Short Story: Toe The Line

Golf..GM summit...Biod D culture 465

The bone had cracked. For sure. She knew it even before the split second it took for the excruciating pain to ripple through her nervous system and lodge itself firmly in the cortex. But, her first thought, amid tears of anguish, was “who’s going to make the rotis now?”

Sitting in Dr Sethi’s air-conditioned clinic in Phase 1, she thinks “how tragicomic!” Quite like her life actually. Full of hopes and aspirations dashed to the ground and stomped upon for good measure to toe the line. That’s all she had done, all her life. And staid nuggets that summed up her entire existence, the full 67-years of it, hobbled along in tandem down memory lane.

Clinics, with their plain white walls and the lingering smell of sanitizers, tended to do that to her. Make her reflect, as she waited for the X-ray in pin-drop silence. Even the money plant on the window ledge seemed frozen in time as the minutes ticked by, painfully slow this lazy July noon.

Her foot by now was quite swollen and a strange mix of colours, as if the artist set out to draw a renaissance masterpiece and then completely botched it up to finish somewhere between abstract and surreal. She looked at it with her woebegone eyes and thought, “will it ever be the same again?”

Fifty years ago, when she had stepped into her new home as a young bride, her feet had been the talk of the small town. Dainty, alta-lined and baby pink like a dewy rose bud, adorned with aamaa’s chunky silver anklets and her beloved gemstone encrusted bichias with cheery jingles –  the traditional symbol of good fortune and blessings for the Hindu bride. Over the years, the alta had faded, the silver anklets had become a hindrance to housewifely duties, but the bichias remained. Lone reminders of the day she thought she would grow wings and fly. Finally.

A dream so short lived, that moments later as she lay on her marital bed, she actually laughed at her own foolishness as her eye welled up in utter defeat and her aching heart surrendered submissively to the finality of life-long servitude. “How naïve to even think there was an escape,” she smiled wistfully, fidgeting with her wedding ring and recalling that exact instant when her fledgling wings were clipped for good.

She sighed deeply, her resigned sigh, breathing in the surgical smell that would fleetingly purge the past that fogged her present every now and then. “Maheshwari Maaaaam,” the attendant bleated from the X-ray room in the basement, shaking her out of her day-dreaming.  Maheshwari – Goddess Durga, the warrior adishakti! “Really, what was everyone thinking or not, when they named me,” her line of thought continued, half mocking-half pitying herself. If anything, she was the exact opposite of shakti – meek, quite, insignificant – tip-toeing on the outlined domestic periphery, appearing only when someone wanted a glass of water or a cup of tea or a kurta ironed.

Maheshwari indeed! “I mean, I couldn’t even convince him to come along with me to Drsaab’s clinic as he dismissed my hurt as a mere sprain. In fact, he didn’t even look up from the Lenovo screen while taking stock of the Sensex, munching gleefully on the mid-morning fruit platter that I had to prepare for him before dragging myself painfully to the car.” Bah! she exhaled loudly, surprising herself.

The attendant, meanwhile, lent her his shoulder to lean on and deposited her gently on the X-ray table after what seemed like an agonizing mile. “Sethisaab will be here is a bit,” he beamed and started on the preliminaries humming a Sai bhajan to himself. “Kaisi hain Maheshwari behenji,” Dr Sethi sauntered in all charm and good cheer shuffling through her medical records. “Oh ho, yeh kya? Koi nahin, Dr Sethi will fix it. You just relax.”

There was something about the jolly old doctor that just put you at ease instantly. And Maheshwari smiled one of her rare dimpled smiles. “Bas ek choti si problem hai,” he declared glancing at the angry reddish-blue welt on her swollen toe, from above his glasses: “We’ll have to cut open the toe-ring!” 

Thwaaaak! The words slapped hard across her face, as if someone had called her khasmanukaani – the cursed one, left alone in the world to suffer the ultimate ignominy of widowhood!  Her throat suddenly constricted and she felt breathless choked on the “Nooooo” that just got sucked under the quicksand of What ifs. What if this is a portent of doom? What if he suffers a fatal heart attack? What if everyone blamed me? What if there’s no one to look after me? What if this is like playing truth or dare with fate which does label me khasmanukhani??

Maheshwari closes her eyes. And lies still on the X ray table. Very still….

The smile, as she looks at the black and grey image of her foot on the Samsung screen, later that day, reaches her eyes – finally, after 50 long years!

(Written in mycity4kids)























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