By Jayshree M Tripathi*
“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them”: Ralph Waldo Emerson
They descended mid-December without fail. Year after year. The return of the natives – those that fled colder climes and came home to India. To Odisha. Battling with the parking fee attendants at Bhubaneswar airport, some haggling with the taxi drivers crowding the exit, others gliding disdainfully into pre-booked ones, beckoned in dulcet tones from bejewelled mobile cases. An extra-large floppy bag slung over a shoulder, even a scarf or two tied with a touch of careless elan, two extra-large suitcases, tightly wrapped in plastic to prevent the dust, the germs, the grimy hands of those who pulled their carts. The home-coming divas. In distinct age groups – the 30-somethings, doing well, mainly in Silicon Valley and their predecessors, the fifty-somethings, spouses of doctors, professors, engineers.
Meera surveyed her drawing room, searching for minute specks of dust. Everything had to be just perfect for Lunch with the divas. An annual event that was fun, well – if she could term it that, rather entertaining, as whatever transpired was food for gossip in the months to come. She smiled. A huge vase filled with tuberoses and birds of paradise had been placed on the armoire with the Visitor’s Book, opened at a new page, held in place with a thick scarlet ribbon marker. A special ink-nib Montblanc fountain pen had been tenderly taken out of its original box and placed ever so carefully on a velvet-lined pen-stand.
“Hope no one presses too hard while writing… the nib will get spoilt,” Meera shook her head at the thought of imminent danger, then hastily replaced the ink-nib Montblanc with a ballpoint one. “There, that will do”.
The old wooden chest was adorned with a patachitra – style emboidered kantha, all these fusion techniques these days. It was decent enough for the dry nibbles – salted kaju, mirchi batter deep fried peanuts, wafer-chips, as they were called here, even those kurkures that everyone seemed to love. Snob. No, just a weak stomach. Refreshing nimbu paani with soda would be served first, with sprigs of pudina – the fad here – then the usual sodas, juice. No alcohol. Unwritten diktat. Meera paused, then marched into
Lacchmi smiled. “Ma, why are you so worried? Last two years we have been doing this…” “You know why, Lacchmi”. Nothing like a wicked conspiracy about other women to foster camaraderie. “Acchha, show me.” So, the first round of snacks would be alu baras with coconut chutney. The chutney was ready and the baras would be deep-fried the moment the first guest entered.
Then a round of bhelpuri chaat with the typical Odisha–style sweet and sour tamarind chutney. Each gold-plated edged quarter plate had a tiny dipping bowl for the fiery green chilli and coriander chutney. Third round, maybe four rounds… there was plenty for the baker’s dozen she had invited.
“God, we can really eat, when we are in the mood”, Meera shook her head, arranging her thinning hair onto one shoulder.
There was also dahi bara with alu tarkari, another typical ‘tiffin’ combination from Cuttack, as it was once called, during the time this group had studied at St. Joseph’s Convent, decades ago. Almost all the members of this group. In deference to her elderly neighbours, their similar-aged daughters-in-law had been cordially invited by Meera, along with a few others she barely knew. Names from a list handed to her by the ‘MAD Dona’, as she was sarcastically called. Didn’t bother her in least, as most of the group were her sycophants….! Meera chuckled.
“At this age? Well, when did women ever not bitch?”
Many from the two school sections had kept in touch regularly, over the decades – through terrifying adolescent romances, adult capers into marriage or divorce, but mostly married still, even if the relationships were stifling, as the perks that came along with them forestalled breakups! Mostly, their husbands were posted in the state. Some never left the state, let alone the city they had grown up in. Meera had left long ago. She joined the group after her return from Delhi and voluntary retirement, barely two years ago, that too, at the insistence of a very dear ‘friend’.
The doorbell rang. The first car had rolled in.
Meera rushed into the bedroom and glanced at her image in the simple large mirror, that fortunately did not deflect her image into odd-angles – dabbed her nose with Rose Powder, the war-paint was subtly effective, took a deep breath – “Inhale, exhale – think, focus, woman – most were in awe of you at school – at both the Convents!”
Durga snorted at the unkempt garden, with its riot of colours, as she walked down the gravel path to the corner flat. She preferred her well-landscaped lawn, with its small pond, a few exotic fish and two white marble swans frozen in time. Style. Surely Meera had tucked away enough money as a bureaucrat. Single. Beautiful. So Fair. Dahani… the Witch. Anyway, small mercies that she was always invited for the ‘Home-coming Divas’ Lunches’. Each hostess was always trying to outdo the others. If Meera had three types of dessert, she would offer five.
Pretentious? No, just the trend.
“I’ll host mine at a 5 – Star”, she muttered under her breath, but this led to the usual low self-esteem that erupted from nowhere – but only whenever she met this lot. The Convent-lot.
The aura of being Convent-educated in the mid-1960’s remained. No matter where anyone went in the world, Cuttack Convent ruled in Odisha. Cuttack – emphasis or stress on the second syllable ‘Cu – ttaaack’ as it should have been spelt, but the colonial masters had their own pronunciation rules. Kataka in Odiya. Orissa was Odisha now.
“But we do not say ‘shhhaw’ like those in our friendly neighbouring state do. Three ‘sa’s…”
The Irish nuns had the last laugh – their training, their discipline “Hush, hush,” with a finger on their lips, shaking their heads in their heavily-lined cowls, until they were finally freed by the Vatican to allow a bit of hair to show, above the forehead. No words were required to admonish thousands of girls, year after year, since 1872! The Convent in Bhubaneswar was built only in 1951, so the Cuttacki Conventies felt infinitely superior! Between classes, during breaks, their hymns, the needlework and home science classes, the nuns had all the mothers in their thrall. “… bah, yet these classes were a plus point in match-making discussions. Helped Bou, her mother dear, hook a ‘catch’. He was one, in those days. Bloated pig now, with his young mistresses.” Durga scowled for a moment. Then exhaled slowly.
Durga prided herself in gliding from her Joyce-like stream of consciousness to the hard monotones of whomever was holding forth. She always entered with a pleasant smile, artfully practised, daily. “Mirror, mirror… come on!”
It had been so hard fitting in at the Convent. Her father was no big shot, a decent teacher and local priest in a nearby village, he had wanted his only daughter to study in English medium, at the Convent. Durga was bundled off to her maternal grandmother’s house in Cuttack. House? A mud dwelling in the gully next to Shailabala Women’s College – next step after Senior Cambridge exams. She had hated and cursed Meera ever since then. Meera’s Bapa, her paternal grandfather, a retired doctor, had been a Civil Surgeon in Patna, Puri and the Superintendent of SCB Medical College in Cuttack, one of three medical colleges in Odisha. He owned the double storeyed house on the other side of their gully. Durga had spied Meera
and her sisters and cousin brothers over the years, peering into their gully, asking for a tennis ball that had been hit for a sixer, over the compound. To add salt to her wounds, Meera’s Aja, her maternal grandfather, was the Founder Principal of Burla Medical College, one of the three medical colleges in the state…. Life was so unfair. Then Meera always came first in her section at school. The only way Durga could get back at her at the Convent, was to call her a black crow – as she came to school with her hair nicely oiled, in two tight plaits, the white ribbons flying in the wind. This was done during the recess. It had its effect. Meera’s lips would quiver in sadness and sometimes she would cry, then skip away.
Durga tossed her head and ran her perfectly manicured fingers through an impressive array of tresses, just let loose in directed abandon by the well-meaning 5-Star hairdresser she frequented.
“May as well spend the pig’s money,” she consoled herself, and she still cut a pretty-fine picture. Pouting her scarlet red painted lips, she managed a filmy smile, as the beautifully carved wooden door, with a magnificent brass lion knocker, was opened by Tapash, Meera’s Jeeves. “Namaskar, agyan, aasanthu – please come this way.”She was led into the drawing room.
Books, books, books – thousands of them, all shapes and sizes, some upright, the larger volumes on top of each other, lining three sides of the room, right upto the ceiling. A solitary wooden ladder stood in the corner. An ancient text, The Casquet of Literature was showcased in a glass infinity display case, near the armoire with the Visitor’s book. The card inside just said, “Published in 1875”.
“Wow. Show off. Dahani No. 1.”
Meera. Dahani – the Witch, the Hostess entered. Durga folded are sweaty palms together in Namsakar and they hugged, without touching or with any warmth.
“No kiss on either cheek here, no way!” fumed Durga’s inner voice.
“Bhala acchha – you well? Good to see you.” Why are we speaking in English? Meera wondered. Nerves. Old habit.
The bell rang twice.
Tara, drama queen par excellence – divorced diva, beautiful, perhaps botoxed and touched up here and there, with a body to sigh over. Two weeks annual leave in India, in Odisha and the other two in Europe or the Caribbean.
“I have a Bucket List, daaahlings and I make money, plus no kids – so will travel, see world, till Life’s over.” The group was in awe of her but commented constantly on her unmarried status.
“Why don’t you remarry?” they chirped, feigning concern.
Tara smiled, Sphinx-like….
“Perhaps she’s… ahhh… well, you, know… attracted to the same gender?” Trust Durga!
Tara often wished the group was more intimate with a handful of the nicer women – the newcomers, the neighbours’ bahus would now spread more gossip. Her outfit probably didn’t help either, beige linen flared pants with a loose flowing black halter, dangling onyx and diamond earrings and bright scarlet lipstick. The hairdresser had done a marvellous job of highlighting her thick tresses. Sporting a chignon and a large Louis Vuitton bag over her bare shoulders, she was a vision of elegance.
“Oh, she’s so fair also, oof,” Tara could sense the spiteful whispers, just like at the Convent decades ago and gave them her “look”. They frowned. With her gold speckled high heels, she turned heads at sixty, as she swayed gently along, and she just loved that feeling!
Introductions and re-introductions over, Tara headed towards a comfortable sofa in the corner and stared out of the window, oblivious to the chatter around her. Odisha always took her back to her Daadi’s palace….
Tara bit her lower lip in annoyance. It was just infuriating… this imposition of a ‘royal’ decree at a time when royalty had long lost its power, been stripped rudely of its privy purse and had obediently acceded to the new ‘free’ country.
This was now, 1977, the 20th century and here she was being informed of her grandfather’s decision to have her married to the scion of another duly deemed erstwhile royal family! It was just insensitive and as always, when she was furious, she burst into tears! It was impossible to control these tears of rage and she hated the way people around her laughed at her predicament.
Tara, at 21, had her own plans for her future. First, to spend a year in travel, across the world, on her own – to finally see all the places she had glimpsed of in magazines, even in commercials. She wanted to stay at least a month in a few locations she had singled out for this first trip, to learn about the people, their culture, their culinary habits. This would be her life, truly well-lived. A beginning to a beautiful life.
True, many had travelled on this road before her, for over a century and she had been fascinated by their accounts of travel through harsh environments, their interaction with unknown strangers, often cruel and merciless, for better or for worse. Yet what adventures they had lived through and had spellbound their readers into their hallowed circle.
As if on cue, her mother’s shrill voice on the intercom cut through her dream.
Ma just insisted on shouting through the ancient intercom, that somehow still worked. Made to last, unlike all the disposable items found everywhere these days.
“Tara, come downstairs, lunch is ready.”
There was just no privacy at home. She missed her life at University. One ate lunch if one wanted to or went out to eat, with friends in tow. Back at home in this rambling former palace, she wished she could just stay in her room, but that would be unseemly. And someone would be sent to call her out, the royal summons.
Tara ran her fingers through her hair, to give some semblance of having actually combed it, pulled her kurti down over her culottes that were so outdated, but she could get away with this apparel here and headed for the spiral staircase.
She loved the staircase rail! How often had she slid down it as a child, until the ayah’s shrieks brought the family running to get her down safely. A smile hovered on her lips as she entered the Dining Hall, as it was still called, wondering if she should have shocked everyone by doing so right now. Unbecoming.
“Come dear, sit beside me,” her grandmother beckoned. Regal still, beautiful too, the Rajmata had all the bearings of nobility. Tara had heard as a child of all that her grandmother had done to improve the situation of women in their former ‘princely state’.
“We must work within tradition.” was her grandmother’s motto. She had opened several schools across the state, for adult women to attend after household chores had been done. Classes were conducted in the afternoons. She hired experienced women-teachers who explained how their lives were very different from those of women living in the big cities. Women were taught to maintain the health of their family members and to look after themselves too. They all knew how to keep their homes clean and were advised to keep their surroundings clean and to teach their children these habits. They learnt how to deal with minor ailments and when to go to the Health Centres, also set up by the Rajmata.
The men admired and respected the Rajmata and were happy in their homes as their status as the head of the household remained unchallenged. Their wives respected them, looked after the children and cooked all their meals. Only the rich could afford maids and cooks, the common woman had many tasks to fulfill in a single day.
Tara waved her hand over her plate to indicate she did not want a second helping. If only she could serve herself, but her mother insisted they eat the way their ancestors had done. The helpers moved silently and kept a discreet distance after serving each item, but their presence made her uncomfortable. The old-timers from her childhood had long since retired.
“Tara, come to my room after lunch, I want to talk to you.” She nodded at her grandmother who stood up and left, with such an air of grace that Tara continued looking at her back, till the noise around the table broke her reverie.
“Child, you never listen to what I say…” her mother began, only to be interrupted by her grandfather.
“Let her be, she needs to rest. The boy’s family will be here tomorrow”. No one dared question Dada’s words, which were always enunciated as commands.
Tara winced but managed a smile, excused herself and headed towards her grandmother’s room.
Bellama was seated outside the door, an elderly matron, whom everyone feared as she had been with the Rajmata since her childhood. Tara smiled at her with affection and Bellama opened the door to usher her in, closing the ornate door, with the tiger-head brass door handles, softly behind her.
“Daadima” Tara whispered and burst into tears, as she felt her grandmother’s hands hug her close. She felt secure within those frail arms, as her Daadima rocked her to and fro, as she always had, when she was a little girl, to soothe away her fears.
“I don’t want to get married now! That too, to a complete stranger, it’s totally unacceptable”, she sobbed.
“I know, I know…,” Daadima whispered, “I want to tell you a story, about one of our family’s princesses, from centuries ago”.
“No, I don’t wish to hear how she sacrificed her life for her family’s honour!”
Daadima laughed gently, “No, no… this is a different tale, one that will interest you, especially as you want to travel alone.”
“Daadi, I don’t want to hear about she disguised herself as a boy and left the palace with her loyal Bellama to see how the common people lived, it’s too blase!”
“No, no, Tara,” Daadi laughed, “There is no Bellama in it, child, but something to think about.”
Tara rose and settled herself on the window seat overlooking the palace grounds. Yes, it was beautiful, the lake around the palace and the burst of colour around it, in shades of green, purple and red, with magnificent roses in rainbow-colours. The landscape was special. It was the same land where many battles had been fought, the grass green with the blood of her ancestors and their enemies.
The hotel guests loved it. True to form and as costs of maintenance were prohibitive, her father had decided to remodel part of the palace into a hotel. The family retained six suites and the Dining Hall with the adjacent Main Kitchen, all for the ‘family pride’s sake. A block of low-rise flats was built near the hotel-side for the domestic helpers (except Bellama, who was given a room connecting to Daadima’s) and the hotel staff. Everyone seemed content. A mini market was also built and the local craftsmen came to sell their wares in the garden, which was a hit with the guests.
“I had begun writing down some stories that I had heard from my grandmothers long ago. I want you to know about these, for when I am gone, our lives should not just die in the flames….”
“Don’t be morbid Daadi, you aren’t going anywhere for a long time”, Tara spoke from her heart.
“Listen child… listen to what I heard from your great – grandmothers and they from theirs….”
“This is the tale of the Widow Warrior Queens of this land of Odisha, once called Udradesha….”
This ascension of a widowed woman as the Queen, one who would rule in her own right and not as a regent for a minor heir, was unique in the land of Bharat.
The late Queen Dandi Mahadevi had been an able administrator. She had shown her martial skills on the battlefield, against neighbouring feudatories and displayed great composure in the Darbar sessions. She spoke in a mature and dignified manner, despite her youth and was often compared to
her ancestor, the magnificent first Widow Warrior Queen, Gosavamini, known as Tribhuvana Mahadevi the first. However, there was a rumble of growing unrest at her favours to certain persons through donations of vast tracts of agricultural land.
Her subjects were loyal and hailed her as a Parama Mahesvari. Dandi Mahdevi was a devout Shaivite, as Buddhism had begun to lose its hold here and spread to foreign lands…to Sri Lanka, Siam even to distant China. There was an upsurge in the ancient religion of the land. She earned the respect of most of her Court administrators and her subjects, with her grant of a village named Tadata, with all its subjects, the Tantuvaya (weavers), the Gokuta (milkmen) and the Saundika (vintners) to a learned Brahmin…”
Here the Rajmata paused and said “Tara, it was only seven years ago that a copper-plate inscription, a Land Grant from Queen Dandi Mahadevi, was excavated in the village of Patlinga in Odisha, near Athagarh. A farmer, his name is Trilochan Pradhan, dug it up when he was renovating his well!”
“Unbelievable. Daadi, after all these years?”
“Yes, child. I read about it and decided to write all that I recalled about your father’s ancestors, but there is very little actual written history. I did ask the priests to check their palm-leaf manuscripts and they are still studying them.”
“I wonder what she felt as a young woman in those times, a young princess and then a Queen?” Tara chewed on her lower lip, something she did instinctively when she contemplated issues seriously.
“A few other Land Grant Inscriptions have also been found and deciphered by scholars. This latest one is dated 926AD. These inscriptions detail the genealogy and religious beliefs of the Court. It also outlines administrative policies the Bhauma Karas followed. It also mentions names of the Court
Administrators and even the hierarchical timeline of the dynasty. Learned Brahmin elders were granted villages with their inhabitants, in northern and southern Tosala, areas we now know as Balasore and Cuttack, Puri and Ganjam district.”
“But why should all this matter, Daadi? I mean, yes, it’s something to be aware of, but why would anyone care these days?” Tara refrained from continuing, observing her Daadi’s eyes fill with unshed tears and lips quiver involuntarily.
“It’s like a time-capsule, right? People keep burying things for the future, even want to leave modules in space or on Mars!” Daadima smiled benevolently.
“You know, the Chinese Scholar Hsuen-Tsang visited Odisha in the 7th century! And Chinese historians have stated that a scholar named Subhakara Simha paid homage at the court of the Chinese Emperor of the Tang dynasty, also in the 7th century AD. The scholar stayed there, learnt their language and translated the Buddhist Maha Vairochana Sutra! Then a Buddhist monk named Prajna, from a monastery in Odisha, well, the region that was known as Odra, travelled to the Chinese court in 795AD. I remember the dates well, as these are important reminders of our family’s history. He carried a Buddhist manuscript for the Chinese Emperor from the Bhauma Kara King Sivakara. The King had signed it and stamped it with his Royal Seal. The Chinese Emperor called Sivakara the King of Wu-Cha!” Tara stifled a yawn.
“Well, it is the history of a society in a given time-period that gives people an identity to relate to, or to relate from, I would say. Let me explain. We learn from history and the literature of the time and if we are fortunate, we learn to ‘take’ the good outcomes of those times. Am I rambling?”
“No, Daadi, please tell me, unless you want to rest a bit?” Tara loved her Daadi’s tales and her soft, melodious voice that could sometimes quiver in rage if upset! Tara was often told she had inherited many of her Daadi’s mannerisms!
Before either could continue, Bellama entered the room. “Your Daadi must rest for an hour, Nayantara”. Tara smiled at her determined use of her official name!
“Okay, Bellama, but I’m going to read on the window seat”. No-one had ever dared to question Bellama on anything! She was Daadi’s childhood companion and remained as such. She had never married and was devoted to Daadi.
“Tara, listen… the first of the Widow Warrior Queens, Gosavaminidevi, hailed as Tribhuvana Mahadevi, had an army of 300,000 warriors, whom she often led into battle. Her Persian and Arab contemporaries, I recall the name of Ibn Khurdadhbih, wrote about her feats. You must know this history… you are a descendant…”
“Yes, Daadi, tell me. Wait a bit, let me get my pad and fountain pen and write some of these things down”. Tara fumbled through her handbag.
“The pundits told me that during her rule there was religious harmony among the people, whether they followed the teachings of the Buddha or were Hindu followers of Shiva or Vishnu…”
There was a long pause, but Tara did not mind. She truly wanted Daadi to continue, drawn into the web of family history.
“The copper inscriptions that were discovered state her words too, she said she controlled the powers of her officials to prevent them from oppressing the people…I believe she encouraged education, was a patroness of the arts and promoted architecture, too. The coins also praise her efforts for the poor as she built houses of charity. Indeed, there are records of her providing food and shelter during famines… our State, you know, still bears the scars of ravages from Mother Nature… wars, even pestilence”.
With a long, drawn-out sigh, Daadi’s frail body shivered, as if there was someone else listening, making her continue…
“Tribhuvana Mahadevi, your ancestor, promoted trade overseas and within the country… cotton, medicinal plants, like aloe vera, pepper – the black gold! Even elephants… and seaconches when blown, outdid all other sounds.”
“Some unsavoury scandals too, in those historic closets… unholy relationships – a queen… and a maid, but there was no
actual proof still, shameful…”
Tara smiled at her Daadi’s words, as she drifted into slumber and settled herself onto the window-ledge, with its thakiyas, the traditional longish bolsters, just right for reclining upon and took out her diary and after a few moments checked the photos of the erstwhile princeling she had tucked inside, whisked away from her mother’s cupboard.
His picture took her by surprise, vaguely familiar but she couldn’t quite place him and was surprised by the odd prickling sensation of impending misfortune, ill-luck or whatever one may call it. The chap turned out to be a successful banker, with laurels from the London School of Economics. Interesting. Later. Karma can play its role in her future. First her new project. Time to move forward.
Tara shrugged these feelings away and settled down on the bolsters to plan her great escape, but if only she could persuade Daadi to support her new quest, to add writing to her travel plans. Life can be beautiful, she smiled and settled down to doodling. That was that. Until.
In time that had no meaning, Tara stood beside her mother as Daadi was taken away for cremation. The utter suddenness of it all. Bellama softly entreating Daadi to wake up for her dinner. Daadi asleep. Still asleep. No motion. No glimmer of a faint smile. No crinkling lines around her eyes. The shrill lament…. The tears. The sorrow.… Dhiyo yonah prachodayat.
“I will, Daadi, I will travel and write about all these tales” she had sobbed uncontrollably.
Fate or Karma decided she was to marry the princeling. Tara didn’t have the gall to run away. There. She tied the knot. It had barely lasted two years – she had tried, but the guy was basically a dominating jerk, using his fists whenever he could to seal any decision, win any discussion… luckily, she had her own savings and took a flight out back to Odisha. Found the best lawyer and filed for divorce for cruelty, physical harm, the works. The chap’s family lawyer was quick to ask for a divorce by mutual consent, which she agreed to. She didn’t need alimony, just her sanity, her safety and her freedom. Sheer bliss. No more tears.
Tara was startled but pleased to see Meera smiling down at her. Meera made her calm. Meera was compassionate and intelligent, even if she did host this motley lot. Especially Champa and Suguna, the neighbours’ bahus, who sat next to each other, in their chiffon sarees and salon-induced hairstyles – sweet, was the only word Tara could think of. They giggled at the turn of the conversation, all the louder at the unladylike interruptions – but there was a strange familiarity to it all. Positive energy flowed.
It was time to “play” dumb charades! Laughter, childlike filled the air. Age had no meaning and there was no time to day-dream in safety.
For two hours, the divas giggled and gossiped and ate till it was time to leave. Their take on politics in their adopted lands, their words on education, gun-control and how some things never changed in India. Yes, India – timeless India. So much to bicker about, be furious about. So much to be grateful for. The others smiled benevolently at them.
After tea and samosas, the group dispersed – until the next Lunch in a week’s time. One Lunch a week till the divas left mid-January.
“Stay a bit”, Meera’s eyes cautioned Tara. She held back. Lacchmi brought them two steaming mugs of black coffee, with hot milk and demerara sugar on the side.
Sipping coffee, there was no need for prompts between them. They had got on at school and had stayed in touch over the decades. Both looked up at the same time and burst into laughter, genuine laughter – no malice intended.
“So, tell me about Champa and Suguna – seemed nice enough”.
This was a sign! Meera whispered at what Lacchmi had sworn was the absolute truth about Champa – she had enticed her brother-in-law – how they smiled at each other, everyday!
Then Lacchmi had heard the fellow had bought a small flat for Champa… mother-in-law was not amused and made her work harder, gave her more chores to complete. She did. And had the time to go out for an hour every afternoon. That rascal brother-in-law must be meeting her – no one had actually checked, in fact a nephew had suggested a detective be hired, but that would spread the scandal. Man’s poor wife was always sad
– it must be true – at least that’s what the neighbourhood domestic helpers believed! Champa’s mother-in-law later decided it would be in her best interests to ignore the truth, the display of affection in front of her eyes, as she needed Champa to look after her as she grew older… her friends had encouraged this chain of thought. Champa’s husband did not seem to care. He kept aloof, engrossed in his work. Maybe he had someone, too. Meera and Tara burst out laughing. Tara’s spirits rose at this show of defiance here in their now bustling ‘smart-city’ to be.
“Suguna?” Meera shook her head. “Just met her twice – seems nice enough”. It was time to leave. Dusk. Till the next time, they waved to each other. Meera sighed in relief.
Then her phone rang… stopped… him, just him… an sms… “Can’t make it tonight, she’s back.”
The familiar excuse.
Time to end it.
About the author:
Jayshree Misra Tripathi has been a consultant, educator and examiner in English Language and Literature, for the Diploma of the International Baccalaureate Organization. She worked in print media in the late ’70s and ’80s in India. Having lived in diverse cultures for over thirty years with her late husband, a career diplomat in the Indian Civil Service, her short fiction and narrative verse dwell upon journeys through the diaspora, highlighting women and their voices, and cross-cultural conversations.