Maasi6 mins 150 6 mins 150
Manohar stood next to the freezer box staring at the body of Ishwari Maasi. His thoughts went down memory lane and his eyes welled with tears as he realised how much love and care Maasi had showered on him. Ever since he was born, it was Ishwari Maasi who nursed him and brought him up. His parents, Seth Durgaprasad and Parvati were returning home from a nearby temple when their car collided with a speeding truck. Passersby took them to the hospital where Parvati gave birth to a boy after which she developed pulmonary embolism and was a high risk patient. Durgaprasad had a compound fracture of his arm, but otherwise there was no other major injury. Both of them however were traumatised by the incident and when the doctors broke the news of the blood clots having got severely lodged in Parvati’s lungs, Durgaprasad was shattered. Despite the best efforts of the surgeons, Parvati’s battle lasted just under a month.
Ishwari who belonged to the same town as Parvati was also in the same hospital for her delivery. She had been deserted by her husband and as she had lost the child, Durgaprasad employed her to take care of the motherless infant and from then on, Ishwari became one of the family. After a year or so, Durgaprasad married again and soon there was an addition of twins, Lopa and Lekha in the family. Netra, their mother hardly found time from socialising and left the kids in the care of Ishwari. In the meanwhile, Durgaprasad’s mother too came to stay with them as she was growing old and felt insecure in her hometown.
From dawn to dusk, it was Ishwari’s name which was called out often by the eldest to the youngest. Right from the time she awoke till she went to bed, she hardly had a moment for herself. She could not even have her morning tea in peace. Maaji would call out to her to keep the pooja items ready, or she would find some excuse to see that she did not have time for her morning tea. Manohar had to get ready for school, Sethji’s breakfast and Netra’s bed coffee, the twins’ milk, all had to be taken care of at the same time. How she managed to do it, nobody could figure it out, but Ishwari calmly and diligently went about her work unperturbed.
Manohar recounted his innumerable tantrums and the ever smiling face of Maasi as she responded to them. Never for a moment did she express annoyance or impatience. Once, knowing very well that the tomato soup was over, he was adamant that he wanted another bowl of soup then and there. To his surprise, within a minute Maasi had brought him the soup. Only when he grew up he came to know Maasi’s trick – she had merely diluted some tomato ketchup, spiced it up and placed it before him. He was not the only one to pull her leg. Maaji was no less – she knew that there were no lemons in the house and yet she asked Ishwari to get her a glass of lime juice. Again, magically it was served. Only Ishwari knew how she did it – she merely added a pinch of citric acid in sugar syrup and served it as lime juice and fortunately, Maaji could not make out the difference.
Manohar tried to recollect whether Maasi had a proper meal even once. Every time, someone or the other would ask for extra rice or chappati and that would be from Maasi’s share. If she cooked a little more than needed, she would immediately face the wrath of Netra who would mince no words in admonishing her. There were always visitors in the house and almost always they would come unannounced and at lunch or dinner time. Maasi would “adjust” somehow – which meant she went hungry that day!
The twins were pampered by Maaji and would hardly listen to Maasi. Soon they became spoilt brats with the grandmother protecting them and the parents giving them a free hand as they were always busy in their own high society living.
As years rolled by, Lopa and Lekha spent more time on fashion and less on studies. When Maasi tried to speak to Sethji about it, Netra would not allow her even to get in a word. Showing her irritation, she shoved her aside and Maasi fell on the floor. Manohar picked her up and dressed her injury. After this incident, Maasi went into a shell. She went about her work as always but did not show any interest in anything at all.
Though Manohar had a soft corner for her, he could not express himself freely as he himself was not very much liked by anyone in the family. Maaji spared no opportunity to say that he had “swallowed” his mother. He kept aloof, concentrating on his studies and was one of the top scorers in high school. He also secured admission in a prestigious residential college and to say the least, he was quite happy and looking forward to hostel life which he believed would definitely be better from the gloomy atmosphere in his home.
He had packed his bags and Maasi was there to help him. She packed all kinds of sweets and savouries he liked and stacked them in his room so that he could take them to the hostel.
It was a Sunday, one day when the whole family sat together for a late breakfast. Maasi was as always in the kitchen making aloo parathas for them. Manohar had gone to the kitchen for a glass of water and noticed that she was agitated and was not her usual self. As he turned, he saw her suddenly gasp for breath and collapse. By the time the doctor arrived, all was over.
With Maasi’s death the family which had gathered for breakfast dispersed and Manohar felt he had momentarily seen a fleeting smile on Maasi’s face as if poetic justice had been done to her for the countless meals she had been deprived of. Being the only one in the family who was kind to her, he lit a lamp and some incense sticks by her side and went around her, when he caught sight of a piece of paper in her hand. He gently took it and started reading it.
I know you will be greatly surprised by the contents of this letter, but as I have an inkling that I will soon be leaving you, I felt it my duty to share with you a secret which I have kept to myself all these years.
The still born child in the hospital was not mine, but Parvati’s. The nursing staff were discussing Parvati’s precarious condition and also expressed the fear that if she came to know that her child was still born, she might go into a coma. At that time, as I had nothing to live for excepting you, I immediately requested the doctor to exchange my child with hers, so that there will be a chance that she may recover soon seeing the bonny baby. However, God willed otherwise, but I have the satisfaction to have seen the joy on her face when she held you for the few days that she lived. Sethji too does not know anything of this.
All my life, though you were close to me, I could not let you know that I was your mother. Now, I request you to please perform the rituals which are customary so that I may leave in peace. You have been calling me “Maasi” all these years – yes I was your loving Maa jaisi : maasi”.
Manohar brushed back the tears. He did not wish to share this secret with anyone. ‘Let it die with my mother’, he thought to himself. In the meanwhile, Sethji was frantically trying to arrange with the priests to identify someone who would do the last rites. He was taken aback when Manohar silenced him by saying that he would perform the rituals saying that she was like a mother to him.