The Favorite Pickles
The Favorite Pickles5 mins 119 5 mins 119
Naina returned home exhausted, after a long day at school. The annual cultural festival was due next month, just before the school would break for the summer holidays and the teachers and children were working hard at it. Her throat was sore and parched from teaching the children their lessons as well as overseeing and instructing the students auditioning for a drama based on Shakespeare’s Tempest in the hours after the classes.
“Why so late?”- Ma’s censuring voice questioned.
“The annual festival is next month Ma. It is going to get even more demanding but then just the matter of a month, so don’t you worry!”- Naina reassured.
“Job is the only life she has. Why bother about her old parents or spending some time home helping her mother!”- Ma muttered and frowned.
Naina had studied Arts, majoring in History and English literature, gone for a B.ED and had taken up the occupation of a teacher in a private school in her town. Though she had once harbored the dream of becoming a full-time archaeologist, excavating old caves and ruins, her parents’ disapproval and fear for her safety-she being an only child had not allowed her to walk this path. Besides, the payment from the job was good enough and afforded her a stay at home itself, instead of having to relocate to a bigger city as many of her classmates from school or college had had to do. However, she still had a wish which she hadn’t been able to subdue- to be able to visit other countries. Shimla, though a beautiful city nestled amongst the south-western ranges of the Himalayas and surrounded by majestic woods of oaks, deodars and pines was a place Naina had been in since a wee age and as is usually the case, familiarity with the so-called breathtaking sceneries that never cease to amaze travelers, only meant blasé everyday life for her. Not that she did not love her home town. However, her perusal of the achievements of great men and the cultures of other nations made her long to be there herself.
Thus, Naina had enrolled herself in for Mandarin classes. The oriental culture had become her personal favorite since her college days when she had begun to read about the Silk route and the great Chinese scholars who had trodden this very route to reach India. She had delved further into Chinese history and read about the mighty dynasties that ruled glorious ancient China- the hub of exquisitely woven silk, pottery, and literature- had inspired her to start learning the country’s language itself.
She had successfully passed through three levels and had appeared for the fourth level this year itself. As she reviewed the chapter she would be teaching in the class the next day, her eyes fell upon the calendar. It was on April 5th. The fourth level results could be out anytime this month. She remembered not having been sure about the answers to a few questions, the difficulty of the exam naturally being on the higher side given its level. About of anxiety seized her. She needed to relax, which she could only one way- binging on the spicy apple pickle, that ma had made from the apples preserved from last year.
Ma used to prepare apple pickles, famous in Shimla, every year. And she was undoubtedly an expert in it. Naina simply adored her mother’s pickles, craving them all the more when she was tensed- a won't that Naina had had since childhood. Naina searched for the jar of pickles in the kitchen. But her search yielded no result.
“Ma! Where is the Achaar?”- Naina asked in a raised voice.
“Achaar? Why do you want it now? How silly for such a grown girl. At her age, I was so much more efficient in the duties of a woman.”
“Oh…Leave the girl be. She returns home to unwind herself, not listen to your bickering.”- Baba admonished Ma mildly.
Naina went back to her revising her lesson, her mood sullen. She stared glumly at the framed family photograph was taken in the local zoo of Ma, Baba and her 6-year-old self smiling cheerfully at the camera.
Why have things turned so bitter, where are those happy days of the past, Naina pondered with a deep sigh.
That weekend, as Naina randomly surfed the internet, her mailbox beeped. Opening it revealed that the long-awaited results of level 4 Mandarin proficiency were out. Naina checked the mail with a beating heart. She had barely managed to cross the cut off marks. But it couldn’t matter more, now that she had passed. “Yes! I did it! Got through Level 4!”- She beamed in front of her parents.
“Thank God. I am so happy for your child! Well, now should be the perfect time to get you married off and settled.”- Ma retorted excitedly.
“Ma…I have settled enough already! I don’t need some weird man to settle my life!”- Argued Naina and went away in a huff.
In about a few weeks’ time, an opportunity that Naina had been dreaming of presented itself- the job of an interpreter in the Chinese embassy at New Delhi. She had to grab onto this somehow.
“I will have to relocate soon to Delhi. I will be joining the Chinese embassy there as an interpreter. The remuneration is great…and will propel me forward in my career…so…”-Naina informed at home.
The atmosphere seemed to have turned unpleasant. Naina bit her lips. Should she have told them a bit later? What difference would it have made?
“Congratulations! What wonderful news dear girl! We are so very proud of you.”- Baba spoke after a while, genuinely pleased. He turned towards his wife for a similar response. But she did not gratify their expectations, instead of walking way silently into the kitchen.
On the day before Naina’s departure, as she browsed through the documents she had to carry to her new workplace carefully one last time and placed them in her luggage, Ma entered the room and placed a jar of apple pickles, its lid carefully wrapped in a clean cotton cloth inside her luggage. “Here, your favorite pickles. You know you need them when you are stressed. Take care to keep the jar intact. Else all the other stuff will be ruined.”
Naina could not utter another word. Tears welled up in her eyes.