Wedding days have a special place in our lives. The culmination of our childhood dreams, the day we take for granted. Jaya stood there, looking at something that seemed like the caterer arguing with her father. Any other day, she would have jumped in and resolved the matter but today was different. She wanted to stay oblivious to the problem.
She remembered the day standing at the same place and seeing the world go by, oblivious to her grief. The day her mother passed away, only a couple of relatives turned up who were there to sympathize with her father’s loss and not with their’s. As soon as the relatives left, her father’s anger soared at her for not attending to his family members with proper courtesy and manners.
Since that day, Jaya was responsible for ensuring food was served on time, clothes were washed and every chore that her mother ever so ungrudgingly perfomed. It was an untold, unsaid passing of the baton. No one spoke of bereavement or grief; a person had left and there was another person asked to fill in her shoes. Jaya was barely fifteen at the time, but supposedly old enough to be in the kitchen at six in the morning. Every morning at eight, she ensured her father’s breakfast with coffee was served on the table while he watched the morning news. Simultaneously, she would have made tiffin for her eleven-year-old brother and sent him to school.
At ten in the morning, when Jaya would sit with her plate of breakfast, she would reminisce about her days tugging on to her mother’s saree and helping her with the chores. Her mother had taught her to be a hardworking person and to share the family’s responsibility.
Jaya was around fourteen, a year before her mother left when she saw a windchime in a movie. After that, she couldn’t stop talking about this amazing piece of wall hanging, as she would say. One day, her mother gave her some money hidden inside one of the lentil canisters. Jaya was so elated that on her way back from school, she went to a gift shop and bought a wooden windchime with hanging moons and stars. But her father believed such sounds attracted malevolent spirits at night hence her prized possession was rolled inside a cloth and kept hidden in a box. While pushing the box under her bed, Jaya thought, ‘There would be a day when I shall breathe free and let the windchime announce to the spirits of my existence in the world.’
She often thought of her father’s loss but there would always be evidence of him living without a care in the world. He asked her nothing, except for the rations and her brother’s fee deposit dates. In turn, she kept herself to the boundaries of this emotionless relationship.
Jaya had no friends, for everyone in the neighborhood was afraid of her father’s temperament and she wasn’t going to school anymore. No one bothered and days went by. Her only solace were the evenings when she could sit on the porch playing with the low hanging branches of the neem tree.
A couple of months later, the famous Bhawani Aunt visited her brother. Within a few minutes, she was inside the kitchen, frying some fritters and brewing tea. When she was out, all hell broke loose. In the coming days, she ensured to keep everyone in the vicinity informed about her brother’s ailing illnesses and the lack of devotion from his only daughter. ‘A girl so dumb who had no interest in learning to cook or making the kolam outside the front door or offering prayers before entering the kitchen. No doubt, why my brother lives in pain and suffering!’
The great aunt had no inkling of the piling hospital bills or her younger nephew’s interest in hobbies that fetched nothing in return. Jaya wanted to protest but kept quiet as she saw the face of her gleaming father. He had been enjoying the feat!
Jaya never understood the relevance of family politics where one had no tangible gains. True, she was at home all the time, but she also cooked, cleaned and took care of the house. Their mother was also scorned for her lack of understanding of the rituals and her menial labour that resulted in meagre produce from the backyard garden. But what kept the family afloat was the land she inherited from her father, from where she received a hefty sum every year and that practically ran the house.
Her mother could have howled, ‘how dare you speak to me like this? Respect me for getting the bread on your table.’ Instead, she chose to be regarded as an invisible entity in life and in death too. She taught Jaya to be the same. So Jaya lived inside the invisibility garb for the coming years.
One day looking into the expenses, Jaya’s eye caught a sheet of paper. Her father had mortgaged the land that was her mother’s property. Jaya’s childhood memories were full of visits through the uneven patch of land, a small area devoted to hanging beans from the rooftop made of bamboo poles and muddy low-lying areas of paddy. She could run through them all day and come back and sleep on a cot with a room of sacks of potatoes.
Her mother’s voice would echo inside her head, she was the responsible one. ‘You can ensure that the family stays together.’ But she could not endure it anymore, this was her only tie to her mother’s existence.
She couldn’t stay quiet anymore and went rushing to her father. Her brother came around the same time. Listening to Jaya, both dismissed her and ended the conversation with, ‘what’s for dinner’.
The next day, as her brother left for college and her father on the usual visit to the temple, she realized that nothing had changed for them. A person existed in the family only for her role as the caregiver and worker.
Family members had no qualms in declaring her the next matriarch. Her dreams were squashed, the scapegoat for enduring grief and work that should have been rightfully divided amongst all. She hadn’t studied beyond tenth standard and had no plans for the future.
A butterfly travels about four thousand miles in its lifetime. Metamorphosis changes her beyond recognition, and no one claims ownership over her existence. Human beings are a totally different species, we travel and change but we are tied down to the rock of our identity. As if losing your place of birth or people who are called to be your own is reason enough for you to lose yourself.
A few months went by, and it seemed clear to Jaya that her father had squandered the money with no intention of repaying. Meanwhile her brother remained distanced from the matter who seemed to have no memories attached to the place.
Soon after the stand-off with her father regarding mortgaging the land, Jaya made the trip to Anantpur. She wanted to get her mother’s property free. While searching for the man from whom her father had taken the money, she met Rajnish. Rajnish was the caretaker of the property now; he had come back from America a few months back and had intended to start a project on organic farming.
Jaya couldn’t believe her luck when Rajnish understood the sentimental value of the land and agreed to return the property with no added interest on the loaned sum. On her way back, as Jaya stood at the bus stop, a car stopped by her side. It was Rajnish, ‘would you mind if I could drop you home. I am headed the same way.’ That was a cliché, but Jaya knew this time her luck had brought her to a genuine person.
Undoubtedly, Rajnish had left a mark on her. But Jaya couldn’t hope for anything except a part where she could perhaps meet him a couple of more times. But Rajnish knocked at her door the very next day and asked her to help him in executing the plans for the farm. By his side, Jaya felt fearless, and she had always longed to live in the farm where her mother grew up. She took the step that day!
The decision to marry Rajnish came the day Jaya saw her father stealing from her neighbour’s farm. He was caught and Jaya stood shame faced, apologizing to everyone. On this part, the father had the audacity to blame his daughter for being a spendthrift and wasting away the meagre amount received from his late wife’s farmland.
Her father stood next to her, tears dropping down the cheeks. Affection had overtaken him; the relatives hovered around and placed their shoulders to support a droopy patriarch.
Jaya promised to never look back. The last of her saving was deposited to her younger brother’s account and she spread her wings to leave.
She smiled through the pictures the wedding photographer insisted on taking. She knew this photo album would stay with her for a lifetime, capturing the love of the day.
When she left, she took nothing except that old box with the windchime packed inside layers of old cloth. Her new home would have windchimes, bursting with the sweet sound of chimes through her evenings.
She was oblivious now; she had passed the baton.
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