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Cleaning the cupboard

Cleaning the cupboard

Tanni for Danceof Chaos

The Cupboard

Smita was cleaning her mother’s cupboard alone. The clothes needed to be organised and those that could be donated or distributed, needed to be sorted out.

Sumit had wanted to join her but Smita saw no point in Sumit coming today. It was just some old sarees and knick-knacks.

Siladevi, Smita and Sarita’s mother passed away suddenly three weeks back, from a massive heart attack. Although she was eighty-two, she was quite fit for her age. She lived in her own house alone, and refused to go live with Smita and Sumit. Sarita could not come. The VP of a finance company cannot leave everything and just come.

Didi, you can manage everything right? I will mourn from here”, Sarita said.

Here she was, sitting in front of the old mahogany cupboard, cleaning and sorting ma’s old sarees and other garments.

The Unworn New Sarees

After her father had passed away, her thrifty mother had gotten into the sudden splurge mode in the last five years.

“Your baba is gone, who will pamper me now? I will have to pamper myself now. Like Sunaina beti, I will be my own bff.”

 Now Smita looked at these piles and piles of white garbs while she thought of the last conversation she had with her mother. It was one of those endless arguments, where Smita tried to placate her mother’s stubborn and childish tantrums.

“You are a housewife. Your daughter is away. Yet you do not find time to come visit your old mother. Look at Sarita. Even with such a busy schedule, she manages to call me two times a day. You never were good at anything.”

Smita had tried to argue.

I will be leaving for Sunaina’s house in two days. I still have a lot to pack. Why don’t you simply come and stay with Sumit these few weeks.

“ I don’t like to live with my son-in-law. I did not work so hard my entire life, only to be controlled by my daughter’s husband. Just tell me, you don’t want to take care of me , You selfish girl.”

Smita had just sighed and hung up. Her mother was impossible to manage and doctors suggested she should not be left alone. Smita had convinced Sumit to go over and stay every alternative night. Her prudent and reasonable mother had  impossible temper tantrum in the last few days.

Smita neatly collected all those unworn sarees in a big suitcase. They had selected a few charities where needy women would benefit from all these new clothes. May her soul receive peace through this, thought Smita.

The Orange Saree

The lower decks of the cupboard were cleaned out. Smita started cleaning the small middle shelf. Her mother never let anyone touch this one. This small shelf contained, according to Siladevi, “ her innocence”.

There were some pale, old pictures of people. Her parents when they were young. A almost white picture of her mother’s parents on their wedding day.

There were some old letters, her mother’s bachelor’s degree. A big deal in those days. Even a bigger deal, for a fatherless girl, struggling through basic training school, bringing up four younger sisters, in 1950s. Her mother was so proud of it herself. She was always stressing education for them when they were growing up.

“ Learn a skill to be independent. It is important to know how to make your way in the world.”

Yet the same mother, went against everyone and everything and got Smita married at nineteen, when the proposal came from Sumit’s family.

“ What will you do with this third division result? At least let me get you married while you still her pretty”.

Siladevi was wearing a light pink colored jamdani that day, appropriate for the mother of the bride. Smita was forced to wear the orange katan Silk of her mother to meet the groom and his family. She had lusted after the Katan Silk ever since Siladevi bought it. It was a competition to see, who wore it first, she or Sarita. At that moment, Smita would have given up everything, even this saree to be able to be proven worthy in her mother’s eye.

The Cherry Pink Saree

At the back, wrapped in a fine paper was a tattered old red saree. Smita remembered this. It belonged to her grandmother. This was the last good, coloured saree her grandmother had bought, before sudden widowhood and poverty had taken away every bit of finery from her life.

Ma wanted me to wear this saree for my wedding. She only could wear it once.” Siladevi had said.

 “ I was the last of the sisters to get married. I had to find good husbands for my sisters first. When you marry at thirty, you are middle aged. You hardly wear a cherry-coloured saree then. But it is my Ma’s blessing. I will cherish it always”

Smita thought of her twenty-eight-year-old daughter. She dresses in such vibrant colours reflecting life and happiness. “May my little Suni baby never know of such struggle and heartbreak”, she sighed in  a soft prayer.

The Benarasi Dupatta

The top shelf had the neat label, “For my granddaughters.”

Most of them had their childhood dresses and knickknacks. There were two boxes with Sunaina and Smeya’s name on them. Her and Saritha’s daughters. Smita opened them.

Smita was dazzled with what she saw in there. Her mother had bought two beautiful, expensive banarasi dupatta there. There were also wedding cutlery, made of gold in there.

Six months back, her mother had called her, huffing and puffing, “ All these taxi-wallahs  are dacoits! I tell you dacoits! I had to pay five hundred rupees for a small trip in taxi today.”

Smita, immediately alarmed, had asked,” Today is not pension day. Where did you go?”

Are you my prison warden that I have to tell you everything? I went shopping. Is that okay or do I need your permission to buy things with my own money?”

“ But what did you buy?”

“ Some wedding knickknacks”.

Alarmed, Smita had pressed her mother for more information.

Siladevi just said, “ You and your sister are two irresponsible mothers.  You do not care that your daughters are traipsing everywhere and doing whatever they want. As their grandmother, I have some responsibility. You will find out when they marry”.

 Smita was slightly happy that her ever perfect sister also could have some fault. But she still was worried and decided to tell her sister what happened. She had to leave a voice mail.

Two days later, a curt text message came from Saritha. “ Let her do what she pleases with her money”.

Right now though, Smita panicked. These were expensive and have been in this cupboard for over half a year now, without a lock and key. She called Sumit. He said to not to speak of it, pack them in another bag.

I will come and pick you up, better not travel alone”, he said.

Tomorrow, we will go to the bank and deposit them in safe deposit box.” He hesitantly added, “ Maybe call Saritha and tell her once. Else that gorgon will later accuse us of taking her share.

Smita knew Sumit was right. She called her sister. Sarita did not response, as expected. Even though it was evening in Singapore and Smita knew she was at home.

She called via the landline. Sarita’s husband picked up. Smita quickly outlined the whole thing.

Listen didi, take them with you now, they will be safer with you. Oh! Didi, can you send a picture of the stuff? Maybe we can choose the one we like.

Smita replied, rather sternly, “ Ma has their names marked on the boxes. If you wanted to choose, you should have come here yourself

Okay, okay! I was just asking!”, grumbled Sarita.

No, you were being unnecessarily greedy. Saru, what is wrong with you these days!”

Oh didi, please, don’t make drama. Listen I got to go. Love you, will call you when you reach home.”

After she hung up, Smita took a break before she started to clean again. The day was ending, it was late afternoon now. She had to hurry .

Hidden under the wedding presents was a worn out cotton saree, white with red border and red booties. So old, and soft. Ma stopped wearing coloured saree after baba died but she kept them. Smita would often borrow the cotton sarees to make towels and covers.

When Smita opened the saree to check if she can use it, she was stunned to silence.

Tears kept rolling down  her eyes.


Her father was a high school teacher and her mother a primary school teacher. They were middle class, average family. Her father was famous for his generous nature and never could save much. It was her mother’s meticulous budgeting and calculations that helped them sail through. They never had much, but there was enough. Smita and Sarita only heard about the hunger and struggles, never lived them. From her meagre salary and savings, ma had educated them, gotten them married.

Smita closed her eye and pictured her mother, in a white saree with red border, walking home from school, drenched in sweat. She used to walk all the way to school to save the bus fare. She could see her young mother’s red bindi and the stern loving face. Her mother looked ten years older in her fifties, all the lines on her face telling the story of her life.

Smita never was really smart and she was terrible in her academics. Maybe if she had gotten a little more chance, she could have done better at something else. She could paint so well.

Sarita was the smart one and after bachelors, she got some scholarship to study her masters and eventually got a good job. After her marriage, her career started to flourish and eventually she and her husband found better opportunities and left for Singapore. They settled there.

After baba passed away, Sarita came only thrice in last five years. Siladevi was heartbroken. Smita called her sister, pleaded with her, argued with her but nothing much changed.

Siladevi had visited Sarita once, for two months, shortly after her husband’s demise. After she came back, she never visited them.

Sarita was everything she could not be. She had built this daughter up so much, educated her, given her a lavish wedding but she turned her back from her completely. Sila could not accept that. After the death of her companion for life, Sila was devastated by the neglect from her beloved daughter. That was probably what triggered her dementia.

The Necklace

Smita looked at the thing in her hand, the lost necklace of her mother.  Siladevi could not afford to have much jewellery. She had saved and saved for months to make this simple gold necklace; she used to wear it all the time at home. After baba died, the necklace vanished quietly from her neck.

Sila had kept the necklace neatly stored within the fold of this worn out saree, in this quiet corner of the cupboard with just a short note,

For you Smita, you will be the only one to be there in the end and take care of me”.

The Rainfall

Smita was never her mother’s favourite child. Sometimes, she felt she was nothing but a giant disappointment for her mother. The daughter that should have been a son. Her mother was stern, exacting with her all her life. If Sarita had not broken their mother’s heart, ma would probably never had turned towards Smita . Smita did her duty to her mother, because she was taught to do so and because Sumit encouraged her to. Her and her mother were a complicated relationship that never had the right words or emotions. Smita was not even sure if she loved her mother or if her mother loved her back.

In this moment, holding that necklace, surrounded by the old sarees and her mother’s smell, Smita’s grief poured out like the summer evening showers. All the unsaid words, unanswered questions, the misunderstood love kept pouring out, in a old musty bedroom full of a dead woman’s clothes.

Also published in the momspresso blog.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental

All pictures in the blog, unless otherwise mentioned, are taken by the blog. Please do not post the images without permission.

Cleaning the cupboard

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