Short Story

The phone call disrupted her thoughts. She tried to prop herself on the pillow, but couldn’t. Her daughter, Nishtha ran over to her bed and helped her to get up.

“Ma, sleep for sometime please.” Nishtha said. “no” her mother said firmly. Her mother, a waif of a woman, struggling from a 3 fold world existence of – residing in an old body, in a hospital & the illusionary world of Alzheimer.

Nishtha’s mother was finally admitted in a hospital, when she was found happily sitting among street kids at a railway platform. Today was her last day at hospital, where the doctors had declared, that Nishtha’s mother was in an advanced stage of Alzheimer and she would be much more comfortable and happy at her home, rather than in a hospital.

The old woman gingerly packed her one small duffle bag, put her rubber chappals inside, smoothed her wrinkled cotton sari and dabbed her face with baby powder .

“how do i look?” Nishtha’s mother asked her. Nishtha looked at a 75 year old woman, her mother for last 40 years, her powdered wrinkled face, mapped with years, experiences and madness. “you look good,ma” Nishtha said. She held her mother’s arm and they walked out of the hospital doors into the bright sunshine.

Today was a good day, Nishtha’s mother recognized her daughter from last 12 hours and didn’t mistake her for some caretaker.

They stepped inside a taxi, absorbing surroundings around them. Suddenly Nishtha’s mother asked Nishtha- “Will i meet Nishtha when we go home?”  There bursts the bubble, Nishtha thought. “Ma, i am Nishtha” Nishtha said. “Really” her mother replied back.

She looked at her inquringly, not recognizing her own daughter & Then after a moment’s thought, she continued looking outside the car window.

“We stay at the same place, don’t we ..near Jhelum Nivas” Nishtha’s mother began again. “No,Ma” Nishtha interrupted.

“I have been to Kashmir, you know” her mother said. “really when ?” Nishtha retorted back . “When i was young, younger than you…” The conversation came to an abrupt halt, as the taxi pulled up outside their apartment.

“I have been to Kashmir” Nishtha’s mother started again, as soon as they were settled in their home. “Ma, if you have been to Kashmir, then i have been to Switzerland..Forget Kashmir, we have never been to Lonavala..Kashmir is different planet for us.”

The old woman continued looking at her daughter for a few seconds and went to sleep. Nishtha cleaned up her room & rummaged through her mother’s belongings, looking for lighter winter wear to keep her mother warm during sudden bouts of chill and fever.

Nishtha looked around her childhood home and at her mother. Nothing much had changed actually. There was the same musty smell in the home, bottled lined up by their genre ayurvedic & Allopathic. Its strange that how when one grows old, your best friend changes from a human being to a medicine.

Somethings have still not changed. Mother was still a good story teller, wonder where she got the kashmir bug from, Nishtha thought. She looked around her mother’s room, the old cot where her mother was sleeping, the bedside lamp. Wall cupboard and an old battered suitcase & a vase filled with plastic flowers.

Night fell upon the silent evening, as the two women were engrossed in their own separate worlds. The daughter immersed in her virtual world and mother in a world of  lost memories. Disease and Digitalness does strange things to mankind.

“Aye, Nishtha” her mother called out. Nishtha went up to her mother’s room and looked at her mother propped up in bed, reading an old magazine. “Arey, do you remember that Saroj, she had gone to Kashmir last year no, tell her to give us some kesar & walnuts..What good is a neighbour if they don’t bring you goodies.”

“Ma..”Nishtha began half heartedly..Her mother probably didnt remember, thanks to Alzheimer, that Saroj died in a car accident in Sangli. “right i will tell her, ma”

“Achha, come sit beside me. I want to tell you about my friend ,Noor. She was from Kashmir and we were classmates. Every 2 years, when she visited Kashmir she used to bring for me kesar, walnuts and once she even brought me a shawl..It had this beautiful delicate embroidery..”

“Ma..” Nishtha interrupted. “Lets talk tomorrow, please..You seem to be tired, please sleep, i will go out and bring your medicines and some dinner.”

Nishtha switched off the room’s light and went out. Where did the Kashmir bug came from, Nishtha thought. Ma thinks more about kashmir than the politicians. Must be somewhere in deep dark lair of her memories. But who was Noor ? Nishtha wondered.

They had always talked about her ma’s childhood..but no one named Noor had popped in conversations. Does Alzheimer encourage imagination too? She  made a mental note to talk to the doctor and her brother Amar.

Nishtha fed her mother dinner of khichdi Kadhi and sent her to sleep. Night had descended upon the evening. Nishtha’s mother snored her way to deep sleep, while Nishtha tossed and turned in her sleep. Suddenly, there was a loud thud noise from Nishtha’s mother’s room..

Nishtha woke up and ran to her mother’s room. She was nowhere to be seen. The dull yellow light was filtering from the bathroom . She opened the door and stepped inside it. The flickering light  greeted her and she saw her mother bending behind the flush tank & trying to scrap out the tile from the floor board. 

“Ma..What are you doing ?” Nishtha asked. “Nishtha” her mother began..”I had hidden a gold earring here, my friend noor had given me…” 

“ma..”Nishtha interrupted. “You are in a bathroom..you will not find anything over here..Please go go sleep….”

“ok, can i have a bath then ?” Nishtha’s mother asked…Suddenly feeling dejected..Nishtha sat on the bathroom floor and looked at her Ma. Under the yellow bulb light, her mother looked liked a frail fallen angel hunting for some treasure trove behind the flush tank. 

“Ma,we’ll look for the gold earring tomorrow..please go to sleep now..promise.” Nishtha got up and held her mother’s hand at the elbow and gently led her out of the bathroom. 

She made her lie on bed and gently closed the door behind her. Nishtha drifted off to a broken sleep, disturbed by thoughts and mindless dreams. 

Morning arrived and her mother had not yet woken up. Nishtha wondered, her mother being an early riser, was always up before her. And now when the Alzheimer had finally kicked in, she got up early and went to the kitchen and prepared tiffin boxes for Nishtha and her brother Amar. The world had came to a stand still for Nishtha’s mother. 

At 11.00, when Nishtha’s mother was still sleeping, Nishtha went up to her mother’s room. 

The bed unmade, she was not there. Panicked, intuitively Nishtha rushed to the bathroom. Her mother was lying unconscious on the bathroom floor, blood drying on the floor and forming crusts between the tiles. A deep cut wound was there on Nishtha’s mother’s head. “Ma” Nishtha screamed. She rushed to her and tried to lift her. She somehow picked up her frail body and led it gently on bed. 

Recovering for a second, she called her brother and their family doctor. 

“she has suffered from concussion.” The doctor said. 

“But what she was doing in bathroom?” her brother Amar quipped in between.

“Looking for gold earrings.” Nishtha said dejectedly. 

“will she be ok” Amar asked. 

“She will be fine.”the doctor said. “just don’t let her out anywhere on her own, She might be a little unstable” 

Nishtha’s mother drifted from unconsciousness to consciousness and then finally to slumber land. 

Nishtha and Amar rested for sometime, after the humdrum of doctors, medicines & of course their ailing mother. Both were lost in their worlds, unable to converse. They missed their mother, the way she was, fiesty, witty. And now she was the antonym of all. 

Late in the night, when was all quiet, Their mother suddenly shouted and called for them both . She seemed to be in her old spirits and was sitting up in her bed. The bandage around her head made looked like some aging rockstar. 

“how was your school today?” Mother asked. Nishtha and Amar looked at each other questioningly and agreeing in silence that Alzheimer had shown its horns again. 

“School was good,ma” Amar said.

“Noor had called yesterday, my school friend from Kashmir..Remember ?” their mother said. “yes Ma ” the siblings chimed in. 

“Shall we go there next summer, we’ll save money and i will take you to the cottage where we went. And of course we’ll bring home walnuts, kesar, it will be fun..”Their mother clapped her hands in glee and looked at them with hope. 

Amar & Nishtha’s mother was a born storyteller. A woman becomes a mother bearing kids, their mother had became a story teller. It was ok to forget to add salt in dal, but it was a ritual for them to hear story every night during bed time. 

Nishtha & Amar’s mother was spinning story perhaps for one last time and they would let her do just that.

“if you open that suitcase” their mother continued, pointing her hand towards the battered suitcase “you will find a box of kesar and walnuts.” 

Nishtha & Amar had checked that suitcase infinite times, but other than moth ball smelly sweaters, old cotton sarees , there was nothing in it. 

“we’ll look for it tomorrow, ma..go to sleep now .” Amar said

“you need to clean the house, you know..You kids are good for nothing, Nishtha clean your shoes before leaving for school tomorrow ..” their mother said.

“Yes, ma” Nishtha said . 

“Tomorrow, i will tell you how i met a colonel from Kashmir..” Their mother said. 

Another story coming up, Nishtha thought. “ok ma, tomorrow is your day.” Nishtha said. 

They gently closed the door behind her. “we’ll take ma to kashmir next summer” Nishtha said. “yes we’ll.” Amar quietly said and they parted to their rooms. 

Morning ascended on them and it quietly changed their lives forever. Nishtha & Amar’s mother passed away quietly in her sleep. She looked serene, her wrinkled skin smoothed out. Perhaps death was the ultimate age-defying solution.

The days after that passed in a daze. the constant ongoings of relatives, the onload and offload of various emotions running through Amar & Nishtha’s mind had drained them out. 

It was only after a few days, that they had the home to themselves. The home devoid of their mother, seemed empty. The medicine prescriptions, the meticulously lined up bottles. Why did Ma never forgot to take her medicines, Nishtha wondered. 

Amar & Nishtha finally removed their mother’s old suitcase and opened it. the contents were still the same. Moth smelled sweaters, old sarees, few old family photographs. This time, however they discovered an inner lining pouch sewn into the suitcase. It seemed a bit heavy & they finally opened the delicate muslin pouch. Out fell out yellowed delicate pages, a small wooden box carved with intricate design of flowers and old B&W photographs. 

The few delicate, almost brittle pages were letters . Nishtha read out one letter aloud. 

“Dear Roshni,

Hello, How are you doing ? I miss you a lot. Our vacations in Kashmir seem so empty without you. But its beautiful over here. Its heaven. 

And the food, you would’ve loved it. I wish you were here. We could have gone out for picking apples, drinking kawa  and watching snow capped mountains everyday. 

I don’t want to come to school anymore. All i want to do is sit under an apple tree and read books. And No, I am not Newton, you know i don’t like science. 

Ok, i will have to go now. Mummy is calling me for dinner. 

With this letter, i am also sending a small box of kesar. You will love the delicate strands and aroma. 

Pray that one day we’ll spend our vacations in Kashmir together. 

Yours,

Noor. 

PS- I just realized that even our names have the same meaning. I told you we are soulmates.”

Nishtha sighed. “Ma was right, Amar” She said “And we never believed her” She continued. 

“This was not a story she was weaving, for once it was truth. ” Amar replied. 

“i wonder where is Noor now. ” Nishtha said. 

“Who knows, may be in Kashmir.” Amar Said.

“Hmm” Nishtha said. They checked the bathroom, but that was figment of Roshni’s imagination. Only broken tiles and the yellow bulb greeted them. No hidden treasure of gold earring.

They took the suitcase out and locked the room. 

sometimes people can lock out on you, rooms too but not memories. Memories never break apart. 

“Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast” –  If there is ever a heaven on earth, its here, its here, its here ...

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