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There are days which bring one joy, and those somber days when nothing seem to cheer one up. Even the piercing sunlight bouncing off a rose petal looks like blood oozing out of wounded plant. With advancing age the cheerful days seem to appear too few and far in between. Kuchalambal could not put any reason to it, but kept her in tenterhooks all the same. Like drops of dark venom dripping down on a glass of clear water, morbid thoughts would ink her heart violet on days such as these. Doctors would call it depression; poets may have a different description for it, but for the soul, sifting through moods of grey and black, its feels like riding upon waves beyond control on a moonless night.

The week after Holi had always had this effect on her. She had lost Pattabi in the weeks following Holi. The events in their daughters life, had left an abscess in Pattabi’s heart, and festered there unnoticed for too long, to finally claim his life, a bit prematurely at an age of sixty two.

Memories now had started playing tricks on her, some hitting her unexpectedly making her pause in agony, and some making her smile and lose herself into its realm. Tomorrow will be Lalita’s death anniversary too. Kuchalambal was in a delirium now. She saw her child crawling towards her with arms outstretched, wanting to hold on to her forever, she gasped, with perspiration lining her wrinkled eyebrows, her hands reaching out to hold on to her baby crying out for her mother, with pain and confusion lining her eyes. She drifted back again into time.

Lalita their bundle of joy, those little eyes shining like emeralds in the dark, the tiny palms, bald head with few whiffs of hair, nose just like Pattabi’s, all seven pounds of her, was blessed to them after two years of their shifting to Delhi. An inverted placenta and few other complications ensured that the child birth could not customarily happen in Madras. ‘Conveyor Belt Caesarians’ were yet rare in those days, hence Kuchalambal managed to deliver normally after twelve hours of labor.

From birth, Lalita took after her father. The gait, the features, the confidence, and the smile so charming that would put a snake charmer out of business. If she managed to inherit something from her mother, it was the poise, the beauty and the tolerance of the young Kuchalambal.

She blossomed, like a lotus upon a lake serene. She assimilated and radiated beauty around her, and made even the drabbest settings shine like a royal portrait. The back ground seemed to diminish on its own, as her radiance took up the frame. Her soft voice would ease into the audience, hardly intruding into the harmony of the settings, a lullaby for the deprived soul. When people described here as a ‘Mahalakshmi’ it hardly sounded clichéd. She embodied the multiple virtues of knowledge, wisdom, fortune, generosity & courage. Her grandmother started calling her ‘Maha’ in love and reverence to this beauty. As a baby she would have won any ‘Baby Show’ hands down, had she participated. ‘Dhristi’ the fear of the evil omen, was a big deterrent to such participation, in those days.

Right from her ‘Hammock’ (Tooli, a snug hammock strung from the roof so as to encompass the infant in a tight & warm embrace) days she was the princess of the household. If her parents treated her like one, the neighbors were not far behind. She used to traverse the neighborhood in the arms of various admirers. People found her so cute that she was the star attraction at each home, endearing each one of them with her smiles & child full banter, during her early days of speech, even the automobile trader living in the far end of the street, managed to teach her few Punjabi words. She had an unparalleled love for food the varieties of food that she had consumed as a child in the various households where she managed to spend the afternoon, did perhaps help. If the morning started with the customary pieces of ‘IDDLY’ shared from her father’s plate, dotingly fed by Pattabi, the next few courses of her intake would vary from a Parantha at the Sukvinder’s place to Khichdi at the Arora’s, Custard at the Rao’s to finally culminate with her tantrums at home during lunch. ‘Pakki’ (Oh the hungry one) used to scream Kuchalambal, why do u have to go out and eat so much! She would exclaim; frustrated by the baby’s resistance to food during lunch.

If the child was a doll during infancy, she was a little princes at school. Her talents made sure that she was one. Not one competition went by without her participation, or any activity that she was not member of. Singing, classical dance, dramatics, talent searches, debates, leading the morning prayers at school, presenting the bouquet to the chief guest at school functions, her popularity in the ‘DTEA’, her school soared. The Principal came to recognize the couple as lalita’s parents as did numerous families around the area.

She was two when the family shifted to R.K.Puram from Karol Bagh, they would spend more than 25 years in that two bedroom government housing apartment. Years which would mould their future in more ways than they could comprehend. Perhaps the seeds of their destiny were already sown when the couple first moved to Delhi.

The day they moved in they found their neighbor lined up in the landing during a silent assessment of the new arrivals. Sukhvinder Singh a ‘Sikh’ lived with his family in the ‘house’ opposite. They shared a staircase and a landing with their neighbor, so any movement in the area would be open for scrutiny to both families. Sukvinder’s wife Preeto holding their four year old son in her lap watched the incoming inventory as the luggage moved in. Gurmeet the four year old whose long tresses, were knotted up on top of his head, covered with a small cloth, watching the movements with curiosity.

R.K.Puram, a quaint little housing locality, occupied by bureaucrats, some higher up in the rungs of the government machinery and some lower down. But to each of them, the remunerations of office sufficient just to sustain the day to day costs of living. One could, without visiting any house list out the goods which could be found within. Old cane woven sofas, adorned with cushions and hand knitted laces, and in some houses bare sofas too. Cots made of bamboo frames called charpoys, with coir ropes knitted between the frames as a base, these needed you to put on a cotton mattress before one actually sat on them or risk the posterior being riddled with pressure marks of the rope. Short little stools made of coir again, for parking oneself in the fore yard or the back yard, Cotton stuffed quilts to protect against the cold winter nights, the number of charpoys and quilts restricted to the numbers in the family, spare ones for guests were a luxury. Large trunks to store those quilts during the summer months, a sewing machine for the lady of the house to mend the clothes in, (the more versatile of them would stitch their own clothes in them, thereby saving precious tailoring costs).

Television sets, refrigerators & telephones made their appearances only in the seventies and having these luxuries put such households’ way up there in the pecking order. Moreover these fortunate people really needed to have philanthropic side to them, for letting their neighbors pop in for a phone call at odd hours, or having to summon someone from three houses down the line to attend to a incoming call, for lending ice cubes to the lady next door, and provide cold water from the fridge, for the infinite time, to the kid standing at the door, of having the benevolence of sharing the evening TV program with eighteen other people from the neighborhood, the count, of course, could swell in case one of the neighbors had taken to liberty to bring along his own guests too, to watch the Sunday movie. Of having to wait till the viewers shuffle out, before having their dinner, and sometimes few guest would hang on with sadistic pleasure, wanting to watch even the drabbest of programs like the daily news till the end.

To sum up life was bare, community living with things shared, cups of sugar & oil being exchanged between neighbors, women assembled in the courtyards, knitting away to glory, sharing the latest patterns of knitting learnt from the sister-in-law, extracting peas from its pods, and some grating carrots. A stray vendor of blankets or lingerie, finding a ready market, among the assembled women folk. Children playing street cricket, men away at work, turning up for lunch and a quick siesta, before ambling back to work.

Such were the charms of the place that the couple moved in to. The Sukvinders would have a long standing relation with the Pattabi’s. Fate would have more than its share of surprises for both the families. When the world dissolves in a melting pot, distances are forgotten, cultures intermingle, and values need to be redefined. The Pattabi’s were at that threshold of time when such rewriting had to be done, no doubt there were some costs to be borne, some real some illusionary. Time extracts its price from one and all, and it did from the Pattabi’s too. Who gained; who lost, is a moot question, for there cannot be questions asked of ‘Fate’.

For the complete story... visit Kuchalambal's Diary
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