FICTION: Little Mercies

Anima looked at the watch. It was just about 5 am, she had to be up. There were a number of things she had to attend to. Sitting on the chair in the verandah with the cup of tea in her hand, she knew these were the couple of minutes she had to herself before the rush began. A few more minutes for herself would be so nice. As she finished the cup, glancing at the headlines of the newspaper, she got up. Hair folded in a loose bun, she got to work. Things had to be set in order, the instructions to the maid, the breakfast readied, lunch too. She usually made plans for what she would cook in the early evening – planning ahead and getting things sorted out in the morning. She could get to work immediately, no moment lost in thinking or looking for things. With a deftness that years of experience had almost perfected, she moved on.

School would begin at 11 am. She needed to leave by 9, and as she worked her way about the chores in the kitchen and house, for a moment her mind ventured into the day’s activities at school. Anima liked teaching, it gave her a sense of contentment and felt really nice. Her students looked up to her and she took a personal interest in each one. Many of them were first generation learners. Their enthusiasm egged her on. Earlier the distance to travel to school bothered her, these days it did not. It gave her time to be by herself, some ‘me’ time, as she liked to think of it. She also looked forward to work. It was not an easy task teaching at the school, she taught history. Anima worked at making the subject interesting to her students – stories, anecdotes, maps, pictures, charts, she used them all to draw the children out. She did not want to make it a subject learned by rote. She desired to draw them in, to enjoy the subject, hoping that at least, for some, it would work. It did, the girls enjoyed her class. She was class teacher of class seven. A class of about 35 students, mostly from a semi-rural setting, the school itself was located in the northern fringes of the city of Kolkata.

The day before in class, as she taught the subject, in a language and manner that the girls would understand, she stopped at the word ‘zamindar’ for a while. A distinct pause, she gathered herself and then went on. There was something in this word that brought back so much. Anima and Animesh got married twelve years ago. It was the usual newspaper advertisement, the arranged marriage scenario where she had met him first in a very formal setting with both sets of parents around, and yes, there were a few other relatives too that day. Strange eyes gazing at her, it made her feel uncomfortable. That very same day, they were left alone for a while to talk to each other so that they could ‘know’ each other. A couple of meetings happened in quick succession after both sets of parents agreed to go ahead with the ‘match’, a few phone calls too and their marriage had been ‘fixed’ by their parents. Anima was 25 and just a couple of months into her job. After all the festivities were done with, Anima slipped into the new life that marriage entailed. She was someone who did not mind work, whether it was household chores or at school. Soon work at home became a kind of routine, it went on, each day, as if keyed into motion. Not one to complain, she just went on.

Animesh had no time for her. His work and other activities kept him busy. He was not much bothered about what happened at home. As long as his work went on undisturbed, nothing really mattered. Immersed in his circle of work and allied activities, he went on. Anima tried initially to be a part of his world, there seemed to be a wall around somewhere. She tried to walk her way around the wall, failed finding her way through it. She kept on trying, she wanted to be part of that world, but often found herself shut out. He made no effort to bring her into his world.

Anima wanted to live life well. She liked to enjoy the finer things of life but with work, the daily commute and domesticity holding her down, she did not have time for all that. Earlier on she looked forward to weekends, holidays hoping that she and Animesh could be together, would get some time to enjoy time in each others’ company. However, that was not to be. Animesh did not like doing all of that. He would rather devote his Sundays and holidays to his work and the inane goings-on on the idiot box. He did not believe in going out, he felt it was a waste of money. He criticized Anima’s ways too. She lived a simple life and had given up a number of things she was wont to however unhappy that made her. She wanted to do things the way Animesh liked them to be done. She wanted Animesh to be happy. She had so much adapted herself to his ways that at times she felt she had lost herself.

Ten years into marriage she realized the futility of it. Animesh was too obsessed with himself. There had been no emotional bond, no matter how hard she tried. It was just a waste to keep trying in vain. Enough is enough, she thought. A year ago, she decided she had enough of it all. Life was too precious to be wasted in anticipation. It was her life after all and she would like to spend it the way she wanted to. Doing the kind of things she loved doing.

The newspaper was still at hand. She liked glancing at the newspaper, she would have loved to spend more time with it but then she needed to hurry. She coaxed her daughter to get ready, the school bus would be here soon. Mithi left for school and she got ready for work. The song that played on in her mind, made her feel nice. Small little things in life mattered, she always felt that. No point moping and pining. That was not the way she liked to deal with things too. Animesh did not interact much with Mithi too. He was always aloof. It was as if he had a problem with relationships. Much sensible for her age, Mithi kept to herself, she did not ‘disturb’ her father. She spoke to him, interacted with him but that father and daughter bond was missing. It pained her, but then that was how things were. Dada was around for her. Animesh’s father was someone with whom she spent hours at a stretch. The father son bond was a strained one too. Now they had each other, the three of them. Baba had always been godsend for them. Life’s little mercies, she thought.

Nishi Pulugurtha is an academic based in Kolkata, India, where she teaches English Literature. She has published academic essays, writes on Alzheimer's and also tries her hand at creative writing. Her travel essays, poems and short stories have been published in print and online.

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