End of an Era
by Vivek Nath Mishra
We used to spend our whole summer in the village where my grandfather and grandmother lived with my aunt and uncle. I remained very excited as the summer vacation approached. My mother would begin packing bags a day before. And the day school closed down we would leave for the village on my father’s old Bajaj scooter. I stood in the space between the handle bar and the seat in front and my sister and mother sat in the back.
I remember as we would reach the ancient house, through the elevated trail that ran along the canal and on the other side of which there laid a vast space of mango groves, my grandmother would come running out with a cheerful smile. She would then bring jaggery and cool water from the huge earthen pot she had kept over a pile of wet clay in the courtyard. She never slackened a bit in bringing water for us. The time we stepped in she would start running frantically to welcome us as grandly as she could. She would declare, as if from the rooftop, that we arrived after a long journey although it was just twenty five kilometres away. She even got furious if my aunt did a little late in serving the food. She made a lot of fuzz for our food. She knew that my father didn’t like jackfruit, that I couldn’t drink milk without sugar in it, that my mother was sick and she would eat her food without salt, and that my sister detested bottle gourd. I always believed that she knew everything: every family member’s taste and choice.
She was short in height, approximately five feet tall and she walked in a crooked style due to her old age but never took assistance of a stick. She walked as fast as a fourteen years old kid. Her energy was remarkably prodigious. She was a little dark and although she would have been around seventy but her hair was black and thick. She combed and oiled it with immense pride. She did almost all the household works. She milked the cows and planted the vegetation in the backyard.
I remember she would watch the agricultural programs on Doordarshan on the old Television set we had. She would call out everybody in the house and insist us to watch sincerely.
Once a few inches of thread was snagged in my shirt's left arm. The snagged thread was loosely protruding. We didn’t have a sewing machine in the village so I asked my grandmother. She went to her room and opened her cupboard. I saw her taking out a handful of jaggery from the earthen pot. She tied it in the corner of her sari and kept my shirt in a plastic bag. I insisted her to take me along. It was afternoon and the sun was beating down harshly so she covered my head with a piece of cloth, held my hand and we
walked out together. We walked all over to the small market area in the village. The main road forked into two and a narrow lane took us to the small market.
There was a small tailor’s shop at the end of the lane. I saw the small rusted signboard hung at the top of the door. It was Bode Master’s shop. Bode Master was a lovely man. He slithered out of his seat as he saw us approaching. He touched my grandmother’s feet and asked about her wellness and health. My grandmother began to rain the blessing on him. After Bode master stitched my clothes my grandmother untied the corner of her saree and gave him jaggery.
“Where would I get the money son? I brought you jaggery, eat and tell whether you like it,” she said.
“I love your jaggery grandma, you already know that,” he said cheerfully as he stuffed a handful of jaggery into his mouth.
I had never seen such payment of any service before. In the city nothing is possible without money but here a handful of jaggery could do the work.
I remember on some stormy nights, my grandmother would wake us and take us to the mango grove to collect the scattered mangoes that fell due to strong wind. I wondered if she ever slept. She remained concerned about her mangoes all the night. Later she chopped the mangoes and pickled them all. I remained with her all the time and watched the process closely. My grandmother would joke sometimes, “this boy is a girl. Look how sincerely he watches.”
As the time passed my grandmother grew older. She grew frail and her energy began to die slowly. And at the age of eighty two she passed away one morning. My uncle and aunt locked the door of the village house and came to the city to live with us.
It was after many years that I went back to my village. The house was covered with moss and the cracks snaked everywhere on the walls. The door of my grandmother’s room was partially eaten by termites although her lock was hung there intact, determined as her soul.
One afternoon sitting in the backyard it came to my mind to visit Bode Master and so I went all the way to the market. He had also grown older. Wrinkles had covered his skin but having no other option he was still continuing with his profession. I gave him a piece of cloth to make a shirt for me and paid him a few bucks.
He took the money and stared at it for a while.
“After grandma died nobody brought me jaggery. As I saw you I was reminded of her jaggery. What a beautiful lady she was! A mother in all sense.”
He was in tears. And I too couldn’t stop myself.
This is a sad reality that everything changes with time and with some people an era ends. ***