Friday, February 01, 2008

The Wedding Gift

Nirmala glanced at the image of the blushing bride in the mirror, draped in the traditional creme and gold saree, her hair adorned with fragrant jasmine flowers. It seemed to her that her Ammama was sitting in the corner and nodding and smiling in delight. In all her life, she had never loved anyone as she loved Ammama—with her gentle smile and silvery white hair, her inexhaustible store of stories and her quiet dignity, and the strength that shone out even in her quiet demeanor. It had been four years since Ammama died—how she would have loved to see her Nimmikutti’s wedding!

She smiled to herself as she thought of her last conversation with her fiancé. Sashi had been puzzled, but had acquiesced when she had said that the first thing they both would do after the marriage would be to plant a banyan tree sapling.

“Hmm? Are you a tree-lover or an environmentalist or something?”

“No. It is just something that--that I really want.”

“A banyan tree - sapling?”

“Yes”

“Will you tell me why?”

“I will tell you – sometime. Not now.”

She could still remember the night before they had sold the old house, how Ammama had sat late into the night, looking at the old banyan tree in the courtyard.

“Nimmikutti, do you know I planted that sapling? Your grandfather and I planted it on the day we got married. My father had lost everything to his creditors by then; that was all he could give us as a wedding gift. It was a sapling that he had got from the old tree in our ancestral house before it had been sold and he gave it to me with tears in his eyes. He said to me –“Govind is a good man. You both will be happy together. This is all I can give you, my daughter; all that I could salvage from the past. I have been a failure as a father, I have lost everything; but this sapling has the blessings of all your ancestors, it is the child of a tree that has seen the origins of a once-great family. Build again what I have destroyed, daughter. Build a new life…God bless you my child, may you always be happy.’

When I came here, it was just a little make-shift hut. But your grandfather and I planted the sapling that evening and we built a little fence around it. Then, in the twilight, he smiled at the sight of me, in my wedding saree, my hands all muddy and streaks on my face. And we both laughed our first laugh together.”

Nirmala remembered her Ammama smiling, her eyes bright with the memory of that shared laughter.

“That tree was like the symbol of our love. At first it was delicate, needing a lot of attention; I had to water it daily, add the manure, shoo away the cows that strayed in the yard. I had to watch over it, take care of it. And somehow, in my mind, it became synonymous with our love.

Isn’t the beginning of love a lot like that? Moods swaying like the sapling swayed in the breeze… I would blush when he smiled at me, weep when he frowned, feel depressed if he simply pointed out something I should have done, thinking that I am worthless, feel overjoyed if he bought me a flower. He too was like that at first, he was constantly trying to impress me with gifts or something he did…but he was more mature than I was and grew out of it quite soon. Then I thought he had lost interest in me and I became insecure. I would make a fuss if he so much as mentioned another girl or woman, and he would look at me quietly, puzzled. Sometimes, it was the other way. If I stayed in the marketplace too long, or spoke of anyone else highly, he would get upset. But your grandfather was a good man, and he never let his failings become passions. And slowly I recognized his love in the silence and the quiet thoughtfulness and the consideration he never failed to show for me. Through the years, once or twice, I thought the sapling would fall in the heavy rains and the storm and once or twice, I doubted if I was with the right person. The day he came home and fought with me after having a few drinks with his friends, I was reminded of all that my father had been, and I was distraught, thinking that mine would be the same fate as that of my mother. But it was a momentary weakness, and he never repeated it, when he realized how much it hurt me.

Slowly the sapling took deeper root and started to grow, and slowly our trust in each other grew. The sapling did not require constant care and attention; it no longer needed the fence to protect it or me to shoo away the cows and goats. And we became closer and closer; we did not need constant proofs and reassurances for our love. Every obstacle did not scare us; every problem did not weigh us down: we began to grow in love. Then your father came along, and from the sprightly young banyan tree there came long rope-like roots for him to swing by… It was around that tree’s shade that your father took his first steps, and it was climbing on that that he became so energetic and agile.

And slowly we also became better-off, the hut became a house, and the roots of the tree and the foundation of the house were the same…in my mind. It felt as if each time our family had a crisis, I would see the impact on the tree, and each time the tree weakened, there was something happening in our life. Perhaps it was superstition… but I felt that it had become intertwined with our souls…The night that I had my third child, there was a terrible storm and I heard a loud noise outside…a huge branch had broken off and fallen to the ground. I had a deep sense of foreboding in my heart… and in the morning, they told me that the baby was stillborn...”

Ammama had sighed deeply and ran her hand over Nimmi’s head gently.

“You were named after that baby girl, Nimmikutti. ‘Nirmala’ was the name I had thought for that baby if it was a girl. When your mother put you in my arms for the first time, I felt like God had given her back to me.”

She looked at the tree again and smiled. “Do you know that when you came here as a child, you would always climb that tree? You would sit on the branches and refuse to come down until your grandfather brought you the mangoes from his store. And he always kept the best mangoes for his Nimmimol.

Your grandfather passed away six years ago, but even now when I sit under that tree I feel him near. I tried very hard to convince your father and uncles not to sell this house, but … well, they are right too; I am alone here and they are worried that there is no one to take care of me. And I am happy we are selling it to Revathy and Sankaran—they are good people and they will take care of the house and the lands… and the tree.” And Ammama had gone out in the night to sit under the tree a long while, reliving the years gone by.

Nirmala smiled again to herself looking at the little sapling that stood ready for planting in her room and remembered how she had got it.

“What do you mean you want to go to the village? There are a thousand things to be done before the wedding! We don’t have time to go now.” Her mother had been aghast.

“I will go alone, Amma”

“Alone? A bride-to-be travelling alone? It’s unheard of! You can’t go anywhere this week!”

“Amma, I have to go. For Ammama. For myself.”

Her mother had had no answer to that. She had frowned and then she had gone to the inner chamber and brought out the wedding saree and the rings.

“I will come with you. I wanted to get these blessed at the Kshetram”

“Amma… I love you…”

Her little pilgrimage had been to her Ammama’s home, to the old house where Revathichechi now lived. In her heart she had felt that she wanted her Ammama’s blessings to start a new life, and that her Ammama would be there under the tree, waiting for her. They had gone to the Kshetram and then to the house and Revathichechi had been overjoyed to have them stay there. And in the evening, she had gone out to the courtyard and sat under the tree and looked up at the bright stars.

“Ammama… it’s my marriage on Saturday. I just wanted to be here with you before that. I wish you had been here, Ammama. I miss you a lot.”

“I am always with you, my child”

Nimmi had started. That had not been her imagination.

“Ammama… are you there?”

“Come back here tomorrow morning.” She had felt the thought in her heart rather than heard it.
The next morning, as they got ready to leave, Nimmi had gone out into the courtyard again and found a sapling growing at the spot where she had sat the night before. She had gently disentangled the roots and wrapped the sapling in some damp cloth and packed it to take back with her.

“What is that?” her mother had asked.

“My wedding gift. From Ammama” she had replied.

12 Comments:

At February 01, 2008 4:03 PM, Blogger Ash said...

Keep Writing..

 
At February 12, 2008 3:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

simply superb.. will ask rohit to read this too.. two drops of tear came out after reading this.. likhte raho life long :)

 
At February 14, 2008 10:43 AM, Blogger NIP said...

:-) Nice.

 
At February 29, 2008 12:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An interesting story, nicely woven around the family attachments , ancestral links and social values, which still is seen only in our Indian culture..!!

Congrats...and Keep writing more...!!

 
At May 22, 2008 8:36 AM, Blogger Saswati Sengupta said...

Don't really know you .Found u thru Aparna's scrapbook and really looked into your blog cause she mentioned your writting. I was rewarded , anything that can move somebody to congratulate a perfect stranger bear the sure signs to a truly gifted writer.I am sure of your profession but your writings do really strike some chords.Congrats once more and I am sure more such writings are on the way .

 
At June 08, 2008 11:17 PM, Blogger Vignesh said...

The post was really touching...made me a bit nostalgic too... good work:)..

 
At July 12, 2008 6:27 PM, Blogger Reia Organa said...

Oh my dear writer, how come your pen hasn't moved since february?!

 
At July 26, 2008 2:47 AM, Blogger Nithin Rajan said...

Nice, touching story:), keep writing...

 
At August 18, 2008 10:53 AM, Blogger Abdullah said...

Dear Fareen,
SubhanAllah!
Your writing is quite competent.I thoroughly enjoyed your story THE WEDDING GIFT and hope to see more of your stories on your blog and also elsewhere.Being an aspiring author I always love to hear new literary voices.
Abdullah Khan
Please check out my blog: http://abdullahkhan.blogsome.com

 
At January 15, 2009 11:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Joyce

http://www.videophonesguide.com

 
At January 16, 2009 7:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Joyce

http://www.videophonesguide.com

 
At March 02, 2009 1:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nicely written...Relationship beautifully expressed

 

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