voice had slightly hysterical edge to it, or at least it seemed that way to Subadra’s
overwrought imagination. Possibilities,
all dire, raced through her mind. She
had been mugged, dumped by some boy, failed her exams, or….. (Her mind barely
touched this one, and retreated hastily from it, unable to bear the
thought)….raped. Why did she let her go
“Amma!” There was no hysteria now, only impatience. “You’re
not listening!” Subadra took a deep
breath to steady her thudding heart. Mallika’s
voice actually sounded……..excited. “What
is it, kutty?” she asked. “Why
aren’t you asleep? Is everything
alright?” Once again, her imagination
raced ahead of her. Maybe Mallika had
found the right man at last and was asking for her blessings? Ooh, that would
teach that nosy Mrs. Iyer next door, she hadn’t stopped gloating ever since her
daughter had got engaged to that Harvard chap.
“MOM!” Mallika’s voice had a sharp, accusatory edge to it. The “Mom”, an Americanism she had picked up in her first month there, was calculated to annoy and it succeeded. Subadra shook herself out of her reveries and paid attention to what her daughter was saying.
Mallika, who had obtained a highly coveted position as a
summer research assistant in her University after months of applications and
interviews, had spurned this offer and was coming to
When Mallika had wavered between music and
physics, he had firmly pushed her in the latter direction, telling her that
there was no financial security in a career in music. And, Subadra was ashamed to admit it, but the
thought did cross her mind about how she would convey this to Mrs. Iyer the
neighbor. She had, goaded into it by
Mrs. Iyer’s smug monologues about her Harvard son-in-law to be, countered by
giving a slightly (no, let’s be honest here, a highly) inflated version
of Mallika’s summer research assistant position (she had made Mallika the
Director of Research, and the slack-jawed look on Mrs. Iyer’s face was worth
any qualms Subadra might have felt at telling this fib). Questions raced through her mind. Who were these other students? What
neighborhood was this house in? Did they have any idea of just how difficult it
was to set up a home in this town, get the phone, gas, electricity, household
help, ration supplies and a hundred other things going? When were they arriving? Why, oh why,
couldn’t she just stay at home, if what she really wanted was to spend the
Subadra did herself proud. She quelled every one of those questions, and in a voice that shook only slightly, she told her daughter how excited she was for her, that the plan sounded wonderful. As she spoke, she realized that she actually meant what she said. Weren’t these the best years of Mallika’s life? It did sound like fun, a group of friends renting a house and living together and pursuing their interests. And after all, it was only for one summer. They had their whole lives to get serious jobs, to marry, to settle down. Subadra herself had been married off in her final year of college, and while hers had been a happy marriage, there was sometimes, deep inside her, regret for what she had missed out on.
That evening, when Subadra broke the news to her husband, he was predictably furious and upset. Subadra tried to calm him down, but had to face his wrath all over again when he realized that she had no information beyond the barest facts. So they called up Mallika, who was sulky and uncommunicative after being woken up at what was an ungodly hour for her. Her father’s probing questions only made her mood worse, but he managed to extract the information he wanted. What she told him only made Subadra feel uneasy again.
To be continued...