Smita Das Jain



Smita Das Jain


Having A Good Time

Having A Good Time

8 mins

Savita sat alone in the humongous living room. She peered at the 50-inch TV in front without watching the channel playing in it. The whirring sound of the ceiling fan buzzed in her ears.

The fifty-eight-year-old woman was visiting her daughter in Delhi. She had come from Kolkata to spend some time with her child and grandchild. Back at her place, her son and daughter-in-law were busier than ever, and she could not play the TV loud as she used to. Work From Home had encroached her private space.

She was glad when the Covid cases reduced and domestic flights resumed. Tired of being cooped up in her home for one year, she insisted upon visiting her daughter. She looked forward to the welcome change.

Except that there was no change.

Savita soon found that her daughter’s life in Delhi mirrored that of her daughter-in-law in Kolkata. Akriti, while visibly glad to have her mother stay with her, was too pressed for time to talk much. The doors of all the three bedrooms in the house remained closed from morning till afternoon. Her son-in-law and daughter enclosed themselves in separate rooms for their office work, and ten-year-old Akansha, Savita’s granddaughter, used the third one for her online classes. The doors of Akansha’s room were the first to open daily, and it was only then that Savita got a chance to stretch her legs after lunch. In the last week, there had been days that she had spoken to her daughter only at the dinner table.

‘What a life!’ Savita thought to herself. ‘My dear husband would have been horrified had he lived to see this day.’

“Tea for you, Aunty?” Chhavi, the full-day housemaid, who came from the nearby village, broke into her musings.

“Yes, please. Less milk with one tablet of sugar-free, as usual.” Savita smiled at her.

The twenty-year-old young girl seemed to be the only one in the house with some time to speak to her.

The blend of water and tea leaves produced a familiar, comforting sound. The fruity aroma that filled the air compelled Savita to move to the kitchen and stand next to Chhavi.

“Didi was telling me yesterday that you are currently doing your B.Ed.?” Savita inquired.

“Yes, Aunty.” Chhavi smiled shyly, an eye on the boiling tea.

“So why are you working as a housemaid here? You could have easily picked up a teaching job at a school, or perhaps even an office job.”

“Not for me, those jobs. I will get married someday and look after the dwelling of my husband. Hence, I need to be proficient in housework, cooking, cleaning, home budget management, etc. I am learning all those things in this job. What will working in the office or school teach me about married life?” Chhavi asked.

Savita was amazed at the clarity of thought from someone in the lower economic strata. Many of her long-held presuppositions and beliefs were dissolving away during the pandemic time. Someone choosing low-pay housework over well-paying desk jobs was another such addition.

‘How cruel it would be,’ Savita thought, ‘if the poor girl didn’t get married.’ Chhavi’s fair face was marred by deep scars on the left side. Drops of hot deep-fried oil had scalded the girl’s cheeks when she was helping her mother in the kitchen many years back. With time, the marks grew in prominence. This would impact Chhavi’s demand in the ‘marriage market,’ though Savita sincerely hoped to be proven wrong on this count.

 “Your tea, Aunty.” Chhavi handed over the cup to her. Savita’s lips widened as she took a generous sip.

“God bless you, Chhavi. I always feel refreshed and energized after drinking the tea made by you. I only wish that my daughter or daughter-in-law make one cup of tea for me in my lifetime,” Savita said.

“Why should Didi have to make tea when I am here? She is very busy with work. In fact, sometimes I see her more hassled than Vinay Bhaiya.”

“That is true. Akriti was the studious type right from childhood. She would be busy with her books, sparing no time to help me with household work. Her father said she had a bright future. It was he who spoiled her,” Savita reminisced with a smile.

A comfortable pause ensued between the women, two generations apart. Savita finished her tea and turned back to the TV. That was all she had to do these days.

“Must you travel out of the home during the pandemic?” Savita was aghast. The family of four was having dinner. Aakriti had told her of Vinay and her intent to go for a three-day getaway somewhere.

“Goodness knows when the pandemic will be over,” Aakriti replied. “We are tired of this forced confinement in the house. Vinay and I haven’t been able to spend much time with each other amidst our schedules. We thought it would be good to go for a short trip by ourselves when you are here. We don’t have to worry about the house or leaving Akansha behind. She will be safe with you.”

‘I am not your daughter’s babysitter,’ Savita wanted to shout but restrained herself. Instead, she exclaimed, “I also came here to spend time with you all.”

“We have been spending time with you. You will be here for another two-three weeks while we will be away only for three days. You won’t even realise when we went and returned.” Aakriti assured her mother.

Her daughter’s definition of spending time being poles apart from her expectations, Savita decided it best to keep mum.

“Ask Chhavi to stay at home for the nights while we are away,” her husband added for good measure. “That way, Mummyji will have help at hand whenever she needs it.”

Savita perked up a little after hearing the sentence.

However, that night, Savita tossed and turned in bed. Her pride was hurt, but the dependence on her children constrained her. She didn’t know how to book air tickets by herself, and expressing her desire to leave early would cause discord.

In any case, going back to Kolkata, to her son and his wife, wouldn’t change much for her. For the umpteenth time, she wished that her husband was alive. Living without her spouse was lonely.

‘I feel as if I am staying alone,’ she thought. ‘Come to think of it, it might not be a bad idea to stay in a safe and well-maintained senior living accommodation.’

She looked at her late husband’s photograph, suspended from the wall in front.

‘Perhaps there is an advantage in being alone,’ she remarked. ‘One is spared the worry. I need worry only about myself.’ She shook her head. ‘And I have learned not to worry overly about myself. What is the worst that can happen, after all?’ She looked up. ‘The ceiling of the room may just provide me with some divine guidance,’ she thought aloud.

“Dadi,” Akansha’s scared voice interrupted her thoughts.

“What’s the matter, my dear child?” she asked. It was well past her granddaughter’s bedtime.

 “I had a bad dream. Can I sleep here with you today? I don’t know whether Mom and Dad will let me.”

“Of course. Come.”

As she patted her only grandchild to sleep, Savita glanced at her husband’s photo. He seemed to be smiling down at her.

The albums fell to the floor with a thud. A few loose photographs from inside flew helter-skelter. The clamor made Savita hurry to the storeroom.

“What happened, Chhavi?” she inquired.

“I was dusting the bookshelf, and the books slipped from my hands,” Chhavi said, scared of a scolding. Her employers had left town earlier that day, and she had agreed to stay at the house till their return.

Savita picked up the photograph of a young couple playing Ludo. She could not recognize her younger self at first glance.

“These are Albums, Chhavi. Don’t call them books. Books contain words, whereas albums have memories, and there is a treasure trove of them here.”

Savita picked up the first album nearest her hand and opened the first page.

“This is our wedding album, Chhavi. See, how young we looked,” she said as a child enthralled. For the next one hour, she took the willing young girl through her entire family history.

 “So that was how Akriti’s father breathed his last,” Savita concluded her tale. A hint of a tear appeared in her left eye.

“Did you used to play Ludo with Uncle often?” the young girl asked.

“Often? We played it every day; it was a stressbuster for both of us. I miss playing the game now.”

“I also like the game a lot, but there is no one plays it at my home,” Chhavi remarked wistfully.

Savita eyed the maidservant expectantly. “Is there a Ludo board here?”

“Yes. In Akansha baby’s room.”

“Why don’t you bring it from her room?”

“Now?” Chhavi’s eyes opened wide.

“Yes. Tell Akanksha to join us when her classes get over.”

Chhavi’s eyes twinkled as she sped to follow the instructions.

Savita went to the living room and ensconced herself in a cozy corner of the L-shaped sofa.

“Chhavi, please push the center table nearer to me,” she uttered when the younger girl came into view with the Ludo. “Let us arrange the board.”

“There is work to do at house,” Chhavi said half-heartedly.

“Nothing that can’t be postponed,” Savita said in a firm voice. “Now that Vinay and Akriti are not here, I am in charge. So please do as I say.”

“Yes, Aunty.” Chhavi happily sat down on the floor.

“Why are you sitting on the floor? It’s a long game, and your legs will turn sore. Sit on the sofa,” Savita said kindly.

“Me. Sit on the sofa, Aunty?” Chhavi was flabbergasted. Akriti had warned Chhavi about her old-fashioned and conservative mother and instructed her not to get caught sitting on the sofa or dining chair during the duration of her stay.

“Who else is here?” Savita said impatiently. “Come on, we haven’t got the whole day.”

The two women got engrossed with the roll of dice.

Beep. Trrng. Beep. The ringtone of Savita’s mobile phone interrupted their game. They were on their fourth game, with Akansha having joined the other two. No one was in the mood to stop.

Savita took the call, a tad impatient.

“Great that you have reached,” she said to Aakriti, who was on the other line. “Yes, yes, I am absolutely fine. You two do not worry about me; I am having a good time here. Take your time to return.”

Savita put her phone down and looked at a smiling Chhavi and her excited granddaughter. Both of them waited for Savita’s turn to roll the dice. Indeed, she was having a good time.

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