Mom was full of life, exuberant to the very core. No matter what happened, her happiness quotient would never waver – even when she was thrown out of gear for a few minutes. Life’s little miseries just didn’t seem to stop her at all from being gleeful.

The tears wouldn’t even have dried up yet, but the smile would bounce back on her playful face. She would giggle and squeal – so much like a joyful, carefree child!

She was a source of tremendous inspiration for all of us – beautiful inside, and out. Her luscious curly hair would cascade down her slender shoulders, caressing the well-designed, homely blouse. Her dressing sense was immaculate and elegant, yet simplistic. The crisp cotton sarees would do complete justice to her overall persona.

The bright red bottu (sindur, red bindi) sitting pretty between the eyebrows, lent an ethereal touch to her delicate face. Much like a Devi. The deep, jet-black eyes always had a mischievous glint.

People flocked to her just for a chat, for she was that endearing always. She was only twenty-four when I was in class five, more like a bindaas college student, a happy-go-lucky girl and definitely not a mother of four!

Mother Mohini’s obbattu

One day we sat listening, enthralled, to our Hindi Teacher, Shanti Varma Miss narrate her story about Swami Vivekananda. It was mesmerising to hear about his iconic photographic memory and his gentle nature.

Suddenly, someone peeped through the door, with an affable, dimpled smile, seeking permission to enter for a minute. It was Mom! Shanti Miss was amused at this smart, incorrigible parent and nodded yes.

She walked in like a beauty queen, with finesse, waving at all of us kids. The children were pleased with this cute diversion and waited with enthusiasm.

“Namaste Miss,” Mom said. “I just wanted to wish you. I have been hearing a lot about you from my Venu, about your great teachings and disciplining. Here is an obbattu- sweet chapatti – made lovingly for your good self. I assure that it’s the best handmade ‘Telugu Polee’ you will ever eat.”

The class burst out into synchronised clapping as if Shanti Miss had just won a Grammy. I was embarrassed, yet immensely proud of Mom, walking in and winning hearts so effortlessly.

Under the Banyan tree

Mom comes to the school every day with the lunch boxes. Our primary section is located in the Shantiniketan Buildings, old army barracks which were converted into the tank factory central school based at Avadi.

That day after the class room episode, she spread the mat under the large Jamun tree, our favourite. Mom was elated at having met Shanti Miss. As she arranged the containers, she happily chuckled to herself.

We were perplexed. The kids sitting a little away with their moms dishing out yummy tiffins were also looking curiously and asking what was keeping aunty in such super spirits? Their moms were equally quizzical.

Mom called them to join us on our mat to hear the story unfold. We listened in rapt attention as she narrated it in her unique style.

“I crossed the garrison building just before the private railway tracks. The sun was high and mighty, and so I had to carry a crimson umbrella.

As I walked past the CSD canteen, some of our neighbours waved hello while waiting in the lengthy queue. After that, is a lonely stretch, around a kilometre long, which leads up to the primary block. The heat was getting to me, so I decided to stop for two minutes under the big banyan tree.

The roots from the branches were in sync with Mother Earth, transforming into trees themselves. The tree, and its several branches, shimmered in the midday heat rendering the whole setting an eerie feel, much like the Vikram and Betaal comics.

I put my tiffin bag on the ground and sat, staring at my spotless white saree pallu fluttering away in the breeze. Beads of sweat were running across my red sindoor bottu, smudging it. The kajal dripping from my eyes added to the psychedelic effect.

He was cycling towards me. As he neared, I felt his intense stare searing me. His look was curious and searching.

I gave my signature smile to ease him a bit – maybe he was scared or lost. And, what harm could a friendly smile do. He stopped about ten feet away and stared hard again – this time giving a rather penetrative look. He made me quite uncomfortable, indeed.

I returned his stare, but more subtly. He seemed to misread that and grew bolder. Making a pouting, half kissing, face, the stupid chap came right up to me. In a second, I knew what was on his mind.

My mind raced, I was all alone. I put my head down, racking my brain furiously for a strategy that would work. He smelled trouble for sure and I could see his evil shadow closing in.

Slowly, I moved my head up, inch by inch as if in slow motion. My tongue hanging with tiny droplets of RED, thanks to the red sindoor from my bottu. My hair tossed up. I let out an ear-piercing scream, and bent my knees at 40 degrees turn. I brought the rounds of my ankles to the fore as far as possible. Lifting my saree sleeves by a few inches, I pointed my forefinger towards my ankles. They glistened in the bright, hot Sun.

He turned white and froze, believing that he had just encountered the ghostly Mohini, with her feet turned backwards! Letting out a piercing scream, he bolted, never looking back for a second.

My tongue was parched as I had kept it out for so long. But I did not care as I danced happily, letting out sounds of victory.”

As Mom recreated the scene, we rolled on the ground, clutching our little tummies, the morsels of food spurting out of our mouths as we laughed in sheer delight.

Venu Rao

17th April 21



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