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The Bundle

The Bundle

9 mins 404 9 mins 404

“Shanti didi, please ek stool lana,” Meera instructed her mother’s loyal house help. Shanti had been with them for over 15 years and knew their house better than she did. Meera felt guilty of feeling so lost in the very house where she grew up, but she decided to soothe her heart by telling herself that a lot had changed over the past 10 years...ever since she moved to the States. 


This was perhaps the fourth or fifth time that she had visited India. Almost in her mid-forties, her reasons to visit her homeland were more tragic than happy. The last time she visited was about three years back when she had lost her father. She tried to make her mother move to the States with her, but the older woman was not ready to let go of her life back in India. Finally, Meera had accepted the fact that her mother would only be a visiting guest at her home. 


Her mother was supposed to visit her next month. Only, she couldn’t. Twenty days back, while on her way to work, she got a call from her maternal aunt, telling her that her mother had passed away in her sleep. 


Meera couldn’t understand the emotions she experienced when she heard that. She still couldn’t. Losing a parent is always hard, but the moment when one realises that you are now an orphan...no matter at what age, one can’t help but feel lost; like a child who has been separated from his parents in a crowd. 


Meera recalled feeling numb. The feeling of helplessness engulfed her like a thick fog on a cold January morning. She looked around at her co-passengers in the tube...strangers...all of them. How she wished she was in India, surrounded by her family and friends. 


Didi...stool,” Shanti’s voice brought her back to the present. 

“Hmm...haan, lao idhar,” she instructed Shaanti to place the stool in front of her mother’s cupboard. “Ispe chhad jao aur uper jo bhi samaan hai mujhe pakda do.” 


Meera was on a cleaning spree. She was supposed to leave for the States in 10 days. Her husband and children had already returned, but she needed to wrap up a lot of things. She was done with the legal formalities, but her mother’s possessions were yet to be sorted. 


As Shanti climbed up on the stool, Meera stood near her; her eyes fell on a yellow and pink saree that was hanging in the wardrobe. She touched the saree and recalled how pretty her mother used to look when she wore that particular saree. Meera had lost count of the number of times she had told her mother that she would borrow that saree someday and wear it. But that day never came. Over the years, the elegance of saree was replaced by the comfort of pants. She made up her mind to take that saree with her back to the States. 


Didi, ye pakdo,” Shanti handed over a few packets to her. In the next 1 hour, the area around the cupboard was full of packets that had been pulled out from the various shelves. 


Meera looked at the things scattered in the room and wondered how she would be able to wind up the entire house in 10 days. She drew a sharp breath and sat crossed-leg on the floor, as her hand reached for the first packet. 


Most of the packets contained some new clothes that still had their tags on. Meera decided to give them all to Shanti. A small, sad chuckle escaped her lips as she thought of how unpredictable life was. She wondered if, while buying those clothes, her mother would have ever thought that she would never get to wear them.


From new and unused things, she gradually moved to the packets and boxes that contained the old stuff. Clothes, shoes, purses and other things that her mother had no use for anymore, but was reluctant to dispose of. Meera disposed of them all without a second thought. After about two hours, most of the stuff was either disposed of or set aside for distribution and donation. 


Didi...ye ek box hai. Mummy ji har thode din mein nikaalti thi. Usme kuch dekh ke phir wapis rakhwa deti thi. Aap zara dekh lo,” Shanti said as she placed the box in front of Meera, who requested Shanti to get her a cup of piping hot tea. 


As she opened the box, her eyes landed on something that took her back almost 40 years. There were pictures of their first house, the one where Meera was born. There were pictures of her as a chubby infant; of her parents on one of the vacations they took. A smile crept up her lips as she saw one photograph after the other. She couldn’t recall how many years it was since she had held a proper photograph in her hand, thanks to digital and phone cameras. 


Didi...chai,” Shanti handed her the teacup and sat beside her. “Kaun hai ye, Didi?” She peered into the photograph and Meera told her about who was who in the photographs. “Didi...ye kaun hai?” Shanti handed a particular photograph to her, and Meera frowned. She couldn’t recognise the young 20-something man who smiled at her through the photograph. She turned around the picture and saw a name scribbled at the bottom right corner of the well-thumbed photograph. She squeezed her eyes to read it properly. 


“Ratan. 3/11/1975” she mumbled. She realised that Shanti was looking at her with curious eyes. “Pata nahi, abhi pehchaan nahi pa rahi. Aap ek kaam karo, ye sab utha lo, ye aapke liye...aur ye baaki samaan sab baantna hai.” 


Shanti immediately focused her attention on the stuff, forgetting all about the photograph and the mystery man. But Meera’s mind was still stuck on that. She could see hazy flashbacks of her mother opening that particular box...many years ago...when Meera was still a child. She remembered how her mother would only open it when her father was away and when she believed that Meera was asleep. The more she thought about it, the more she got curious. 


She started looking for more clues in the box and after a lot of digging, she found a bundle; a tightly wrapped, sealed bundle of papers. There were many layers of duct tape around the plastic packet. The old layers were covered by new ones. She carefully peeled the top-most layer of the duct tape, which did not look too old. This could only mean one thing...her mother had very recently opened it and then sealed it again. 


The minute the tape was off, Meera pulled out a stack of letters that were, quite obviously, decades old. They were all addressed to her mother...but both the dates of delivery as well as her mother’s maiden name suggested that they were sent to her before she was married to her father. The sender’s name in all the letters was the same. 


‘Ratan Joshi’ 


From the look of the letters, Meera could tell that they had been read and re-read many times over. Some of them were almost in tatters. Meera’s heart was pounding. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know the truth, which her heart was already aware of by now. 


Her mind was filled with conflicting thoughts. Her curiosity egged her to open the letters and read through the content...but her upbringing to respect people’s privacy was stopping her from doing it. 


She turned the first letter over. It was still folded, but because of the crooked fold, some part of it was visible. She read what was written on it. 


‘Always yours, my love...

Ratan. 


Meera’s mind went blank. Her instinct was finally proven right. For a minute, she was ashamed of her mother. She wondered if her mother had lied to her father all throughout their married life. Did she ever mean it when she told her father that she loved him? Was she in touch with her lover even after marriage? For a few moments, Meera was enraged...but only for a few moments...till the daughter in her was overshadowed by the woman in her. 


She smiled through her tears and she knew her heart understood her mother...not as a daughter but as a woman. A woman who had once loved someone with all her heart...a woman who perhaps still loved him till her last breath. But at the same time, a woman who had the strength to move on and start her life afresh with another man, a stranger whom her parents approved of. And she was capable of loving him as well. She was capable of standing by him in his toughest times; and till he breathed his last. She was strong, and she was capable of cherishing a lifetime of memories she made with her husband and daughter...yet keep a small corner of her heart reserved for a man, who had perhaps taught her what love really was.


Meera sealed the packet again. She took it out to the garden of their bungalow and started digging a small ditch under the Gulmohar tree...her mother’s favourite. 


With tears streaming down her eyes, she buried the letters under the soft mud; and hoped that her mother forgave her for those few moments when she had cursed her as a daughter. But her heart already knew that she was forgiven...because eventually...a woman had understood another woman. 



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