The mere thought of going into the kitchen sent a chill down her spine. There was no one in the house but she really needed that glass of hot coffee. Her son would have preferred her to say a "cup of hot coffee," she chuckled to herself in spite of her old bones creaking and the pit of her stomach demanding the soothing warmth of the caffeine.
A cup of hot coffee! Modern house and modern terms had to be used. A well-equipped kitchen. It is nothing Mother, he had said. Just the flick of a switch and the turn of a knob. Now, she had to do it all by herself.
The rains! They had come, at last. The downpour was torrential, sky perpetually overcast. The air was chilly. She had known rain before but this was her first in the house her son had built. It had happened suddenly. She found herself drawn out of her cocoon unawares. Mother, this is our new home, his words choked her. Home, he had said. Why not a house? This concrete giant which came alive at the flick of a switch and the turn of a knob?
Another chuckle was in order. She had glasses of coffee on an afternoon like this. Her man was alive then. Her husband. Quite a man, quite a man. The warmth around the crackling firewood-stove was cozy and the coffee bubbling through the decoction of jaggery provided the music and the warmth of the aluminum tumblers in their hands. Quite a man, who had given her three sons. The first drank himself to death. The second was pulped in a bus accident. These two deaths took her man away leaving her the mud-walled house and the third son.
Then she had taken the reins herself. She had to. The pace was so fast that only on the day her third one came and told her he is leaving for some place in the Middle East, could she stop and look around. No more mud wall Mother, he said. No more milking cows, goats and rearing pigs. We are going to have a home of our dreams. But she never had any dreams.
And he left; the fire-wood stove and the mud-walled house remained with her. He wrote regularly and she wrote back through a nun whose convent received generous charity from her son. Even the vicar was suddenly kind to her when she dropped a hundred rupees in the mite box. She was gaining ground.
And then came the daughter in law. Quite a doll. A working girl, smart and beautiful. She had twisted her lips when she entered the mud house. And once our home is up we will pull down these mud walls and all the past with them. She said nothing. She had nothing to say.
…It had happened suddenly. She found herself drawn out of her cocoon unawares.….
And then it happened. A concrete giant slowly rose next to her mud house. When the noise, dust and the hammering of steel had finally died down there was a brief silence only to be followed by few more weak, floppy sounds. Her mud house no more stood there. Even its dust had settled down so quickly- she saw her son standing amidst the rubble with his hands folded on his breast, looking way beyond the sky. Triumph was written all over his face. She too had looked up years ago when her husband’s coffin rose on the shoulders of hired pall-bearers. She had cried out in raging silence to her creator-Now, let the rest be upon me….
Now, she needed that coffee.
The kitchen was spic and span. Some boiling water, a teaspoon of instant coffee, a dash of milk and sugar. She found a pan and filled it with water. It wasn’t the fire-wood stove anymore, a shimmering new cooking range stood in its place. And all the fire-power was in that little red cylinder. She placed the pan on the cooking range and turned the knob. Hadn’t he said, just the flick of a switch and the turn of a knob?
Where are the matches?
In her mud house everything was within her arm’s reach. She looked around and searched. Oh damn you, she screamed within herself; you and your house. You and your money. Where was it when your brothers died and your old man wasted himself in grief? The bile that rose in her throat choked her and she coughed briefly. There was fishy smell in the kitchen and a faint hiss.
Everything has a place in here, her daughter in law had said. And everything should be in its place. So where is the match box, she smiled to herself wickedly. Ah, yes, her college going grandchild….that chirpy, bubbly thing was left behind with the grand mother; she had seen her puffing away to glory. She was supposed to be in her care.
She wobbled her way up to her grandchild’s bedroom and a brief search revealed not only the match box but also an ash-tray filled to the brim with cigarette butts. It wasn’t her concern anyway. All she needed was that coffee.
Her joints crackling, she reached the kitchen once again. What was that obnoxious smell? New homes stink too? Should she twist her lips now? Everything has its own place, the words pounded in her ears. What is my place, she heard herself ask. Did I ask for all this? The fire-wood stove, the three deaths and the demolition of her house loomed large in front of her. Each scene distinctly carving her demotion bringing her down to a state with which she could not compromise.
What the hell she screamed, what the bloody hell!
And then she struck the match.
This story has come a long way.
It was originally published in Deccan Herald, later translated by the Author in Konkani; selected and included by MR. KHUSHWANT SINGH (and Ms Neelam Kumar) IN "OUR FAVOURITE INDIAN STORIES" PUBLISHED BY JAICO BOOKS in 2002. In 2006, Karnataka’s present Home Minister, Hon. M. P. Prakash translated and published it in his anthology, ‘Preethiye Devaru.’
Author: Edwin JF DSouza- Mangalore