Nagalakshmi pined for a male child, the heir, the one to carry on the name of the family, one when asked for his name would proudly proclaim Venkateshwara Muralidhara Balagangadhar Rao, invoking the gods and forefathers alike.
She continued to chew on the raw mango piece, generously sprinkled with salt and chilli powder as she swung in the late afternoon sun. The patio had a newly installed fan, a thing of much pride in the neighborhood, and so hot afternoons became a little more bearable, in part to the fan but mostly due to the envy it generated.
She shooed away the flies with her fat arms as the pale flesh glistened with sweat as only those with afforded luxuries could. In her case, two of those were the fan and Venkaiah. The former you have been introduced to, the latter was a skinny, dark, brooding, man Friday at her service. The help around the house if you will. ‘Servant’ is what she would have preferred I use to describe him. A woman of strong preferences she was.
Today like most afternoons there wasn’t any electricity and so she sat on the swing fanning herself, and Venkaiah sat on the floor, at a safe distance from her swinging feet, peeling vegetables for dinner. Every once in a while you would hear the swing creak perhaps owing to the weight upon it. Or you would hear Venkaiah grunt, making his displeasure known to a particularly stubborn patch of skin while peeling. But otherwise the harsh sun seemed to have smothered all signs of life.
With every sway forward on the swing, she’d check Venkaiah’s progress. Tonight for dinner, among other things there was going to be 'bangaladumpa vepudu' and it drove her nuts when pieces of potato weren’t all uniformly chopped and were more or less of the same size. Many a dog in that neighborhood had developed an appetite for skewed vepudu and sambhar with unequal lengths of mullakada pieces. A stickler for recipes, proportions, rituals and rules, she wasn’t called to oversee preparations of weddings and pujas for nothing.
It’s hard to say though if she was always like this or if it was a thing of ‘overnight’, a virtue accorded to many these days. Perhaps it would be safer to say that it might have started with her pregnancy. It began with eating right, food that she supervised meticulously to her satisfaction. It could have begun with her overseeing her good health. It could have begun with her never shying away from ghee, how else would the baby get its complexion? It could have begun with the numerous pujas that became an everyday affair in this non-Brahmin household for the future of the yet unborn baby. Her biggest unspoken fear was of bearing a daughter. So she prayed every morning to every god that she remotely recognized. But we digress. This is by no means to diagnose but only to bring before you the possibility that perhaps her pathological idiosyncrasies might have stemmed from her pregnancy.
Most afternoons, like today, she just spent on the swing till Chinnu came home from school. There wasn’t much else to do in the town anyway. So this was a time she used to make lists. And plans. For everyday. And a separate one for Venkaiah, for the things he had to do. She firmly believed they needed to be kept in place and everyone had theirs.
The gate creaked open and Chinnu came up the garden yelling, “Amma”, “Amma”. The running reduced to a strange waddling due to a very heavy school bag, yet fast enough for her pigtails to sway rhythmically side to side. Asking Venkaiah to get tiffin and milk for Chinnu and coffee for herself, Nagalakshmi got off the swing ready to oversee what remained of the day. Asking how her day was, she reached for Chinnu’s bag and as they went in a look of mild irritation came upon her face. Very fleeting but if you were looking for it, unmistakable.
Just then Venkaiah came upto her and reported that he finished all that she had asked him to and was leaving for the day. Before she could even begin to complain he reminded her he had a family too, a wife and 2 children. Two sons. And as he reminded her, this look came upon his face, a smile so fleeting, you’d miss if you weren’t waiting for it. But she was. She saw it, dismissed him with the faintest of nods and went in to oversee the homework.
Being a perfectionist she couldn’t bear to be a bad mother. But, being a perfectionist she couldn’t ignore her failed attempt at conceiving a son.