Lakshmi adorned her husband’s picture with a Jasmine garland strung by her. She lit the Kamakshi vilakku* and closed her eyes for a few moments to pray.
“Lakshmi Mami*! Today is the last day to confirm your availability for the Kumbakonam temples tour,” said Muthu, a travel agent, as he entered the house.
Lakshmi came out from the puja room. Wearing a crisp Chettinad* cotton saree in maroon, she looked beautiful despite her wrinkled face. Her long grey hair was meticulously plaited.
“Yes! Please include my name. I’m looking forward to this trip,” she said.
“Seri* Mami!” said Muthu and left.
Lakshmi then sat down to check her diary for the list of orders for the day. She had started a home business after her husband’s demise.
“Hmm! 1kg Sambar podi* and Puliyodhare podi*. I’d better get started now,” she said enthusiastically and entered the kitchen humming her favorite Carnatic song.
As she finished frying the red chilies and lentils, she heard the phone ring.
“Must be Raji,” said Lakshmi as she rushed to pick up the phone.
“Hello, Amma! How are you?” asked her daughter Raji.
“I am doing fine. How is Ria kutti*? Does she crawl now?”
“Yes, Amma, Soon she will start walking too. I’m finding it very difficult to concentrate on my office work these days. I will sponsor citizenship for you. You can shift here for good. Anyway, you are alone. It will be of great help if you come here.”
Lakshmi remained quiet for a few moments. A chain of thoughts was running in her mind.
For over forty years I was consumed in mundane duties- demanding in-laws, never-ending chores, children, and their upbringing. Never have I given importance to my priorities or dreams. But now I’m free to do whatever I wish. Should I say yes to her? Going there would mean giving up my life here, my freedom…
“Amma, are you there?” asked Raji when she did not hear her reply.
“Yes! Raji, please don’t mistake me. I can visit you all whenever time permits. But I can’t stay there permanently. My home business is doing pretty well now. Moreover, I have registered as a volunteer for the temple activities and I’m also heading the Bajanai* group. I love doing all this. I hope you understand.”
“Amma, I understand. I’m happy for you. Don’t worry, I’ll take care. Let me know in case you change your mind,” said her daughter and hung up.
Lakshmi had no second thoughts.
I love my daughter, no doubt. But I can’t neglect myself. I choose to embrace my desires, dreams, no matter how trivial they may sound to others. I need this- my independence and happiness for my mental well-being.
She then sat on the swing to read a Tamil novel, Ponniyin selvan*. It was a book she had gifted herself for her birthday.
Kamakshi vilakku – A bronze lamp engraved with Goddess kamakshi’s sketch
Chettinad- A region located in Tamilnadu
Sambar podi – Spice powder
Puliyodhare podi- Spice powder
Kutti – baby
Ponniyin selvan – A historical tamil novel
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