Chapter 1: The Lady with an Unanswered Dream
As she lay surrounded by her people, her face displayed a serene calmness. Who was this woman? Her name was Ajita, a conqueror.
The story begins on the day when she was preparing breakfast for her son, Abhinav, who was still in bed. Like a typical Indian small-town woman, Ajita’s mornings would begin in the kitchen. She was accustomed to waking up early so that she could prepare lunch for Abhinav and get him ready for school. The sun was rising and she could see the rays as they entered her kitchen window. Winter birds chirped atop the banyan tree behind the boundary wall. The birds made nests every year; nestlings would be born and soon they would fly away from the tree. Ajita thought of these birds as her morning allies. She missed them in the summer when they migrated.
Ajita put the potatoes in a cooker to boil. She was preparing sandwiches for school lunch. Abhinav loved sandwiches. Ajita had to learn different recipes so as to provide variety in Abhinav’s lunchbox. Mrs Gupta, the next-door neighbour, had been very kind to share her cookery talent with Ajita. Ajita had learnt conventional cooking from her mother-in-law and different cuisine from Mrs Gupta. She felt a deep sense of gratitude for both the ladies.
The potatoes were done and she put them into a bowl of water to cool. Meanwhile, she prepared tea for herself. Her mother-in-law was out to bring milk from the booth and her husband Vijay was on tour. Before Abhinav was born, she would be bored at home when Vijay was out on tours. However now with Abhinav, she hardly had time on her hands; the house kept her on her toes throughout the day.
She kept the wok on the burner to make the potato filling for sandwiches. “Mother-in-law should have come by now with milk. She must be busy chatting with her friends. She forgets to return early whenever she meets her friends at the booth. Now I will be late to boil the milk for Abhinav,” she thought.
The aroma of mashed potatoes filled the air. She grilled the sandwiches and packed them in the lunch box and promptly went to wake up Abhinav who looked so comfortable in his soft and cosy bed. As with every morning, Abhinav put up a strong resistance before he finally stirred out of bed.
Perseverance in getting their adorable little children out of bed in the morning is an incredible ability of mothers.
While Abhinav was getting ready for school, Ajita boiled the milk, which her mother-in-law had finally brought, after making Ajita wait for a long time.
The peaceful environment of the morning was soon broken by the honking of school buses and long whistles of pressure cookers from the nearby houses.
Elsewhere temple bells chimed, their sounds mingled with the Bollywood music that blared from the radio at a tea stall across the road. Traffic on the road was increasing. A few school children were waiting on the sidewalk for their buses. Mothers accompanied their wards to get them safely on the bus as in the morning drivers are in a rush to pick up the children and reach the school on time.
Abhinav got ready for school at around 7.45 am and checked what his mother had packed in his lunch box as he did not like the same food every day.
At 8 am, sharp, on hearing an unfamiliar horn of a van, Ajita prepared herself for another challenge.
It was a white-coloured van, which plied only when the regular blue van could not come for some reason.
“I will not go to school in this van”. Abhinav started crying loudly when his mother carried him towards the van.
He clutched his mother and was not ready to get on the van.
“I will buy chocolates when you come back from school and take you to the market in the evening,” Ajita said.
This was the usual scene in the morning whenever the white van arrived in lieu of the blue one.
Abhinav had developed a craze for the blue van and always created a scene whenever he had to go in the white van.
“I have prepared sandwiches in your lunch box. Who will eat them?” She tried, again and again, to convince her child to go to school, but in vain.
Abhinav was smart enough to perceive that the school bus would not wait for more than five minutes, so he continued crying until the bus left. When he was sure that the bus had gone he stopped.
Irritated with Abhinav’s pretended behaviour, Ajita slammed the door and went inside the kitchen.
‘What happened, Abhinav? You did not go to school. Are you not feeling well?’ asked Ajita’s mother-in-law, Jaya after coming out of the shower. Knowing the whole situation, she said, “You are right Abhinav. You should not go in the white van. Go only when the blue van comes”.
Jaya never liked to pressure the children into studying. She always encouraged the children to play and enjoy their lives.
Abhinav went inside the room feeling proud of his victory; he kept his bag on the table, changed his clothes and decided to go outside to play.
“Mother, why do you not understand that we should not fulfil his demands? He will become careless and disobedient,” said Ajita, who could not resist saying this to her mother-in-law.
“Will he get a degree right now? Why do you always insist on him studying? This is the age when he should play as much as he wants,” yelled Jaya, her face red like a hot iron. Her short and lean figure huffed and puffed with anger. Whenever Jaya became angry, Ajita preferred to keep quiet. She went to the kitchen to start her never-ending work.
Ajita was becoming increasingly worried for Abhinav as his absenteeism from school was growing and now she felt the need to discuss this matter with her husband. Vijay’s job forced him to stay on tour most of the time and Ajita missed him the most occasions like this when she felt Abhinav needed his father’s presence.
Six years ago, Abhinav was born and everyone became very concerned about him as the doctors declared him underweight. He advised Ajita to take special care of Abhinav, and she took the words very seriously and did her best.
When she first saw Abhinav, he was a small, cuddlesome and wondrous baby. She thanked God for the cutest and most precious gift given to her. She still remembered the first touch of her baby. He was soft as cotton and sweet as honey. She did her best to bring up her child. For several nights, she could not sleep. She had to play with Abhinav who woke up during the night and slept during the days. Nursing a child comes so naturally to every woman. Even the doctors were amazed to see Abhinav’s growth in one year. Ajita had decided not to have another child; she would give her full attention only to Abhinav.
When Abhinav started school, Ajita used to sit and wait there until his classes were over. Abhinav did not let his mother leave his sight. This went on for two months until he started enjoying school with other children.
Ever since last year when he was promoted to Class 1, had to study more in class and was given homework, Abhinav had lost interest in going to school. As ever, his grandmother stood by him for not studying.
Ajita finished her breakfast and took out the vegetables from the refrigerator for chopping. Her long and thick hair touched the floor when she bent low to pick out the vegetables from the refrigerator. She had forgotten to comb her hair in the morning’s hustle and bustle. She left the vegetable on the dining table and went to the dressing table.
She saw herself in the mirror. She looked charming as ever, but the pink-coloured sari made her look adorable. Pink was her favourite colour, and she could not resist admiring herself. She had inherited her complexion and appearance from her father who had a very handsome and elegant personality.
Ajita finished making her hair, put a red bindi on her forehead and sindoor and resumed her work.
She thought of the dream she had had last night; it was one that would recur off and on. In it, she saw a modern hospital and a few unique numbers. Though she did not remember the exact numbers, she knew they were the same each time. What was the message of this dream? She tried to find the clue behind her dream, but found nothing. She had never been in any hospital so how could she dream of that? Was anyone going to be ill at home?