Bonds and Beyond…

Undoubtedly, the journey from the vulnerable to the fortified self had not been an undemanding one. Nonetheless, it was possible only because Ashima found friends, almost discovered them, here and there and everywhere by changing, not only her perception but also her perspective towards attachment and association.

The digital clock on her phone screamed nine o’clock! As her thoughts raced to collect all that she had missed in the past couple of hours, Ashima struggled with the obstinate slumber that still slowed her down. Indeed, she was getting reckless by the day. Streaming through series upto the ungodly hours of the night was bound to find someone of her age, fazed and furtive the following day. Living single was liberating after decades of dealing with others but that could barely defend the delinquent demeanor she had displayed lately. Absolving herself too quickly, she put on a feisty mood and went about with her morning ablutions, humming to herself all the while. As the accustomed aroma of the cautiously crafted Darjeeling tea wafted into her nostrils, she settled down to catch up with the sensations that the tv channels had to serve up that hour. Suddenly the unaccounted actions of the morning made sense to her and she realized that no one had returned from her doorstep earlier, a guilt that was gnawing at her for so long.
Flowering plant on the terrace

Ashima remembered that a lockdown was declared and everything was in a sort of limbo for an indecisive stretch of time. Inspired by an invisible inscrutability, she sat down to recalibrate the day or would it be the week, perhaps the month or maybe the whole year! A heaviness weighed her heart down as she was forced to imagine a life without those familiar faces who had become an integral part of her life. Detaching herself from distant and cumbersome relationships, these people fitted into her daily fabric so seamlessly that she had never even admitted to their existence till this very moment. Her early hours would brighten up with the advent of Ganesh, the gardener, who would relentlessly rattle on about the bloom and fall of the various species of flowers and vegetables in her terrace garden. She was amused by his friendship with the flora and sometimes even envied his attachment to it. His facts and fingers fascinated her till the much-awaited Vinod would arrive with the milk and the newspaper, and yes, the opportunity to speak in Hindi. It was another thing that the genders of the Bollywood dialect often got mixed up for the poor Bong but that didn’t deter Ashima from her desired verbal delivery.

Petunia flowers

The next person to enter her every day routine was the one who had a meatier role than the others. She was Shefali, the cook who doubled up as a household help but excelled as the gossip churner only to be humbled by her boudi (the term she used to address Ashima), who hardly had any interest in any of it. With Shefali in, the kitchen came alive and soon enough Ashima’s olfactory and auditory senses responded to its diversity. That was the indication for Ashima to get seated at her table and commence weaving the wordy yarn for her blog and her book while checking her students’ submissions and preparing for her classes as well. This schedule was a structured one, and though she began it with benign indifference, in a trice, it culminated into an intense engagement. Till it was truncated by the sensational stories of Shefali, who hardly cared for her boudi’s preoccupation and found it rather weird that a woman should find company and concern with books and seclusion. Thus would begin her jabbering about Mr. A’s illegitimate affair, Mrs. B’s unplanned pregnancy, the septuagenarian Mr. C’s despicable dealing of his maid and the unmarried Miss D’s left-with-no-other-alternative decision of adopting a baby. Though Shefali’s interesting narratives often obfuscated the line between reality and her understanding of it, Ashima, like Akhila in Anita Nair’s novel, Ladies Coupe, would unknowingly live through many lives while listening to them. This 40-something cook had been with her for almost two decades and though her tantrums and threats were escalating by the minute, she was the ally without whom Ashima felt incapable. Perhaps like Winnie-the-Pooh, she knew that with this aid, "an adventure was going to happen."

The afternoon hiatus was restful but the evenings of Ashima’s weekdays would be animated by students flocking at her hall with books, bags, besties and banter. The next couple of hours would be taken up in unspooling of texts and authors, at once delving into the depths of their minds and motives. Being an avid reader was an obvious boost to Ashima’s occupation but it was actually her love for teaching that created the bond that she tacitly boasted of. Her students read in diverse grades and adhered to different curricula but Ashima could string them all into one garland of liking and learning. She urged to create that wonder in her younger student as the little boy felt sitting inside the carriage and experiencing the rhythmic journey in R L Stevenson’s poem, The Railway Carriage as much as to convince the elder ones to go for a "willing suspension of disbelief" in order to fathom the Shakespearean world of The Tempest better. Nonetheless, it was the creative writing sessions that stimulated her the most as she shared with her students the potpourri of ideas that could come alive through their pens and papers. It was not unexpected that often after class hours, Ashima donned the cap of a counselor, sometimes hearing out the pointed logic of a rebellious early teen, and at times, lending an ear to the confessions of a gawky adolescent.

Those were Ashima’s friends, who steered her days out of emptiness and filled them with program and purpose, but today they were not there. Abruptly realizing that she was left to herself, she blurted out a bout of erratic expressions and might have broken down when quickly, she reprimanded herself by saying aloud, "Bokami korish na! (Don’t be a fool!)" She must have gathered that there was nothing to do in such circumstances but quietly brazen it out. So she went about cleaning and cooking, washing and watering, buying and binging, all the while directing her litany of curses on an adversary that had all of a sudden stalled lives and removed relevance. Perhaps a week later, one morning, Ashima was trying hard to emulate Ganesh in loosening the soil in one of her potted plants when a movement caught her attention. She was distracted by it but went on with her chore till she spotted it behind an unripe crunchy cherry tomato, noisily munching on it. On another occasion, Ashima would have shooed away the squirrel and saved the priceless fruit, generally considered a vegetable and her gardener’s labor of love. But today, she was clearly taken by its gleaming beady eyes, an auburn bushy tail and a chatty look. In fact, she was anxious to observe its nifty actions but the rodent had noticed the human, and in a few seconds, was nowhere to be seen. Crestfallen, Ashima went about the day but the next morning, she was right there, waiting in her garden to catch a glimpse of Chikoo (as she had already baptized the teeny one) and exhibit her affinity for it. Just a squeak and promptly the anticipant rolled out an almond in that direction. There was her Chikoo beholding the nut with apprehension before it picked it up and ran away. A broad smile spread across her face as she put the leftover nuts into her mouth and relished its sweet and savory taste. Since that incident, Chikoo became her regular visitor, usually coming alone to claim the green space, but once in a while crowding it with buddies and kins. Ashima now started looking forward to her time at the terrace as for a meager feed of nuts and nibbles, she enjoyed the wealth of tricks that Chikoo and her chums had to offer.

Squirrel feeding on the terrace

The woman’s world of friends was eventually expanding to include and embrace the unfamiliar and the unacknowledged. Apart from Chikoo and her leafy, blooming friends, some quarrelsome sparrows, the cooing pigeons and a few raspy ravens added to the list as well. Though the initial days of doing everything on her own were a struggle, very soon Ashima learnt to sort out her tasks and take out time to read as much as she had always wanted. Sometimes she revisited the stories she had already read, and sometimes, absorbed the smell of new and not-read books that had piled up for years. But every time, she got lost in the elusive world of the pages where this friend of hers, the book in hand, transported her, she felt glad and grateful. At night, the shimul-cotton stuffed pillow became her confidant as did the many other things around her, which evolved to enter her circle of intimates. Surprisingly, these objects lacked life but lent lustre to Ashima’s. In the meantime, Ashima also started making the most of technology, calling and video calling her friends, talking to her students, doing online workshops and engaging in productive pursuits per say.

Collage of images

The world has changed since then and the Ashima you read about no longer finds herself in a quagmire. Undoubtedly, the journey from the vulnerable to the fortified self had not been an undemanding one. Nonetheless, it was possible only because Ashima found friends, almost discovered them, here and there and everywhere by changing, not only her perception but also her perspective towards attachment and association. After all, in the words of Khaled Hosseini from The Kite Runner, "Not a word passes between (them), not because (they) have nothing to say, but because (they) don’t have to say anything." 'They' are friends.

By: Promita Banerjee Nag
Photo courtesy: Mala Mukherjee

This article and the opinions expressed in it are personal opinions. It is not meant for imposing specific views or endorsing a particular way of life. Also please do ignore any errors or omissions that you might come across. We pledge to learn from them. Happy viewing.


Anula said…
Wow....beyond me
Unknown said…
I can so well relate to this! The little birds, butterflies, squirrels, flowers, trees, the wind, the sky........ I feel so much loved and so much at peace when I'm with them. ❤️
Moments Of Life said…
I can relate to it so well.... The squirrels and sparrows and also the things online. Beautiful!
beas hyphasis said…
The current situation has made us all revisit the friendship and camaraderie to be derived from everyone including birds, bees and beasts, who are usually much closer to us in our daily lives but invariably go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of normal life. Ashima's life portrays this new found warmth and wonder in what would have otherwise been a stifling atmosphere of seclusion. Beautifully portrayed!
Unknown said…
The starting catch line , Bonds and Beyond , will instantly make you famous.
The English is a bit away from the common man. At times you take time to understand.
The subject is interesting.
Well written.
Quotidian Tales said…
Relatability is something we aspire to achieve through our writings. Thank you readers for connecting with our thoughts and encouraging us in our journey of exploration of everyday experiences.

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