by Annapurna Sharma
I was busy. Sitting at the dining table, my hands moved about prolifically, my fingers picking the warm, juicy mixture, making ladoos for my daughter, Ishika. She had always loved this round, sweet balls. Her childhood memories are still vivid in my mind, as though they had happened just yesterday – as a toddler she trotted noiselessly, came from behind me, and stealthily thrust her tiny pink hands into the juicy mixture. As soon as I saw those hands, I used to catch hold of them and pull her in front of me. I raised my eyebrows in a demanding gesture – ‘What are you up to?’
“Amma, laaddhooss,” she used to say with a lisp and then giggle blissfully.
I pretended to be annoyed. I widened my kohl lined eyes, showing signs of anger. But her innocent looks often bowled me over. I smiled instantly at my adorable daughter, and she continued with her play, her little fingers swam through the moist, sticky mixture. She tried to make round balls, and after much struggle she succeeded in making a little one and showed it to me bubbling with glee, triumph apparent and her face glowing like a high voltage bulb. I was captivated by her antics. She tried another. Unable to bind the mixture and probably her short attention span made her abandon the ladoo mixture. I ran after her, cleaned her hands and she returned to her toys. She came back again; I scooped a small amount onto a plate and gave it to her, so that she doesn’t spoil the whole mixture. Whenever hungry, she would point out to the big steel container on the shelf in the kitchen where I stored them. Sometimes I wondered, how the elfin remembered the storage place.
When she joined school, for most part of the weekdays she would insist that I pack ladoos along with her usual lunch. She never got bored of them, sharing with friends and boasting about my (her mother’s) specialty topped her chatting list. As an adolescent, her demand for ladoos doubled. Group studies, sleepovers, picnics, birthdays, name it; every event had ladoos on their agenda. I often agreed to make a tin-full for her army of friends, as I loved her dearly.
In her twenties, transformed into a gregarious and sociable woman, pursuing higher studies, but her fondness for her mother’s ladoos remained the same. The only difference was that whenever at home, she lent a helping hand to make ladoos, which she never did in her earlier years, as a teenager.
I really liked it when she repeatedly said, “Mom, your hands have magic in them, I can’t tell you how they melt in my mouth. Umm! I adore them.”
Embarrassed by her sycophancy, I would say, “Oh! Don’t flatter me.”
But from within, my joy increased leaps and bounds. She was aware of my happiness, so she said it again and again. She made no bones about her love for ladoos. Some close friends teased her, calling her ‘ladoo’, meaning round and plump, but she couldn’t care less for such comments.
Today, she had gone out to celebrate with friends, her achievement, in her qualifying exams. A brilliant student, she often excelled in her endeavors, be it studies or sports or extracurricular activities. My husband and I were proud parents. Yes! Nobody could stop me from being elated! I was on cloud nine!
The very next minute – I felt sad. My mind wandered, as thoughts came and went. I was anxious, nervous and all of a sudden felt lonely. For a few minutes, I couldn’t quite understand the whirlwind of emotions that overwhelmed me.
At least, I knew it but didn’t want to accept it – Ishika wanted to go to the US for further studies. How could I allow her to go far away from her hometown to an unknown country? I had read about the country – its different time zones, and the inclement weather – her health would be jeopardized. She has to fend for herself and I won’t be around to look into her needs. She would miss me! Or rather I would miss her!
I glanced at the picture on the mantle – three year old Ishika, holding my hand and splashing the surf on Kovalam beach in Kerala. She was scared as the waves crashed against her tiny feet, yet she dared to play in the water grasping my dress tightly. She didn’t listen to me; she stayed wet for a long time and caught a terrible cold. The next day she was ready for yet another rendezvous with the incoming tides. A man at the beach entrance drew sketches of people for a paltry sum. I wanted Ishika’s picture
drawn, but she cried on seeing the tonsured, bespectacled man with a pencil in his ear. The poor man tried making peace, but the little rascal howled even louder. His tardiness was ineffective and we had to put a nutty crunchy Cadbury in her hand to pacify her.
“No! I won’t allow her to win over me this time! She can apply at BHU or otherwise look for a job here in Benares; there are many reputed companies in our town too. Yes, that is what I will tell her, when she comes home. I know my doting daughter will listen to me. She has never been defiant,” I said aloud.
My mind said that I was a strong woman with liberated and modern thoughts. I can’t imagine chaining anyone emotionally. The other part of me (my heart) lamented – “However modern you are, you too are human with feelings. Just rewind your memories to the day when you left her at your parents’ house for the first time.”
Unable to juggle between household responsibilities, my job and taking care of the little one, I had to send my one year old daughter, Ishika, to my parents’ place. “So what has that got to do with the present situation?” my mind questioned. “It is not just about sending her away, what about the emotions that came to play?” replied my heart.
True, I still remember the lump in my throat as I boarded an early train back to Benares. My eyes were red, swollen and wet and I choked and couldn’t utter a word when a friend greeted me on the bus, on my way back home. I wept profusely as I reached home and instantly made up my mind. Within a month, I made the required adjustments in the home and office, so I could get Ishika back home to stay with me. And now she is planning to leave for two long years for higher studies. Can I stay even a second without her?
Fluctuating between a myriad of emotions, I didn’t realize the time. The door bell rang; freeing myself from the emotional entanglement I opened the door.
“What took you so long? I had been ringing the bell for quite some time,” rebuked my husband.
I didn’t say anything. My husband, softened by my stance, dogmatized, “Get over it before it becomes an obsession. She needs to go for a brighter future. Think like a mature woman.”
I quietly came back to the table to make ladoos as he went inside. The tussle between the mind and heart started again. On a last ditch, the mind said, “If you listen to your heart you will end up bringing her home within a month, like you did before.”
The heart argued, “I don’t see any wrong if she does like that. All is fair in love and war.” The mind argued that love shouldn’t become bitter. The squabble went on and on until I could no longer stand it.
Enough! I shouted and woke from my reverie.
I need to think rationally, it is her future. Why am I acting so barbaric, daring to cut her wings of flight? Are my ladoos emissaries or a bribe? But halfway around the world, long flights, an alien city and no one to take care of her – why doesn’t she understand? Such questions popped in my mind, made me insane and laughed mercilessly at me.
She was my weakness!
Finally, I made my decision.
She came home after the party, sat watching television in the living room. My husband joined her. After a while, I walked in with a plate of freshly made ladoos.
As she took one from the plate, I said, “Ishika, I have decided ---,” I could no longer continue.
Both of them looked at me, waiting patiently for my invaluable words.
“I decided to allow you to go abroad,” I sputtered awkwardly.
For a second, they stared at me, as the words sank in. Then my daughter squealed in delight.
“I knew, you wouldn’t let her down, only that you needed a little prodding,” said my husband, smiling his pleasure.
“Thank you! Thank you Amma! I am so happy! I can’t wait to tell my friends.” She dashed to make a call to her best friend.
I sighed! Human susceptibility! Finally I had to get over my attachments and let the bird fly to freedom. She needed to explore the world, unravel her true potential. I killed two birds with one stone and freed her from the umbilical bonding while I freed myself from hackneyed emotions.
My husband looked at me with pride in his eyes, while I looked at my daughter with moistened eyes as she wolfed the ladoos.*****