She hadn’t gone into the cottage for weeks except to get it cleaned and aired. She went there every morning, opened the windows to let in some fresh air and dusted her table and Damodar’s, while Ponni cleaned the floor. Then she locked the cottage and returned home. Her golden pen was silent, the sheets of paper on her desk were silent witnesses to her state of inertia. Raji didn’t seem to have anything more to say. She felt empty from inside but it was not the emptiness of despair; it was one that came out of contentment.
She wondered about it, and often felt guilty about feeling content. So much had happened in the span of her lifetime. Barely 40, she had experienced everything. Poverty, grief, exploitation, joy, motherhood, widowhood, success, love, alienation and rejection. She should he grieving for her husband, she should be regretful for having lost Damodar, the only man she had loved, she should even be missing her mother who was away from her for the first time in her life. And yet, she didn’t feel any of that. She just felt an emptiness in herself. There were no more battles she wanted to fight, no more feelings she wanted to feel. She often looked at water and wondered why it worked so hard at being wet. Worked so hard at being itself. Wouldn’t it just be easier to allow each person and being feel it differently? If someone thought water felt fiery, if someone else felt water was actually hard and unyielding, wouldn’t it be easier to let them feel that way? Was it contentment or inertia that came after having fought too hard for too long that made her feel this way? She didn’t even want to dwell on the reasons. She was happy just being.
The central hall in the house was her refuge now. She had done it up. It had new furniture. She had got in deep and comfortable chairs she could lounge in. She had ordered in books she could read. She had chosen books on philosophy, history and even fiction. There were books everywhere she looked. She particularly liked the books she didn’t need to read as a continuum, and could read as individual chapters as she willed. Was that also part of her state of mind? The sudden sense of release and freedom seemed to reflect in her reading as well.
Harihara was a source of comfort in the way he ran the school, the paper with Damodar, and the house itself. There were no claims on her time now. She went to the market with Malar and Padma and bought herself threads of different colours, crochet hooks and pattern books. The house was full of beautifully worked table cloths and all the curtains had hand-made borders stitched on to them. She called weavers home and had them design silk sarees for the girls.
This afternoon too, she was in the central hall. She had just eaten lunch with Damodar and the girls and was working on a length of lace she planned to stitch on to Malar’s new red silk blouse. Deepavali was approaching and she wanted the girls to look their best. The big clock on the wall was ticking away and when it struck two loudly, she looked up startled. Harihara was standing before her and she hadn’t even heard him coming in.
He smiled at her. “My lazy Amma,” he said and sat beside her. She ruffled his hair and asked, “Why do you call me lazy? I’ve been so busy all day. I got the garden cleaned, I milked the cows myself, and even cooked lunch. Didn’t you like the vadais? I made them.”
“I did Amma. I loved them and ate six. But I’m wondering where the mother I knew has disappeared. She seemed to have an opinion on everything. The woman I see today is so different. We are getting letters asking why you have gone silent. I wonder too. Where is that fiery woman?”
“Maybe that woman is dead Hari. Maybe she doesn’t want to come alive again.”
“But the woman I know as my mother, the woman I was born to can never die so easily Amma. The world needs her. Don’t you think?” He held the long strip of lace she had been working on and marveled at it.It was so intricately worked, so gorgeously woven. There was nothing she did in a halfhearted way. His mother was truly remarkable. He hugged her close. “I’m going back to office now. Isn’t it time for your afternoon nap?”
“Yes it is Hari.” She got up and walked into her room. After the door shut behind her, Hari sat in the hall thinking about her. Would he ever understand her completely?
In her room, Raji lay down on her bed and pulled the sheet over herself. The room was cool and dark. The place next to her was empty, never to be filled again. But she felt Mama’s comforting presence, strengthening her, calming her. No, it wasn’t grief. There were no rules to grief. Grief did not come with a framework or a timeline. It could even heal and complete a person. She was feeling whole and content and empty. She was asleep before long. It was a deep peaceful sleep that lasted over two hours. She had her chessboard in her control and would never again let another control it. And for now, she wanted this state of inertia.
To be continued…