In continuation of The Family
Smriti’s mother insisted that they leave only after having their meals and when Sneha did not get up on her own to help ‘her’ mom just as she was supposed to, she signaled her to get up making sure that Shreya did not see her doing that. The guys talked in the living room while Shreya went back to her room to pack her things. Sneha followed Smriti’s mother to the kitchen.
“So! I heard you are not marrying my son-in-law…” Smriti’s mother did not waste any time to start the conversation. Sneha looked towards the living room before answering
“Yes. I do not think we are ready to take that step as yet, at least not me!” Sneha replied.
“I want you to know that my son-in-law loved his wife immensely and it is totally impossible for him to fall in love with another woman. It was a wise choice you made to not tying the knot and putting both of you in a life-long awkward situation.” Smriti’s mother said moving around in kitchen, getting things ready for meals. Sneha did not know what she was supposed to do, so she stood in a corner, silently watching Smriti’s mother.
“Don’t just stand there. You can at least help me with these.” The old woman said nodding towards the plates. Sneha cleaned the plates with a clean cloth and carried them to the dining table, looking at Ajay on her way out. Yes, it was true that he did love Smriti very much and yes, she knew that the arrangement they had agreed to was temporary, then why did hearing the same from Smriti’s mother made her heart ache so much?”
Sneha walked back to the kitchen and decided to busy herself into meal preparation. That was the best way to keep her mind free from the disturbing thoughts. Without taking permission from Smriti’s mother she took a pan from the side counter and placed it on the burner. She put in some oil in it and then taking the bowl of boiled vegetables from Smriti’s mother’s hand placed it on the counter. She moved around with confidence and for a moment Smriti’s mother was spell-bound. Not being able to find any differentiating point between her daughter and this woman, when she saw this woman moving so freely in her kitchen, she did not know what to say or do. She stood near the counter, paralyzed. Sneha searched and collected all the required ingredients and added mustard seeds and cumin seeds to the oil. After they spluttered, she added asafetida to it and then taking out the ginger garlic paste from the refrigerator, she add it to the pan, she took some more garlic and after crushing them, was about to add them to the pan when suddenly Smriti’s mother said “Ajay does not like too much garlic in his vegetables. Leave it to me, why don’t you just go and sit outside.”
Paying no heed to Smriti’s mother she added the garlic and then added the chopped onion and sautéed them till they were transparent. Then she added the tomatoes and rest of the vegetables after that. Smriti’s mother stared at her, unable to say anything and then she turned on her heels and walked out of the kitchen. Sneha took a deep breath. She was going to do it her way. She was glad that Smriti’s mother had walked out; today she seemed to be more intimidating than Smriti’s father. She added spoonful of readymade spices ‘garam masala’ to the vegetables and mixed them well. Adding red chili powder, salt and water to it, she kept a lid on the pan. She was about to take the wheat flour into the bowl to make dough for phulkas when Smriti’s mother returned and pulled out the packet from Sneha’s hand and annoyingly said, “Let me do it.”
Sneha stepped back and watched Smriti’s mother as she continued with the cooking. Sneha switched off the burner when the vegetable was ready and stood, resting against the counter and facing Smriti’s mother and said, “What happened? Why do you hate me so much all of a sudden? What have I done wrong since our first meeting?” The moment she asked this question, Sneha knew exactly what had changed in the woman. The reason for such hostile behavior flashed before her eyes as flames. Of course, the old woman hated Sneha because her daughter had died and Sneha was alive, right in front of her eyes, sitting next to her son in law, holding her grand-daughter. That explained the look in her eyes when she had seen them sitting on the couch and that explained why she wanted Sneha in the kitchen.
“I know.” Sneha whispered and looked towards Smriti’s mother. There were tears in the old woman’s eyes.
“It was different when Smriti was alive. I accepted you in first place because Smriti was supposed to get well. Smriti’s father said he would bring her here, we would have taken care of her and when she would have been well enough, she would have returned back to her life. But, now…”
“She is not coming back.” Sneha finished it for her. “And - you fear there is no way out of this.” Sneha added. Smriti’s mother looked at her without saying a word. She did not have to say anything; Sneha had voiced her exact thoughts.
“This is not exactly what I had asked for in my life either.” Sneha whispered tears in her eyes. “I had not asked to be a look-alike of your daughter and I had not wanted your daughter to die.” Tears rolled down her cheeks as Sneha continued, “It’s not my fault that I look like Smriti and it is not my fault that she is dead”
“It is your fault that you fell in love with the man my daughter loved all her life.” Smriti’s mother said angrily without looking at Sneha and continued kneading the dough.
Sneha stared at her but without saying a word she walked out of the kitchen shaking her head and wiping her tears.
She decided to check on Shreya. She asked Smriti’s father for the permission to go into the room and when he nodded in the direction of a room, she climbed up the steps to reach the room and knocked on the door.
“Shreya” she called out.
“Mom, since when did you have to knock on the door to enter?” Shreya said walking towards Sneha.
“Oh, since today when I noticed that my daughter has become taller, smarter and bigger since I saw her last.” Sneha said, making a mental note of acquiring further knowledge about similar little things.
“Am I really taller?” Shreya asked, standing on her toes and laughing. Sneha smiled too.
“You have been crying?” Shreya enquired. Sneha had to be careful, she realized, the girl was very observant. What she did not know that the ache of the conversation that lingered in her mind was also evident in her eyes.
“Your eyes are red and watery, what’s wrong mom?” Shreya said walking up closer to Sneha and placing her hand on her cheek.
“Nothing, I was just having a moment with your grandmother.” Sneha said. That was true, she thought. Except that what Shreya would visualize as the ‘moment’ would be far from what had actually happened between them.
Sneha helped Shreya to put the remaining of her stuff in her shoulder bag and then walked down to the living room with Shreya. She saw that Smriti’s mother had finished cooking and had already arranged the food on the dining table. They all sat for meals and Smriti’s mother served. When Ajay finished his vegetable and asked for more, Smriti’s mother hesitated and Sneha smiled.