Raji’s family was growing. Hari and Ambuja were expecting their second child; Padmacropped-oleanders-e1525883936887 had just delivered a son and Malar, who had married a year ago, had just announced she was going to be a mother.

Raji got busy. There were baby clothes to be stitched. She went to the market and bought the softest fabrics in pale pink, white and cream. The tailor was summoned home and Raji supervised his work with fanatic zeal. Every stitch, every ribbon, and every button had to be just so. He needed a break from her every few days and didn’t turn up for work. On those days, she sat at the machine herself. Sometimes, he had to redo the work she had done, but Raji was the grandmother-in-waiting and nothing could stop her. The house was strewn with pattern books and she crocheted the most delicate laces worked in fine, silken threads and sewed them on to the baby clothes. Some of the clothes had little rosebuds embroidered on them. Her enthusiasm was infectious and soon the girls too learned embroidery from her and the house was buzzing with activity.

Their diets too were important and Chechamma who was bent and old by now was kept busy supervising the new cook who had come in to help her. She had to prepare a special diet for the new mothers and a different diet for the mother-to-be. Harihara felt quite neglected and often grumbled about it. “You don’t care about me anymore,” he said albeit in a good-natured way. Raji comforted him and promised to make his favorite badam milk one day. She called for freshly milked cow’s milk and boiled it to perfection. It had to thicken just enough. Grinding a handful of badams, she gently stirred the paste into the milk and added powdered cardamom and slivers of saffron into it. It was smelling quite delicious, had just the right consistency, and there was just one ingredient remaining. It needed sugar, which had to be added in when the milk cooled down, lest it curdled. At just the right time, she reached for the jar and spooned it in.

Raji was completely satisfied. Hari was going to love the badam milk. It was his favourite drink. After lunch, she poured the milk into tumblers and served them herself to Hari, Ambuja Malar, Padma and their husbands. She kept a tumbler for herself too. They were all sitting in the central hall and chatting. Hari took a sip of the milk and grimaced. It tasted salty. He looked at Raji who was sipping from her tumbler. She too found it odd. She was sure she had put sugar and not salt in it. Then why was it salty? She called for Chechamma. “Chechamma, why is this milk salty?” she asked. Chechamma shuffled awkwardly and mumbled under her breath. “Chechamma will you speak louder? I can’t hear you,” Raji said, still puzzled. “You added salt into the milk instead of sugar,” Chechamma stammered, a little fearful of what Raji would say. “Oh no! Why didn’t you tell me?” Raji asked angrily. Chechamma retorted, a little offended now, “I told you, I even tried to give you the sugar jar. But you asked me to move away. You said you knew what you were doing.”

Hari laughed and teased his mother, “Amma, you’re growing old. You can’t tell the difference between salt and sugar.” He didn’t know how close he was to the truth. Raji had just suffered her first memory lapse. She didn’t even remember the incident in the kitchen. They all laughed it off and she made a fresh batch of badam milk, this time with sugar. An hour later, they drank the fresh milk and the incident was forgotten.

A month later, Raji woke up in the middle of the night and went into the cow-shed to milk the cows. She wondered why the sun was so late in rising that day, little realizing it was still 2 am. After 10 minutes or so, she looked around, puzzled why she was in the cow-shed so late at night. She hurried back into the house and went to bed again. The family didn’t know about the incident because she remembered nothing of it the next day.

It was a year before she had her next memory lapse and this time, the entire family knew about it. She bathed three times on the same day, insisting she hadn’t bathed. They worried for her. But she seemed so normal otherwise, they did nothing about it.

Life went on. Malar  had delivered a healthy girl. Raji was busy tending to her grandchildren. Small incidents continued. She occasionally had trouble buttoning her blouse, or dressing the babies. She sometimes forgot names and addressed Hari as Mama. But otherwise, she was her usual sharp self. The doctor examined her and found her healthy. “You need to relax,” he told her.

She came unhinged the day Damodar died. News came to them early one day. They all went to be with Radha. They returned home after the funeral and Raji didn’t come out of her room all of the next day. When she did emerge, She was dressed in white. Hari rushed to her and held her. She looked so stricken. “Amma what happened?” he asked with alarm in his voice. “My husband is dead, and you ask what has happened?” She was livid with rage. Ambuja held her and took her into her room. She sat with Raji for over an hour till she calmed down. The next morning she was normal, as if nothing had happened.

Ambuja, who was now privy to her diary knew exactly what had happened to Raji that day.

Bharathi Ghanashyam

To be continued…




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