The shrill sound of the alarm rudely awakened Rekha. She was sipping her morning tea sitting on a balcony overlooking a spectacular view of snow-capped mountains. She almost spilt the hot beverage on herself at the sound of the alarm. Thankfully, it was only a dream and didn’t get scalded by the hot beverage.
She turned off the alarm. It was 5 am. “Thank God for teaching me to see the positives in my life and be happy!”
“Why so early? Sleep for another hour,” quipped Rohan, her husband, slightly annoyed by the disturbance.
“Sorry, dear! Go back to sleep. I have lots of work to do. Riya wants noodles and Gagan wants parathas for lunch!”
“Why can’t you send the same dish for both?”
Without giving an answer, Rekha got off the bed and went into the bathroom for her morning ablutions, her mind organizing the breakfast menu and its prep.
Potatoes in the cooker
Water to boil noodles
Onions; chopped finely for the parathas, slices for the noodles.
Carrots, capsicum, cabbage to be julienned.
Knead wheat flour for the parathas.
Peel potatoes. Make paratha filling.
Noodles would have to be cooled, toss veggies and the noodles!
Make the parathas.
Keep water for chai.
The thoughts went in a flash. The actual work took more than an hour and a half and was finished a few minutes before the school bus arrived.
She packed her children’s lunch boxes and got the morning cereal ready before going into their room to wake them up. She did call out to them many times from the kitchen. But it wasn’t enough to get them off the bed.
“Ma, a few more minutes, please!” shouted Riya and Gagan together as Rekha pulled the bedsheets and coziness turned to discomfort. The whining 15-year-old twins were forced to get up. Rekha came back to the kitchen hoping to get a sip of her hot chai before the kids came to the table for their breakfast.
“Ma! Where’s my other sock?”
“Ma! Where’s my uniform?”
“Ma! Where’s my bag?”
“Ma! And that new book we bought yesterday!”
“Hey! Don’t you dare touch my bag?”
“Who wants to touch that dirty thing?”
The commotion made Rekha put her chai cup down. She sighed, went into the kids’ room and helped them find everything needed for school. By the time she returned to her tea, it was cold!
Anyway, the kids had come to the table, and she gave them their lunch boxes. They sat at the table where the cereal bowl and milk were ready.
“So cold the milk is!” cried Riya
“So hot the milk is!” yelled Gagan.
“What ma! You know how I like my milk,” they shouted together. Rohan was at the table too having finished his breakfast and sipping his coffee. He glared at the two of them and said, “That is not the way you should speak to your mother. Apologize to her right now!”
“Sorry!” said both of them, their faces glum. They dare not disobey appa.
“It’s okay, Rohan. Let them start their day well. Let us not do anything to spoil their mornings,” Rekha responded and hugged her children.
She came to the table and got the cereal bowls ready according to how each liked them. They gulped it down and ran out of the house saying, “There’s the bus honk!”
“You’ve forgotten your lunch boxes.” Rekha took the boxes in her hands and followed her children.
When she returned, Rohan was still at the table. “Oh! You’re still here? You need something else? I thought you’d have left for work by now.”
“Yes. That’s how it has been since the twins came into our lives. You go about your work, and I go about mine. What happened to us?”
Rekha was at her wit’s end. This argument with her husband was going on for over six months now. She said, “Rohan, listen to me. I am not doing anything wrong.”
“I’ve never said you’re doing anything wrong. But you are pampering our kids to the point of spoiling them. I think we need to decide on a healthy balance between pampering and discipline.”
“I’m not pampering them. I’m a mother, Rohan, and it is my duty to look after their needs.”
“As much as it is our duty to discipline them. As parents, providing for their needs is not enough. Preparing them for the difficult world outside is also our responsibility. And they will never learn that lesson if you keep handing them everything on a platter.”
“Oh! Come on, I think you are exaggerating the whole thing. They are our children, Rohan. Maturity and discipline are already embedded in their genes. I am very hopeful about that. Look at us both. Aren’t we so disciplined and organized with everything we do? Will they not see the way we behave and learn from us?”
“I also live in that hope, Rekha. But you know what! Often hope needs a nudge. Just hope that the time for that doesn’t come so late that the nudge becomes a shove!”
Rohan left for his office, his anger still unabated. Rekha’s frowned in worry. Maybe her husband was right. Maybe she was pampering Riya and Gagan a lot. They have been shouting, yelling, and behaving stubbornly more often than normal in the last year or so. The other day, Riya’s “I hate you, ma,” in response to something very trivial made Rekha teary-eyed. Gagan was no better.
Rekha always used “raging hormones” as an excuse. “The children are going through a tough phase, what with peer pressure, the stress of having to do well in so many fields, and so much more than what our generation endured,” she argued with Rohan many times, actually all the time whenever disciplining the children came up for discussion. “Let’s cut them some slack,” she would finish.
Another thing worried her too. They were doing exceptionally well academically and also in sports. Both were on top of their classes, and they played state-level badminton. Yet, there was a nagging doubt that perhaps all the accolades and unrelenting victories were going to their heads. She had heard them mocking their classmates who they thought were beneath them.
“Akash is no match for me in the debate competition.” She heard Riya say one day. “I’ll sail through the finals.”
“Yeah! And his stuttering becomes worse under pressure,” finished Gagan. She heard her children giggle at the remark. She was livid at their behaviour and chided them for it. They did apologise at that time. But she realised they had a long way to go before they learn humility.
And not to mention, her own succumbing nature. She gave in to every little need of theirs.
Rekha cooked three meals a day, and quite often, three different dishes for each meal. One would want something totally different from what the other wanted. While Rekha enjoyed cooking, being perfect every time was not possible. So, sometimes, the taste of the dishes fell short of their expectations, resulting in rude rejoinders.
She took it upon herself to regularly clear and clean their clothes cabinets, study table, and the entire room. But no gratitude there too.
Why did you touch my cupboard, ma? See, now I can’t find anything?
I had kept my math book on this table right here! Who asked you to move it, Ma?”
Rohan complained that she did not spend any quality time with him. She was always a mother, and only when time and energy resources permitted (which was very infrequent), she would sit with Rohan and have a cup of tea or share a meal with him. She couldn’t remember the last time they had been alone together.
Do all mothers have this problem? Shouldn’t children take precedence over everything else? She wondered. Will her hope for her children to learn appreciation, gratitude, and humility not see the light of day?
A few days later, Rekha got a call from her cousin, Santosh. Venkata Chithappa had passed away. She was devastated. He was like a father to her. Rekha lost her own father at a very young age, and Venkata Chithappa had taken her, her brother, and her mother into his household with loving arms.
Shanthi Chithi, his wife, was as loving. Her son, Santosh, received no partial treatment from his parents. Rekha’s mother passed away soon after, having never gotten over the grief of her husband’s death. After that, Shanthi Chithi always said, “I have three children, two boys and a girl.”
Despite limited resources, the five of them lived a happy, contented life. Rekha learnt familial love and how to affectionately nurture a family from Shanthi Chithi and Venkata Chithappa. Today, he was gone. She was so desolately lost in her thoughts that she didn’t hear the children come in.
“Ma! Ma! I’m hungry. What have you made today?” Shouted the twins in unison
“Today is a sad day for all of us. Your grandfather died, and I haven’t cooked anything. There’s bread and jam. Eat it. I’m exhausted.”
“What! Bread-and-jam! Uggghhh! Pleeeaasssse Ma, you know how hungry we get! You could’ve done something! Simple fried rice?” Gagan’s annoyed voice rose a few pitches higher than normal, his face twisted in irritated anger.
Rohan had heard the news and returned home early. He walked into the house just at that moment. “GAGAN! Do you even realize the seriousness of the situation? Your grandfather is dead! That is your mother’s father! Just as I am to you!” He said, his heart agonizing at his son’s insensitivity.
“I’m sorry,” Gagan whispered reluctantly. Riya just threw her bag on the sofa and went into the room yelling, “So what? Shouldn’t we eat?” Gagan followed his sister. Rekha sat unmoving at the dining table, copious tears rolling down her face.
Rohan went to his wife and gave her a hug. “I’m sorry, Rekha. You must be devastated. Pack your bags. I’ll drop you at the bus stand. You must leave at once. Santosh told me that it was Venkata Chithappa’s last wish for you to take part in his funeral rites and stay with his wife until the grehiyam. You know there is a lot of work for a daughter to do at her father’s funeral rites. Go and do your duty there for the next two weeks.”
He helped his wife pack and they left together for the bus stand. Rohan forwarded her the online bus tickets to Trichy he had booked earlier. It was a 7-hour journey. The bus was expected to leave at 5 pm which means she would reach Trichy by 12 midnight. Santosh promised he would send someone to pick her up.
“I will come back in a day or two. I don’t think I can stay for two weeks.”
They were sitting on a bench waiting for the bus to leave. They were holding hands. It suddenly struck Rekha that it had been more than 10 years since she and her husband held hands. She felt warm and loved, just what she needed right now.
“No! You will not! You will stay with Shanthi Chithi for all the 13 days of the funeral rites and a couple more days. She needs a daughter to console her during this time, and you must fulfil that need.”
“But what about here? Who will look after the kids? You saw how upset they got today.”
“Yes, I saw, and that is precisely the reason you need to stay away from them. They have taken you for granted, and I think they’ve reached a point when words of wisdom might not help. Remember your “hope” that they will learn the right things? This is the perfect opportunity to give that hope a nudge. Venkata Chithappa loves you truly. That’s why even in his death, he is being of use to you. Go and do what you need to do as a daughter for that wise, loving man. The children and I will manage here. It’s just a matter of two weeks. It’ll fly by and we will all learn our lessons.”
With a sad smile on her face, Rekha said, “What would I do without you?”
The bus driver honked to let people know it was time to leave. Rekha left with a heavy heart.
The 15 days went by quite fast. The funeral rites took place reverently and Rekha did everything that a daughter was called upon to do. She, her brothers, and Shanthi Chithi reminisced many happy days from their childhood. At the end of the fortnight, when it was time to return home to Bangalore, Rekha realized she was glad for the two weeks break from her routine, even if it was for a sad reason. Most importantly, Shanthi Chithi was happy to take the help of her daughter to help her get over her grief.
She bid goodbye and left for Bangalore. Interestingly, the children hadn’t called at all except on the first two days when her phone didn’t stop ringing. She was barraged with questions about where she kept everything.
“We’re struggling here, and you’re not bothered about us!” They had said on the second day.
But after that, there were no more phone calls. When she called them, they said that things are fine, and to not worry about them. Both the twins sounded happy. She hoped everything was really fine. She dreaded the mess that the house would be in.
She remembered with horror one evening when she returned from an official party she had gone to with Rohan. There was sauce all over the floor of the kitchen. There were vegetable peals scattered everywhere. The gas stove had numerous patches left behind by cooked/uncooked food residues. And all to make Maggi noodles! It took her an hour and a half to clear the kitchen and bring it back to normal. She wondered what state it would be in now after 15 days!
What she dreaded more was the anger she’d face when she met them.
She was surprised to be welcomed at the bus stand by Rohan and the twins. She looked at her wristwatch and said, “Wow! It’s just 5 am, and you guys woke up so early to pick me up.”
They ran to her and gave her the warmest of hugs that she had received from them in more than a year. She hugged them back with equal warmth and her eyes welled up with joy. She caught sight of her husband looking at her, his eyes twinkling. She could deal with a thousand messy kitchens for this love. The four of them piled into the car and drove home.
Rekha stepped into the house expecting the worst. She was pleasantly startled by what she saw. The floor was sparkling. The kitchen was pristinely clean. She hesitatingly opened the fridge, visualizing pots, pans, and boxes filled with foodstuff tumbling out. Again, she was surprised she was wrong. The fridge was spic-and-span. There were 4-5 closed and labelled boxes filled with some food.
“Wow! You’ve kept the house so well, Rohan. Thank you.”
“Oh! I did nothing. All credit goes to Riya and Gagan.”
Her eyes nearly popped out in surprise. “Really?”
Riya had teared up by then. She had been wondering how to broach the topic. She decided to plunge right in. “Ma, I’m sorry that we were so rude to you for so long, ma! We never realized how much you were doing for us. It is only when we actually did some bit of work at home, we realized the enormity of what you do for us!
Gagan continued, “We couldn’t manage one dish for our lunch, and we used to demand different dishes from you. Not to mention, the cleaning, organizing, and not whimper or complaint from you.”
Riya broke down at this stage, and Gagan unabashedly joined his sister in the crying bout. Rohan was standing with a big grin on his face!
Rekha hugged her children and said, “My darlings, you two are the light of our lives, and we want the best for you. That you learnt your lesson so well makes up for all the past unwitting rude behaviour. Forget all that. Just remember humility and discipline are paramount to a happy, meaningful life.” Rekha felt a huge burden being lifted off her shoulders.
“I think you do a better job as a parent than me, Rohan,” Rekha said as she snuggled close to him that night.
“Not at all, dear. We are who we are. It is easy to get lost in our children’s love and it is even easier for children to take parents for granted. Your hope was well-placed. It just needed a nudge in the form of a small separation from you for them to see what life is without getting it handed on a platter. Once they realized that, then the embedded genes did their work. That’s all.” She could sense his smile in the dark.
“I forbade them from calling you for help after the first two days. Another nudge from me about YouTube videos was enough for our tech-savvy children to take control of the kitchen. Thank God you were not there to see the mess they created in the kitchen in the first two days. Their initial days of failure frustrated them no end. I ended up having a good laugh at all antics while pretending to be working from home. A couple more nudges and they learnt the importance and ease of cooking if they were well-organized and thought through the recipe.”
He continued, “You know how they learn their school lessons no?”
“Yes. They divide the lesson into equal halves, and each takes the responsibility of learning one half. They teach each other their respective halves. They then exchange the parts and learn and teach each other again. This way, they both get to revise the entire lesson four times. They rarely needed to work hard before the exams.”
“Exactly. I was surprised they did the same thing when they were doing the household work too. It was a pleasure to see their teamwork, Rekha.”
Rekha was filled with pride. “You know I have a great idea. We must let them handle household chores every weekend from now onwards. Not only will they continue to get their practice, but it will also help us make up for lost time with each other, what say?”
Rohan held in wife in a close embrace and said, “You are the best!”
Hope is not a static element of life. It is life’s primary driver. When our hopes are deep enough, then the universe conspires to help us achieve them. Paulo Coelho’s famous quote rehashed to suit the current situation was the last thing on her mind as Rekha drifted off into happy sleep.
Appa – father in Tamil
Chithappa – a term used to address the father’s younger brother.
Chithi – a term used to address Chithappa’s wife.
Grehiyam – the 13th-day ceremony symbolizing auspiciousness after the 12-day mourning funeral rites
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