‘Don’t apply so much pressure. It leads to uneven thickness and uncooked edges’, almost snatching the rolling pin from her hands, Kasturi reduced the stove’s flame. Savitri, the eldest of her brood had turned nine this year and by all standards was ready for marriage. As a mother, she had tried to give her as much freedom as was in her hands but now it was her responsibility to ensure she aced in cooking, cleaning and other household chores.
‘This is how you flatten the dough and gently spread it. A chapati should be round and uniformly cooked, not like these maps you make! If they are too thin, they’ll be difficult to chew and if they stay thick, they’ll not cook properly. Then don’t come back crying about your in-laws taunt you or all of us for not giving you the right values.’
Savitri looked on half-heartedly,’ Why round Amma? Why does it have to be of any shape when we eat them in pieces?’ Her mild protest didn’t amount to much for neither did she expect an answer and nor did she get one.
‘Why can’t you simply do what I ask you to? It’s not seemingly for girls to ask so many questions. Your over-smart teacher must be teaching you all these things but let me tell you education ruins girls! Enough of school and enough of loitering around! You are a big girl now and Baba has already looked for a match for you. The family is of our community and live in a nearby village. How will have to take care of the whole family when you can’t even make a decent chapati!! Are you even listening?’
Savitri wasn’t paying attention to what her mother said, she just wanted to get done with the chapattis and go play pittu garam. Looking at the tiny shadow of the hand-pump she thought to herself, ‘It must be around noon, the quicker I finish, more time I’ll get to play.’ With most of her childhood friends married off, she found new play-friends in children who made an after-school pit-stop in the adjacent playground on their way home. With her unmatched strategies and an impeccable aim, she was the star player! Everybody wanted her on their team.
‘Amma, I’ve wrapped the hot chapattis in muslin cloth and kept them in the cane basket, Can I go now?’, wiping her hands against her flowery frock, she waited for a nod in a ready-to go position.
‘Go? Go where? Look at you Savitri, firstly, wear something more appropriate like salwar-kameez! Such brazen display of legs is not befitting for a young lady! And when was it the last time when you oiled your hair? Uff! Get some now, quickly! And after I am done with you, take lunch for your father in the field. You’ve played enough, now help your Amma run the house.’
‘But Amma, I’ve washed all utensils and kept them in Sun to dry, cleaned the kitchen and also filled the buckets with fresh water from hand-pump, the sand should settle till everyone is back. Why can’t I go to play? All my friends will be gone by the time I come back from the fields. And it’s so hot! Why can’t I go out in my frock?’, Savitri hadn’t anticipated a negative response, after all she had finished all the work. Looking at Kasturi sitting cross-legged on the charpoy, flapping the peacock-feather hand fan with dupatta nestled in her lap, she thought to herself, I should have just sneaked away, it’s a No whenever I ask for permission.
‘Besides, it’s too hot outside, you’ll fall sick. Now, don’t keep standing here, get the oil and cover your hair.’
Each time Kasturi reprimanded her daughter, she knew she was pushing her daughter away. But that was the price to be paid. She wanted to run behind her, hold her tight and apologize for snatching away her childhood but she knew she didn’t have that liberty either. It was one of the most important life-lessons for Savitri, she would be married soon and needed to know that her life was never really for her to live. That she will have to mould herself according to the will of others.
Savitri ran into familiar comfort of the store room, only place in the house where she found solace. Twirling a curly lock of hair around her finger, she looked at it against the stray rays of light coming through the ventilator. No one has such magical hair in the whole village, short when dry and long when wet, why should I hide them? I will not let these sanctions reach my hair, they will bathe in rain, dance in breeze and live freely; just as I did. Remembering the time when her Amma ran behind her so she ate a meal, made her favourite kheer, displayed an obvious bias towards her and stayed awake all night to fan her so she could sleep, a tear rolled down her cheek. Why won’t she tell me what mistake I made for which she punishes me so? I always came first in class, yet Amma-Baba got my name struck off from school! I try to do whatever she tells me to, never back-answer intentionally and always try to look after all my brothers , then why do they get to go to school and play in fields and not me?
‘Savitri…! Did you not hear me the first time? Take lunch for Baba, he must be hungry..hurry up!’, Kasturi was not alien to what her daughter felt. She was pushing her away deliberately, Savitri has to be strong, she’ll have to be prepared for an unknown future. Learn to kill desires and hope and fulfill duties and responsibilities.
But she was just a child after all. I have to be strong, Kasturi said aloud when Savitri walked in with innocent questioning doe-eyes that always made her heart melt. She came in wearing salwar-kameez and stood next to her with an open cloth bag, maintaining a defiant stance quietly, her moist cheek giving her away.
‘Here, take this’, handing over the lunch, Kasturi quickly turned back, pulled a tin from the over-head cabinet and handed over a two-rupee coin.
’Eat some doodh-jalebi if you want, from the sweet shop, but don’t brag about it in front of your father! Ok?’ Because Kasturi refrained from making any eye contact and turned towards the shelf almost immediately, she missed the priceless gleam that lit up her daughter’s eyes. Savitri didn’t care to let her complete as she hugged her tight and smiled, ’thank you Amma, you’re the best.’
She had smiled for the first time in days… Kasturi saw her childhood trotting away.
P.S: Picture Credits: Google