"Ma, Maa", Mr. Bhattacharya's stentorian voice resonated across the still sleepy neighborhood.
The two gray pigeons trying to catch the last snatches of sleep in their filigreed skylight home, flapped their wings in annoyance and flew up to the terrace. Mangala, the neighborhood milkman's much pampered cow, shook herself and hurriedly called out with a matching "Moooo", as she shuffled to get on her four legs. The far eastern horizon beyond the neem tree, behind the mismatched houses of the neighborhood, further from the swanky new flat building, now had strokes of pink on a slate background and the last of the twinkling stars knew it was time to wrap up their nightly glamour and take rest.
"Your neighbor Bhattacharjee kaku is very religious. Too much I would say," the Sens' youngest son's brand new wife, who had married into the salmon pink two storeyed house across the Bhattacharya's colonial gray one, jangled her shiny gold bangles in irritation.
"Aha, it has been 26 years and there has not been even one single morning when Bhattacharjee Didi's son has been a minute late for his morning prayers. Winter, Spring, Summer, Monsoon-- always the same. Such devotion for Ma Kaali. And such love and respect for his own Mother. It is Ma's blessing that he is doing so well in his work and getting promoted so quickly," said Mrs.Sen softly to herself. Sleep did not come easy to her these days, her arthiritic knee was getting worse and the pain kept her awake many nights. "Blessings from Mothers are precious. But do my own sons realize that ?" she muttered with disdain
Unaware of what his neighbors thought, Mr.Bhattacharya, CIO of McNally and Sand, freshly bathed and pious at 4:30 in the morning, picked Ma's favorite flowers, the scarlet hibiscus from his sprawling garden. He had four varieties of hibiscus. The crimson, pale pink, the soft egg yolk yellow and of course the scarlet, rokto joba, the Mother's favorite. Gently he plucked the flowers from their stem, the petals wet with morning dew, and put them in his saaji as he sang a Kaali Bhajan in a low voice that lacked sweetness or tune. What he lacked in tune, he made up in his earnestness though.
After he had offered his prayers in the marble floored prayer room and lighted enough incense to fill the whole house with fragrance, he went to meet his Mother. On dot at 6:10. This was his everyday routine. One and half hour spent for Ma Kaali and then 20 minutes for his own mother Suhasini. In this twenty minutes he made sure that Suhasini was taking her medicine and doing the exercises suggested by the therapist. If time permitted, they also discussed the state of the country and listened to Suhasini reminisce about her childhood in Jamalpur.
For Suhasini, these were precious 20 minutes. She had led a hard life with a husband whose temper was legendary and a mother-in-law known for her miserliness. It was only in her old age, as a widow, that she finally could experience a comfortable life. And for that she was grateful to her son. She had been an ordinary Mother, with little time for her son in a life filled with drudgery and hardship. But the boy had worked hard and made a name for himself. In his busy life, he had not forgotten his Mother and pampered her with all the affulencies that she never could have imagined for herself.
Yes, she knew, he had a temper, as bad as his father if not worse. At times she even felt a pang for Sunita, her daughter-in-law. But she kept quiet. Everyone on this earth is born with their fate written on their forehead. Who was she to interfere and upset that ?
When the clock on the dining room wall struck 7:30, Mr.Bhattacharya came down to breakfast. He did the same every morning. In fact he was so punctual that you could adjust your clock by him.
"What is this ?" he shouted. His face puffed up, his jaws stern. The early morning piousness had been wiped off by an almost cruel expression. Suhasini, counted her rudraksha beads faster. The Sen's youngest son's new wife, in the salmon pink house across, nodded her head in disdain and said "There, he goes again like clockwork".
"Why did you make Luchi for breakfast ?How many times have I told you that on first Thursdays of every month, I will have only crisp buttered toast and sausage for breakfast ? Did your Masters in International Affairs not teach you even this ?" Mr. Bhattacharya thundered.
With a powerful swipe of his right wrist, he sent the platter of white puffed luchis hurtling across the rosewood dining table. The airy luchis, floated in the air for a millisecond before they plopped on the shiny expensive moasic. The bowl of sada alu charchari lazily hit the wall and landed with a thud, the steel bowl making a clattering sound. In the kitchen, Sunita, his wife of 20 years stopped midway in her effort to make the next luchi puff up right.
Mr.Bhattacharya uttered profanities and called names. She kept quiet. She had learned the power of silence in her 20 years of marriage. It was not that he was a bad man and she had learned to shake off words like water from a duck's back.
"You cannot handle even simple affairs at home, how do you work at that bank of yours ? Some sorry state it must be in. Don't know what you would have done if you worked in a corporate office like mine ? They would have fired you the very next day. And remember, if I see such carelessness again, I will make sure that you are kicked out of this house," he wagged his finger and announced before stomping off to his chauffered car that waited at the front gate.
Sunita still silent, switched off the stove and went on her task of picking up the deflated luchis from the floor.
"Bouma, how many times have I told you that my son has a bit of a temper. If you would only be a little more careful when he is around, " Suhasini said in a liquid whisper, her 63 year old voice tinged with guilt. "Had she been a good Mother?" the doubt rose like bile in her throat.
"At least I am better off than Malati," thought Sunita. Malati, their house help, had called in sick again today. Her husband had beaten her black and blue last night. "At least I don't get beaten up like her," she comforted herself.
"Don't understand why she just doesn't walk out. She is educated, earns a good living and still...," the Sen's youngest son's new wife gossiped to her colleague over the water cooler.
There is a little backdrop to this story. It was triggered by this ad, from a series called "Ma jaisa Koi Nahi" by Mother Dairy and which I got as a forward either on last year's Mother's Day or later. BTW, there are other Mother Dairy ads in the same series which are perfectly fine but it was this that I had got and this that I will talk about today.
That an ad from a reputed company would think it was completely natural for the husband to behave in such crass manner and then promote it on national television, amazed me. Don't know what they were trying to prove but then such scenarios do happen in many homes. It is easy to say that an educated women could walk out of the situation or try to make it better. But I have been privy to a couple of such women and however educated and strong they are, when looked at from their viewpoint it is easier said than done.
In a world that celebrates Motherhood but has little respect for its women -- Happy Mother's Day.