Age is just a number, the saying goes. But pushing 70, I can feel an overwhelming sense of forgetfulness creeping in as a result of my ageing mind. Why, just yesterday I had lost my glasses and realised that it had just been sitting on the bridge of my nose all the while. Now, that’s just outright stupidity. But the fact that‘s not stupid is that I’d lost a valuable ring a few days before and it is alarming that I can’t seem to remember exactly how it had sprung out of my finger in the first place.
Thus, having decided to engage in the activity of recovering it, I fastened my eyes to the wooden tiles of my sitting room, trying to locate its whereabouts. But my eyes behind my glasses blurred up soon enough and I gave up this tedious quest.
It obviously isn’t anywhere at home, I thought, I must have somehow misplaced it in the marketplace that day. I’ll head out there in the evening and check out with that tortoise-faced sweetmeat vender with his overpriced jalebis. So with this new break in the case, I turned to my Puja room for my daily prayers. I was never a religious woman and I prayed and chanted just for the sake of praying and chanting. But this time, after lighting an oil lamp in the most ceremonious manner, I looked earnestly into the brass face of lord Ganesha. ‘Oh my god-‘
No, no. That didn’t sound right. ‘Oh my lord, (hm that’s better), tell me what’s happening to me. I am an old woman but I’m still young at heart. I certainly can’t afford to go through this stage of daily amnesia. Oh lord, please rejuvenate my poor memory for I’ve got no family except my sister’s son’s grandmother’s daughter who hasn’t got the least idea that I even exist.’ I end with a pleading note, heaving a small garland of jasmines out of a drawer. I dangle it around the Ganesha idle. ‘God, I shall now recite a shloka to invoke your supreme blessings. Mooshika vahana modaka hasta-‘
The irritating sound of the doorbell ceased my singing voice and I glanced at the door, hands unclasped from each other.
Oh well, I had forgotten the rest of the shloka anyway. Forgotten? Urgh!
Nodding excuse to the idle by the force of habit, I sheepishly strolled up to the door to let my housemaid in.
Vidya, always prim and proper was standing in my doorway in an odd disorderly fashion. Her brows were furrowed and worry lines marked her flushed face. Her usually neat outfit was replaced by a frayed sari which was very contrasting to the bright crisp one I was sporting.
‘Come in, Vidya,’ I croaked, my voice uncertain. Should I ask what had happened? I usually don’t socialise with the help or with anyone for that matter.
Vidya mournfully lifts up a mop and looks at its head levelly as if the harmless feathery strands of yarn contained all the answers to life in general.
This sorry sight triggered the angel in me to take immediate action.
‘Vidya, sit down’ I called out to her gesturing towards a chair. Confused, she mumbled a disconsolate ‘yes’ and settled down dubiously like a child bracing itself for possible scoldings. I propelled my large figure comfortably against the cushions of my divan and switched on my best motherly voice. ‘What has happened Vidya? You are giving off a very miserable aura today.’
I grunted inwardly. My choice of words is something I’ll have to work on.
Vidya looked taken aback for a moment and she shifted uncomfortably in her chair. Streaks of grey shone in her dark hair and the creases in her face stood out like scars. They had been there for a few days, I realised. I simply hadn’t bothered to ask her about it.
‘Well?’ I raised an eyebrow. (Now, that takes some talent)
Vidya leaned back to steady herself. ‘Well, ma’am, it’s just our landowner had ordered us to vacate and-‘ Her voice caught in her throat, her eyes suddenly brimmed with tears. ‘We’ve been facing m-money shortages and food-‘ She paused again, struggling to continue. Her mouth was quivering and the tears began streaming down. She made no effort to wipe them off.
A mix of shame and sympathy bubbled up inside me. Here I was, worrying about ageing when Vidya was going through all this.
I eyed the golden halo of the lamp glow near lord Ganesha and muttered a quick prayer for her though it was more in reflex than that of heartfelt.
I turned back and Vidya’s wet face came into focus. Quickly fishing out an orange handkerchief from my sari pockets (custom-made sari. Clever, isn’t it?), I handed it out to her tentatively. Her dark eyes widened at this gesture and the tears streamed down faster than ever and I had to thrust it into her hand with a frown. After a wordless moment filled with gasps and sniffing, I cleared my throat. ‘I can arrange some money for you, Vidya. I can help-‘ I stopped.
She certainly wasn’t asking for charity. I glanced at her and to my dismay, high colour had flooded her cheeks at my mention of it.
Oh dear. Oh god. Now I have offended her. Curse my innocence!
But only an expression that I couldn’t quite detect clouded her face when she stated in a trembling voice, ‘It’s all right, ma’am. I’ll find a job. I’ve troubled you enough already.’
I sighed in relief. She wasn’t an incompetent woman. She’ll find a way.
‘Very well then. You can come and talk to me anytime if you wish to’, I said cordially, feeling nothing but genuinely bad for her.
She nodded gratefully but I realise that she couldn’t quite bring her eyes to mine.
‘Thank you,’ she whispered weakly, her eyes still averted, ‘For listening.’
The morning sun that streamed in through the windows cast a royal glow inside my room. I eyed my breakfast with disgust. In my entire seventy years of life, I had never consumed jalebis that tasted like dish water enclosed in a rubber tube. Fifty rupees a bag and all I wanted to do was gag.
As planned, I had ventured into the marketplace last evening in the intentions of retrieving my ring. However I failed to succeed and in extreme remorse and fatigue, I had progressed to buy those wretched jalebis from that wretched tortoise-faced vendor. And now these inedible jalebis turned out be my penance for losing that expensive ring. I let out a sigh like an old woman that I was.
But luck was not on my side for that either for it was cut in half by the irritating sound of the doorbell. I lazily got up to my feet and opened the door to let in mere air. There was nobody outside and I instead discerned something at the foot of my door. It was my orange handkerchief, freshly washed. Vidya must have left it there. I stooped down slowly and picked it up, my fingers grazing something hard like metal. I unravelled the cloth into its true square and placed neatly at its centre was my glittering ring.