She reminded me of my mother. It was not that her face had resemblance with my mother. But her wild uncombed hair, the lose knot, the smeared sindoor , the vermilion spot, which gave the colour of the western sky to the forehead and the saree which she had on for the whole night – all these made her look like my mother. This is all about her appearance. Actually I am not really focusing on the outside appearance. I want to talk about those things that stirred my delicate sentiments as soon as I saw her. When I looked at her she appeared as if she had been weeded out like an unwanted plant of the garden or perhaps like a waste paper shredded into pieces and thrown away. She appeared as if she would be blown away or swept away if no one held her hands tightly. I had seen my mother like this about twelve to fourteen years back. My mother, like her, also must be around fifty years at that time.
I had never seen her before. We had only known each other over the phone. She used to call me at home to enquire about her husband. Her husband had got transferred but sadly she was stuck to the old place because her son was in the final year of her under graduation in science stream and her daughter had paid donation to get into a Management course. But she was often worried about her husband. Is he getting his bed tea in the morning? Is he boiling his drinking water? He suffers from chest pain f he is too stressed. All these worries her and she talks about them over the phone. I try to console her over the phone. She would call up and would let her know when her daughter has fever or her son was bitten by a dog, or when her neighbour fights with her or when the car is sent to the garage. If her husband did not call her for a long time or did not go home on holiday she used to cry and complain to her over the phone. Once or twice she would even ask me- What is the attraction there that Mr Choudhury does not come home? Sometimes I take her husband’s side and argue-“Maybe he is busy with work. Why do you worry so much? Alright, I will let him know that you were worried.”
We were not very close to her husband; on the other hand, being a colleague there was a feeling of intolerance between us. He was not our nearest neighbour. His living quarters were after four or maybe five quarters away from us. Everyone one had the internal phone given by the company but no one else had taken the line for outside connection. So people from the seven to eight quarters surrounding our quarters had accepted to use our telephone to keep in touch with the outside world. Mrs Ram Murthi was an extrovert so no one went to their house. And Mrs Ansari was so proud of her status that no one dared to enter her gates. The newly-wed Binay Panda’s father-in-law employed with the police department called up every other day to enquire about her daughter’s well being. He used to send messages asking whether the washing machine was working; or the microwave oven will be sent within a few days. Sometimes he would call up to consult his son-in-law for buying something or getting him transferred; he would say, “I have an urgent business. Could you please call him?” I had to attend to the phone calls because I used to be at home. I would send my maid to people’s house to inform them that their phone call would come after ten minutes. As mobile phone was not commonly used at that time, I would let them know by calling them on the company phone. Sometimes someone or the other had to wait for the phone in the drawing room. Samiran, my husband, would ask me to tell them, “No, I can’t inform them; or just tell them there is no one at home, their house is locked.” Even though I was fed up attending to neighbours’ phone calls I could not betray their trust.