Shakuntala had never been so busy earlier. She avoided responding to any phone calls and visitors were least entertained. She had carved a niche for herself among neighbours, friends and relatives as an integrated person. Her wisdom and knowledge of life attracted them so much that they confided in her in times of trouble. She was admired for her culinary and aesthetic skills. Shakuntala examined a woman’s body and sew the garment that fit so perfectly well that young girls and women pleaded her to stitch blouses for them.
This time, Shakuntala flatly refused to help anybody. Her neighbours were sad that they couldn’t meet and chat with her. It was not that they were unaware. They knew that Shakuntala was going to fly soon. Dubai colony got its name from those young men and women who made their career in Dubai and amassed a lot of wealth and returned home.
Shakuntala, however, was not flying to Dubai but via Dubai to Trieste, Italy. Her younger daughter, Satya was married to Dr.Ram, a Nanotechnologist. Satya was a Research Fellow at the University of Trieste. She was in her third trimester and Shakuntala was going to Trieste to take care of the baby. Most of her neighbours claimed that either their husbands or sons, a few daughters were in Dubai but they held Shakuntala in high regard for two reasons. One she was a woman of integrity and second; she was going to fly to Italy. Not that she was without enemies. There were women who were jealous of her too.
“Gayathri Devi, the old lady who stays in the first left building in the second lane; she was taken to Dubai by her son and believe me, no parent has ever got the chance to fly in an aeroplane from this colony,” said Soma, her Bengali neighbour.
“Shakuntala is busy preparing pickles and savouries for her son-in-law and daughter,” added Sridevi.
“I must say Shakuntala is very lucky,” pointed Smita Nalavade.
A few ladies agreed and a few who felt a pinch in their heart brushed off their viewpoints.
So Shakuntala packed things that she considered expensive in a foreign land. She packed sesame, ginger, garlic, red chillies, cloves and brown rice. The list was endless and at last her husband, Vishnu said, “Why do you want to carry so many things? Remember you are going alone.”
“I know. I know,” she muttered.
Shakuntala also stitched small langotis (loincloths) and banians (small tops to cover the body). Time was a constraint so she bought some nighties for her daughter instead of stitching them. The day she was about to board the flight, she deep fried pomfrets and covered them in layers of banana leaves lest they smelled in the plane.
Vidya, her elder daughter, said, “Amma, don’t worry about appa. I’ll take care of him. How I wish I could also see the baby!” But Shakuntala was the most eligible of all the members in the family to fly to Italy because she was experienced in child rearing. Her elder son-in-law, Ram Kumar (coincidentally both the sons-in-law bore the same name with just a difference of kumar between them.) accompanied her to the Chatrapati Shivaji International airport at Santacruz.
For the first time, her heart sank to her feet. Inside the airplane, she closed her eyes and prayed to God and for twelve hours, she kept praying.
Dr.Ram was waiting for her at the airport and as they drove home, Shakuntala told herself, ‘Trieste is certainly beautiful.’
Satya was waiting for her mother at the apartment. How happy she was to see her mother after two long years. No sooner did she hug her mother, than she felt something slip through her uterus. In the next few minutes, Satya felt the contractions. Dr.Ram contacted the emergency and the ambulance reached in no time.
“Congratulations! It’s a baby boy,” the matron informed Shakuntala.
They were not allowed to stay in the hospital so Shakuntala went back home with her son-in-law to their apartment. It was a two bedroom flat and she was surprised to see a stranger in the house.
“Who is he, Ram?” she asked.
“Oh, mummy, he is our flatmate, Sergio. We work for the same company.”
“Flatmate?” she asked petrified.
“Yeah, mummy, it is quite common here to stay on shared accommodation.”
“Hola,” the flatmate said.
“Which language does he speak?”
“He said, how are you?”
“Fine. Thank you. How are you?”
“Estoy bien. Gracias.”
Shakuntala asked her son-in-law, “How do you manage staying in one house?”
“We have separate bedrooms and the kitchen is used by us in different timings.”
She took out all the things that she had brought for Satya. During dinner, as per her custom, she knocked the flatmate’s door and offered him the fried fish.
“Soy vegetariano, perdon,” he replied.
Shakuntala was surprised to see a vegetarian in a foreign land. She always thought that only certain castes in India were vegetarians.
After four days, Satya returned home with the baby and the grandmother became busy again. On the twenty first day, the baby was named, ‘Viraj’, a name beginning with the same syllable as his grandfather Vishnu’s.
Sometimes, Shakuntala went to the grocery to get some vegetables. She also got used to the windbreaker, a stole and a head scarf which she had never worn before.
One day, Shakuntala was buying some vegetables at the grocery. A lady, as old as her stopped her and said, “Your drres ees nice.”
Shakuntala had passed high school and managed to speak a tolerable English. “Thank you,” she replied.
“I wantth to wear dees drres,” the lady insisted.
“You come home. I will give you a saree,” said Shakuntala warmly.
“No. No. You thake mine. I thake yours,” she replied.
Both the women laughed and exchanged pleasantries.
A few days later, Ram and Satya invited their colleagues for lunch to celebrate the birth of Viraj. It was time to show off Shakuntala’s culinary skills. She made Vadas, Idlis, Sambar, coconut rice and mutter paneer(cottage cheese and peas). She was surprised to see Ram make samosas. Among the colleagues, were an Italian, an Indian couple, a Korean, a Sri Lankan, two Brazilians, a Kenyan, a Nigerian and a Pakistani couple. When Shakuntala was introduced to the Pakistanis, she felt the preconceived prejudice in her heart. She called Satya aside and asked, “You have Pakistani friends?”
“Amma,” she said, “We don’t have such feelings. Almost all of us are foreigners and they are a very friendly acquaintance.”
The guests gifted the baby a trolley. They were very much like them. Very normal, friendly and humane just like her.
Vishnu had told her that the effort she’d put in preparing eatables and stitching clothes would go in vain but what she saw was quite contrary to what she had been told. Even the langotis and jubbaas that she stitched for the baby were being used.
After three months of stay in Elletra, she started back home with sweetest memories and stories to be told to her friends and neighbours waiting for her in Dubai Colony.