (Anantapuram Zone) of the SBI Officers Association (Hyderabad Circle).  A woman of social awareness & consciousness, Shahnaz served the Anantapuram municipality as a corporator.

Email: pshahenazbegum@gmail.com

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