A quiet silence surrounded Madhumati as she sat at her dining table, gazing unseeingly at the bottles of achars kept there. A gentle early morning breeze fluttered by as it meandered lazily through the open windows and doors of her house in Laxminagar. Occasionally teasing the ends of the red bandana tied tightly around her head. Bringing with it whiffs of the slowly awakening outside world. The sun had only just begun to tinge the edges of the late monsoon clouds which hovered over the city. Ready to stamp its superiority over them, even as it played an indulgent game of peek a boo with them.
A sudden burst of a motorcycle being revved rent the silence, startling Madhumati. It must be that Mooa Bedi, was the first thought that crossed her mind. She was convinced he’d made it his mission in life to ruin her peace, one way or another. Forever turning up at her doorstep with random requests and offers of assistance. Even going as far as roping in his assistant, Happy Singh, to do the honours when he himself was out and about. All her threats falling on deaf ears, his benign smile never seeming to slip an inch.
All of which had been a source of great mirth for her niece, Khushi, who had spent many an hour chortling away at imagined scenarios of her Buaji and Bediji whizzing around the streets of Delhi on his scooter. Her steeped in Bollywood, khurafati mind had never been short of ideas, and years of marriage had done nothing to change that.
A soft smile made its way to Madhumati’s face as she thought of her niece. She epitomised her name. Spreading happiness wherever she went. Racking her brains, she tried to remember the parody Khushi used to keep teasing her with… Ah, yes!
Wah, wah Ramji
Jodi kya banayi
Buaji aur Bediji ko
Badhai hai Badhai
Not to mention chirping to that blushing idiot each time she saw him near the house,
Mere saamne wali khidki mein
Ek chand ka tukda rehta hai
Afsos ye hai ki woh Bediji se
Kuch ukhda ukhda rehta hai
When she well knew ki main ukhad na loon uss Bedi mooe ko if he steps out of line! None of my remonstrations ever had any effect on her though. Sanka devi that she was. Is, even now. As irrepressible as ever.
Madhumati remembered how the younger Khushi used to flit about the haveli in Lucknow chattering away non-stop with the quiet Payal in tow. Forever planning new pranks and giggling away wickedly. One of her favourite ones used to be to steal her parandis (plaits) and use them as reins of imaginary horses. Neighing and going clippity clop around the house as she swung them wildly. Sometimes she used to cut them up and plait her doll’s hair with them. Hiding behind her father when her mother tried to whack her. And her indulgent father always took her side, pacifying his sister with, “Jiji, bachhi hai, let her play. I’ll bring you more tomorrow.”
At that, Khushi used to sidle up to Madhumati and give her a bear hug from behind.
Acchi Buaji, Pyaari Buaji
Rusa Rusi chhod de
Jaldi se ek hansi de de
Tu gussa gussi chhod de
Eliciting a reluctant smile from the adults around her. It had been impossible to stay cross with her for any length of time.
Khushi often reminded Madhumati of her own younger self. Maybe that’s why she had been stricter with her growing up. Her innocence, her selflessness often scared Madhumati. Life is not all roses and jalebis, and who knew that better than her. After her husband’s untimely death, everything had changed in a heartbeat. He had been a quiet man who had adored his larger than life wife. The quiet sparrow to her preening macaw. Content to spend evenings out on their verandah listening to old songs on his transistor radio, with half an ear on his wife’s ramblings.
He had been her rock solid shield against the taunts of their family about her childlessness. Initially they used to affect her, but as time wore on she became inured to them. Especially after her husband had insisted on moving out of the family home to their own small rented place in Laxminagar. It was he who had encouraged her to start her chikan kari sari business, to channel her free time usefully. Teaching her how to manage her finances, “Life doesn’t come with guarantees, Madhu”, he used to say when she complained that that was his department. They had been happy together in their own little world. Until it all came to an end with his sudden demise. Shashi babua had been a pillar of support, had wanted her to come live with them in Lucknow. But, Madhumati had refused, not wanting to be a burden on anyone. Her self respect hadn’t allowed her to do that. She had somehow made ends meet with the moral support of empathetic neighbours, and the understanding landlord, Shukla.
When, years later, Shashi babua had sent Payal and Khushi to stay with her in Delhi, her house had once again felt alive, despite the circumstances under which they had to come. The two girls had eased into her home so easily, filling it with sound and colour and activity.
But, it had also brought into her life Shyam. Shyam Manohar Jha. The lying, cheating, scoundrel. Madhumati’s thoughts faltered as memories of the past flooded in. How easily had that man ingratiated himself into their life and made a gullible fool of her. With his constant, “Buaji, let me make you some tea… buaji, let me look at your pension case for you… buaji, I have no one here and your home feels like a home away from home… buaji… buaji.” And she had basked in his phony flattery and concern. Lapping it up unquestioningly.
Not a day went by when she didn’t thank Devi Maiya for pulling her family back from the brink of devastation. She shuddered thinking about what could have happened, and of her own part in nearly ruining her niece’s life. How could she ever begin to forgive herself for that. Not that Khushi had ever by word or gesture made her feel guilty. It was her own conscience that clawed away at her.
And just like that the melancholia dissipated. Flooding the house with sunshine once again. Khushi bounded inside the house and hugged Madhumati tightly from behind.
“How are you Buaji? What thoughts were you lost in? Why have you left the door open? And you used to complain about me being forgetful! Hmph!”
“Let me breathe and you take a deep breath as well!” A delighted Madhumati heaved her ample self up from the table to turn around in her niece’s embrace.
“Where is my aloo puri? And my jalebis? You’ve forgotten what today is, haven’t you?” A miffed Khushi pouted looking at the dining table.
“You think I could ever forget this special day, parmeshwari?! Janamdin mubarak ho bitiya. Hamesha khush raho.” She kissed her niece’s forehead tenderly, framing her face in her hands.
“Your aloo puri and jalebis are waiting for you in the kitchen. Hamesha ki tarah. Don’t forget to offer them to Devi Maiya first.” she shouted to Khushi’s back, shaking her head at her eagerness. No one looking at her would guess she was a mother of three children. But, for Madhumati, she would always be that child who would rush to hug her on her visits to Lucknow, despite getting scolded for her naughtiness. As loving and large hearted as ever.
Moments later an adorable 8 yr old boy, Ishaan, rushed in. Followed by his harried father shepherding in five year old twins. A boy and a girl, Aryan and Ariya, who were a charming replica of their father.
“Where’s Amma?” the children chorused, looking around curiously.
“In the kitchen, I’m guessing.” their father replied wryly as he bent to take Madhumati’s blessings.
“Jeeyat raho, babua.” Madhumati stroked his head lovingly. Arnav was the apple of her eye. Her favourite of all the Raizadas. She still recalled how he had stunned her by asking her to tie the raksha dhaga to him on his engagement. When he does something, he does it wholeheartedly. She admired how his young shoulders carried his responsibilities effortlessly and without any fanfare. Quietly making the Guptas part of his own family. Above all, she loved the love he had for her Khushi. As she had once said, “He too was a sanki, and just what her maha sanka devi needed!”
He understood what Khushi meant to her Buaji and made sure that each year her birthday celebrations started here in Laxminagar. With Buaji’s aashirwaad. Arnav and Khushi had made sure that the children were well acquainted with their Nani bua. Bringing them over at least once a week to spend time with her. Giving her the most precious commodity of all. Time and love.
As Madhumati bustled about setting the table for breakfast, Ishaan kept up a steady chatter as he rushed around after her. Regaling her with blow by blow details of his many three pointers in the previous day’s basketball game, before going on to update her on his latest level reached in his favourite Fortnite, and the new game his father had bought him, some K something. Her incomprehension no bar to either of them.
The twins were busy helping their Amma carry the food from the kitchen to the dining table. Keeping up a constant flow of questions as their young minds jumped from one topic to another. Wanting to know from their Nani bua about all the goings on in the neighbourhood since their last visit. Aryan sneaking in two jalebi from the platter for his sister and him, much to Madhumati’s amusement. Haye re Nandkishore! Like mother, like children!
As Madhumati looked around her full table, her heart felt full to bursting with overwhelming love. Families don’t always have to be borne of you to be yours.
Madhumati’s character has been an interesting one. She tended to rush headlong into situations with her heart leading the way. Shades of Khushi I felt. Her larger than life persona was fierce in the protection of her loved ones. I loved the bond of mutual respect she shared with Arnav. So, I thought I’d try and look into her life a little.
I wrote this OS as a birthday present for my dear friend, Jignasha. Do join me in wishing her on her special day.
My dear Jignasha,
You are so much more than a friend for me. You are family. Our Arnav said it best with his wish for Khushi, “I wish ki tumko duniya ki saari khushiyan milein.” And my wish for you is just as heartfelt <3, though sadly not in his uber sexy, husky voice 😉 May all your wishes and dreams always come true. May you live life to its fullest, in all its myriad hues, with each hue imbued with joy and laughter and the love of your near and dear ones.