Hello and welcome! to the year of the music at Write...Edit...Publish...We're starting off with All You Need is Love...I’m posting a super condensed story from a collection of shorts called The Intricacies of Returns I did in 2014-15. The original is close to 5000 words, so I hope you will forgive me the 200-odd words it's gone over the limit.
Dead Lake Eyes
Saroja is accustomed to rise before daybreak. By the time she finishes the dawn worship, her much younger, twin brothers are here for the first cups of tea. That too is a habit, her brothers in the house every morning. Saroja is a striking, willowy woman, her features regular; thick hair, greying close to her scalp, two small silver wings at her temples, discreet and symmetrical. Her large eyes are beautifully sculpted into their sockets, irises deep black. Her husband at his most romantic used to compare them with the black waters of a lake in sparkling sunlight. Her irreverent, much younger brothers call her “dead-lake-eyes.”
Saroja has always been her father’s favourite child. The only one who he speaks to now, the only voice to which he responds. She visits him daily – her childhood home is just minutes away. She reads the scriptures aloud, he listens mostly in silence.
He has always been a family man, wanting his children close. He had sent the twins abroad to study, but had insisted they come back to work here.
The daughters were married close by too. Any distant proposal he would reject, “ No, that’s too far, we’ll never get to see her!”
His planning had come to nothing though. The sons-in-law had, one by one, got jobs in other places.
But Saroja has never been away, never had any respite from her blood family and her family by marriage. One time her husband had got an offer to go abroad – she remembers it vaguely now - both families had been completely horrified. Her mother-in-law had lectured non-stop about abandoning one’s roots for mere money.
Her father, more diplomatic, had steered him gently, “By God’s grace, you have enough. All you need is love. Why go?”
She showers and goes straight up to the terrace shrine. The family deities are woken, prayed to and put to bed daily in cyclical rhythms handed down for generations. She grinds the sandalwood paste, pours out the holy waters. She wakes the idols with gentle clapping around their tiny doll-size four-poster beds. Lights the lamp, burns the incense, blows the conch shell. She offers flowers, food and drink, rings the small bell, chants and sings to them as if they were family members. She performs a final prostration before she rises to leave.
As she comes down the stairs, the doorbell chimes. Her brothers have arrived.
Mukund flashes a smile, “What’s up?”
Madhav snatches her sari end, wipes his sweaty forehead, pretends to elaborately blow his nose into its pristine folds. She cannot help laughing.
“Really, you two! Incorrigible. Get in now. I’ll put the kettle on.”
“What? Tea isn’t ready? What’s happened to the standards around here?”
She can hear them talking, the murmur of words interrupted by the crackle of unfolding newspapers. Like the noise of the TV, also turned on a minute later. She brews the tea against a backdrop of insignificant local news.
She sits with them, her eyes on the screen, her mind on other things. The twins carry on teasing and joking, so that when Mukund brings up illness and wills, she thinks it is another attempt to needle her.
“No, death’s off-topic, that’s too much,” she rebukes him.
“Well, you need to know. Father asked for Suren-kaka, wants a new will.”
“He didn’t tell us more. Remarkably taciturn,” Mukund says.
She cannot decide whether he is joking.
Her father looks drawn. She is suddenly shocked at the crinkled parchment skin around his eyes, the fine folds at his waistline, his belly hollowed out with his great age, the skin hanging off him like a loose, ill-fitting shirt. His teeth are good but discoloured with chewing tobacco, his rheumy eyes float as if unmoored in their orbits.
She wipes his brow with great tenderness, prepares a betel-leaf for him, the old vices become strangely less objectionable with age. His body has failed but his mind is sharp still. He notices if she misreads a known verse, or deliberately skips a line to check his attention.
“Baba, you’ve called Suren-kaka?”
His eyes are swimmy, but their vision is suddenly shrewd.
“Changing my will. Upsets you?”
“No, it’s your property. I just don’t like death-talk. It’s inauspicious.”
“Death isn’t inauspicious,” he tries to recite,” Just as – a man –discards –old garments –”
She completes the verse. “What happens to the old will? What will you change? Or can I not ask? “
His will had been made years back. With a typical archaic conservatism he had willed his property to his two sons. The daughters had been left mementoes only – nothing of any substantial value.
It did not bother her, she had her own home two steps from this one. The brothers getting the house was the best, the status quo undisturbed, no extra responsibility, the freedom to come and go unchanged.
“Not Mukund. Not Madhav.”
She is dumbfounded. “Why? Your own sons!”
This parental house has been an unshakeable landmark all her life. It disorients her to think it gone.
“And what about Makai and Madhai? Where will they go?”
His lashes are sparse against his cheek, almost invisible, a thinned out silver fringe moving cumbersomely, like a broken insect wing being dragged in the mouth of a lizard.
A sense of impending doom, of terrible, unwelcome change hounds her. How can her father, the same father who had refused to marry his daughters away from this city, suddenly decide to disinherit his sons?
Next morning, she cuts through the twins’ banter crisply, “What are you doing about this new will?”
“You think we should contest?” Mukund says mischievously.
“Seriously. Where are you going to live?”
“Well, we aren’t being thrown out this instant. But as a matter of fact, change’s afoot.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re moving,” Mukund finally shuts his smile, ”I’ve got an offer to head my own lab down south, I’m out soon.”
Saroja is completely non-plussed, “Out of the city?”
“Yeah, me too. For a UN project abroad.”
“But you’ll return?”
“That’s it, Didi. Couldn’t you move in? You mean more to him than the rest of us. And it can’t be very long now.”
“What a horrible thing to say,” Saroja is suddenly raging. “Why didn’t you tell me? Does he know you’re going away?”
“Yes, he knows.”
“Then I’m the only one who didn’t!”
It falls into place now. The things her husband had given up to keep her close to her blood family, to her twins, to her father! Her husband dead many years now, her siblings gone soon, only she and her father left in the eddies of loneliness.
“You’ve never lived away from each other, how will you manage?”
“We’ll be fine. Too much living in each other’s pockets is bad too. Wears a hole in the pocket,” Madhav refuses to take his sister seriously.
Saroja rises and performs the rituals for the final time. But unlike other times, she lays the deities back one by one, from their silver day-thrones into their ornate beds. She strides out to go back to her childhood home.
It’s only a few steps. Saroja looks over her shoulder, you can run back whenever you want. No need to fret. All you need is love.
WC - 1223
Tagline : Sometimes, love means having to move back instead of forward.
Read the other entries here -
Tears here. Flowing in the pre dawn light of home, before I start my very different rituals for the day.ReplyDelete
Thank you for your support, here and everywhere else!Delete
A beautiful tale of the depth and breadth of Love!!! Blessings, Nila. YAM xx
On you too, Yamini! Thanks for reading.Delete
Beautifully written, Nilanjana. I felt all of Saroja's emotions.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Damyanti. Many people go through the situation that Saroja is as our population ages.Delete
How sad. It hurts to be the one who has to witness the changes that goes through someone and Saroja is doing just that. I like the way you reveal the concern in Saroja against the unconcern from the twins.
A very touching story.
Ageing is as hard on a person as the caregivers. Thank you for your feedback, Pat.Delete
You took me on a heart journey - beautifully done!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Jemi, glad of your company on the journey! :)Delete
oh the twists and turns of family love. Well done story.ReplyDelete
Family dynamics - truth is often stranger than fiction, isn't it? :) Thanks, Joanne.Delete
I love the description. I'd like to know who gets the house? I'm guessing Saroja.ReplyDelete
Glad you liked the description, Nancy. Saroja isn't too keen on her father's property. Thank you.Delete
There is a juxtaposition here between the old way of life and the new. The new is inevitable, but the old often inspires a faint regret. We don't like parting with it.ReplyDelete
You always cut to the core of the issue, Olga! We always want to hang on selectively to the past while enjoying the benefits of the present.Delete
A close family drifting apart over the years. A sibling left to take care of it all, while the others get to move on with their lives. Modern and traditional, all at the same time. Well done.ReplyDelete
Drifting apart is an inevitable part of life, sadly. Thanks for the feedback.Delete
Hi Nila! I think Olga nailed it - the juxtaposition between the old and new ways. I like the characterisation of the twins, very likeable. I'm glad the father rewrote his will, hopefully to leave the house to Saroja. She's a beautiful soul.ReplyDelete
Olga did, didn't she? Glad you enjoyed the characterisation of the twins. The entire story makes it clear if Saroja gets the house or not but that can't be included here due to the word limit, naturally.Delete
Interesting contrast of personalities between Saroja, the dedicated one and the twins, who are less so. I feel for her and hope she gets the house! I also enjoyed the details of a culture so different from my own. Beautifully descriptive!ReplyDelete
Thank you for the feedback! Twins are branching out on their own, Saroja is gathering herself in.Delete
This is a beautiful story of family and love. I enjoyed the way you described the rituals and culture. The pain of impending death and loved ones moving away is something all of us can relate to.ReplyDelete
As you said, we each one of us has to face these issues - ageing, death, family moving away and on, regardless of the culture that anchors us.Delete
The story is written with great depth and love - it is also true to life, where patriarchy ignores daughters, giving sons all the freedom. Saroja has sacrificed so much all her life, for her father and now again. But, as the twins say, it won't be long now and she loves her father dearly. What a situation.ReplyDelete
Patriarchy isn't just propagated by men but by women also. Not a good situation for Saroja and the family generally. Thanks, Kalpana.Delete
I love the way the tension ebbed and flowed, and the relationships as well... but I think I'd have enjoyed the longer version even more. Worth taking time to read this beautiful piece :)ReplyDelete
Thank you, Jemima. The longer version is way too long for WEP :)Delete
A great blend of tradition and modernity.ReplyDelete
Change is scary, yet inevitable. And humans resist change, preferring the comfort of familiar ways.
The tagline is perfect - and I guess Saroja will get the house.
Change is scary yet inevitable - so true, Michelle! And those who resist change are the worst sufferers in terms of the outcomes. So very glad to see you here. Thank you.Delete
My family isn't traditional in the same sense, but we are facing some similar journeys. My heart is with Saroja on this one. Well done. Thanks for the story.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the feedback. Wish you and family strength and peaceful outcomes.Delete
Atleast Saroja is now back home.ReplyDelete
Is she? That's another question that patriarchy makes incredibly and unnecessarily complex.Delete
Hi Nila - wonderful take on the prompt ... your writing is always excellent to read. Life changes, she will adjust - just sad her father has to go ... but we all go on living. I hope the boys cope ... I guess as men they will do - and I hope they have humanity in their heart. Take care - cheers HilaryReplyDelete
I hope so too. Glad you enjoyed the story, Hilary.Delete
Duty combined with love - the choice one has to make - easier for male members of the family than female ones.ReplyDelete
Good point! Easier for males generally to make choices generally.Delete
That was a beautiful story! I wonder what will happen of Saroja. Her brothers will be gone, her father doesn't have much time left. Breaks my heart to see her alone after all these years.
Glad you liked reading. Saroja has children not too far away so she will not be completely alone, but offspring aren't company beyond a certain point.Delete
Beautifully narrated. Saroja reminded me of someone. Your writing always tugs at my heartstrings Nilanjana.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Sonia. There's a Saroja somewhere in all our lives, isn't there?Delete
This is a lovely story. I enjoyed the descriptions of the ritual and the portrayal of the twins relationship to their sister and to each other. How Saroja notices her father ageing but doesn't want to think about him dying is easy to relate to, as are the family dynamics. I hope that, despite being scattered in different directions, this family will remain "together". I find separations and big changes hard so can relate to Saroja.ReplyDelete
One of the major challenges of modern life is keeping the family 'together' through large distances and time zones. Glad you enjoyed the excerpt. Thank you.Delete
Very good, and very sad. She had her whole routine and everything was in order, and then bam...ReplyDelete
Too much of that goes on.
True, because modern life has meant we can't stay put but must instead look for livelihoods outside of our birthplaces. Thanks for reading.Delete
The more things change, the more they stay the same? Not really in this case I guess. Kinda got the rug pulled out from under her. Relatable.ReplyDelete
Hope you're having a great day! My latest blog post has my theme for the April #AtoZChallenge (I'm writing speculative fiction and looking for prompts).
At Operation Awesome we have the #PassOrPages query contest going on (friends or enemies to lovers Romance).
Looks like I'll be very busy the next few weeks!
March quote: "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do." - Mark Twain
Hi J Lenni,Delete
Looks like you have an awesome March lined up for you. I'm not sure of what March and April have in store for me, waiting for things to become clearer before I plan anything. Hopefully soon. All the very best for your A-Z!
I've always been a wanderer, can't imagine being tied to one place, just as Saroja finds it hard to imagine otherwise. Maybe now, she'll get to explore a whole other world. Although, I do understand change and all its implications! Well told, Nila, as always!ReplyDelete
Hi Renee! I have never stayed put my entire life, max 5-6 years in one place so I can't imagine what it must be like to live in one city/neighbourhood forever, I'd surely die of boredom! But it takes all kinds :) Great to have you here and hope you're doing well. Thank you.Delete