Ever since we were kids, we knew that we had complete access to Bebe (Mother, in Punjabi. Pronounced, ‘bay-bay’) and everything she owned, except a particular Batua (purse).
Bebe had been a cool Mother, a very friendly mother-in-law, and a fun and genial Grandmother. She never lost her cool and nothing managed to perturb her. Even when Bauji (Father, in Punjabi) passed away she cried yes, buckets and buckets of tears. She even lost weight as she stopped eating. However, she was soon back to her old self.
Pritam was an extension of Bebe.
Pritam’s mother, Susheela, was sent with Bebe to her Sasural (marital home) as part of her trousseau. Unsure of what part Susheela should play in her life, the then newlywed and always terrified Bebe decided that Susheela would become the most important part of it. So Susheela became a friend, confidante, sister, everything rolled into one.
Bebe’s Sasural was beautiful and had all the luxuries you could think of (the carpets were so thick that I imagined I would sink into them someday, Pritam was known to repeat) but Bebe being the youngest there every other member of the family decided that they had to interfere in everything she did and give advice at every opportunity. What to eat, what to wear, how to laugh, how to walk, everything was discussed and commented upon. She hated that.
While Bebe was fun-loving and carefree, Bauji was very serious. 14 years older than her, he treated his 13-year-old bride like he would a child.
Pritam had not even turned a year old when Susheela had left him behind with her parents to come along with Bebe. After 3 years of marriage when Bebe conceived her first child, she realized how tough it must have been for Susheela to live without Pritam and, after consulting each family member and taking their consent, she sent for him.
A search party was sent to the village, a filthy Pritam was located, washed, adorned with new clothes, and sent to Bebe’s haveli. Susheela’s joy knew no bounds and seeing her happy Bebe decided she would never let mother and son part.
In due course, Bebe has multiple children of her own, despite which she was still treated like the youngest member of the family. Bauji got close enough to give her many children but never close enough to give her the support, love, and attention she needed. As she grew older she was more and more thankful for Susheela and little Pritam, the only two people she considered her own.
Bebe was there for us whenever we needed her, celebrating every milestone and victory and wiping away tears of defeat. However, as soon as she crossed the threshold of the house she went back to being the youngest Bahu (daughter-in-law) of the household, politely nodding at unasked for advice, making a note of instructions she did not ask for, and later being a shoulder for everyone to lean on.
Only after I grew up and got married did I realize how it must have been for my mother, but Bebe had never complained. She had what everyone began to call a ‘Monalisa Smile’ on her face as she went about fulfilling expectations and never sharing her own.
Bebe outlived everyone, even her beloved Susheela. When Bebe passed away and the ceremonies were done, I decided to clean her room. Everything reminded me of my mother. That carelessly flung dupatta still held her fragrance. Her worn-out slippers looked forlorn by the bed. I slid open her bedside drawer and ran my fingers on the carved box that held her prayer beads. As tears misted my eyes, thinking of her using those beads with that beatific smile on her face, my hand touched something soft.
It was her prized Batua.
I instinctively pulled my hand back, reminding myself that we weren’t allowed to touch it. But my Bebe was no more, my rational mind reminded me.
I pulled out the Batua from the drawer, its once rich maroon velvet now worn out. The gold edging and the drawstring were faded and frayed. I was surprised at how light it was and gingerly pulled the cord on either side open to see what it held. My fingers found a few dried leaves and nothing else. Puzzled, I turned it upside down and shook it hard. More dried leaves.
‘Woah!’ my son’s voice jolted me out of my reverie. ‘Where did you get this, Mom?’ he questioned, not taking his eyes off the dried leaves.
‘What leaves are they?’ I asked him.
‘Marijuana! Super high-quality stuff!’ he exclaimed touching the leaves like they were precious.
Pritam confessed only after much prodding and ultimatums that his mother, Susheela, had introduced these magical leaves to Bebe. After Bebe delivered her 1st child and couldn’t bear to look at him or feed him. Bebe cried all day, locked away in the birthing room for 40 days with only Susheela for company. Susheela procured the leaves and introduced a ‘joint’ to Bebe. Just a few puffs every other day put that beatific smile on her face, helping her cope with life.
Yes, we weren’t allowed to touch the Batua as it held what Bebe called her ‘Shanti’.
This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.
My theme for the same is Navras – The Nine Emotions of Life. I am writing Fiction for this theme.
This story is written for Shanti which means Peace.
Read my story for Karuna here
Read my story for Hasya here
Read my story for Bibhatsa here
Read my story for Adbhut here
Read my story for Bhayanaka here
Read my story for Shringara here
Read my story for Veera here
Read my story for Rudra here