August 2046: “Paragliding Mishap: 65-year-old solo traveller, loses her life at Bir!”  “Agastya, come quickly, see this breaking news,” Gita gulped down her breaths and called her husband. As soon as his eyes fell on the 85” screen, he swept his right hand across the forehead. “Call,” Gita mumbled with an insouciant shrug. Agastya dialled the number several times but it went unreachable.  *** Your son calls you; only when you crash land on the death bed, and face eye-to-eye with a dark green skin coloured personage with piercing coppery red eyes, donning crimson robes and a glittering crowned head, mounted on a buffalo carrying his mace and noose.  “Can I stay here for a few more hours, please? Agastya will arrive any moment.” You beg HIM for mercy but HE doesn’t seem to budge; instead mocks at you, “Your SON? Who never cared for his mother? Time waits for none. You must depart from the earthly realms. NOW!” Wasn’t he right? Your only son and daughter-in-law never visited you, never called you, never cared for you; yet the storge stands strong in your blood. Tears galloped from your pale tightly shut eyes. Not because of the trauma or agony that your body endured but because of your ONLY apathetic offspring.  You reach the border of the earthly realms. Your detached son’s presence immobilizes you and deters you. “Just one last time, please,” your puppy eyes successfully allure HIS red eyes.            “Fine. Remember, you have 2 HOURS ONLY.” Your heart leaps in tears of joy and gratitude. *** At the funeral and prayer meet in Amala’s House:      Zoom! You reach your home sweet home in nano seconds. Your eyes turn glossy as you wander around your beautiful house but neither can you touch your stuff nor can you sit on your swing.   You saw your body laid down on the cold marble floor in the same dirty hospital linen. Your son or daughter-in-law didn’t even wrap you in one of your silk sarees. Your daughter-in-law was cool as a cucumber. You wonder if she already seized your wardrobe! Your son performed your last rites in a jiffy and finished all the 13-days rituals at once.  *** “Do you think your only son has an ounce of guilt or regret? Yamraj surely knows how to rub salt and spice well on your deep cut wounds, following you, as you saw yourself thrown into red flames. *** Your living room was cleaned in a spic and span manner. Your antique furniture was rearranged by your daughter-in-law. The sandalwood incense sticks were lit up. Your son, who appeared like a deadpan, unboxed a large package and placed your photo frame abruptly on the rustic end table.  The priest asks begins the prayer. Your son gets the marigold garland and hangs improperly on the photo frame. (Marigold, really? Your son didn’t even bother to bring your favourite flowers. What a bummer is he?)  Guests came in to offer last respects. The crying was an out of tune orchestra. “I can’t believe you are no more,” your anguished assistant staff garlanded you with mogra (your favourites). Nothing could explain your sadness at this moment.  “Sob...sob,” all your students mourned. Wiping their eyes and nose, your neighbours place a rose bouquet on the table.  A few fellow solo travellers (your new found friendship) too showed up, “I wish we could have camped under the Northern Lights together! But you were in such a hurry.” “Oh, sniff, sniff! Pull yourself together. Let her be in peace. She must be watching us.” You feel content that your existence was cherished by many except for one.      “Boohoo…boohoo” Oodles of crocodile tears suddenly flooded the hall. It was your son’s act! Rage engulfs you! You slap your son but whoosh, your hand flew past his cheek. How could you forget your invisible shackles that have circumscribed you. You don’t own flesh and skin anymore.   Did he take over his father? You feel you were hopeless and failed as a mother while raising him all alone. Your struggles, your ordeal, everything flashes before your befogged eyes. May 2002: You grab the envelope tightly and make all the way up to talk to your parents about your selection at the esteemed Anna University for PG course. However, you are thunderstruck at the doorstep on eavesdropping about the hot potato. “Glad we got the perfect match for her. The family is rich and they will take good care of her. The boy is a gentleman.” It is your granny brimming with glee.  Your house appears lively for the first time in decades. “Where were you, Amala? Come here.” Your mother drags you inside, updates you about the perfect match, and asks you to wear silk saree quickly as your to be in-laws will arrive any moment.  The Chellapa house roared with mirth and enthusiasm as the guests arrived. The vintage centre-table was laden with sweets and snacks. As the elders confabulated over wedding rituals; you peeped from the kitchen and saw a lady draped in an indigo silk cotton saree with her hair styled in to a neat bow standing beside your mother. Her beautiful almond-shaped eyes caught you. Her smile warmed the cockles of your heart.  The tray full of new clothes, fruits, flowers, and jewellery was exchanged by the elders of the family. And you were engaged! Never did your grandparents and parents look so pleased and hugged you with open arms. Never ever did your father looked at you affectionately. It is said that daughters are close to their fathers. However, the Chellapa father-daughter duo seldom shared such bond. The Chellapa family clan lacked that kind of storge. The family never rejoiced when you were born but now, they were truly ecstatic. Amidst their ecstasy, your envelope vanishes in to thin air; your dreams shatter in to infinite pieces and your eyes appear fiery red. Your thoughts, your emotions, your consent nothing mattered to them. Sigh! You don’t even know how the guy looked!  “Oh Amu, he is a nice guy, well educated, and works in a good firm. What else do you want?” your mother retorts when you say you don’t want to get married. All she knew about the guy was that he works as CA but will soon join their family business. “Ask her not to venture outside anymore and apply turmeric mask everyday 2 times. Marriage is in 2 weeks, hopefully her dusky skin will brighten a bit.” It’s your old granny’s vile order to your mother from the kitchen pass-through.  The next day morning you hear your granny bargaining with the silk saree vendor to give her the best rates.  Your mother calls you, “Amala, look, these sarees are so beautiful. Tell me which one is better?”  Your grumpy granny interrupts again, “What does she know about silk sarees? She is 21 and still doesn’t know how to cook a proper family meal. We can choose sarees for her, send her to the kitchen.”  The D-Day:  “Get up, Amala and bathe quickly.”  “Uh…let me sleep for 15 minutes.”  “Your cousins are here to help you drape the 9-yard saree for the marriage rituals.”  You were forced to freshen up. Two of your cousins then roll up the 9-yard saree. As they make multiple folds and tuck in at several places, you wonder how do you sit on the floor, how would you manage, and what if one of the tucks loosen up?  “Ouch…” You wiggle your head as it hurts due to the tightly interlaced tresses woven along with hair extensions.  “Hurry up, the priest has summoned the bride,” granny yelled. A little make up and gloss were dabbed on your face and lips hurriedly.  The priest chanted Vedic slokas and asked the groom to repeat it. The bride was asked to sit alongside with the groom and a few more slokas were recited.  The next ritual was an awkward moment when you were forced to sit on your beloved father’s lap. After a few minutes, the groom tied tali around your neck. People cheered and congratulated. And finally, you laid your eyes on your perfect match ‘Bhaskar Pandian!’ Yours truly became Amala Bhaskar!  July 2003: Marriages are NOT made in heaven, at least not yours. Yours is like cooking without a recipe. Your husband keeps to himself. You sleep on your side of the old wooden double bed while he on his, right from night one. You have an invisible border that you can’t cross. Your typical day starts at dawn, followed by making filter kapi, breakfast, and packing lunch for your husband before he leaves for work. Then you help your mother-in-law with household chores.  *** One afternoon, whispers and giggles reverberated the living room. A few ladies had come to meet mother-in-law.  You greeted them politely and they ask you for the good news! Can someone tell them you are a gold medallist meant to shine and not get locked in such shackles! Moreover, what’s the rush? Sigh!  You sneaked inside the kitchen avoiding that talk. Putting up a fake smile, you served them bonda, bhajji, and kapi. Your mother-in-law gave you an approving nod.   “Amala, take their blessings,” the mother-in-law murmurs as they started to leave.  “May you be blessed with twins.” “May you be blessed with a baby boy.”  You rolled your eyes at them; however, your mother-in-law’s cheeks went pink with pleasure.  ***  You are on your way back home from the ancestral temple. You start feeling as if the contents of your stomach are about to have a tall spout. You blame the bumpy road travel since dawn.  However, nothing changes over 2 weeks. Nausea grapples, sucking the life out of you, unable to eat or drink; your mother-in-law brings in an old lady to check on you. She sits beside you holding your hands and comforts you, “Vimala is our family physician. She helped me deliver Bhaskar. Don’t worry Amala, she can diagnose any illness just by checking your nadi.”  The old physician murmurs something and your mother-in-law exclaims in a cracking voice, with folded hands raising above her head, “Govinda!” “Congratulations Amala, you are going to be a mother,” your mother-in-law hugs you dearly. Your mouth goes wide open!  Oh no, this is the case of food poisoning. How on Earth is that possible! Your husband had just started warming up to you and before you both could go around and paint the town red, you get promoted.  Your thrilled inlaws informed your parents but they were happy to stay aloof and not get involved with your affairs anymore. Nonetheless, your mother-in-law became your safety blanket. Your favourite food was cooked every day and your husband never made any fuss about it. Surprisingly, your stoic husband took you for evening walks and sat with you for dinner.  Months flew by and one-night, agonizing pain had kicked in! Bhaskar was locked in his study. Your gut felt its time. What you didn’t knew that you had to deal alone. Squeezing your puffy eyes shut, you tried to calm yourself but you felt light-headed, weak, and unsteady. You leaned on the wall for support but you tipped over and you were held by your mother-in-law who came there just in time and shrieked, “AMALA!”  Your in-laws rushed you to the hospital. Your careless husband arrived later when you were already in the emergency room. Your mother-in-law rebuked him for his sloppiness but you couldn’t find any creases or furrows of anxiety or worry on his forehead.  You had drained out completely by the stronger contractions that kept intensifying. Finally, after 14 hours of painful labor, you felt a great sense of relief as you heard the cry of your baby. The Pandians danced in joy as their desires were fulfilled. Your husband didn’t bother to look at you and held your new-born proudly, “Agastya… Agastya Bhaskar” February 2005: Your husband takes up a new job and decides to move to Chennai, much to your inlaws disapproval and your relationship with them goes through a rough patch.  You too hope to put your degrees to use but he quips, “what is the need? I earn quite well here. Besides, baby Agastya is too small and needs you,” crashing your dream again.  With time, you realize your husband's charming personality was deceptive. He was a master at manipulating; using words as weapons; and making derogatory remarks on your appearance. You were always criticized and demeaned.  “You are insecure and have trust issues. Stop acting crazy.” “You can’t cook good food. You conned me.” “Good for nothing baggage.”  “You will never find someone like me.”   “You witch, stay away from my son!” You gasp, cover your head with your arms, and slid into a corner. You feel miserable and lonely. Pool of tears were now your constant companion. You start crumbling and feel less sure about yourself. When neither your presence nor absence affects your husband; you wonder if you are good enough. You slowly start feeling pernicious. April 2012:  Chennai’s scorching heat was at the peak and so was your marital relationship. After a decade of marriage, you are unhappy and the one always apologizing.   You tell your husband that you need a break and he snaps back at you, “you have trouble making simple decisions and you say you need a break? You are nothing without me. There you go again; you are so ungrateful and always dramatic.”   *** You try to voice against the ill-treatment but nothing could help resolve the issues with your cocky husband. After dropping Agastya to school, you decide to call and let him know you need a divorce. But you receive a call from his office, “Madam, Bhaskar sir collapsed, we are on the way to Kamakshi hospital.”  Your mind goes blank and you run helter-skelter to get a taxi. Strangely, despite knowing that it’s your tormentor whom you wanted to get rid of, still something chokes your heart.  You arrive at the hospital gasping only to hear, “we tried everything but it was too late. Your husband had 99% major blockage, sorry couldn’t save him.” You step back freezing momentarily. Although Bhaskar was never a good husband to you but he was a good father to Agastya. Fate played its game! Without any source of income; you ponder how will you survive and raise your son in this big city. Reality freezes you. You feel your husband was right. You are nothing without him.   January 2013: Your son goes in to a shell: stops talking, playing outside, and locks himself in his room. You feel scared about his well-being. Every night you hear his wails but your son doesn’t let you in. Your sonshine now prefers only darkness.  Your eyes widen and blink rapidly with a wandering gaze that doesn’t settle.  “House rent of 30,000 rupees is due, kindly make your payment by 15 Jan 2013 else vacate.”  “TNEB Bill due 15,000 rupees. Last date 20 Jan 2013.”  “School fees due. Last date 30 Jan 2013.”  Fingering your gold chain, your eyes gaze at your last resort. You lean away from these notices and drag yourself to kitchen for cooking. You find empty canisters and meagre amount of foodgrains left in your pantry. With a lump in your throat, you clasp your arms to soothe yourself, and desperately pray for some miracle.  *** “You have good grades but you lack experience.” “We don’t need a fresher at present.”  Peals of sweat trickles down your forehead thinking about your outstanding dues.  Being on the dole for months now; you put up a banner outside DSV school, “Amala’s Kitchen” and start selling homemade idlis and vadas.  Your son glares at you with crossed arms and passes by coldly. You stop him to hand hot vadas but he just throws them away.  “Amma, stop it. This is embarrassing. My friends tease me; all thanks to you.” You fight back your tears. “Son, this food cart business will help you in going to the same school, stay in your house, and have your favourite meal. If I stop this, we lose everything; no house, no school, and no food!”    Your son stays mum and before you could continue; a lady stops by and asks for 20 idlis and vadas. She appeared to be a socialite yet resembled your bosom buddy. She had overheard the mom-son fiasco, “you seem to be educated; then why all this?”  You clear your throat, “Umm…mmm…wearing a madcap.”   Smirking at you; she said, “hmm… I see. Well, you are quite enterprising. Here is my card.”  The white card with golden embossed words: ‘Saroja Devi, Founder, DSV Schools’ leaving you flabbergasted. Indeed, it was her. *** “At 32, you were brave enough to start out on your own. You have done well for yourself in this life.” Yamraj applauds you. *** June 2032: Saroja Devi had ensured Amala never looked back in life. Years passed and Agastya was now a software engineer, working in a private MNC tech firm.  *** “He should have asked you to quit working and taken care of you. Never mind, your actions dictate the consequences, pronounces Yamraj. Forgive him please! My assistant keeps an account and every human pays for his or her deeds. Let’s leave that to him. And you are running out of time.” October 2037: At 56, your body starts whining, your pace slows down. You miss a companion with whom you can share things.   You wait every day for your son to join for dinner but he never had time. Being a single mother, your lack of bonding time stemmed fissures and you knew nothing about his thoughts, his feelings, his habits, or his friends. You burst in to tears blaming up yourself for your son being cold and distant. “Agastya, how’s work? You seem to come home late daily? Come, let’s have dinner.”  “Amma, there isn’t 9-5 work culture in an MNC unlike your school. I had my dinner with a few clients.”  You gaze at the tall figure leaving you alone.  *** One evening, your son comes home early, tears of joy glisten in your eyes looking at your handsome son. “Amma, I need to tell you something. I am in love with a girl. Her name is Gita and tomorrow we both are getting married.” You raised your eyebrows but before you could utter a word, “I don’t care if you approve of her or not as she is the one for me,” your son states impassively.  That night, Amala Bhaskar was dead.  April 2039:  You rise as just AMALA, neither Chellapa nor Bhaskar! You restart your life, breathe freely, and do what you like. You have no time for broken relationships. *** Today was your last working day as the principal of DSV school. You slouch on your chair and mentally flip through your journey: from a high school math teacher, to junior college professor, to principal; it was all like a pie in the sky.  You feel deep gratitude to your amigo who gave a new lease of life to you. You are overwhelmed by the sweet gestures from all your colleagues and students who gave you handmade cards, bouquets, and gifts.    January 2040: Your house was an empty nest and boredom sucks you in. You watch TV but it fails to hook you.  A TEDx show on ‘life is all about starting over’ sways you deeply. You chase your childhood dream; spend days planning methodically; the place, the stay, the food and tickets. Finally, your solo world tour is scheduled for next year!  *** Yamraj guffawed, “you spent all of your savings on globe-trotting; not leaving a penny for your son except that house. Serves him right! No, that will be owned by the Amala Charitable Trust for empowering single women and educating girls.”  You shouldn’t give away all that you earned on the behest of motherly love. You can prioritize yourself and its OKAY! August 2046: In the last 5 years; you ticked off your bucket list one at a time: famous landmarks, unexplored terrains, hidden islands and adventure sports.  *** At the Paragliding Capital of India, Bir: “CLICK…CLICK!” Bright light flashes at you sensitizing your old vision. You confront the guy with an SLR.  “I am a travel vlogger and want to interview you.” You gasp on hearing that you have been nominated for the prestigious “Solo Travelers Championship award’ by the Chennai tourism board.  “Just a few questions, please! How will you describe life at 65?” You grin; “it is never too late to achieve anything. Desire is your fuel and passion is your energy.”  You turn to leave but he stops, “any message for women?   “Die with memories, not dreams!”  With that you set off flying freely like a bird, rejoicing the sky above and the earth below. But you are shell shocked to see HIM flying next to you, “TIME UP, AMALA!” *** Glossary: Tali – Mangalsutra in Tamil culture, that symbolizes the true meaning of marriage.  Nadi – Nadi pariksha is the ancient technique of diagnosis through the pulse. Also, practiced in Ayurveda; it can accurately diagnose physical, mental and emotional imbalances as well as diseases. Amigo – friend  Yamraj – Hindu god of death.   Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!