A dull and constant silence enveloped her. She felt at once both peaceful and secure. Even within that bubble she feared the inevitable prick. She awaited patiently for the phone which she was holding to her ear to cackle; her eight month old son lying on his belly on the plastic chattai just a few feet away to resume his cooing as he played with the bright red fire truck with it’s glowing amber beacon; her husband who was keeping a watch on the daal which she had left simmering on the gas stove for the evening’s supper to send out a clanging of steel utensils and lids on the granite counter top.
Her bubble held it’s form much longer, or so it seemed to her. None of the interruptions she expected occurred. Instead, it was time which gently dawned her senses to her surroundings. She became aware to the sound of the voice of her friend and ex-colleague who had called her on her mobile. Her mind was made fully aware of the present by her eyelids just like a fluorescent tube-light when switched on flickers a couple of times before shedding it’s brilliance. Her boss was dead! The person she admired the most, the person she respected the most, the person she estimated as the most intelligent and most hard working, was gone. But how could that be? She had just spoken with him yesterday and they had discussed next week’s plan of action. She was to continue developing the technology prototype for navigtaional routing. He said that he had himself studied the tools and documentation and assured her that the task was within her sphere of abilities. It was such assurances and directions she felt most comfortable to work under his guidance. Their decade long association implied the unstated. She could approach him anytime she hit a roadblock without any fear of chiding.
Decade long….that mere thought enticed her to slip into yet another bubble of nostalgia but the voice on the phone had to be attended to. Her throat clamped and eyes swelled. Choking for sound and scanning for words, she failed on both accounts. She did not mind. Her etiquette could be excused she felt. She remembered exclaiming ‘What!?’, but so much time and emotion had passed since then that when and how lost it’s purpose and intent. The why would linger on like a picked amla floating in milky and murky brine in a glass jar which she eyed squemishly at her neighbourhood pickle store.
She sensed silence on the phone and reacted by sighing loud enough to indicate her presence. Inadvertently she also managed to clear a few pent up thoughts as well as air from her stagnant lungs. The lump in her throat was dissolving as well. This kick-started her diaphragm into breathing rhythmically again. Her friend and ex-colleague, aware of her nature offered a few more consoling words. A conversation full of questions and very little answers was not something either felt particularly enterprising about. The call ended when both realised there was nothing more to be said or heard at the moment.
She set the phone down by her side. She was sitting cross-legged on a wooden cot with a thin layer of padded cotton bed. It served as a settee in the living room of her modest flat. The weight of the news was too much for her to bear and instinctively she planted both her palms firmly by her side in order to prop her heavy and slouching shoulders. Notwithstanding the burden, her head drooped.
A corner of the chattai laid out on the floor appeared in her field of vision. She reminisced about the bubble she experienced a few moments ago. Sound was the first to pierce it, now she had to brace for the rest to breach. Her son’s cooing beckoned her to gaze further towards the other edge of the chattai where he was now flexing his fledgling muscles. She wondered what the proper thing to do was. Her son never failed to cheer her but should she not be mourning? Was she not obliged to feel sad for a few moments at the loss of such an influential person in her life? At the same time, she dreaded the possibility of the reverse happening. What if as she moved to look at her son her motion caught his attention and their eyes met? What then? She believed, from something she had read or maybe something she had heard, that infants are much more perceptive than adults. What if he sensed her gloom by looking into her sorrowful eyes? What affect would this have on him? He might convince himself that his cheerful mood was the cause of his mother’s distress. Would he then refrain from acts that brought him joy by constantly reminding himself of the painful look he saw this day on his loving mother? She dared not take that chance. She remained statuesque.
She was now grasping for the next emotion or sense to lead her through the next few moments of this solitary wilderness. Nothing came to her. Tired of her grasping, she gave up. Preferring now to await. Yes, waiting was much better and required much less effort. She became aware of her slowing breath. Her shoulders felt much lighter. She could relax her arms, allowing her elbows to bend and her back to arch forward a bit. Her head drooped even further as a result. Yes this is comfortable. What is this? Is this another bubble she unwittingly discovered? How long will this one last? Would she experience the feeling of all sensory deprivation yet again? The previous one was just a few minutes ago. She had not forgotten it altogether. Such events, she mused, were trickier to reminisce than dreams. Is it moral to enjoy them? She shivered, fearing at the realisation that she could find this addictive.
It was then that she heard the unmistakable crackling of mustard seeds in oil. From experience, which over time becomes instinct, she counted down the ingredients to follow. Next a pinch of hing, handful of curry leaves and diced green chillies. Curry leaves and chillies produced their distinct cacophonous sizzle and plume. By now the kitchen air would be overpowered by the pungent smell of these ingredients frying in the smoking hot triple-filtered groundnut oil. She heard her husband let out a series of coughs. It was a result of breathing in the fumes no doubt. The plume dissipated, spreading it’s tentacles around the house. It reached her. This smell was as affective as anything else in assaulting any brain; conscious and unconscious. With smell now the third sense to invade her bubble, she willingly allowed reality to embrace her.
Duties had to be fulfilled. Evening supper must be prepared. Her son must be bathed, fed and put to bed. Beds must be spread out. She uncurled her legs and set her bare feet on the cold tiled floor. That touch injected her with yet another sense of reality. Sleep was still hours away but she wondered, pushing herself up from the cot, if she would ever awake as fresh or as purposeful as now.
25th July, 2012. Mumbai.