Bottled Away

I sit by the door on a raised platform and wait for my time. I had been known to be beautiful once but that was a long time ago. Now all you can see are loose folds and crisscross wrinkles and dangling earlobes. My frame is wasted and you can see the bones of my body jut out. Only my eyes have life in them. You can see the light gleam in them. They smoulder with hate when I glimpse my daughter and her husband.
Not very long ago was I the undisputed queen of the household. My daughter camped with me, obviously, her children were there too. And her husband. How he would fawn and fall at my feet at every given occasion! It was Amma this and Amma that and I was taken in by his charm. He was the son I had never had. After all those years of care I willed away my house and land to him as I considered him my son. That fateful day when we returned from the office after all the signatures he stopped talking to me.
I did not notice anything amiss, at first. I was speaking to him about the necessity of putting an extra feeder trough for the cows, when he turned away abruptly and strode away. It must have been the relentless sun, I thought. The next day, when I broached the topic of buying fodder in bulk, I stopped midsentence. He was looking at me with pure hatred. I felt my heart sink into the pit of my stomach. I could recognize rejection and I had never been wrong. I wished for the first time, to be proved wrong.
I swallowed my pride and spoke to him, he gave one scornful look and walked away, brushing my hand away. I stood there, staring at his back, holding my arm, when I noticed my daughter standing in the doorway. She hastily averted her eyes and traipsed off behind her husband. So that was where her loyalties lay. It was my house and these ungrateful people were now taking over.
If I had had a son, maybe things would have been different. However, I was doomed to lead a life of so much pain. So, I don’t really think it would have mattered.
My husband had wooed me as I was the only daughter of my parents and he had set his eyes on my property. I had been taken in, impressionable as I was. When his greedy mother approached my parents, my parents asked me for my opinion, thinking I would refuse. The look on their faces was priceless, when I agreed. They had thought I would be abhorred by the difference in age and his despicable lifestyle, and here I was a willing victim to the slaughter! Since this question was asked in front of the village elders it could not be revoked. So I ended up marrying a man twenty years my senior, a man who loved wine, women and song. In fact his beloved appeared at our wedding and sang a soulful ballad, creating quite a sensation, and a shiver of disapproval went down the spine of my family. The audacity of it all!
It is ironical that people who are given to excesses tend to be intensely protective about their family. My husband never allowed his daughters to be free. In fact when the village missionary asked to enroll my youngest daughter in the Girls’ Convent, he agreed to my great surprise. Five years later, when a girl from her senior class eloped he took her away from school. How I had begged and pleaded that she be allowed to study. But it was futile. He was worse with his grandchildren. No concessions to the changing times, no school picnics, no radio, no music and absolutely no dance classes. Such hypocrisy, I was disgusted. He was a connoisseur of the arts, fine arts, wasn’t he? He believed in being a patron, didn’t he?
I sang Bhadrachalam Ramadasu kirtanas, beautiful compositions in praise of Lord Rama, by the saint Ramadasu, who had been imprisoned in Golkonda fort for years. I had learnt these soulful compositions at music class years ago and sighed with regret that none of my family even showed remote interest in them. No would ever know these songs. They would not know the pathos in Ramadasu saying ‘My Lord has forsaken me…’ On Saturdays, I read my scriptures and the children trooped in and demanded their lunch. One day, my oldest granddaughter imperiously demanded that I serve her lunch and I snapped at her. I told her if I read my holy book, I would be blessed, what did I stand to achieve if I served her food? Her face crumpled up and her eyes welled with tears. I decided to ignore it. Let them get used to pain. I carried pain in my heart too. I did give her the choicest bits of curry though.
My grandchildren would cling on to their parents and try to defy my rules. My daughter knew what was expected of her. She disengaged their arms at the earliest opportunity and would begin talking brightly to me, ignoring the little manipulative devils who would creep back to their assigned places soon. Oh they learnt their place in the household alright!
After a lifetime of service I was ready to rest and be at peace after the last bird had flown the coop. My husband too decided to give me my freedom by simply not waking up one morning. But then you know what happened. After depriving me of my property and money, they treated me abominably. I was denied proper food and medical care. I, who never served leftovers to beggars even, had to eat food that was going bad. I sweated in the cruel relentless summers when they slept comfortably under fans. In winter a threadbare blanket gave me hesitant warmth and I sat up racked by bouts of rattling cough.
One winter morning, I found myself sitting there by the door and suddenly, I felt strong again. I stood up in a sprightly manner and walked around the house vigorously. Surprisingly, no one stopped me or even looked at me. I walked up to my son-in-law and spat on his face. He did not bat an eyelid. I slapped my daughter and she did not even flinch. Soon there was a huge crowd and people came from all over the village. They began wailing. I wished they would shut up! Mercifully, in a few hours the house was quiet. But then, droves of people descended with bag and baggage. There was a commotion that lasted for thirteen days.
I walked all over the house and went out to the streets visiting people I knew. Nobody spoke to me. Nobody even offered me tea. Disappointed, I walked to the seashore and sat there for a long time. After a fortnight, I felt stronger and more powerful. All that quiet and peace was therapeutic. I crept up on my son-in-law and pushed him hard at every given opportunity. He lost balance a couple of times and I cackled in glee. I sat by my daughter as she slept and throttled her till she gasped for breath. I slapped her so hard, you could see angry welts on her face and arms.
One morning, they cooked all the food I loved. Laddoos, potato curry, pooris and vegetable pulao. I picked up the food and threw it at them. They hastily ran away, my laugh following them. I wasn’t interested in food, not anymore.
They went away for a couple of days. I had the house to myself. I sat on the bed and looked at the coconut tree I had planted. It had grown taller than the house and the sweet flesh of the fruit enhanced the flavor of many dishes.
Again, my peace was disturbed. Noise from downstairs. I glided down the steps. There were weird looking patterns of rangoli traced out on the floor. An impressive looking priest was chanting something. I was drawn to the scene. I sat there, fascinated. Soon a glass bottle emerged from the priest’s bag and in a few seconds I was drawn into it. It was corked tightly and sealed.
The priest walked out and continued without stopping or talking to anybody on the way. I tried to get out of the bottle but could only make the bottle jump in the bag. The priest walked faster.
The priest had a hole dug, twenty feet deep, by the seaside, and buried me under the sand. He placed a huge rock on the spot and consecrated it.
I found enforced peace. But I did not rest in peace. I still cannot.
I lie there in the darkness for what seems like an eternity.
I can vaguely hear a loud roaring sound in the distance.
I do not know it yet, but above me hectic preparations are going on for the construction of a sprawling resort by the sea.


7 thoughts on “Bottled Away

    1. Dear Gilda,
      Thank you so much. Haven’t given any thought to writing a book,yet, but your words of appreciation have set me thinking. Thank you for reading and your positive feedback. Feeling on top of the world now! 😀 Bless you.

    1. Thank you Arpita! ❤ A book is what I’m planning to work on during the winter and summer vacation. With work looming large on my horizon, I shall have to stick to short fiction and poetry, for now. 😀

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