Jusmi is an English teacher. Obtained her Masters in English literature from Gauhati University India shares an immense love for writing.
“No mother, not anymore I will no more have this salt and rice with water. Give it to baa (elder sister). She might want to have it but not me. Can’t you give me even some mashed potatoes. Who will have all this. It’s not even a proper meal” screamed eight year old Tulika. She and her elder sister Ritu had just sat down to have their dinner but seeing the food on the plates they didn’t want it any longer. Ritu the elder one didn’t mouth her feelings but looking at her face Manju her mother could clearly understand that she was one with her sister. So, Manju tried convincing both of them and said, “Girls, please have whatever is there. Tomorrow promise I will definitely cook your favourite fish curry and also mutton fry with lots of onions. And Tuli you love kheer right I will cook some of that too. But, please have your dinner quietly today and go to bed. Baba (father) will be very angry if he comes to know both of you are troubling me and complaining about the food. So, please have it and go to bed.”
Saying so she went outside to the veranda where her husband Keshav was sitting staring at the sky. He was working as a watchman in the New Market which was around some seventy kilometers from the small town. But, ever since the pandemic hit the poor fellow lost his job like many others and was staying at home for almost a year now. Whatever savings he had it slowly got exhausted and now the family was not able to manage any longer. Poor Keshav was becoming pale and thin day by day due to the lack of proper nourishment and weighed down by the responsibility of his family.
Seeing her husband Manju said, “ Please, come inside and have your food. It’s already very late”. Keshav lifted his head and asked, “ Did the girls and you had dinner?” Manju nodded. They went inside their small house and had whatever was left and fell asleep quickly understanding that, it was the only cure or temporary relief from their desperate and sorry state.
The next morning as Keshav and Manju was having their tea they heard the clinging sound of their old rusty gate banging against their brick wall. They wondered who might have come so early in the morning. Manju went outside to check. Seeing the visitor she flashed a smile. It was none other than her younger brother Mahesh. He worked in the big city as a driver to a very influential businessman. He was paid well and was very happy with his work. Every time he visited his sister he used to tell her how generous his sir and madam was. Many times even they had sent old sarees, frocks etc for them. Manju and Keshav also knew them.
Keshav also came out seeing Mahesh he said, “ How are you Mahesh. Good to see you after such a long time. How is Uday sir and Sangeeta Madam?” Mahesh replied “All good Keshav brother. How are you? You don’t look fine. Anything wrong?” Manju come running and said, “ We will talk about all that later. Mahesh freshen up first and eat something. You look very tired. Tuli and Ritu will be so happy to see you here.”
Soon, the girls came out and seeing their favourite uncle their happiness and joy knew no bounds. Mahesh hugged both of them and gave them their favourite sweets and chocolate cream biscuits which he has got from the big city. Tulika biting into a cream biscuit said, “ Mother atleast I hope today you won’t be feeding uncle with that boring and tasteless food that you have been giving us everyday.” Hearing her even Ritu the eldest one spoke up, “ Yes, mother today please cook something nice. Dal is also fine if we cannot afford fish and mutton. But please no more salt rice.”
Mahesh, Keshav and Manju looked at each other. A drop of tears welled up in Manju's eyes. She immediately wiped it by the end of her old saree. Mahesh said, “Girls, go get ready we are heading to the nearby market. Let me buy you some gifts and today night we are going to have a feast so immediately go get ready otherwise the shops will be closed”. The girls ran happily to get ready.
Manesh again said, “ Baideu (sister) go make me some tea and I will have a chat with Keshav brother” . Saying so both of them went outside and sat on the steps. From the kitchen window Manju could see both of them having a grave discussion. Her husband looked very perplexed and confused at the same time. Bringing two cups of tea and some biscuits she came out hurriedly and inquired if everything was fine. Just as Keshav tried telling something the girls came running out and said, “ Mahesh uncle, we are ready. Let’s go quickly.”
Holding both of their hands Mahesh said, “ Keshav brother please have a word with Manju baideu about our discussion and work on a decision fast. I am leaving tomorrow morning around seven” saying so he went out with the girls.
Manju looked at her husband’s eyes and demanded, “ About what decision he was speaking about. What is it. What did you both discuss about?”
Mahesh kept quiet for sometime but when his wife screamed for the second time he replied, “ Your brother wants to to take Tuli away to the big city. His boss Uday has asked him to get a young maid to take care of his pregnant daughter. So, he came here in search of one. But looking at our condition he asked me if I can send Tuli with him. I thought and thought and finally I said you “yes”. Because that’s the only way we can survive in this conditions. Anyways we are not able to feed them. There she will at least get three square meals a day and we will earn some money. It’s better for everyone.”
Manju was not able to speak all she said was, “ Why Tuli? She is only eight. Can’t we send Ritu? She is almost fourteen and can manage even without me”.
Keshav said, “ No, we cannot. They want a young girl without any fuss. They said big girls give lot of tension and trouble. They are leaving at seven tomorrow. Make her dress neatly.” Saying so he pushed a bundle of notes in her palms.
Manju could do nothing other than weeping. Soon, the girls were back. It was soon time for dinner.
Tuli and Ritu were very happy today. Their mother has cooked all their favourite things today. There was fish curry, mutton dry fry, brinjal fried with besan and what not. She also prepared Tuli's favourite kheer. Putting a spoonful of kheer in her mouth Tuli said, “Mother, please make all these things everyday. It’s so delicious.” Mahesh said, “ Tuli dear from tomorrow you will even get even more delicious and better delicacies than this. I am taking you to the city with me. Will you come?”
She looked at her mother and asked, “Are you people coming too?” Manju couldn’t stand it any longer. With a heavy heart she went inside helplessly.
Keshav said, “Yes, dear we will all come but after sometime ok. Now, eat and enjoy the feast.”
© 2021 Jusmi Saikia