Full Course Meal
Full Course Meal8 mins 14K 8 mins 14K
"Are you, done? Ishita?" Tapsi yelled, "Come on fast, we're getting late .."
"Yes Ma, coming.." Ishita replied to her mother back, while checking herself out on mirror one last time. She had draped herself in a pink georgette saree, tightly pleated, so as to complement her toned frame....and wore the jewelries of her mother. Tapsi, Ajay and their only daughter Ishita had been invited for dinner at Ishita's Mausi's place (Mausi: Mother's sister).
It wasn't just any other dinner...it was supposed to be Ishita's Aiburobhaat thrown by her mausi. In Bengali culture, this is a ritual where the soon-to-be bride is fed her favorite dishes by her aunts, grand mothers, sister-in-laws and other married women of the family and neighborhood. The main Aiburobhaat by the bride's mother happens one day before the wedding. Since Ishita stays in Mumbai, and had come to Kolkata for her Diwali vacation, her mother had scheduled all her other Aiburobhaats during that span of 10 days.
So, Ishita had been having invitations at her Bua's (Father's sister) place, her Chachis (Father's Sister-in-laws) fed her at home , and even aunties from the neighborhood...and her Mom's friends and Dad's colleagues too kept calling her over for lunch and dinner! Thanks to Tapsi and Ajay's friendly, helpful nature and philanthropic ways.......there was a long list of people who were eager to throw this traditional bachelorette for their only daughter.This dinner at her mausi's place was the last one that Ishita had to attend before flying back to Mumbai.
Although she had been enjoying being served her favorite Bengali cuisines almost daily, by this time she was already tired of eating; and was dying to go back and resume her gym.
"Ma! all these look yummy! But I seriously can't eat so much.." she had whispered to Tapsi, staring helplessly at the set of large plate and bowls filled with rice, fish, mutton, and variety of vegetables and sweets at one of her aunt's place.
"It's okay Ishi, relax," Tapsi assured her, :" You have two good months to go before your wedding.......work out well at the gym once you're in Mumbai..and follow strict diet. You may chill a bit, and eat now. And don't forget to take a tablet for acidity once you're done eating," she reminded, "I know otherwise you'll soon complain of sickness!"
Ishita was Tapsi's world. Ever since Ishi was born, Tapsi had been focused on bringing her up to be a successful, well-educated, versatile woman. Today, a mother with all her major dreams satisfied, as she eyed her little Ishi decking herself up in sari and jewelry, she couldn't help but feel a slight melancholy, mixed with happiness.
Ishita had been living away from home for a decade now, due to her studies and jobs. Tapsi knew getting her married would only mean that she would be staying away from home, but this time, she would have some one with her, to take care of her.....so ideally, Tapsi should've only felt relieved. Nothing else changed, right? But still......the mother in her couldn't help feel her eyes getting slightly watery with a smile crossing her lips as Ishita finished taking one last look at the mirror.
"What happened, Ma?" Ishita questioned Tapsi, skeptically, as she turned back and caught sight of her staring. She knew her mother had this habit of staring at her which immediately would let her know something wasn't right with her dress...or may be, her hair. And no matter how annoyed Ishita would at times get with it, she just couldn't step out with full confidence in something that her mother didn't approve of. After all, Tapsi was her most brutally honest critic and her personal fashion-designer. "Oh God, Ma, please tell what's not right now! See, this pink sari was your choice.....and I'm wearing the jewelries as per your instruction only..what now? "
"Nothing, mad girl," Tapsi laughed, "let's go....your Dad is waiting in the car."
At Ishita's Mausi's place, the air was slightly gloomy, as her Mausi's father-in-law had passed away a few weeks before. It was a mid-sized two-storeyed house, that was home to a family, now comprising of Mandira (Ishita's Mausi), her husband and daughter, her younger brother-in-law, his wife and baby son, and her aged, recently widowed mother-in-law. Mandira's father-in-law and mother-in-law had known Ishita since she was a kid, as she used to often visit her Mausi. Especially Mandira's mother-in-law had always been very fond of Ishita as she had always found the girl to be soft-spoken and calm, since her childhood.
Ishita entered the house and touched Mandira's mother-in-law's feet, asking her, "How are you, Granny?" "How do you think I could be, dear?" Mandira's mother-in-law replied, her voice shaking progressively with each word, with her eventually breaking down by the end of the statement...as she hugged Ishita and started weeping.
The old, withered lady reached only up to Ishita's chest in height. As Ishita comforted her in her arms, patting her white hair...she felt like she was holding a child who was crying away. A lump formed in Ishita's throat as well. No matter how used-to they get to each other, the feeling of loneliness when a spouse leaves you forever at old age, after decades of being together, is undeniable.
"You know.....during his last few weeks, he used to simply lie down," the Granny narrated, once Ishita had calmed her down, and sat with her holding her hand firmly; while her parents , Mausi and the rest went upstairs to arrange for dinner, " he was almost bed ridden....and would barely talk to anyone. he had stopped recognizing family members as well...including myself. But, even then.....even though I had zero interaction with him....I always felt he was at least there...the man was alive." she recalled.
"Now that he's gone," she continued,"it's all over. You know? the moment they were carrying his body out......I didn't feel just sad, I didn't feel love-lorn....or grief-stricken. We all knew it was inevitable, that's how life is. But....it was a mix of emotions.....I felt guilty for having shouted at him for eating oily food during his last few years....I suddenly remembered a very important thing that I had always wanted to tell him, but had kept forgetting...........I recalled that I was planning to buy him a wheelchair, and that I would never have the scope again!"
With a heavy heart, Ishita climbed the stairs as she was called for the ritualistic dinner by her Mausi.
"Mandira didi...just check if I've kept the fish there," said Mandira's brother-in-law's wife, "I'll get the sweets from fridge."
"Yes yes...it's there. I don't want anything to go amiss!" said Mandira as she monitored around whether all the food items were being placed properly, "I want the full course meal to be arranged nicely and served ...it's my darling's Aiburobhaat today, at my home....I can't have enough of this day." she smiled fondly.
"Okay, Mandira," Tapsi said , suddenly,"why are we having this here upstairs? What about aunty? Will she be able to climb?"
"You mean my Mom-in-law?" Mandira asked, busy organizing the seven-eight bowls and plates around Ishita's plate of rice, "She said she won't be a part of it...you get the drift, right? I had asked her to join...but she said she won't feed Ishita as she is now a widow...and that it won't be good for Ishita's marital life."
"Are you kidding me?" Tapsi suddenly stood up from the chair she was sitting on, "Ishita won't eat today if Aunty doesn't feed her."
"We had tried," Mandira replied, "I don't think she will come....it's better if you go and speak once."
Tapsi went downstairs, only to find the aged lady sitting on a chair and weeping.
"You've seen Ishita grow up, since she was a child. Ishita used to come home and say how this Granny had cooked her a nice egg-roll! Today this girl is going to embark on a new life.....and you think we can let her go ahead without your participation?" Tapsi quizzed, sitting down beside her.
The lady started weeping more profusely and said, "Don't call me, Tapsi...I specifically asked Mandira to arrange all of it upstairs so that I am far from it. The ritual is meant only for married women....."
"That's your superstition talking, Aunty" Tapsi said, calmly, "I don't believe in this. For me, the ritual is meant for my daughter ...who's my life, my world.....to get blessings and good wishes from ALL WOMEN who have always loved her. And I don't believe a woman's marital status can be a determinant of who has the right to feed her, and who doesn't."
"Tapsi...are you sure?" she asked, still weeping a bit.
"I'm sure about one thing: I'm not letting Ishita eat unless you're coming upstairs and feeding her the first spoon of rice at least," Tapsi smiled, holding the lady in her arms, helping her stand up.
"You know, Aunty?" Tapsi said, as she helped the lady climb the stairs slowly, "There's this cousin sister of Ishita in Mumbai...even she is not married yet.....but she also treated Ishita to a bachelorette dinner, and called it Aiburobhaat...so? what's the harm?" The ladies laughed as they kept climbing up together.
Mandira lit the diya and blew the conch shell, as her mother-in-law bestowed her blessings on Ishita for a beautiful life ahead, with her shivering hands. Then she took a little bit of rice, and took a pinch of everything from the bowls....gravies, veggies, daal and fries..mixed them , and fed Ishita thrice.
Following her, her two daughters-in-law fed Ishita.
"Let em quickly check the items...I hope nothing is missing. I'll get the Mishti-doi from fridge once Ishita is about to finish," Mandira said.
"Don't worry sister, "Tapsi smiled, "It's a complete, full-course-meal now." she said, as she watched Mandira's mother-in-law sitting beside Ishita, laughing and chattering away while monitoring whether she was eating everything.