Moonlight filtered through the silver silhouetted clouds and spread like a façade over the lush agrarian landscape. At the far end of this surreal expanse stood the house of the family matriarch, giving the feeling of an eagle having spread its wings. The house stood embalmed in the greenery with an earthy whiff filling up the air. Trilok sat leaning against the ragged window of the Tonga*. His eyes tightly shut to breathe in the freshness of Mother Nature. He was in awe of the panoramic view, his breath in sync with the clatter of the horse’s hoofs on the dusty, village road.
As they drew closer, there seemed to be an unusual calm gripping the house. Though he was not oblivious of mother’s ailment, it was unnerving. She had contracted pneumonia and it was refusing to leave her body. The family loyalist, Munshiji*, had apprised him of the situation urging him to travel at the earliest.
“Sahib ji. The English doctor says there isn’t much time. You should come soon.”
He had quickly sought leave from his job as a clerk in the district revenue department and boarded the first available train from British Calcutta to Berhampur in Orissa. The silver spoon from his mouth had vanished when ‘Mataji’* had bundled him off to a British boarding school after his father’s tragic murder. She feared for his life and this seemed like the best option. Home visits were restricted to extremely important family functions, which was once in four or five years, and so life had moved on.
The Tonga halted; breaking the reverie…..Trilok looked up. The mansion gates were wide open as if longing to clutch him in an embrace. Munshi ji stood there to greet him and signalled towards the stairs. Without wasting a moment, he rushed upstairs.
As he faced his mother, his heart was thumping, he was sure those around him could hear it beating too!
She signalled, urging him to come closer. Those six steps that took him to her bedside seemed like eternity. It wasn’t easy to absorb the grim expression on the nurse’s face as she shifted the oxygen mask away from Mataji’s face. Trilok lowered himself to the bedhead to hear Mataji’s feeble, quivering voice say, “It is time Beta. Stay strong and carry forward the legacy. You are in safe hands. Munshi ji will guide you.” Her grip around his folded hands tightened. He bent forward for the last kiss. And then….. it was over. Her body felt heavier in his arms and her hand slipped away from his. The nervous dainty bride transformed to a conscious wife and mother and then braving the social pressures to take charge of not just herself as a widow or the home and hearth, but the “zamindari” in totality! And now, she lay lifeless…leaving behind a vast vacuum.
It’s been five years since……he has rarely faltered. Mataji had made sure there were no tangles, disputes or rivalries to face.
As dusk transcended to night, Trilok stood on the terrace, facing the green spread in front of him. This had become a daily routine; it brought comfort, as he sensed a presence around him. An invisible form which seemed to guide his decisions. This had got him into the habit of speaking his mind out loud, venting all apprehensions and confusions with eyes closed. Believe it or not, answers came! When he looked around, it would be calm. All he felt was a gentle caress on the head and a whisper, …… “I’m not gone my dear. I’m right here.
Beside you, behind you, with you!
* * *
*Tonga – a mode of transport wherein a cart is strapped to a horse
*Munshiji – secretary handling private matters of property
*Mataji – synonym for mother
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