Thursday, March 5, 2009
The fish always smelled when Mitali put her hand in the endearing plastic bag , known for carrying quantities of fish every Sunday. Sunday was a given day for the home to be loaded with goodies for the week. Vegetables of all shapes, sizes but all in bulk quantity were brought in. The anaj (veg) for shukto(a special veg bengali dish), patol, bhindi, gobhi, saag were staring at her . However, the fish always reigned the day, there was rohu, katla, choto mach (kinds of fish) and on some days there would be Hilsa. She sighed as she saw her kitchen filling up with numerous raw materials. Mitali was seen as the converter of the raw materials into the mouth watering goodies which the family would enjoy.
She had just finished sorting out the things into neat piles when a clatter of footsteps were heard. "Tia" (her dak/pet name) yelled a loud voice. Tia quickly settled her saree above her head and answered. The lady of the house, the mother in law, the sovereign swept in with all the glory befitting her. She plunged on the settee and started fanning herself furiously. She said “Ki goroom, baba go.. uff.. Tia .. eto bajar esche, aajake kaka kakima ra ashmbe ar amar khokon bhishon roga hoi jachae, char-panch rokom er ranna koro. Sorse Elish, tilapia mach, posto, macher bora, chorchori, shukto, dal, saag.. ektu bhaja bhuji ar kheer baneo. Thakur ke diye mishit doi aneyo neyo.” (It so hot… uff.. Tia.. so many things have come, today relatives are coming over and look how thin my son is becoming. Cook 4-5 items including Hilsa, two kinds of fish, 3 vegetables, dal and kheer and get Thakur to get misti dahi)
She seized her string of instructions and started moving the vegetables around. Tia glanced meekly at the time and realized she needed a miracle to produce all these items in such short notice without any flaws. She could almost hear herself gasp but could not let anyone see her like that. She started the herculean task of preparing the feast where she would have to toil from 7 am to 12:30 pm, get ready , serve the entire household and the guests, clear up after them and then maybe eat a few morsels. In her heart she worried that she should be able to cook all these items and have them ready on time, she knew her husband liked her cooking but she worried about what Ma (mom in law) would say even if she found less salt or any minor deviation.
Tia remembered as a kid when she had examinations to give how she would worry about what she would write and the result. It was reassuring however as her mom always assured her that marks or no marks she would get married and her role was to satisfy her husband and his family. She would have to devote her life for them even if she would get no praises or welcoming remarks. She thought she was lucky, her in laws did not abuse her, she had some time to herself in the afternoons and the time she had for herself she wrote. She enjoyed writing about frivolous things and her mind wandered to the sheets of paper with scribbles of Bengali lying at the bottom of the trunk. That was her escape, her life within her existence, the freedom within the walls.
Time ticked as she toiled towards completion. Thankfully, Thakur and Bhola , the help of the house lent a helping hand and the food was ready by12:15 pm. Tia quickly bathed and drapped the saree in a typical Bengali style, the wet hair dripping on her back, she smeared sindoor on the parting of her hair and made a round bindi on her forehead. The guests arrived and sat cross legged on the mats across the long verandah. Tia graciously welcomed them by touching their feet. The serving followed, everyone chattered and ate noisly. Few said the food was good. She looked up at Ma for any reassurance or praise. Nothing was said or gestured. She noticed her husband ate well and that made her smile
Tia began to settle the kitchen after the afternoon fiasco and ate a few bits towards late afternoon. Noone asked for her after, no one inquired on whether she ate. She was used to it, she enjoyed her own company and could not wait to get away to her room as she knew the afternoon talks would continue till she would be called to serve tea.
Running upstairs, she sat fanning herself against the window. The scrolls of paper rolled on the bed and she sat down to write. She wrote today of what she cooked and how people ate. She wrote about the day .. and she wrote about her world. She dared not dream more than that. This was her world, in whatever defined limits she was in charge here. She controlled some part of the household. She was the Grihini.
As she day dreamed gazing at the noisy street across the lane wondering life beyond this pakmara lane. "Tia………." yelled ma.. "chaaa koi?" (where’s the tea”). Tia rudely woke up and ran down. The Grihini lived on in her world, secure in the existence carved out for her, protected and provided, alone yet hopeful, free yet bound but still very alive. The spirit lived on.
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