The Lala Song
on a platter
I have always been fond of kids. They seem to connect with the child with me. Their antiques, their chortling, their tooth/-less smiles and even their tantrums, wailings and flailing appeals to me immensely. I have no brothers and sisters younger or older. I don't live in a joint family and it's too early to have children of my own. That's why I have never been (ironically) to close to children let alone infants or toddlers.
But all that changed a few months ago. When I was just about thirteen or fourteen, my mother hired a maid who was in her early twenties. She looked after me, did the housework and played with me. Everyone in the family was very fond of her. She called my Maa Mami and my Baba Mama. She was one of those sincere people who did their work honestly and lived honestly. That's why we were all very sad when she left five years later to marry a guy chosen by her mother in her village. After her marriage she kept contact with us on and of. But sometimes there was no trace of her. A couple of months earlier she came to visit us with her daughter who had just turned one. We are in shortage for a helping hand and Romija; the maid had a pathetic, moronic husband who didn't work.
we convinced her husband and her to come and work for us with her baby
Asha. That was when it started.
her improved spirit came a new phase: her attachment to me. To young
to call me khala all she could muster was lala- and that is how lala
I became. From then on it was lalalalalalala. Open the door lama, hear
the bell lala, wake up lala and go to bed lala. My grandma named it
Asha's lala song. Asha would walk and keep chanting lala like someone
chanting on the rosary! She became so attached to me that sometimes
she didn't even want to go to her own mother.
was hard work but it was fulfilling and not to mention my Putul took
the throne in my heart and soul. When I took her to shops people asked
who she was and I said that she was my daughter. After all anyone who
saw our relationship could call it little less than a mother-daughter
bonding. My mother teasingly remarked that it was a good thing- after
all I was getting free training for when I really did become a mother!
After a while Putul's attachment to me became fiercer. When I came back from school, I'd hear that she had been on the lala chant searching for me in my room and then the whole house. With penguin steps she ran to me the moment she saw me. With the attachment came possessive ness. If she saw me hugging my parents, she'd wave her hands in contempt and say: Ei jah!
Soon she started calling my Baba Nana and my Maa Nanum. First she'd go O lala and then Nanum Nanum. She's like this living doll and we just can't get enough of her. Grudgingly in the past few weeks she has grown fonder of Baba and tends to cling to his feet. Before that it was my Baji (Grandma). The only person she never befriended was my Dadu (Grandpa). After all who could blame her. Next to Dadu she looked like the lilliputs of Gulliver's travel.
I often wonder whether I'll continue loving her like the way I do now. And then I check myself. How could I not? After all she was my daughter and motherhood had been served to me on a platinum platter.
She was a good girl, that Pam. A good person and a good wife. She was the type of girl who always knew what to do; she knew it so well that her life hardly ever varied. There was a certain place on her right bedside where she would keep her gold-plated earrings after coming back from work everyday. She never got up from the dinner table till her glass of water was emptied. She had monthly spells of cold when she would be seen bustling around the house with a napkin in her hand. A perfectly folded napkin, of course.
In our fifteen years of marriage, I had never seen any variation. The glass never had a drop of water left in it after dinner, there were never any crumpled napkins around the house. Every bottle in the house had labels, every three months, toothbrushes were replaced. Pam was a great housekeeper; responsible and punctual. She was never too ambitious or complaining (except for the time I had forgotten to mend the fuse in the bathroom and we needed candles. Needless to say, Pam knew exactly where the candles were, "They are in the corner kitchen cabinet, in the left hand side, wrapped in blue tissue paper"). Pam never screamed and never cried (except for the time when they showed the mother of a 5-year-old kid who died in a subway accident in Oprah). There were never any extremes in Pam's life. She was never too happy or too sad or too angry. She just was.
suppose the week following the day I left, there was a lot of "why"-s
is the minds of those who knew us as a couple. Pam and I almost never
fought; we didn't have the time to fight and no reason either. Some
people never ran out of reasons to fight about but that never happened
with us. Once in a blue moon, when something I did or said annoyed her,
she would leave a yellow stick-on on the microwave, saying:
Those notes were the only times when Pam spoke in incomplete sentences. She was one of those people who followed grammar rules as if they were part of the constitution. She didn't do it on purpose; it just came naturally. In the first few years of our marriage, it amused me to imagine Pam scratching her head and going through great trouble to break away from this old habit at times when she would write the yellow notes. Later it dawned to me that her habit of writing incomplete sentences when she was irritated was just as innate as her habit of speaking in full sentences every other time.
had saved every one of those yellow notes.
They are people, after all. I really didn't expect anything "different" from them. I knew how each and every person would react, including Pam.
Pam would notice the note as soon as she comes back from work. It was on the coffee-table, with the keys kept on top. She would bend and pick it up, read it and hold it for a second or two afterwards. She would fold it and walk into the bedroom. She would come out without the letter and pick up the telephone. She would dial me at work and then go back to the room to get the telephone directory, return and dial my colleagues, my sister and may be even Adam. When she's done calling, she would get up from the couch, suddenly realizing that she hasn't searched the entire apartment yet.
I did not want my note to conceal anything so I made no effort to make it sound like anything that might give her some hope.
Fifteen years of life with Pam had made me somewhat practical. I had my passport, other important documents, personal savings, clothes and all the other travel necessities with me. All these had come from no list but from spontaneous calculations in my head. I had enjoyed the thrill of packing on my own without Pam standing behind me and ticking off items from a list in her hand. I had enjoyed forgetting to take my towel and having to open the bag again to put it in. There was something different about not having everything right the first time.
I had initially thought of going north thought I didn't know for sure once I started the journey. I had made no promises and therefore had no obligations to the handful of maps I had in the front pocket of my bag. I had never been a big eater but that night I stopped at a drive-on and I ate more than I had eaten in a dinner in the recent years. SI drove at a stretch for days, stopping only for fuel, food and sleep. I listened to the oldies on the radio and surprisingly remembered the words of some of them well enough to sing along.
the months that passed while I was on the road, I stopped in motels
for a couple of days. The cheap furniture of the motels somehow reminded
me of home and when I thought of home, I thought of Pam and her yellow
a while, however, even my journey got to be predictable. I guess, no
matter how hard you try to shift from one circle, you just end up running
around in another circle. I faced the truth, I had to return, I had
to go back to Pam.
I guess Pam and I did have our fight but we never got the chance to make up. I checked the microwave to make sure but there were no yellow notes.
That night, when I went to bed, I rolled over to the right side of the bed where Pam used to sleep. In the darkness, I felt for her gold-plated earrings on the right bedside table. My cold hand could only feel one earring and then it suddenly sank in and I broke down_ Pam had lost an earring.
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