Continued from: A Piece of Raw Ginger (I)
The storm of her grief shook us both as she clung to me, sobbing. I held her, feeling at once stoic and sympathetic. Grief like that just makes you take a deep breath. You know it needs to be dealt with, one way or another. I held her, letting her create space for it inside her.
A few minutes and she had composed herself, as I expected. She was a strong woman, not one to give way to futile laments.
In the next three hours, she poured out her story. There were times when, in her excitement and agitation, she would lapse into pure Marathi, unaware that she had done so. The flow of her words furious and tumultuous, emotions flitting across her face rapidly, hands gesturing emphatically, she poured out her tale. I listened to her eyes… and sometimes to her words.
She was the only child (like me) of her parents. She came from a village near Akola and was a farmer’s daughter. Her father had passed away a few years ago leaving her mother in-charge of their land. One of her mother’s sisters (maushi) cunningly persuaded the mother to sell her land to her (maushi). For 30% of the market value, the mother sold off the land. The next part was spoken in rapid Marathi so I didn’t understand what was done with the money so obtained.
The woman lived with her husband at Akola city. (It never occurred to me to ask her for her name. It seemed so irrelevant.) She had three kids: two daughters and a son. The daughters were both married off. The older one was married to an idiot of a man (and a drunk to boot), the younger to a good boy. The son was yet to be married. He was the reason she was sitting on a forlorn stone bench on a railway platform, asking strangers to help her find work.
When she began speaking of her son, she glowed. He found formal education useless it seems. Though he had not even finished primary school, there was no electronic device he couldn’t repair. He could repair the latest LCD TVs she told me proudly. As for frost-free refrigerators, they were to him the work of a jiffy. Currently he had a contract with a cable operator and was doing well.
He made very good money which- like an obedient son- he handed over to her. She didn’t say much about her husband. She just said that he was in a regular job, though he didn’t give her much money- which she was quick to justify. As she spoke of her husband, her hand strayed to her mouth which had no front teeth. I wondered why but didn’t ask her anything. There’s no way I could intrude on her privacy that way.
“My son is a good, hard-working boy”, she said, her eyes misty. “He is twenty-eight years old and ought to have been married by now.”
“So why haven’t you arranged his marriage yet?” I asked.
“In our part of the country”, she said sadly, “they ask you how much land you have. I don’t have any land. I tell people of the land my mother sold off, but that doesn’t signify anymore. No one wants to give a daughter to a man whose family has no land. That is why my poor son is still unmarried.
“But, three days ago I told my son- I hugged him and cried and told him. (Holds out her hands, palms up) I told him that as long as his mother was alive, she will work hard to earn some money. I told him we will surely buy land soon. The next day I left home. Let me see where my destiny takes me. I have to earn money so my son can get married. He really is a good boy, you know?”
I nodded, mesmerized by the ferocious love I saw in the eyes of this tigress.
It never failed to amaze me how the most ordinary day could be catapulted into the extraordinary in the blink of an eye.
~ Jodi Picoult
“But”, I said, rather foolishly, “how did he let you go alone like this?”
“He let me go because I insisted. He knew it is better for me to be doing something than to sit still and worry. But I know he will worry about me. He is a loving boy.” She said that with such simple, unshakable faith, that I felt humbled. It was as if I had questioned the wetness of water. Silly, so silly!
We sat silent for a while. Her words lay scattered about us like twinkling gems, each holding a precious drop of her ordinary life. The gems were like many other- neither more precious nor less. What set them iridescent was the light of her spirit.
I sat thus for a while, in the midst of her glowing treasures.
To be continued…