In celebration of organizing my blog some more, and creating new pages for my short stories and films links, one more short story – the reclining chair – one of my own favourites.
These chairs, at the City Palace Museum, Udaipur, however don’t seem very comfortable.
Fotoos by Teja, and here’s the story.
Rewa was alone at home today, for the first time in her life. Her grandmother, Ajji had died two weeks ago. When Ajji was alive, even when Rewa’s parents were out, Rewa was never alone at home.
Ajji had been almost blind, and eighty-two when she died. She would sit the whole day on her big reclining chair in the living room, mumbling to herself softly, or grinding her toothless gums. When Rewa came home from school in the afternoon, opening the house door with her own latch key, Ajji would lift her head, and peer towards the door, trying to see Rewa. She’d mutter, “ Rewa, little one, are you home?” Rewa, tired after her ten-minute walk in the afternoon sun, would mumble back, “Yes, Ajji”. Ajji would lift her trembling hand, and Rewa would duck under it, to let Ajji touch her head, and only then, crossing this tollgate, as it were, would Rewa feel as if she had come home.
Ajji would continue mumbling while Rewa served herself food from the casserole boxes her mother had left for Ajji’s and her lunch. Often, Ajji’s food would be untouched, and Rewa would ask Ajji if she wanted to eat with her. Actually Ajji could hardly see her plate anymore, and the task of eating the food was too difficult for her. But she pretended that she did not need help. Rewa would sit close to her, so that she could help Ajji whenever she fumbled.
Sometimes, when Ajji shuffled off to the toilet, her old cotton sari rustling softly, Rewa would jump onto the reclining chair. The tightly weaved nylon back felt slippery, and the curve of the back was snug. Rewa wished she could lie here all afternoon, while studying. But Ajji would come back from her journey to the toilet, and Rewa would slip off from the chair, without Ajji noticing that she had been on it. She knew that if she asked Ajji for the chair, she would give it to her. But where would Ajji sit all day? The other chairs in the living room were not as comfortable as Ajji’s reclining chair.
Ajji had not always lived with Rewa’s Aaii and Baba. She had an old village home in Hareshwar. But after Ajoba’s death, and her increasing blindness, she had no option but to come and live with them. This was when Rewa was three, and Rewa did not remember the days before that. The only piece of furniture Ajji insisted on bringing from her home was her chair. Aaii still grumbled about it, because it took up so much space. “We could put up a sofa for three people in that much place”, she always said. But Baba hushed her. He knew how much his mother loved the chair. “What does it matter to us? We are never at home, anyway”, he told Aaii, and Aaii would make a face and go off into the kitchen.
Aaii and Baba had been home the last two weeks, on leave from their office. There had been too many relatives from Hareshwar and Mumbai, for them to lock up the house and go away. Rewa too had not gone to school. In the chaos of cousins, uncles, aunts, mealtimes, Rewa had had no time to miss Ajji really. She only felt a pang of dislike for any person who sat on Ajji’s chair. But then, there were people all over, on her bed, on Aaii-Baba’s bed, on the floor, and so even the chair had to be used, Rewa thought.
The twelve days after Ajji’s death had been a family reunion. Rewa had never seen so many people in her house before this. She had not even known that they had so many relatives. During the day, when visitors came to express their condolences, Rewa’s father and mother, uncles and aunts would make suitably sad faces, and they would talk about Ajji for a while. But no one really mourned Ajji. Baba told Rewa that Ajji was too old, she had lived a full life, and so everyone was happy for her that she had died while she had still been able to move around. Rewa wanted to think about it by herself, but there were too many people around.
But yesterday, after the thirteenth day rituals, everyone had gone home. At night, the house was silent with only the three of them. Rewa helped Aaii and Baba to straighten the house before they slept. Today morning, Aaii and Baba had gone to work, and Rewa had gone to school.
In the afternoon, when she opened the door of the house, the curtains were drawn; the house was cool after the hot sun outside. Ajji’s chair was empty. Rewa put down her school bag, trying to think without crying. In the casserole, Aaii had left food only for her. Rewa took it on a plate, and came back near the chair. But she could not sit on it. She toyed with the food for some time but did not feel like eating. She did not change from her school uniform into her home clothes. She did not feel like studying or even reading the comic she had got back from the school library.
For a while, she looked at the chair. Then, she went and sat down on it, a little stiffly. Then she leaned back a little, and then a little more. She pulled her legs in, under her, as Ajji used to, and curled up in the curve of the back. Within moments, she was fast asleep. When she woke up, the sun had moved to the other side of the flat. Aaii would be coming home soon. Rewa thought she would ask Aaii if she could keep Ajji’s chair. Aaii wanted a new sofa. But if Ajji’s chair were there in the living room, it would not seem so empty when Rewa came home from school.
*Aaji – grandmother
*Aajoba – grandfather
*Aai – mother
*Baba – father