By Hiranmayee Mohanty, Translated by Rabinarayan Patnaik | PUBLISHED: 19, Dec 2017, 19:42 pm IST | UPDATED: 19, Dec 2017, 20:15 pm IST
Arunima touched down at the Bhubaneswar airport after 18 long hours of journey. As soon as she came out of the lounge with her luggage she spotted the old hands of the family- the cook Laxman and the driver Nabaghana. But on all previous occasions a beaming father always welcomed her at the gate of the arrival lounge. This is the first departure from the routine. When they spotted Arunima, they almost ran to her. Although both of them braved a smiling face, Arunima could detect the deep sorrow within.
When they settled down in the car Laxman said ‘Apaa, Babuji has instructed that we go to the house first. You fresh up and take some snacks and then we go to visit Maa in the hospital.’ Anxious as she was she replied, ‘I have taken some food in the plane; we better go straight to the hospital.’
It was beyond the two to disagree with her. So Nabaghana drove straight to the hospital. Rain washed wide black roads of Bhubaneswar were clean and glazing. The roadside trees looked greener and fresh in the early morning sunlight. Had it been like one of the previous occasions she would have demanded and got a full report of all important happenings of the year from her father as soon as she settled in the car. But today all the three in the car were grim and felt wretched. Arunima silently dived deep into her past.
She, Arunima Patnaik, the only child of Professor Suryakanta Patnaik is now working as a scientist in NASA of the USA. She had joined NASA after completing her Ph. D in Physics from Boston University. Neither her father nor the mother ever disagreed with her decisions. Her decision was their decision also.
She is now 32 years old, of medium height, blackish in colour and portly- not a pretty damsel. She wears a spectacle with thick glass. But by just looking at her one can perceive that she is of a different class, different from most other girls. An aura of knowledge engulfed her.
She had the thirst for knowledge from her childhood. She was intelligent and dignified; did not like to mix with anyone other than her parents. If her mother Mrunalini ever compelled her to go to play with friends, she would return home after a short while. Her books were her world.
At an age when friends count over all other things she, Aru her pet name, did not have a friend worth the name. Her classmates took her to be egoistic for the simple reason that she was exceptional in her academics and did not blend with them. But she heeded not to such interpolations. Her father had put her in a reputed boarding school away from home. He had pinned a lot of hope on her as she showed lot of promise.
She did not disappoint him. Her academic records were excellent. Only Mrunalini complained at times that she did not get enough time and opportunity to spend time with and to take care of her daughter. Arunima’s heart was filled with sorrow as the face of a lovelorn mother with tears welled up in the eyes sprang up before her.
Such a mother who is epitome of love is now sick. As her condition worsened her father asked her over telephone to come home immediately. On her last visit when her mother found her working with a laptop most of the time she was so vexed that she blurted out: why do you come home if you sit down for studies all through the day?
She fondled her mother as she replied- If I don’t have a glance of both of you while studying, I forget what I read. Hearing her reply Suryakanta had laughed aloud. While still laughing he said-tell your mother to bring out her old books and read them to pass her time. Mrunalini was quite attractive in her youth, tall and fair. There is always a Monalisa like smile on her face. She is a lovable person who loves life. Suryakanta too was a handsome man with impeccable character.
Even today people talk what a wonderful couple these two made in their youth. The only difference is that while Mrunalini was born to a lower middle class family, Suryakanta was the scion of an aristocratic family. Mrunalini’s mother- in- law was so fascinated with her looks that she chose her in spite of her husband’s objection. Suryakanta was always serious in nature and was a mama’s boy.
Half educated Mrunalini was adept in household management. Through her love and respect for the in- laws she not only own over them but also made Suryakanta so dependent that he thought he would not be able to manage himself even for a day without her. The in- laws lived. Though they abhorred changing places so often, yet Mrunalini did not allow them to go to their ancestral home when Suryakanta was transferred to different colleges in different towns.
Of course they did go to their village once a year to collect their share from agriculture which was managed by their nephew. Neither Suryakanta nor his parents ever asked for the details of earning from or expenditure on agriculture. Three years before his retirement Suryakanta was transferred to Bhubaneswar. By then he had purchased a piece of land and constructed a house on it. Arunima was then getting ready to go to America after completing her course in Delhi University. Mrunalini was sad.
Suryakanta consoled her- allow your daughter to spread her wings. The bird which flies farther lives better. Let your daughter dive deep into the ocean of knowledge. Let not your tears pull her back. Allow her to utilize her knowledge for the benefit of the mankind. When friends talk of Arunima’s marriage Mrunalini replies that her thirst for knowledge is insatiable.
‘I don’t know which boy would like to have such a crazy-for-knowledge girl as his wife. I have left the issue to her to decide. Aru has not given a thought to it till now. She is leading a life with a mission, does not need a partner; at least for the present. It would be nice if she finds a suitable boy.’
When Mrunalini says this her face glows with pride. If Aru is close by she kisses her forehead. But in her heart of hearts she prays God for that auspicious day to come soon. Aru’s inspiration- Mrunalini is now ill, in serious condition. That is why she flew down from America as soon as she got the telephone call from her father. Tiresome journey had no effect on her. She was anxious to meet her mother.
The car reached the hospital. After enquiring her mother’s cabin number from the reception counter she headed straight to the cabin. Lest her mother would be disturbed she neither pressed the calling bell nor did she knock the door. She gently pushed the door open. As soon as she stepped into the room Mrunalini called out in feeble voice- is it you, Aru? The feeble voice sounded ominous and strange to Aru.
Maa has always been like this- she knows her presence even if she does not make any sound or noise. Suryakanta was by his wife’s bed side. Aru saw him first. He looked shattered. His age appeared to have advanced by ten years. Deep apprehensive lines were clearly visible in his forehead. His emotions were ready to burst forth as tears.
When Aru bent down to touch his feet, he struggled to hold back the tears as he placed his hand on her head. On the other hand a smile flashed in Mrunalini’s ashen face as if she got a gem stone of her liking; as if she saw a ray of light in a pitch dark tunnel! Impulsively Aru was about to burst forth crying. But she controlled herself, took the hand of the mother gently in her clasp.
Mrunalini raised Aru‘s hands up to her nose to get a smell of them. She then closed her eyes. Her face was now a picture of serenity and contentment. Aru was distressed. The family was under the ravage of a cyclone. When Mrunalini started to say something, Aru put her hand on her mother’s mouth to prevent her from speaking; but withdrew them when her father said, ‘Allow her to speak, dear’. Mrunalini asked softly, ‘My dear, please give me a spoon of water’.
Aru quickly took a spoonful of water from a glass and fed it to her mother. Mrunalini felt as if her long time thirst was finally quenched. She started speaking while holding Aru’s both the hands close to her chest. ‘My dear, I have a few moments left. Listen what I have to say without disturbing. I was born in a poor family. My childhood rolled by in wants and wants only. When my marriage was finalized with your father my family felt blessed; for, except my looks we were nowhere near the status of this family. My life changed. I started to live a life of plenty with peace and happiness. Gradually my in-laws accepted me as a daughter.
Although your father was highly educated he never looked down upon me. My days passed like the full moon night of the autumn. As time rolled by each one in the family felt the absence of somebody. Restlessness engulfed the house. The sound of the soft footsteps of a child was not heard yet. We were all demented for a child. The in-laws as well as the neighbours looked at me with accusing eyes. If I fret your father urged me to have faith in God.
We consulted the doctors. My mother-in-law’s sorrow increased day by day. Her only thought was that of the future of the family. ‘Will the progeny come to an end?’- was her only thought day in and day out. I am unable to tell you how distressed I was. With this thought uppermost on her mind your grand maa fell sick. I nursed her as best I could. At this juncture you adored my lap. I felt full, my lap was full and I faced the world with pride. Your smile and babbles filled our hearts with ecstasy.
Our life bloomed again. You brought with you a whole new world for us. You grew up, you were very good in studies and you became the eye ball of Suryakanta. You made our life as easy as the flowing waters of a river. You had no friends other than us two. I knew I was selfish, yet I enjoyed this selfishness. I never wanted you to share your feelings with anyone other than us two. I hardened myself to send you to a boarding school in the interest of your carrier.
Please excuse me for that’. She paused for a moment as breathing was difficult for her. Aru urged her not to speak. But she pleaded, ‘Please maa, allow me to speak. I cannot die in peace if I leave such a heavy burden on your father. You also give me your word that you will keep calm; you will not be mentally disturbed.’ Aru pressed her mother’s hands in her own more firmly than before.
She struggled harder to speak. ‘Truth can never be concealed. Instead of hearing it from others you should hear it from me. I had concealed this truth till today. I hope you will excuse me my dear. I brought you from an orphanage when you were only three months old.’ With this truth revealed Mrunalini slipped into eternal sleep with contentment writ large on her face.
Aru felt as if she is going down the quicksand. When the two strong hands of Suryakanta clasped her hands firmly she felt a savior has rescued her. She now recollected her friends’ oft repeated question: when your parents are so good looking how is that you are so different?
She now heard this question coming from a very long distant. In reply to this question she also heard her mother thunder- you are the light of Suryakanta, you are the sun light, the light of lights.
# Originally written in Odia: Hiranmayee Mohanty.
Translated by: Rabinarayan Patnaik.
Note on the writer- Hiranmayee is a homemaker staying in Jajpurroad in the district of Jajpur in Odisha. Her short stories and poems appear regularly in Odia magazines. She is an active member of the Literary Club of the town and the Inner Wheel.