The Twenty First Tiffin

Ram Mori

Translation: Harish Mahuvakar

'Nitu....; Mom’s shrill call spoilt my chatting fun. From the drawing room i directly went in to the kitchen.
‘Mom please, don’t call me Nitu, You know it. Call me Nital only. You forget to call me that way and that I don’t like. Have I to remind it again and again? Lat time when my college friends had come you shouted Nitu... Nitu... Because this whole of my college calls me R.K’s Mom.’ I was on fire but as if nothing had happened she quietly began to fill the tiffins with various food items.
‘Who this R. K. is?’, said she while she counted rotis.
‘Oh God, damn’t, R. K. means Ranbir Kapoor. Now don’t ask me who Ranbir is?He’s not any boy of my college. By the way why should I put you all this? And yes Mom listen to me. This your orthodox thinking throw away like the tiffin left over and stop doubting me. Yes, what was it?’ By the time she finished the dialogue often she coiled her dry hair locks.
‘It’s 11.30. Time to dispatch tiffins. You know I alone can’t manage twenty tiffins. It’s obvious don’t I need your help? She was busy in her work.
‘Mom since last ten days have I got vacation. Otherwise you yourself managed it and now you suddenly began to tire? And what I say, you please close down business!
‘So suddenly I tell all these twenty boys no tiffin from tomorrow?’ She looked at me in such a way that I got confused again.
‘Your Father doesn’t require giving money for the house management; it’s all because of this work. He can invest in the share market without bothering himself for the house expenses. You to go to a modern college, because of this tiffin work.’
‘Oh stop it Mom, do you want to say my Father runs away from his responsibility? Has he paid attention to you? He does love you. Has provide home, can provide food, and can provide clothes and yes living together he provides safety too.’
‘All these things are provide by a jail, too.’ I stared at him. In his wide big eyes I tried to find out a complaint regarding Father’s full engagement in the business but I never find such things in her eyes. All the time her dry eyes only. In her flat eye lines there’s no change at all, really. Mom’s such a person from the beginning; unskilled, disorderly, busy, and yet like an unsolved riddle. And to my Father I know him so much so that I can tell you in advance what’s he to say or what’s he to do.
From my childhood I have seen a kind of a routine. Father’s constant busy. Phone, half smoked cigarette, white vest, and a blue loongi – a trousseau like cloth for men, and analysis of share market by watching TV, shop, dealing with share selling even while taking meal, and talk of shares even on his late night returning... and Mom’s not a cook but turned in to machine-a cooker. A cooker that whistles for twenty tiffins twice in a day. One third part of the day is spent there. I often feel that Mom has encaged herself in the kitchen. She’s an unskilled one, wraps a pale sari, a tight hair knot, white hair locks flying over her face, fat belly, and smelling with perspiration. I remember it well that earlier Mom used to make five tiffins only, then made ten, and now twenty. I put my Tablet aside and began to place the tiffins in a cloth bag. As soon as they were packed I took my Tablet and began to chat. After a while Mom came there. She switched on TV and scanned various channels.
‘Mom, don’t you think you should colour your white locks?’ while chatting I asked her.
‘However it is, it’s golden one for me.’ While scanning a channel a romantic song of Ranbir appeared.
‘Wow Mom, don’t change the channel.’ Without changing the channel she slowly got up and at the door began to wait for Bhanudada- the tiffin supplier.
‘Nitu, I get tired now. Now no more tiffins, we have enough number of tiffins.’ She kept her white hair locks back at the ears. I for a while only looked at her and gave my heart to the song. For sometime hung the burden of quietness, I felt. I thought she wanted to say something but she was not getting the right moment.
‘Nitu, open the window. See how dark it seems!’ I opened the window stopper and pushed the window and with slight push light entered our room. With that was heard the sound of gate opening. I didn’t care to see. May be Bhanudada. Might have come for the tiffins. But he always rang his cycle bell. But then who...
‘Hello! May I come in Mam!’ Wow! What a voice! Almost similar to Ranbir. I put my Tab aside and looked through the window.
A man roughly of twenty five years entered into the home. Mom looked at me and slowly said, ‘Nitu, you go in...’ Before I think or say anything that man had already entered the home sat down on the sofa. I stared at him. Formal body tight purple party wear shirt and black pant, well combed hair, a formal wristwatch, blue eyes, broad forehead, appropriate nose, upper lip thin but lower one a bit bigger than the upper one, linear teeth while he smiled, glowing skin as if he just came out of a spa, a full five feet six inches perfect marriage material. I without a blink was watching him and as if he knew it smiled and said to me and Mom, ’Hello, my name’s Dhruv Majumdar. I’m an engineer. Only yesterday came to this city. In a local company I have a six month visiting training.’ Mom might have already realised that I was constantly watching to him. I was going to say, ‘Hi, myself Nital’ but then Mom said, ‘Nitu, give water to the guest.’ Getting angry a bit I went into the kitchen.
But Mom followed me. Before I speak a word, she shouted at me, ‘At least cover your bosom with a veil. As we serve tiffins at any given time boys continue to come for payments. And after your college vacation their rounds over here have grown.’
‘Hold Mom, just hold. You finish your work and send him off.’ Bitterness spread over my face. Mom’s like that. In a day if she doesn’t shout at me for few scores of time she won’t have peace. While she’s cooking and the bowls and dishes make more sounds or the cups and saucers break I have take it as her call to me in the kitchen. And what sort her kitchen is! Like a battlefield left after a warfare. You never find anything in order. I was watching that man from the kitchen window. Mom was watching him as if a suitor’s image on the Shadi.Com website wall. I was getting restless thinking of my age. Stiil immature and Mom would try to fix me anywhere...
‘By the way Mam, my room-mate eats your tiffin. I ‘ve just come yesterday. He had been out so I had his tiffin. But I enjoyed it very much. You have delicious hand. Potato subji’s my favourite one, and turdal was very tasty. Your curry was also superb. You, know I’ve become very happy having such a food. My sister in law made such a meal. It’s really wonderful.’
‘ I saw that Mom’s face had a smile!it was my surprise that on the flat cheeks of Mom had turned pink. Her ear also went red. And did I think or reality that Mom laughed and said,, ‘Thank you.’ Really I was surprised. Such a look of Mom made me crazy. Of course this man didn’t lie at all, otherwise how it’s possible that Bhanudada take twenty tiffins that once upon a time he took only five? Right at this moment I am reminded my Dad. Mom made something new and fresh save her tiffins. I tried to remember when it was last that Dad appreciated, ‘Wow, what a wonderful meal you’ve made!’ when it was last that Mom had gone red with such praise or she laughed... I was in such thought when I heard him saying, ‘Mam, if you don’t mind, would you regularly make tiffin for me? Only for six months, then no need. I’ve liked it very much that’s why.’
‘Oh the twenty first tiffin? I remembered everything while she made tiffins: her shouts, arranging twenty tiffins, brushing and breaking of cups and saucers, perspiring and penting heavily while resting on the sofa. And that what she had put to my ears, ‘Nitu, I get tired now. Now no more tiffins, we have enough number of tiffins.’ I rushed out to refuse but at that time Mom had alresy started with a smile,’No problem, I make twenty, one more, from this evening Bhanudada will bring your tiffin.’ I didn’t like this. That man handed a month’s payment and left. Without counting the amount she went away to keep it a safe. I stood there like a center outside the circle.
‘What happened to you Mom? What’s this? I was really upset and began to give blows to un-dust the furniture.
‘What’s difference, dear daughter... won’t die for one more tiffin.’
‘Oh hello! And now you don’t shout at me in the kitchen. Don’t break glassware, you yourself increase your burden, and never say it to me, ‘Nitu, I get tired’. I felt that I over reacted. I took my scooty key, put on chappals and went out of the home. When I looked back Mom was watching and smiling at me. Something pinched me. it was her smile perhaps, because for years she wasn’t accustomed to it.
Yes, from this day, many small changes began to come in Mom. Dad had no time to see tem but I couldn’t avoid them. Mom had now completely stopped shouting at me. Constantly grieving Mom now rhythmically made some humming tunes. On each time I found a new kind of enthusiasm sprang while coking. I filled tiffins and arranged them, but as soon as the twenty first tiffin was filled Mom would say, ‘Wait a minute Nital, don’t close the boxes. ‘ I saw that she would pull a chair from the drawing room and stood on it. From the upper line she took a pickle jar and place sweet mango pickle chips in the tiffin box and look at it with a great satisfaction. Now and then I saw her making potato subji too and when she made it she filled more subji in it. She applied more ghee to the rotis of that tiffin. I found all this childish. Like a stupid I watched everything.
On the month end, that twenty first tiffin came to home for the payments. Unknowingly I had started neglecting him. When he came Mom made special tea with ginger, and with it offered some snacks. He sat almost an hour. I saw both of them laughing, and felt restlessness from within. Now he’s suggested a new thing to Mom, “Mam you make such a tasty food, I think, you start a small restaurant. I’m sure it would run well.’ With this he would take a sip of tea.
‘But for six month it won’t be so useful...’ Mom would pass a comment. And again open laughter. For me it was a shock that she had learnt passing comment. Day by day I was getting angry upon me. An outsider makes entry and brings changes Mom from the deepest of her heart. He makes her laugh. We lived together for years and couldn’t do anything. I remember it well that because of Mom and Dad’s quarrels, I was tired and had put it to her ,’Mom’s what’s with you that all the time you pick up quarrels with Dad?’
‘It’s me that always welcome it?’ at that time too I had seen her flat face and dry eyes.
‘It’s one and same thing Mom. You learn let it go. And my Dad’s perfect...’ at that time she had laid her hand on my head her dry eyes revealed, ’My daughter, it’s because he’s your Father but for me a husband. Dad can’t be seen with a husband’s view point. Her pale face of that time comes before my eyes and today? Where’s that paleness? While on bed I often think of Mom and Dhruv... think and think. But all my thoughts ate cut off by ceiling fan blades and disperse in the whole bedroom. I couldn’t decide anything. The greatest shock came to me when, one day she started colouring her white hair locks. Carefully she blackened them, and watching herself in the mirror she said, ‘Nitu, how do I look?’
The thing that hadn’t taken place with all my pressure started taking place within three month’s visit of that man. In a way all the boys came for the payments but none stayed so longer as Dhruv did. Mom too hardly talked to any boy. But Dhruv is really a special case. Now Mom braided her hair little lower than usual one. She carefully did all her sari folds and tucked a tight pin over there and wore it, what so ever burden of work may be but won’t forget to stick matching small bindi .Even while cooking watches her reflection on utensils and smiled lightly. When she cooks again there it would be her rhythmic slow humming tunes . I often shouted at her, ‘Mom where’s your mind? Look the roti’s over baked.’
‘Mital, why are you shouting? My attention’s already there...’
‘Where?’ I asked at her meaningfully but meantime she would lose her mind again. ‘ I saw that she would pull a chair from the drawing room and stood on it. From the upper line she took a pickle jar and place sweet mango pickle chips in the tiffin box.
In these days I have noted one thing that on the last Sunday of a month, means on the Dhruv day Mom took longer time for taking bath. Even after she got ready she gazed herself into the morror. She scanned channels fro sofa but her ears remained at the doorbell. No sooner the doorbell rang than she hurriedly went to there. For me all this had become an unbearable matter. This light was actually burning me. and that man to all the time brought something funny recommendations...
‘Mam, why don’t you participate in the Master Chef show? Your dishes should be served at the international level!’
‘Mam, you should also learn continental reciepies... You know progress in cooking.’
‘Mam, do you read Tarla Dalal?’
Now I was shouting at her, brushed tiffins, broke cups and saucers, and lost temper for nothing but Mom behaved as if she cared for nothing.
One day that Dhruv came not on Dhruv day but on a regular day. His hand held a gift. Sat beside Mom for a long time they talked, took tea and snacks.
‘Mam, my training’s over today. Didn’t realise having your tiffins how quickly the time passed! For you this is a complimentary gift from me. My heart began to throb heavily. It means this Dhruv won’t be seen? Something began to give me pain. I began to stare at him. Mom removed wrapper and there it was a continental recipe book. Mom thanked him and then as if lost they remained seated. He drank water and got up to go. For a while I felt to go up to the gate to say him good bye but on the very next moment I thought that I myself never liked this then why this happens? While he was leaving he looked at me, and smiled and then the gate was closed. Many cups and saucers broke down in me. I began to worry about Mom. For a long time she stood in the same position when he had left. I could feel a light sort of burden in the air. The sun had set and darkness began to spread.
At night Mom was packing tiffins and I was folding clothes in my room. I heard Mom shouting, ‘Nitu, where are you? What the hell on earth are you doing?’ i left clothes and ran to Mom into the kitchen. The saucer in which she had taken tea broke down while she was trying put it in to wash area. I saw that her hair was braided tightly. Her full body was perspiring and she stood panting heavily near the gas stove. Because of sweat dry hair lock had stuck on her face. I hurriedly began to fill the boxes with dal and subji. She counted rotis and put into the boxes. As all the tiffins wre packed she quickly went in to the drawing room, dragged a table and stood on it. My head was bent down but I could see everything. From the line she picked up a sweet mango pickle jar. With my bent head I told her, ‘Mom.... why you.. .he’s...’. To that she looked at me. For a moment our Mom – daughter eyes met but I couldn’t bear her eyes and began to see outside. She too immediately turned her side but what my eyes noted was this: three forehead lines on her flat face and something like a vague picture her dry eyes. Darkness had now enveloped to both of us Mom and Daughter.

Harish Mahuvakar, ‘Ame’, 3/A, 1929, Near Nandalay Hvaeli, Sardarnagar, Bhavnagar 364002, Gujarat, India. +91 9426 22 35 22, Email: