Many Shades of Love

10 pm.

Once again Padma searched for Salman on the Facebook. Although it was for the nth time, he could not be found. She then looked out of her window which opened facing the terrace beyond. Orange gulmohars in bunches were sizzling atop their tree heads, their leaves as alluring digits swaying in the night breeze. Memories of Salman, a fragment from her past, still tranquilised her in her unsettled thoughts.

9:30 am. The next morning.

“The teachers are in their seats till 10:30, and we must leave the house by 10:00.” Padma repeated from the kitchen. She had left the bed at 5:30 am. arranged the deranged household of the previous night. Sandals on the racks, scattered newspapers to its stack, salt-pepper to its stand, dining mats folded, and table- top mopped.

Armaan, her husband had woken up at 9:00 and stayed in bed with the teacup. Padma’s words were meaningless to him. He was a man. Thus, the king; so he believed.

By the time children finished breakfast, the needles pointed 10:15.  Their father remained the same sight. Deaf, dumb, expressionless, deep into the contents of his laptop.

Padma felt stress grabbing her. “I don’t think we are attending school PTM”. Gulping down cool milk, she told the kids she was down for some rest.

At 11:00, she got up from her nap. The household was too silent for two kids. She made a mental note that no one was around and dialled up.

Armaan was in school with the kids! She had been left behind in the house.

“No Facebook, SMSs or even mobiles in those times. The price my generation has paid. Salman’s lost.” Padma nursed her craving for love, once again returning to the search engines of the Facebook.

“Would you confess your attachment to him if he comes today?” an intrepid voice suggested out of nowhere!

Padma flung back, startled. “Who’s that?” she was on her toes. 

“Ha ha ha! Padma! Look into your mobile. I am your app. Confidant! BARAKIEL. Don’t you remember downloading me yesterday?”  

“BARAKIEL!”  Padma’s eyes widened. She hadn’t imagined this app, to be smarter than Elisa! reading her thoughts, scanning right though her heart!

“Yes friend!” Barakiel’s thin voice was heard out of air.

“I need peace Barakiel! I want to be alone.” Padma dictated.

“But you are not alone. You are with Salman in your memories. You have switched yourself too back.”

“I have become a melancholy deluxe servant in the garb of a wife.” Padma jittered. “tired of waiting for Armaan to be responsive. Salman is still comforting, anytime I think of him.”

A red Bougainvillea creeping over the wall was in full bloom. Padma’s musing took her to a different decade.

She had come back from school, and was happy to greet Salman, their former tenant at the gate. “You have come from office early today?” she twittered.

“Yes! Saturdays are half-days for us.” Salman replied, his eyes shining through his glasses.

“Oh!” Padma smiled and moved inside.

“Why does this boy continue to come here? don’t entertain him.” A visibly irritated ‘appa’ instructed ‘amma’ leaving the room through the back door.

Amma reciprocated Salman’s greetings and ushered him into the drawing room. She offered him a glass of water, and then remained vanished. Padma watched Salman sitting alone in the drawing room, delving into the newspaper.

Appa and amma strolled in the backyard. ”why does this boy still come here?”  He was complaining to ‘ma’ again.

What are you waiting for Salman? Why don’t you go? Padma stifled inside.

An hour passed. To Padma, the air felt leaden. She then tied her hair beautifully, and strung in a string of white jasmine, before she appeared before him. 

“Hello!” her eyes were happy to see him but eloquently sad too, at his insult.

“Oh! hello!”  Salman flung down the newspaper. “how are you” his doleful face glowed as if the mission he came for was accomplished.

Padma went back inside, and Salman left as alone as he had come.

Did he want all that long only to see me?

 “So, what did you two really talk in privacy?” Barakiel prodded.

Padma shook her head in denial.

“Did you? ever alone?” Barakiel was egging out Padma’s story.

“No!” Padma shook her head again, and restlessly continued- “but our smiles talked, and eyes messaged. Our hearts beat together. The beats are so soothing and are fresh with me even today.” Padma was oscillating back then and forth now.

“Padma just think when you never talked, how do you know he even loved you?” 

“We never got that chance. Did he not wait all that long only to see me?”

“Yes, he really adored you Padma!” Barakiel was also touched. “and why not? You are so nice! Why did your father not like him?”

Padma’s large eyes were traversing those much frequented memory lanes “the time and my age were not compatible. I was still going to school, harboured great dreams and promises, while he had achieved all a bachelor is eligible for. A respectable job, good house and tall, fair, healthy, and handsome appearance.”   

“Does Armaan not love you?”  Barakiel’ s voice echoed her reality. 

“Armaan is held up with his reticence. Also, there are two more women, and he has loved them longer than he has known me. They maintain the advantage of understanding him more than me”.

“Two more women? Who?”  Barakiel asked in disbelief.

“His mother and his sister.”  Padma’s breath was still.

“And don’t they like you?” 

“My relationship with them is dysfunctional. I am their scapegoat, an object to entertain themselves to splits and gossip around when my husband ignores me. They perpetually overwhelm me”. Padma stood helpless, disoriented, disarrayed, seeking comfort, like a baby.

“Then what about Salman? Was he not a doting brother and darling of the mother?”

“Right! and those two women too pampered him, rather more. Padma smiled scornfully”.

“Ha! Ha ha ha!” Barakiel laughed.

“Why are you laughing? Please stop Barakiel. Are you not my friend?”

 “Sometimes life plays with us Padma! The secret is to be true to the game and enjoy life.”

“Please be clear. Armaan is already a big puzzle I’m handling.” Padma was becoming grumpy.

“Padma according to my algorithm, I see the same life for you. Be it Armaan or Salman. You are blessed with a bright mind and education girl! It is in your power. You make things as simple or as complex as you think through them”

The hills from her window looked supportive and the beautiful city smiled in their lap.

“Yes, I see I see. I can see.”

“Wow! some mischief is playing with your eyeballs”.

“I need not be miserable. Let the ladies enjoy Armaan. They are only serving me keeping me free off the kitchen as they stuff his belly, and ward off other dames ogling at him from outside.”

Padma’s imagery flustered Barakiel.

“Padma concentrate not on the ladies. It’s your life that has to be made beautiful”. Barakiel was imploring Padma.

“Your life still remains gift wrapped inside a pink cellophane” I trust your talents more than you trust yourself. 

“What?” Padma felt buoyant in a long time. The good words were doing their magic.

“Yes. I am a piece of algorithm doing my duty. The world needs half of its population, its women to stoke up their spirits. Spend time being healthy, happy, thinking upon societal issues, solving the problems of the world…Can’t you?”

Far from feeling capable, Padma felt embarrassed. The idea seems satirical. 

“I am serious. It’s not absurd. Success comes from hard work, helping and taking help from others, and use your basic rights to be independent and secure in your own skin. When you love yourself, people accept you as you are. Your birth is not a fraud. The universe is grateful to you, that you took birth. Go, and claim your part of the sky….”

Yonder an assortment of sounds was floating in. Somewhere a ‘neta’ was  giving a speech, a ‘pundit’ chanting in the neighborhood temple, the vegetable seller calling out his prices. A breeze blew inside, flinging Padma’s loose hair.

Padma  quickly tapped some more buttons, and out flashed  a walk-in opportunity. 23rd April. “TODAY”! Money, post, independence, security, respect ….all waiting to be hers soon.

Barakiel- “These are the seeds; you can turn them into fruits.”

In a frenzy she zipped up all the vital documents. Grabbing the mobile and riding her spectacles she was soon off.

* * *

Padma felt shaky, as she stepped into the gates of ‘Mission Public School’. She signed the visitor’s register and was shown into the waiting lounge. Since long, her mobile on the vibrating mode had beeped ten missed calls. Armaan had come home. He was hungry and tired, and the confused kids had found no clothes to change into from their school uniforms. The guilt was bringing  down her strength.

“Padma Ma’am?” a bespectacled plump matron, came asking for her. The lady’s reference to her lit up something inside Padma. 

“Yes, I am Padma.” 

“Please come with me”

Walking through the long corridors, Padma felt herself like a jigsaw piece sensing where in this domain would she fit exactly. The matron continued to brief up the day’s routine, and her responsibilities to be undertaken.

I should at least say something back home. Arman’s B.P….Oh! what will happen to the kids if something happens to Armaan? The thought made Padma cringe.

“I am the mother to all of them. I need you Padma ma’am, to be my substitute in my absence during the day. Your main job requires you to take care of students’ assignments, exams, tests et al.” the matron’s voice kicked her out of her house of thoughts.

“I shall pitch in my best madam.”

“You take care of these children in my absence, and God will take care of yours.” Suddenly Miss Sunita’s big pimples, her ordinary georgette saree and unmissable bushy brows seemed to be technically defining her schedule as a matron. She had not time managed. Rather, all her time she had given to the care and education of these children. 

 How I myself struggle with my salon visits with my two kids! Padma reflected.

She was shown into a room. A simple, airy, pleasant space to call her own during the recesses of the day.

Padma imagined her days to follow. Difficult…but acceptable, and she glowed with inner strength. 

* * *

The markets were bustling, and shops spread out. Strings of colorful floral buds, lace patterns in red, gold, pink, silver and all time white defined the entrances. Counters were resplendent with trinkets, lunchboxes, water bottles, in myriad colors to attract in a glance. Transparent jars held dry fruits and chocolates. Smiling faces of her own children, wafted before Padma’s eyes. Their smiling eyes would now be searching and waiting for their mother. Her heart missed a beat. She would not let Hari and Shelly suffer. She would talk to them, and not let them miss her.

“I should call home now” the sharp mental nudge prompted Padma as she checked into her phone. Five new messages lay in the inbox. 

‘‘Mummy Mummy, the biscuits are finished. Bring biscuits with you. Don’t bring ‘ GOOD DAY’. Bring ‘OREO’…. Shelly.” 

These small lines that her little one must have taken a lot of efforts to type, had the power to bring down crashing her resolve to find herself. She called up home.

“Mummy! Where are you and can you not hear your mobile phone ringing? We are all back home since long, and you are I don’t know where and doing what?” Hari complained in one breath. Armaan was probably too angry to take the call…. Nothing new.

“Beta you all eat something, and I am reaching home soon.”

 All the layers of stress she felt coming off. The woman in her in no time, turns into an adoring mother choking at the thought of missing her children. But now, it was time they saw in her a strong woman and be proud of her.

Padma did not waste a tear. She closed her eyes and thought of God, and Barakiel.

That day when she returned home, she had unwrapped her pink gauzy gift-  a big liberated smile.

* * *

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