Someone was calling her name. Ira woke up with a start and was surprised to see the sun already shining in the sky. How had she overslept today?
And then it all came rushing back to her. Ira had gone to a party last night. She’d had an awesome time amidst her friends. They had sung and danced for a long time. One of her friends had dropped her home just before four in the morning.
No wonder she hadn’t heard the alarm ring at six. Ira hurriedly scrambled out of bed and dashed to the bathroom. Once she was clean and fresh, she stepped into the family room and wished her family a good morning.
Her mother was in the kitchen, and Ira could smell the delicious pohe (beaten rice) being prepared. As the tempering sizzled and the pohe changed colours from white to a golden yellow, Ira’s stomach grumbled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten much at last night’s party.
A few minutes later, she heard the unmistakeable clang of the spoon on the rim of the utensil, and Ira knew her mother would be calling them all into the kitchen for breakfast in the next five minutes. She stepped inside her mother’s domain and hugged her from behind.
“When are you going to learn to cook something, Ira?” her mother asked her, only half-joking. “Mom! I plan to earn a lot of money and have a lot of maids to do all this,” Ira shot back. This was their usual banter, but this time, Ira’s father strolled into the kitchen following the aroma of the delicious pohe now cooking and warming on the stove.
“No Ira, your mother is right. It is not about keeping maids, or girl-duties or boy-duties, my child. You need to be able to cook for your own survival. What will you do if you get admission into a college in a different city? How will you manage so much in such little money?” he asked her wisely.
Ira bit her lip. She realised he had a point. She decided to start experimenting in the kitchen from the very same day. After breakfast, Ira set about clearing the table while her mother left the kitchen to get ready to leave for work.
A few minutes later, Ira too set about dressing up for college. She quickly picked up her heels and dashed down the stairs from their first floor apartment as she heard her mother honk impatiently.
“Sorry, mom,” the young girl apologised as she climbed into her mother’s old, but comfortable Maruti Alto. Her mother only shook her head at her and smiled, easing the car into the crowded main street. Ira’s college was enroute to her mother’s office and she was glad not to have to take the bus.
As they waited at a red light, Ira glanced at her mother’s profile. Her mother still looked beautiful and stylish despite her age. “Why the saree, mom? Anything special?” she asked her. Her mother smiled at her and replied, “No, Iru. Nothing special. I just felt a little extra-feminine today.”
Ira’s mother normally favoured chudidar-kurtas and had a huge and fantastic collection of them in her wardrobe. Sarees were for special occasions; whereas western attire had a separate place in a corner of her wardrobe, seeing the light of the day only when the family went out on picnics or vacations.
Ira’s mother said she preferred chudidar-kurtas for they were easy and quick to pull on, not unlike the jeans and tops that Ira wore, and were easy to wash and dry.
Ira loved the beautiful bindis her mother always wore on her forehead. They were sometimes studded with colourful stones, sometimes with tiny pearls, sometimes had a beautiful moon-like shape, and were sometimes simple and round, like the one today.
Ira always found her mother’s simple round bindis the most fascinating of all. The red dot on the forehead never failed to mesmerize the young girl. Ira’s gaze slipped down to her mother’s mangalsutra.
Today, her mother was sporting a simple mangalsutra of black beads and a gold pendant of two tiny bowls. Ira loved her mother’s huge collection of mangalsutras. She had them in all shapes, sizes and colours.
Ira was always fascinated by her mother’s attire and outlook. To her, her mother was a Goddess who could do everything. Ira knew her mother had a demanding job as the owner of a shop, and also as the lady of their family. But her mother seemed to juggle all the roles with equal finesse.
They reached the college and her mother expertly weaved the car through the crowded drop-point. “Bye mom. See you. Love you” Ira said in the typical exuberance of a typical college student, but stopped as her mom called out, “Ira, wait!”
Puzzled, Ira turned around to face her mom, never noticing a huge SUV that whizzed behind her. The huge car was too fast and Ira would’ve been hit by it had her mother not stopped her in time. “What is it, mom? I am getting late!” the young girl said, in her rush to enter the college before the bell rang.
“You forgot your assignment in the car. Here,” her mom said, and Ira quickly felt guilty for having been rude to her mother. She apologised, but her mother was her cool self as always.
Ira was grateful to her mom, for the professor asked for the homework assignments to be turned in, and gave extra work to the students who failed to do so. After a gruelling day at college, Ira went to the nearby coffee shop with her friends where they exchanged gossip and notes, all together.
All of a sudden, Ira realised that she had bought a few books yesterday and had emptied her purse of cash. She had forgotten to ask her parents for cash when she left this morning. She would have to borrow from her friends today.
But much to her surprise, when she opened her purse, she saw two hundred rupees in her purse, along with a neatly folded note. She opened it, and in it was written, “I saw the bag from the book store and thought you might need some cash. Love, Dad.”
Ira blinked at the sudden tears that came to her eyes. Once, around two years ago, she had asked her parents for privacy. All her friends locked their bedroom doors, and never shared their phone passwords with their parents.
Ira had had a long argument with her parents, demanding the same freedom and privacy as her friends, but her normally easy-going parents had remained staunchly against her demands. “You will lock your bedroom door only after you are married, Ira. Not before,” had been her mother’s dictat.
Same with the phone. Her parents never allowed her to go out saying she was going out with ‘friends’. She had to tell them the names of the friends she was hanging out with, she had to tell them the tentative plans, and what’s more, they insisted she leave the contact number of at least one of those friends at home, just in case there was any emergency.
After some time, Ira had gotten accustomed to this condition of her parents, and by now, all her friends had been to her home, and shared a lovely relationship with her parents.
Her father had once told Ira, that she could drink as much alcohol as she wished, but only when one of the family members was around. Never without them. She had understood and agreed to his terms, and enjoyed the occasional glass of beer or wine with one, or both her parents.
Her friends often told her that they envied Ira this relationship with her parents. She felt so comfortable with them, that she never thought twice about confiding about a crush or a love interest with her mother.
She valued her mother’s opinion and advice over that of anyone else’s. Her mother gave her the most solid, reliable and non-judgemental snippets of guidance. For example, once, Ira had confided in her mother that she liked a guy and he too seemed to like her, but he often teased her saying she wasn’t cool enough. And when she asked him what that meant, he said that she didn’t go to discotheques and late night parties like he did.
Her mother told Ira to invite him to her cousin’s mehendi ceremony the next week. The boy had been stunned when Ira passed on this invitation and had run with his tail between his legs. Ira and her mother had a hearty laugh at that.
Someone was calling her name. Ira woke up with a start and was surprised to see the sun already shining in the sky. How had she overslept today? She opened her eyes to see Vihaan hovering over her. She tried to get up and groaned as her old muscles screamed in protest.
Vihaan’s concern and worry were still apparent in his eyes. “Don’t worry, honey, I am alright. Just a little tired from last night’s dance party, that’s all,” she replied, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
“You and your dance parties!” he said, shaking his head. “I often wonder if the orphanage we grew up in was not an asylum for crazy people,” he teased her affectionately.
“The way you keep referring to your mangalagauri and jaagran pujas and bhajans as dance parties, someone might wonder if you have gone senile in your old age. Come on now, our family is waiting,” he said, as she went in to the bathroom, and came out ten minutes later, fresh from her shower, draped in a beautiful saree.
The couple went to the puja room and did their morning prayers. “Good morning family,” Ira said to her family, her eyes shining with mirth as she looked fondly at the various pictures and idols of Gods in the puja-ghar, as the aroma of delicious pohe being cooked in the next-door thela wafted to her nostrils and she could almost savour the taste of them on her tongue.
“I’ll make some sevai for breakfast today,” offered Vihaan, heading into the kitchen, as Ira sat down to pen a new ashtaka that she had thought of in her sleep last night.