Friday, March 04, 2005


Amma's hands trembled inconveniently as she placed her stitches one after the other. Her head shook with the tell-tale symptom of Parkinson's as she sat on the rickety chair in the veranda and peacefully rocked to the rhythm of her sewing. The needle danced with its loyal tail sporting different colours that matched her mood: yellow, blue and white for the flowers, three shades of green for the leaves, and a sprinkling of sequins here and there for show. She must finish the embroidery on that new kurta, or Anju would be disappointed, she worried. Sewing wasn't easy in her condition: the needle often pricked the wrong spot, even pricked her fingers, but she was determined.

Sometimes, other days, she would think that she was hearing Anju's voice, sweetly dancing between the trees that bounded the courtyard or rambling up the avenue that led up to the house. But she knew she must have been imagining it, because Anju would be teaching at school at that time of the day, and because she couldn't be sure of anything at her age. Even when she walked through the market, she thought she heard people whispering about her, calling her 'mad', but she didn't believe her ears. Now, she began working on a yellow buttercup.

Suddenly amma started. Three young men stood by the opening of the courtyard, near the well, gesturing hatefully. They were moving now as if to catch something that amma couldn't see. She was more agitated about them trespassing on her property. She bellowed, "Go away! Don't create a ruckus here; this is not your courtyard." And they left, almost vanished, so much so that amma couldn't really tell if they had been there in the first place! She paused and wondered if her mind was playing tricks on her. It was irritating. After a while she went back to her threads. She completed the yellow flower and then picked a peacock-blue thread.

As she concentrated intently on passing the thread through the needle, she wished that Anju was there to help her. But she immediately reproached herself for being so dependent on the girl. She especially detested the fact that she had made Anju go to Chandramohan to claim the dues he owed her. Chandramohan wasn't a nice man, thought amma. Quickly she even placed the three men who had just appeared in her courtyard: his sons. Well, if they were trying to frighten her, they hadn't succeeded, thought amma satisfactorily. With this swing in her mood, she decided to mix some white into the blue flowers to get a shaded effect.

Amma worked without a break all through the afternoon. When she looked up, her eyes were tired. Twilight was just an hour away. However, there remained only a couple of flowers and leaves and she thought she had better finish it that day itself. Her hands shook feverishly to meet the deadline she had set for herself and her shaky fingers moved jerkily along the stitches.

She had almost done with the last sequin, when she heard Anju's laughter rambling up the avenue that led to the house. All awash with excitement at showing off her latest handiwork, amma put in the last stitches quite hastily. In no time she heard Anju's voice sweetly dancing between the trees that bounded the courtyard: bubbly, girlish and yet with a streak of distinctiveness. Her voice filled the courtyard and even the veranda. Amma's skin abruptly sprouted goose bumps as the pitch ascended. Now it was a laugh. Now it was a shriek. Shrill cries echoed all around amma. Tears welled up in her eyes as she uselessly tried to explain what was going on. Then she saw the three men, Chandramohan's sons, in the same place again. One of them leaned forward and pulled a dupatta from the air. Amma's heart ran wildly as she recognized it. The dupatta dashed out of their hands and they chased it, shouting abuses, and hurling indecencies. Anju's shrieks turned into shrill wails and amma was shocked as she saw one of the men readjusting his pyjamas. She dropped her embroidery and weakly flailed her arms that were groping for any kind of weapon but she was too slow. The men were laughing now and the leaves around them rustled turbulently as if disturbed by the footsteps of someone running. A splash echoed in the pit of the well following a final blood-curdling scream. After that all was silent. The entire courtyard was as calm as before, the men had disappeared, and Anju's voice had died down.

Amma's head shook with Parkinson's, with shock, with pain and grief, and even disbelief. She was not sure that what she had seen and heard was real. She thought her mind was playing games again. It was unwise to think of such horrible misfortune, she rebuked herself. How could she let herself have such thoughts! She picked the newly-embroidered kurta, folded it and slowly hobbled to the teak almirah. Opening it, she pressed down this kurta on the top of the others that she had embroidered too. "Tomorrow I will do this green one with a black design. Anju will like that", she told herself.


Blogger retisaint said...

Nifty. Very nifty. :)

PS: A bit of friendly advice, if I may: if you use Microsnot Word to write stuff, and then copy it into Blogger, it can do some unpleasant things to the formatting. Try using a pure text editor, instead.

10:41 PM, March 05, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very nice S.

6:19 PM, March 14, 2005  

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