Monsoon Minds

A Rural Desire

Sugadamma was a dark, frail looking woman with an absorbing grandmother’s face; set to grin each time she met one. Most of the time, one would see her in her portico hurling irrelevant questions at the passers-by. She passed a comment or two on every issue that she happened to hear. She cared for everyone in and around the house.

 

She was the next-door neighbour in my hometown. Whenever I came home, she would be one among the firsts to visit me. On such occasions, she would ask me dozens of questions about my life in the city, without pausing. Young ones around would mutter against her silly questions. But, to me, it gave respite from the routine chores. Every time she asked me a question or two, I tried to fathom each one.

 

Her presence was felt by the typical fragrance of the traditional hair oil that she regularly applied. Even now, at the slightest thought of her, I feel the intoxicating aroma around me. It was the scent of the typical south Indian grandmother. She used every chance to remind me that I had grown up in her lap and that she always considered me as her own son.

 

She was illiterate as most Indian village women of her age were, and therefore would not read. However, when in the village, during mornings, I had seen her keenly looking into the day’s newspaper without fail.

 

I didn’t feel like asking her what she was looking at so eagerly, since I too used to glance through the weeks-old vernacular dailies found scattered at the local barbershop without the reading knowledge of the language.

 

However, my keenness helped me find the reason as to why she was scanning the newspaper every morning without fail. It was the ‘obituary’ column that she was looking at! She was not reading. She was just looking at those photos printed.

 

She looked at each photo printed for a long time without blinking. Then she would raise her head, think for a while and then shake her head to mean something that I never understood. However, I fabricated my own interpretations of her behaviour.

 

During my last visit, Sugadamma didn’t call on me. But the next morning, I spotted her at her veranda. She smiled exposing her stained teeth. Whenever she opened her mouth, a whiff of betel chewed with areca nut spread around.

 

I noticed that Sugadamma had reduced in size and looked like she was suffering from old age. I went and sat by her side. She looked weak. When she talked, she lacked continuity. She suffered from loss of memory too.

 

She talked to me for a long time without a break, as if there was no tomorrow. She said, “I will go fully satisfied. What do I not have? See my children. See my grandchildren. None of them has any problem. So what if Manju has married a girl from a different caste? She is a nice girl.” Manju was her grandson working in a software company in the city.

 

I had not initiated any talk with her. She said all that probably because she was filled with happiness and satisfaction of fulfilling her small and family-centred desires. Perhaps she knew that her Sun would soon set. Even this time, I saw the day’s newspaper beside her thin and shrunken legs. Along with the paper was a small photo of hers. In a fraction of a second, I came to know of her innocent desire. I snatched the photo from her. Her shrunken eyes sparkled. And being caught, she looked embarrassed. I comforted her and said, “I will keep it.”

 

The following Monday, I returned from home. While leaving in the wee hours, my mother asked me to get Sugadamma’s blessings. “Who knows, she might be there the next time you return,” mother said in a low voice.

 

I went to her house, and knocked at the half-open door. I saw Sugadamma settled in the corner of the passage, chanting some devotional verse. I walked to her and touched her feet. She put her cold palm over my forehead. Her face was not clearly visible, as the day was yet to bloom. Tears welled up my eyes, making me nearly blind.

 

Since then, I experienced a sort of strange intimacy for Sugadamma. I felt the warmth of her lap where I grew up. After returning from home, during the last week, there was not a single day when I did not think of Sugadamma. I often took out her photo and looked at it for long. I had a strange urge to see her photo printed under the ‘obituary’ column to fulfil her inner desire.

 

I looked around in the office. Everyone seemed to be engrossed in their work. There was pin drop silence. I took out her photo from the purse and placed it in the middle of a white paper. Below the photo, I wrote ‘Shraddhanjali.’ The urge to see it printed amplified.

 

The unusual calm continued to prevail in the office. Only the rattling sound of fingers touching the computer keyboards was constantly heard; heard as if from a large deserted well.

 

It echoed and grew to a high decibel, and finally hit my ear drum.

 

A strange fear clouded my head. I tried to call out loudly. Yet, I couldn’t raise my voice. Nothing moved. There was a block to everything around. A total standstill!

 

Through the window pane, I could see the sun slowly dipping down the faraway greens. The city started fading.

 

Suddenly, the phone in my pocket rang. I was frightened, as it rang like a death-knell. My mother spoke to me briefly. I listened to her, looking out through the window. Behind the greens, the sun had already disappeared. And far away, in my village, the lap where I had grown up, I was ready on the pyre to be engulfed by the flames of life’s truths.

 

I felt greatly relieved. The office swung back into life. Everything started moving. I could now raise my voice. I looked at the photo on my table and felt that the photo had life in it. I took it and headed towards the press office at the end of Queens Road.



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