The first ring of the alarm goes ignored. The second wakes her up from a deep sleep. A brief look of annoyance crosses her face. She rolls around, and hastily turns it off; breathes in the silence which follows. The room is in darkness, the stillness broken only by her husband’s familiar snores. She senses the smell of a dawn which is yet to break, the quiet which speaks only to her. She takes a full ten minutes for herself, snuggles into thoughts which are just waking up. This semi-consciousness is truly hers, untroubled by those she serves. Her mind is always peaceful at this moment of every day, a moment which she enjoys in spite of the ungodly hour. A deep breath, and she is aware of everything around her. An acute sense of epiphany.
Then it crashes, like always. Reality knocks on the doors of her wistful mind, and she makes her way out with a reluctant tread. The day has begun. In an hour, the household would wake up. She is yet to decide what she would cook, and apprehension greets her when she enters the kitchen. She quickly thinks of the timetable of everyone asleep, reminds herself what her family dislikes. Her mind is made up. Breakfast would have to be something quick, as her husband and son would leave early. Packed lunch would have to be quicker, were they to take food for the afternoon. She chides herself for having woken up later than required. A vague guilt assails her when she remembers her daughter dislikes avalakki. Never mind, she thinks. I’ll do akki rotti tomorrow. She loves that.
After an hour and a half, she hears her son come in and peek into the pan. His soft face is slack from sleep, his big eyes drowsy still. She shoos him into the bathroom and goes to wake her husband. He ignores her prods, and turns away. She sighs & tries again, reminding him of the hour. He sits up, looking at her belligerently. You will be late, she prophesises & rushes back to the kitchen.
After a while, her job is finished. The packed boxes sit neatly in a corner, the surface is gleaming. As is the custom, her mother-in-law comes in, discreetly inspecting the handiwork. And leaves without a comment. She heaves a sigh of relief. It is eight thirty in the morning now. There is a flurry of activity all through the house, there is a person in every corner. She pauses a moment; not to rest her mind, but to tick off her checklist of chores. She sees her daughter frown at the breakfast before eating, sees her son gobbling it down without a thought. Her husband’s mind is on the newspaper open in front of him, he barely notices what goes into his mouth. She looks down at her own plate. She knows she is the only person who cares about it, it is like a child to her. Just a little while before, she had painstakingly cut the leaves into tiny pieces, measured the oil carefully. Had tasted a little of it before switching off the stove, lest that there were no surprises of excess salt. Every morsel of poha knows her touch, the vegetables handpicked by her the day before. There is loud crash somewhere, and she comes out of her reverie. She is amused at herself & smiles.
The days goes on. She goes to work, and transforms into a person her family won’t recognize. She is different here, an alter ego of the person she is at home. Her children would be surprised if they saw her, marvelling at the things their mother could do. All thoughts of the home she left in the morning are buried, almost forgotten. It is just one more role she plays, something which she has been doing since many years. She toils away until it is time to go home. She hurries back, gradually returning to the realm which demands so much of her. She stops at the vegetable vendor, looks at his fare. Yes, she thinks. I’ll grate the carrot. It will add a nice touch to the akki rotti.
That night, before she sleeps, she sets the alarm fifteen minutes early.
The path of her life has followed the dictations of others, but the way she travels is gloriously hers. She is uncomfortable with displays of emotion, is baffled by it. She is unaware of her own greatness, of the love she inspires. She is unaware of her own beauty
We are quiet people, my mother & me. It is not particularly difficult to find families like us, families that rarely speak about the love which binds them. She is a simple soul, like many people of her generation & I take after her reticence. But now, I’ll be a little more content that there is a document of my attempts to understand her; Her, the woman in my life. A chronicle to evidence I noticed her.