“I have been waiting for you to show up.”
The last time I had been here, I had said I would be back soon. I am returning 4 years later. Her sarcasm is understandable. I quietly remove my shoes at the door, enter the room and bend down to touch her feet saying, “Jai Shri Krishna Mamma“.
That melts her a little. “Jai Shree Krishna Beta,” she replies, patting my back.
“Alu palak ka thepla khaayega?” It translates to, will you have potato and spinach flatbread?
She’s asking if I will have dinner that she has by 6pm, as I remember. Its 5pm already and I had lunch barely an hour ago. I politely refuse saying I’m not hungry.
“Then have tea,” she urges. I nod.
Mamma is a friend’s mother. She’s stays in a one-room kitchen that is, mercifully, on the ground floor. The friend died of a heart attack six years ago. I have kept away for long.
“Yashoda, get tea,” Mamma shouts out.
Yashoda is the name of the current help. She is new to me. I am happy there is someone to help. I shudder to think how she would have managed by herself, especially during these times.
“She stays here with me.”
It feels like she heard my thoughts! In a minute, Yashoda steps in with a full cup of tea. I see that Yashoda is old too. Who will take care of her when she gets to Mamma’s age?
“What is your routine now?” I change the topic in the room and in my head.
Mamma tells me about her life. It’s a list of her waiting – waiting in bed in the morning to hear Yashoda’s voice, waiting for tea, waiting for the tv to play, her prayers, her serials, waiting for one of her daughters to call, then lunch, a siesta, back to waiting for her Gujarati movie, waiting for dinner, then lying down and waiting for sleep that wouldn’t come. Then wait, wait and wait some more till sleep finally arrives.
“Is the landline number working?” I ask.
“I use the mobile instead. It’s easier,” she replies before adding “I look in the list and call.”
The list lies on the sofa at the opposite end of the compact room. I pick up the single, laminated sheet printed in size 26 font that contains all the numbers Mamma needs to call. Numbers of family – her daughters, nephew, doctor and other relatives. There were 3-4 names of friends of her dead son – names I knew.
“Do the friends call?” I asked, telling her their names.
“From time to time.”
It is interesting to listen to her take on each friend’s life. I let her speak without interrupting, all the while thinking about the list and that my name does not figure on it..
“Pass me the remote. I want to switch to the prayer channel.”
I pass the remote. She switches to a spiritual channel. I know its time for me to leave. I tell Mamma I will leave.
“You sure you will not have dinner?”
I smile and promise to have it the next time.
“Yes,” she smiles at my reply, without addding anything.
I bend down to touch her feet, then wear my shoes. I get to the door and shut the door and struggle to shut it as the auto-lock is stuck. Mamma tells me, “Don’t worry, Yashoda will do it.”
My last image is of her looking towards the kitchen waiting for Yashoda to get there and finally close the door.