The littlest one of us all was coming home to spend her summer break with Mom. (We were three sisters, till Mom adopted our oldest sister and made her part of our hearts and hearth.) So the two of us booked our tickets as well, albeit in by different modes of transport, and landed up on Mom’s doorstep, like the proverbial homing pigeons.
Being home is like being thrown into the midst of the Kumbh Mela, for Mom’s doors are always open, literally and metaphorically. We had grown up with the notion that we would have to share her with the world, and its denizens. Hence, it does not faze us when we come down in the morning, a trifle bleary-eyed, and find an old student and his parents sitting in the drawing room at seven thirty in the morning. Before our first cup of tea is downed, the dining table is often all full, with a friendly barrage of dosas flying their way across onto people’s plates, replete with coconut chutney, three varieties of gunpowder and as many cups of coffee that can be made with the day’s quota of milk. (It is after this that our garrulous maid runs around in circles pulling her hair, trying to procure more packets of milk. After all, the day has just begun!”
The doorbell is pretty worn out with the number of times it is rung in a day. However, after the first fifty times, the three of us are all set to go to our respective husbands’ homes. Yes, we have all married boys whose families have settled down in our home town, and so, off we go with plastic covers, filled with the miscellaneous chores which need to be slipped in as well. These include trips to Bobby Tailors every single time for no one stitches clothes at the drop of a hat like he does, a sojourn to one of the bakeries/ grocery shops/ supermarkets around, a visit to Mom’s school which has been growing by leaps and bounds every year. (Just like the three of us, I suppose!) For every time we make an appearance, we have folks popping out from behind bushes just to remark in loud, honeyed tones, “You have put on weight, haven’t you?/ You look so healthy now!/ Always chubby, now chubbier?”
Visits to the houses of friends and relatives are always, I repeat, always done in the eleventh hour. For example, this time, my husband and I had exactly four days, and on day three, there I was, spinning about like a top, trying to fit in as many as I could.
However, over the decades, the number of visits has dropped drastically, firstly because many loved souls have gone to their heavenly abode, and secondly, because we have grown older, if not exactly wiser, and find not that many people older than us. I still recall a time when I was just married, and Mom took us for a round of visits to people who are not even on our visiting lists today. At one place, the lady of the house clasped my hand with fervour, saying how delighted she was to see me married. Then she promptly went and brought out three steaming cups... of Bournvita! If there are two things I detest, they are milk mixtures of any sort, and Roohafza. To cut a long story short, by the time we came back from all those visits, our insides were sloshing with generous quantities of both.
Coming back to the present day, the days fill themselves up as though they have forty-eight hours to spare, instead of the usual twenty-four. By evening, we are back home. Mom is engrossed in her daily soaps, my husband buries himself in his laptop, our nieces, big and little do their own things. And then, we let our hair down, rush upstairs and plonk ourselves on the bed, wanting to talk, laugh, recollect the past, gossip and just be together. These are the moments that we cherish, when past antics roll in, hand in hand, with the present; when we search for the names of friends, acquaintances and ‘frenemies’ and give them a good rub-down in our minds. In between, we all look at pictures and videos of my little granddaughter. We discuss a million topics under the sun, jumping from one to the other with alacrity.
Often, a person listening on has no idea of how seamlessly we dive from one topic to another. Around ten calls come from downstairs for dinner and we troop downstairs, to eat and make merry.
The dining table has always had a special place in our hearts. When our beloved Parvathy Amma was alive, she would magically rustle up delicious meals in a jiffy. We never knew how she did everything. Today, we have three maids to do what she did single-handedly, and in this one case at least, three heads are not better than one. For all three have a habit of poking their three noses into one another’s affairs, and often, there is a no-man’s land of household chores that get missed out on the way.
Tradition had it that the entire family dined together. Often, our uncles and aunts would come over, with our cousins. Our grandparents would sit at the table and all the adults would follow suit. The children would follow a hierarchy of seating... the oldest ones would be allowed to sit with the adults, while the younger ones would sit on the staircase, with their plates on their knees. That tradition continues still.
Getting back to the present, after the usual courses of dinner, followed by delicious mangoes, cake and ice cream, provided by kindly friends who know we are around, we get back to our nattering. This time, Mom also joins us, and regales us with her quota of the day’s events and the number of ‘interesting/ eccentric’ folks who have brightened her day. We sit around her as she slowly drifts off to sleep, and then continue our conversation in whispers.
One night, we sit downstairs and talk till three in the morning, after the whole household has dozed off. At three, just as we are about to call it a night, down comes Mom, rubbing her eyes. She sits down to remonstrate with us, but gets caught up in the excitement. Finally when we decide to break off, it is five in the morning. Luckily, the next day is a Sunday.
The break comes to an end all too soon. It is time for me to leave, and I do so with the mock-warning, “Don’t have fun without me!” In two days, our middle sister will also leave. But these are some of the wonderful moments that get crystallized in our hearts; the hearty guffaws, the punny ‘jokelies’ that hit rock bottom, the little gossip sessions that hurt no one, the serious discussions that enrich our minds, giving a piece of our minds to the errant maids, and the warmth that surrounds us all because of the presence of Mom, who has always been a beacon in our lives. She it is who has kept us together, she it is who has pulled the strings that hold us in tandem, and she it is who has made home a word that draws us back, again and again.