Graduations days are full of fun. The lessons learnt then are some of the best in one’s life.
Comprised of three girls and two boys our group was christened, “Naughty five”. We always headed towards the college canteen duringafternoon recess.Besides debating, singing and dancing us spent time byeating hot samosas and masala tea and maximum time bunked the afternoon classes.
Starting of every month was always good; we had enough pocket moneyto spend lavishly. With passing of every week the pennies decreased and so did our expenditures. End of some month’s situations sometimes grew so worse that we didn’t have money to spend on a cup of tea. During that time the only way to survive was to run on debts which were to be paid in the next month. This routine never changed till the last days of our graduation.
One more thing didn’t change was ‘Aaita (grandmother)’, her ‘tekeli pithas (a traditional Assamese food prepared by cooking special rice inside the mouth of kettle wrapped in white cotton cloth over slowly boiled water’s vapour) and her white ‘mekhela chador’. Aita used to clean dishes in our college canteen.
She had her lunch when we had ours. Throughout first year we saw her fetch a glass of red tea from canteen open her dabba, and have her pithas.
Those pithas had always fascinated me, although being from Assam I had never tasted that.
From my friends I came to know ‘tekeli pithas’ were more popular in lower Assam than in upper Assam. We used to talk a lot with Aita.
Aita said that she had a son who was married. Every day her ‘Bou (son’s wife)’ made those pithas. “I have no teeth na so it’s easier to eat these pithas”, Aita said, “My Bou say’s not to come here but I get bored at home so I over here.”
She used to laugh and say, “I love seeing all you young hearts, makes me feels ten times younger. Seeing the love couples here my memories of meeting your ‘Koka (grandfather) gets refreshed. Your Koka was a farmer. My ‘deta (father)’ was the head of village and was very upset with this relationship. I was almost thirteen when I had my ‘shanti-biya (a ritual in Assam where a girl is married with a banana tree when she has her first mensuration. During this ritual she is dressed like bride and is given all worth by her during marriage). The next year during Bohag bihu/Rongali bihu-Assamese New Year during the month of April) after my shanti-biya your Koka& I decided to flee like love birds.”
We exclaimed, “Aitaaa!!!!You and Koka ran away, how?
Aita smiled, that brought wrinkles all over her face, then laughed hard with her toothless mouth.
Then she paused for few seconds and continued, “Your Koka came to our home for husori(a ritual during Ronghali bihu when a group of boys and respected people (gaon burhas-heads of the village panchayat) go to every house hold. During husori they sing dance and pray to the Almighty on behalf of the family for their wellness).
As planned, I got ready with all my belongings waiting at backyard of my home. When everyone was busy with the rituals your Koka slipped out from the group and cameto me. We then fled to the next village where my khura (uncle)lived.”
We asked, “Aita no one came looking for you both?”
Aita replied smiling, “Yes, the whole village came but since we both had fled away and had spent a night together so my Deta finally agreed to the relationship.” We used to giggle then.
“But how you came to Guwahati?” we questioned.
“For better job, your Koka had come to Guwahati and we never left”, Aita replied.
Aita almost every day repeated the same story whenever we met. But one day suddenly she stopped coming. Days changed into months but she never came.
One day we asked ‘Chacajaan (uncle) – the canteen owner’ where Aita lived.
Chacajaan replied, “Aita stays somewhere in the village at the back of the hill of Geeta-mandir (a famous temple of Guwahati). I have never gone there. It’s very tough. But you people are young you can climb up the hill and go.”
As we set for leave Chacajaan summoned us and said, “Aare baccho take this money and give it to Aita. She didn’t take hersalaryfor the last six months.
We took the money from Chacajaan. It was in total 3000/-.
These were the last days of the month when our pockets were empty.
My mind said, “Greedy”.
We left in search of Aita’s home. As we were climbing to the hilltop we stopped for a while to relax. Almost reaching out for breathe Sandhya said, “ Aaaare leave theplan of going to Aita’s home, letz go to some good restaurant and party with this money.”
“Yes, Aita is sick and probably shall never come back to canteen for work. Chachajaan shall never know about the money”, and we laughed hard.
After few moments we started climbing again.
It was around 2 in the afternoon by the time we reached the small slum which was present at the other side of the hill. We hadn’t had lunch and the early 7:30 breakfast of our hostel was longdigested. It seemed big rats were running inside our stomach.
Keeping 3000/- apart we started counting the pennies we owed. Finding it was Rs 100/- we dreamt of eating veg-rollsone each. But, there were noshops in the slum except a small tea stall. Approaching there, we realized the owner was closing the.
Sandy (Sandhya)-the juggler in our group whispered, “He seems hungrier, his big belly has justttttt”.
We started giggling.
Almost shouting he enquired, “Oi bupaihot (Hey, gang of small caps) what makes you stand & giggle?”
Almost stunned hearing his husky loud voice we stared at him for a few moments.
In a much softer voice he re-spoke again, “Don’t be afraid, tell me what you all want?”
Almost stammering Monica asked, “Koka (grandfather), can you say where Aita lives?”
Almost bursting out in laughter which shook his large oversized belly vigorously he replied, “Oi bupaihot my wife is at my home”.
Unable to understand what he was saying we gazed towards each other.
Kazi the dark handsome and wittiest among us at once understood and reframed, “No not your wife that Aita, who worked at the hospital at the other side of the hill.”
Shaking his head he answered, “Ohh, she. She stays at the last house of this first lane.”
Zubi- the slim sensitive fair lady of our group asked, “How is she?”
He continued with a deep sigh, “Nahh, not well. After the death of her husband she has been left all alone in this world to suffer”.
KK-the skinniest guy among us asked, “But she had son and daughter in law right?”
Koka outburst, “Morons they both were.”
Weexclaimed, “What happened?”
Waving his hands in disagreement Koka said, “Aita & her husband had adopted the boy who was left after birth at their door step to die. Your Aita didn’t have any child so they adopted him.”
Almost singing together we exclaimed, “But! Aita had said they both loved her very much.”
Mockingly Koka answered, “Loved!!!!Greedy dogs they were.”
He continued, “Your Aita is the owner of that bungalow”.
We exclaimed, “Is it!!!!!”
Shrugging shoulders Koka said, “It’s the truth believe it or not”.
“Then why she stays here?” I questioned.
Koka replied, “Poor lady, those morons made her sign the property papers without her knowledge.”
Taking a deep breathe he sighed and continued, “Very next day they threw her from her own home. Oh God can’t you feel her pain. Then we villagers gave her shelter here.”
We stood dumbfounded.
Zubi sighed, “At least the money Chachajaan gave might bring her some relief”.
Snapping back Kokascreamed, “Bupaihot at end-edge of life it’s the love and caring from dear ones that can only bring relief.”
Next moment with a mocking smile he spoke softly, “You are young now you won’t understand. But time will come when you shall remember my verses. Now hurry to your Aita. She will be happy. At least she has people to care.Run”.
Almost suing us away he closed the broken bamboo shutter of his shop.
We followed him. At one place he stopped pointed towards a broken hut saying, “That’s your Aita’s home”.
Wishing Koka thank you and goodbye we slowly proceeded towards that broken hut. Our olfactory glands became more and more active as the aroma of the known hot ‘tekeli pithas’ tickled through noses.
That’s when we realised the churns of hunger bundling within our empty stomach. Rushing towards the hut we saw Aita squatting with her back towards us wrapped in her white cotton ‘mekhela-chador’.
I almost rushed and hugged her tight from behind. Without being surprised she gave a toothless smile and said, “Aimoni-small girl you all came. I dreamtat dawn today that some guests will be arriving. So see I made extra ‘tekeli pithas’. Come let’s eat. I am feeling very hungry now.”
Dying to eat anything eatable we fell over the pithas and with constant galloping over the pithas Kazi said, “The most precious Tekeli Pithas”.