Appa used to say, “Don’t you waste food. You are insulting Anna. What you are throwing away so carelessly, one day you might have to struggle for it.”
Amma would always intervene when Appa tried to raise his voice on me. She would quickly take my plantain leaf and feed the left over to dogs. Appa would give her a stern look and then resign to smoking his beedi. Amma would then quietly wipe the mess of rice around me. She would then bring water for me to rinse my mouth and running a hand over my long hair would say, “Take only how much you can eat. Eat in small morsels. Don’t hurry. See how much we throw every day. It’s not good my child.” I would just ignore what she said and go out to play in the verandah.
Appa would drink his tea after finishing his beedi. He would call me to sit with him and let me take a sip of tea. Amma would be cross with him if she caught me drinking tea. Appa would nevertheless indulge me with a sip of tea everyday and with ice candy when we went to the Thursday market. Appa went to the fields again and return only in the evening. He worked hard along with the farm helps. He sometimes shared his mid day meals with them when I and Amma went to the temple. When we were home, he always had lunch with us. Appa and Amma were my grandfather and grandmother respectively. I lost my parents when I was only 2 and Appa would never tell me how. I would eavesdrop on the conversation of Appa with other landlords and would keep hearing the word “Communists”. I did not know what it meant.
When I was 14, the air was filled with tension in our village. Many landlords lost their land and had to move to other villages. Appa had a small land which would suffice our needs and those of the laborers. A negligible, if any, profit was made. I was unaware of our dwindling financial condition. How would I know? I was too self engrossed and carefree to realize what was happening. I had turned into a spoilt brat and Appa was constantly irritating me with his sermons. Amma tried hard to teach me some cooking, sewing, drawing rangoli, decorating the house etc so that I would get a good groom and get away from the village but I was too lazy to do any of it. I saw dreams of a prince talking me away on his horse and living in the palatial comforts with servants at my beck and call. I had such royal tantrums with the maids working in our house. I was rude to them and insulted them for their lowly caste. Appa had overheard one such outburst and ordered me to apologize. I was so full of pride that I had told Appa that I would not say sorry to a cheap maid. Appa had not talked to me for days and finally I gave in to his wish.
“Ratna, you idiot! Why is the light in the verandah still on and why is Tommy still fastened to his leash?” Memsaab shouted from the upper room.
I jolted from my thoughts. I let the Labrador loose and switched off the lights. All the work for the day was done. The plates were washed and wiped till I could see my face in it. They were all arranged like the Madam liked. The vegetables were cut and kept ready for the next day. After making sure that no chore was left, I sat by the kitchen wall. Eating a meal of 2 chapattis and some rice with leftover gravy, tears stream down my cheek. On some days I get only chapattis and onion. My stomach growled with hunger and I kept the pangs at bay by drinking the cool water from the earthen pot. My steel plate was without a grain! I opened the tug at the end of my handkerchief and ate some of the berries which Madam had told me to throw in the afternoon. They were sour but they filled my stomach just fine.
I lay on the kitchen floor on a thatched mat. I mumbled the prayer that Appa and Amma had taught me. The prayer thanked the Goddess for giving food that day. Somehow uttering the chants made me feel close to home. Close to Amma and Appa.
When I was 16, our land was taken from us. We lived in hutments in forest patch. Amma died of respiratory problems shortly and Appa was a broken man. The village had changed drastically and droughts had made it impossible to get work on the fields. Appa sent me to Chennai with his relative before he breathed his last.
Like Appa had once said, I now struggle for food. My skin sticks to my bones now and I m no longer the beautiful proud girl. If only I had valued what I had. At least the madam doesn’t treat me as bad as I had treated my maids..
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