Art work by Emily Kray (https://emilykray.com/)
Nikita goes around wondering what has made her daughter like this. She has made every effort to give her all the freedom she desires and raised her to be a strong woman. She is a woman who knows how to speak for herself, who can share her thoughts and whose dreams are not confined by the sky.
“I will learn cooking when I want to,” Niyati says angrily.
“I have been listening to this same sentence for years.”
“Oh! Unfortunately, mother, you will listen to it for some more years—or rather, forever!”
“This is wonderful!” she scoffs, but then gathers herself and gives her daughter an emotional, caring look, “Cooking is a necessity, dear. How will you survive when you go to the US for your further studies?”
“Ma, enough!” Niyati walks away, slamming the door.
“What has gotten into her? Did we give her the wrong image of a strong woman? How do I tell her that…?”
“Calm down, Nikita. She will understand,” says Amit, consoling his wife.
Tears run down her face incessantly as Niyati walks on the streets she has known since she was ten. Today,everything appears hazy. There are numerous thoughts sprinting through her brain, straining her and causing excruciating pain.
She plugs in her earphones and goes for a run, but her legs are trembling. She sits around the corner of the street and sobs uncontrollably.
She clears her choked throat and rubs her eyes. “Hi, do I know you?” she asks, turning her head to face this stranger as her voice shudders.
“You know, but you might not remember. Um… okay, don’t give me that you-are-a-cheapo look.”
She smiles, takes a deep breath and pulls herself back.
“That smile, it still makes your cheeks glow pink,” he says, sitting down beside her, “we used to play together when we were kids back in town, until your dad got transferred here. Vishal, remember?” he asks, glancing caringly at her.
“Oh, yeah! You gifted me that Barbie phone on my birthday—I still have that picture, you know,” she says ecstatically, “but wait, how did you know it was me? We never got back in contact and it’s been more than a decade since we met.”
“We were in the neighborhood and bumped into Amit Uncle. He invited us over to his house where I saw your picture. I had to be at some party, so I left, but then I saw you sitting here, disconsolate and searching for a ‘life-saving’ contact number on your phone…”
“How did you know I was looking for…?”
“Been there, done that.”
“Um, I don't think you should miss your party for me. I have these weird mood swings.”
“Yeah, you have had them since you were a kid. I know you get upset without any reason, and that not having a reason makes you more upset,” he pauses, cherishing the memories, “however, this is not some mood swing or whatever.”
“How are you so confident that I did not change?”
“You might have changed but your eyes haven’t. They let it out when you are really troubled.”
A peaceful silence follows as they both lock their eyes, reminiscing and pondering.
“What is it, Niyu?” he asks innocently, like a five-year-old.
“You remember we used to play with that house and kitchen set all day. We used to cook together, and I would not go even when Ma came to pick me up.”
“Yes, I remember, pretty vividly in fact.”
“Um… I changed, Vishal, a lot. The girl who used to play with that kitchen set for the whole day is lost. I always end up fighting with my mom regarding cooking and stuff. I do not want to learn but she wants me to. She thinks this is because I have this crazy notion of how a strong woman does not cook but…”
“But what? Why are you so resistant about this?”
“It is not resistance, it's hatred. Pure hatred,” she looks vaguely here and there to avoid his seeking eyes and her involuntary tears.
“Say it, Niyu, I am listening.”
“Vish, I hate the kitchen,” she says sobbingly, “I am a middle-class girl and that place has never been somewhere that I could learn a skill necessary for survival. It is a prison, worse than Azkaban.”
Vishal cups his hands around her cheeks while she clutches his wrists. She is falling down to pick up her suppressed feelings. She gasps for breath as her thoughts choke her brain, her fears, and her heart.
“I hate that place because I have seen my mother’s hopes getting burnt. I have seen her identity chopped down to pieces in that cubicle. I can’t light a gas stove, not because I am afraid of the fire but because I am aware of its destructive powers. I have seen her future choking, her desires thrashing and her individualism blowing up in flames so that others didn't have to cook their own food.”
“Calm down, Niyu.”
“No. I won’t. I never had the option of learning cooking as a hobby. It was a necessity, not for myself, but for my family. When I enter the kitchen, I have this burden of how a family is not a family if the daughter-in-law of the house does not cook food. How a girl is a complete disaster or how her degrees are useless if she does not know how to cook. How, even after graduating from the best of colleges, after getting placed in a top-tier company and working tirelessly for the entire day, it is me who has to cook, otherwise I will be another good-for-nothing woman.”
“Niyu, your parents want you to learn it for yourself and only yourself.”
“They say this, and they might even mean it, but what do I tell the twenty years of my life which have seen my mother and everything that was hers break down? How do I console the twenty years of my life that are scarred forever? How do I make them understand, Vish?” she asks, seeking the answer earnestly, “The kitchen haunts me, and perhaps it always will. You know all my relatives used to say, 'what would you do if you don’t learn to cook', and I would very boldly reply that I would hire chefs. I did not want to flaunt or gloat. It wasn’t my confidence; it was my fear. I was scared of getting locked up in the kitchen till death knocks, and I still am. I just can’t help it. I just can’t.”
“I never knew someone could have felt about it that way but now that I know it, it hits me like nothing else. All those years when I have seen my mother toil in the kitchen are beating loudly in my head,” he says. As he reckons and ponders, tears take the liberty to flow.
He wraps his arms around her and holds her tightly, squeezing her shivering body cozily against his chest. Patches of the rain, marked on her face, shine brightly under the starless sky, while her quivering fingers grab his shirt. They sit there motionless, eyes closed and hearts open.
Tisha is currently pursuing economics honors from St. Stephen's College, Delhi. She has tried to create a new form of poetry, termed as - Poetrose - it is a merger of poetry and prose. While exploring the various forms of writing, she expresses her dream to tell as many stories as possible.
Read other published work: https://www.allearsindia.com/weekly-publications
Edited by: Oskar Leonard (https://oskarleonard.wordpress.com/)