Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay 

Looking outside from her Kitchen window Shakuntala mumbled “This city is left with no climate of its own. Anytime it starts raining.” And then she gets back at what she was doing. She was preparing Mathri and sweet Gujhiya. The aroma was all over the kitchen. 

Kamla her maid interrupted “Amma! for the past two hours you have been standing in the kitchen. Go and take rest least you will fall ill”.  

“Oh! You don’t know Kamla, they will be coming tomorrow and I have to prepare so many dishes. Just be quite, I don’t have much time." Said Shakuntala in an irritated tone. “Who are coming Amma” asked kamla curiously. “Oh! Ya I forgot to tell you. Avinash and Anirudh both are coming with their family. You know Avinash loves home cooked Mathri and Anirudh only eats Ghujhiya’s made by me.”  

For a moment she was lost in her sweet memories until kamla brought her back, “But Amma last year also they both said they were coming to visit you, but then they cancelled their programme.” 

Shakuntala stopped her in between and said “Kamla, last year Siddhartha my grandson was giving his boards. So Avinash didn’t want to disturb him. So they cancelled. Board classes are very tough.”  

“And what had happened last to last year? Then who was giving boards?” asked Kamla sarcastically. 

“Kamla I think your memory is weak. That time Swara, Anirudh’s wife was not well. And Anirudh had an important overseas meeting which he couldn’t cancel. That’s why they could not come.” She explained.

“Now don’t waste time Kamla. Have you cleaned the rooms?” Shakuntala looked at Kamla in anger. “There…..when it comes to talking you can talk for hours but work… lazy you are.” Shakuntala was very disappointed with Kamla. “Come and clean the rooms. I will sit here and watch.” Shakuntala’s tone was quite bossy. 

Kamla started dusting the room. She picked up a guitar and started cleaning it when Shakuntala suddenly alarmed her, “Be cautious, otherwise you will break the strings. You know I presented this to Avinash when he scored good percentage in his boards. He really plays guitar so well.” 

She was lost in the tunes played by him. Kamla kept it back after cleaning. “Amma, why have you kept this cot? It’s too old.” Asked Kamla. “oh! ya clean this also. Look it’s looking too dirty. Many memories of my grandchildren are attached with this cot. 

Siddhartha, Pari and Rohit all were grown up in it. Except my little Kabir. Oh! its been 3 years I haven’t seen him.” Shakuntala suddenly came back to the present moment and asked Kamla, “Have you finished? Good, now wipe the floor I am going to the markets to get presents for everyone”. 

At night after dinner Shakuntala sat on her reclining chair. Her kids presented her this five years back. She still remember their words “Maa, now you just take rest. We are here to take care of you now.” 

Shakuntala was tired, exhausted but happy inside, that finally she will see all of them again. As she was engrossed in her thoughts when she heard her phone ringing. She got up slowly as her back was paining. 

She picked up the phone. “Hello, Maa!” It was Avinash. “Oh! It’s you Avi! How are you my son? I am so excited to see you all tomorrow. Can’t wait anymore….”Shakuntala went on and on when Avinash stopped her in between, “Maa, please stop. Just listen to me for once.” 

Shakuntala was stunned for a moment. “What happened Avinash? You are sounding disturbed. Is everything fine?” 

“Yes Maa, everything is fine here. Actually I wanted to tell you something. You know Sid got a great percentage in his boards this year. Now he will be starting his eleventh class and would be busy for the next 2-3 years with coaching’s and engineering exams . So he wanted to go on a trip before he gets busy. So we all have planned to go to Singapore. Actually it’s a gift from my side. I promised him to give whatever he would demand if he gets good score. So Maa, we won’t be coming to visit you this year, but definitely next year we will be showing up. I hope you can understand Maa.” Avinash was waiting for her answer but Shakuntala could not find words to say that ‘Yes she understands. She always understands.’ 

Shakuntala put the receiver down. Only one voice echoed in her ears “We won’t be coming this time” She went back and sat on her reclining chair. She started swinging the chair. Perhaps, she was trying to hide her tears but failed. Tears fell from her eyes. 

‘What did she ask for from her children, just a week? Did she ask too much from them?’ She closed her eyes, tears were still falling. She began to evaluate her life that she had gone through after marriage. 

Life became a bit difficult when her husband faced huge loss in business. It took almost 2 years to regain his business back. Till then she handled everything from expenses to handling kids to household chores. Almost everything.

Life became more difficult when her husband passed away, leaving behind huge debt and big responsibilities on her shoulder. But she handled them with grace and perfection. 

For almost 5 years she could not accept promotions in her job, as promotion meant more work load and coming home late. Which she could not afford as her kids were small and needed her attention. She saw her juniors becoming her seniors at work place. But she was happy, because at least she was able to give time to her kids. 

When all her friends and colleagues used to plan outdoor trips or picnics, she never accompanied them. Not because she didn’t like going out but to save money so that she could send both her sons on picnics and educational trips. 

When she retired, she took care of all her grandchildren and encouraged her daughter-in-laws to work. When both her son expressed desire to go to some other town as they were getting better job options there, she never stopped them. On the other hand she encouraged them because she knew the importance of a good career. 

But today she was sitting here all alone. The stream of tears started flowing from her eyes again. Today she felt completely helpless, weak and broken. Today she has no one with whom she could express her sorrow and pain. Shakuntala had never felt so lonely in her entire life. 

It was morning. Sun was peeping through her window. She was sleeping on her chair when she heard the doorbell constantly ringing. She woke up with a fainted belief that may be her kids have come. May be they changed their mind. An unsure smile passed through her face. 

But then she heard Kamla’s voice, “Amma open the door! What has happened? Why are you not opening the door?” Shakuntala got up slowly. Her smile vanished. As soon as Shakuntala opened the door  

Kamla hugged her and started crying. “You know what bad thoughts crossed my mind Amma”. Concern for Shakuntala was evident in her voice. Shakuntala tapped on her cheeks and smiled “Don’t worry I am fine.” Saying this she went inside her room and lay down on her bed. 

“When is the arrival time of their train Amma? I will quickly finish the dusting.” asked Kamla excitedly. Shakuntala kept quiet for a while as if she didn’t hear what Kamla said. Kamla repeated her question again. Shakuntala couldn’t understand what to say. She was suddenly short of words. Then she Slowly said in a suppressed voice “They are not coming Kamla”.  

“What? Why? Now what has happened? This time it was final that they will come. Is everything fine Amma? Amma..” But before Kamla could bounce back with another question Shakuntala interrupted in between “Yes Kamla all is fine! Please can you make tea for me”. 

Holding the hot cup of tea in her hands Shakuntala sat on her Arm chair in the verandah, sipping her tea and looking at the people in the park. Children were playing, elderly people were sitting in groups and doing yoga, youngsters were walking on the path. There was hustle and bustle everywhere. Suddenly she saw Mrs. Majumdar, who lost her husband a few months back. She was sitting with the group of ladies and talking. Then she saw Mrs. Tripathi, her son and daughter both are in USA and seldom visits her.  

Last year when had a heart stroke the neighbors took her to the hospital. Her kids couldn’t come due to work commitments. 

Then she saw Priya, the little girl who resides on the top floor of her building. Last year when she lost her mother due to cancer. She was inconsolable for months. How happy she was looking today playing with her friends. 

Looking at all these people, suddenly a ray of light rushed her mind that ‘Life never stops, it keeps on going. It is a continuous process. For the little girl Priya, or for Mrs. Majumdar, life came to a standstill when they lost their dear ones. Mrs. Tripathi almost fought her battle from heart attack on her own without her dear ones. But see, here they are, leaving all the sorrow and pains behind, living life openly again.’ 

‘Then why have I stopped living? Why do I get upset thinking about my past? Why do I keep thinking that I have done so much for everyone and I am not getting anything in return? What I did was my duty. And I have fulfilled my duty nicely and that’s my reward. Life gives us so many chances but we don’t see them and keep cursing our present situations but never try to change them. But now it’s time to change. It’s time to relive the life I have missed. Now I will make use of this opportunity and do what I couldn’t do in my past.’ 

Shakuntala got up from the chair like a warrior gets up after being wounded in the battle. Ready to go, and conquer. The first thing she thought was to call her best friend Sreelata, with whom she shares all her sorrows, the highs and lows. 

She picked up her phone and called Sreelata, “Hey Sri, how are you dear.”  

“Hello Shakuntala! I am fine dear. You tell what’s up! Your voice is sounding like a Christmas bell today. What’s the good news? Ok, let me guess. So Avi and Ani are here with their family. Isn’t it! And that’s why you are so happy.” Sreelata sounded like a true friend who can judge her friend through her voice. 

Shakuntala answered back but this time not in a depressed voice as she usually sounded when her children couldn’t come to meet her. “No Sri, they won’t be able to make this time as well. They are both going on Singapore trip with their families” 

Sreelata was angry on hearing this and blasted like a missile, “How can they do this to you every time. This careless attitude is not good. Don’t they understand that you are alone and you need them now? I think it’s time we should talk to both of them. They need to understand their responsibility towards you.” 

“Hold on Sri…” said Shakuntala in a soft voice. “I am not upset due to this. I am fine and its okay if they want to go to Singapore it’s perfectly fine with me.” 

“But Shakuntala, why every time you compromise? Why can’t they understand?” Concern for Shakuntala was evident in Sreelata’s voice.

“Sri, I can completely understand that you are concerned about me dear. But seriously, this time I m not hurt and I am not upset as well. Sri, I have realized one thing today, that they have their own life and they have the full liberty to live it the way they want to. I don’t want to put any boundations on them. They have worked hard to reach to the professional position they are today. After so much of hard work all these years, they should get to live their life their way. And on top of that they have responsibilities of their kids. They can’t run away from that. I can very well understand how difficult it is to fulfill the desires, dreams and expectations of children. So from my side what I can do best for them right now is to let them go….let them handle the responsibilities and conquer the battle of parenthood without taking my tension. And as far as I am concerned I am still capable of handling myself alone. And now I want to do all that which I missed out on when I was performing my duties towards my family.” 

Sreelata was bowled over after hearing Shakuntala. It was evident in her voice when she replied back , “ Wow! Shaku! What a wonderful thought. I think you are absolutely right. So next what now?” 

"That’s what I called you for” said Shakuntala .

“Let’s plan a trip to hill stations. In our office days I missed out almost on all trips due to my duties but now I am free to go anywhere. I want to make the most out of my remaining life. I want to come out of my comfortable but solitary nest. I want to fly now like a free bird and explore as much as possible. You remember I told you that I want to join an NGO. The time has come now. I am going to do that soon.”  

“That’s a great thought Shakuntala. I will also join with you in social work.” Sreelata said excitedly. 

“Let’s call our other friends as well and plan the trip as soon as possible.” Said Shakuntala.

“That’s wonderful” said Sreelata, “So after breakfast I will arrange a video call to everyone and we will decide our destination spot.”Said Sreelata. 

Shakuntala kept the phone and heaved a sigh of relief. Today it seemed as if she could breathe freely after many years. Life is always about moving forward. It’s a continuous process and the purpose of our life is to seek happiness. When we let go off what we are, we become what we might be. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step and today she has taken that step forward. The step…which will get her closer to the real Shakuntala. Today she has found a new friend- LIFE. This new friend will always be with her till her last breathe and till then she will LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST.


Astha Singhal