It was a bright day with the vast blue canvas spread overhead boundlessly. The fluffy clouds resembled thick milk poured out of a pot into a cup of tea. The smell of fresh grass filled the air. The sight of colourful marigolds and roses in the garden cheered all passer-by. Looking out the window, Risha felt contented. The crows cawing, the little squirrel running up and across their gate, Jimmy barking at the tiny sparrows chirping and nipping at the bread crumbs Dewta (Assamese equivalent for Father) had left outside; exhibitions of a magnificent summer.
They were expecting guests for lunch; Koka (Assamese equivalent for Grandfather), Aita (Assamese equivalent for Grandmother), Mama (Mother's Brother), Mami (Mother's Sister-in-law), Nikhil Dada (Older Brother) and little Maya. Maa was busy with Mithu Didi prepping in the kitchen. The constant crescendo of the pota (Mortar and pestle) seemed to disrupt the soothing peace of the scenario. A pleasant smell wafted into the room. Today’s menu comprised Kathal Mussi (Unripe Jackfruit) Curry, Dal, Fish Curry, and Aita’s favourite Saag. Dewta had gone out to buy dessert. She guessed it would be a slab of Tutti-Fruity icecream or Malai Cham-Cham.
Finally, the guests arrived. The house was bursting with life. Maya had grown since the last time Risha had seen her.
Mami announced, “She has started uttering words. Maa, Aita, Koka, Dada. Still no Dewta though.”
They all laughed. Maa started fussing over her, “Say Pehi (Assamese equivalent for Aunt, father’s younger sister), Pay-he, Pay-he.”
Amid all the excitement, Aita came and hugged her, “Baccha, do you want to drink nimbu paani?”
Delighted, Risha nodded and tugged along to the kitchen. Mithu Didi stood up and touched Aita’s feet as a show of respect.
She smiled, “Mithu, sob theek? Rajesh aru Kamalar ki khobor?” (Mithu, all good? How are Rajesh and Kamala?)
Mithu Didi answered politely, “Bhal Maa. Sobore bhal.” (Good, Mother. Everyone is good)
“Amar taloi ahibi ketiyaba.” (Come visit us sometime.)
Risha helped gather the ingredients. She got the lemons from the fridge and the sugar and salt jars from the lower cabinet. The nimbu paani making ceremony began. In a big bowl, Aita carefully sliced and squeezed the lemons. Next, she added and stirred in sugar and salt to the juice. Once dissolved, she added chilled water to the concoction and sieved it into glasses.
Mithu Didi carried the tray outside to the living room, while the grand-mother-daughter duo sat down at the dining table sipping on their drinks and silently looking out the window, enjoying the garden view. A remix of Emran Hashmi songs was playing on the radio.
“Ishq tera. mera Rab se zyaada.
Ishq tera. mera pakeezah hai na.
Ishq tera. mera Rab se zyaada;
Tujhse hi ye chaah hai pakeezah.”
Thunderclap then sudden rain; an evil twist to a beautiful bright day. Startled by the sound, Maya started crying. Risha glanced in Aita’s direction expecting a disappointed look but was greeted by a smiling face, lip-syncing the lyrics. She was too cool for her age. A true patron of good music. A practising Paediatrician for nearly 30 years. She was a woman beyond her times.
“Aita, are you not sad that it started raining? This unexpected rain foiled the mood.”
She smiled and looked at Risha, “The sun just gained more value in your eyes because you experienced the rain. The dark clouds have the same importance as the clear white ones.”
“Is it not usual to feel gloomy when suddenly dark clouds bring rain on a beautiful bright summer day?”
“Yes! For a child who loves playing outdoors, he or she will love the sunny days but loathe those rainy days when they have to stay cooped up inside the house. Children are wired to express basic emotions without complexities. They see dark as bad and light as good. They associate the sun and the rain to happiness and sadness. But adults experience a grey area. For an adult, every dark day has an underlying lesson for a better, brighter and sunnier day. Their maturity enables them to grasp their inseparable nature and to appreciate the grey.”
“Although I am an adult, I fail to comprehend your grey theory.”
Aita laughed at her response, “Yes, you are almost 15 now. Gargi has moulded a beautiful, lovely and kind-hearted child. Every event has a cause. As of now, the noon sun is blazing hot. The heat was becoming unbearable, the rain brought in comfort, lowered the temperature outside. Think about the daily wage labourers working out in the sun, the rain is a respite for them.”
“I do realize now. The rain is a necessary relief.”
“Pin your ears back and listen to this story. Then decide for yourself whether you can view the grey.”
Her vision trailed far off as if rummaging through life’s pages. Aita cleared her throat and spoke slowly, “Anuradha belonged to an upper-caste Brahmin family. In those days, girls were married off before they matured, i.e. attained puberty, else they were considered too old for marriage. An unmarried daughter was a reason for shame. As per customs, Anuradha was married at the tender age of 8. Her groom, Saarth, was 17 years her senior, a doctor by profession. He was a kind man. Girls weren’t allowed to study. They were expected to marry and raise a happy household. But Saarth was heaven sent. He wanted his wife to be educated enough to be independent. He lit the desire for knowledge inside her. Anuradha had no formal education, just the basic alphabet and the numbers. She was home-schooled and later went on to attain an MBBS degree. She broke several records. The first female doctor from her town; in fact, one of the very few women degree holders.”
Aita's voice dragged a heavy, groggy undertone, “A little over a year later, he had left her behind; cancer. She learnt about it too late. Saarth had suffered in secret. He had planned out a life for her; a life of dignity even after his death. He had always been the guiding figure for her. With him gone, she was left broken. A widow in her mid-20s, childless, alone; afraid to thread forward in life. Night’s crest had fallen on her.”
“Yun toh aankhon ke hi saamne tha manzil ka pata
Phir bhi jaane kaise reh gaya yeh do kadmo ka fasla
Yeh darmiyaan apne darmiyaan
Jannatein kaha bin hue fanaa”
A tear silently traced down the corner of her eyes. The lyrics were so apt at this time, Risha felt guilty making Aita recall sad memories.
“Anuradha knew her love had passed on. It was the end of the road; a murky, desolate road. But her instinct to escape led her to light. Saarth had taught her that true love never abandons. He always pushed her towards independence and self-love. She respected his views, so, even in the face of adversity, societal pressure and judgement, she carried on and didn’t give up on life. Fate orchestrated unexpectedly. She was pursuing her MD in Paediatrics when she first met Umang, a charming, helpful fellow. He persistently stormed into her life. Their friendship blossomed into a beautiful relationship. He was an impulsive romantic and proposed marriage. He knew she was a widow, but love surpasses boundaries. There was no immorality in cherishing her. Umang braved the odds and married Anuradha against societal norms. Their nuptial made headlines, for they were one of the rare cases of widow remarriage during their times. They experienced the gift of parenthood with Rishi and Gargi. Anuradha had finally everything one could ask for; a love story that transcended borders and a beautiful whole family. She was made for love. Her morning had finally dawned.”
Risha stood up and declared, “Aita, I can see the grey. Anuradha felt dark clouds looming when Saarth passed away. She was emotionally scarred and afraid. Yet, she decided to respect his wishes and move forward head-on. A new beginning, she had died and was reborn. Umang barged in with his romantic interpretations of celebrating love and life again. He completed her, made her whole again. He was her morning, her courage.”
Aita smiled and hugged her, “And this is why I said Gargi had moulded you well. So intuitive and passionate.”
The rain had subsided, the sun now slowly peeping out of the clouds, a brighter clearer sky. They both proceeded towards the living room. Risha emerged a lot wiser and with a newfound respect for her grandparents. Aita, the embodiment of a strong woman and Koka, a man of strong character and courage.
At night, our fear is strong but in the morning, in the light, we find our courage again.
~ Malala Yousafzai
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