Ashiana: Trying to Remember – Best American Indian Magazine | San Jose California


Devaki stopped in front of the dining room door. Trying to burn every detail into her memory was futile, she knew, like trying to catch honey in a fist. Yet she noted everything. The fresh yellow chrysanthemums in the cut glass vase on the dining table. Sid’s head bent over his notebook, wisps of dark hair curling around his neck. Shriya to his left, drawing, crayons strewn around his coloring book. Amma sat across from them, staring out into the garden. Dust dancing overhead in the rays of the late afternoon sun.

Her mother turned to her. “Already, Devaki?” Already tea time? How quickly the day passed!

Devaki brought the tray with bowls of cut mangoes and cups of tea to the dining table. Shriya picked up a bowl of fruit with a cry. Sid barely looked up.

Devaki pulled out a chair. “Sid, it’s Himayat. Your favourite.”

“I am trying to finish my history project, Ma.

Shriya dug into the mango bowl. “What is it about?”

“Hadrian’s Wall.”

“What’s wrong with Adrian’s Wall?”

“Not Adrian.” Sid raised his eyebrows. “Hadrian. This is Roman history. You wouldn’t know that, Shri.

Devaki smiled at the note of personal importance in his voice. At fourteen, his son had only elbows and knees left, but with each increase in bones and muscles, he looked more like his father. Raghu was a handsome man and although the divorce was finalized four years ago, Devaki was not unhappy that Sid took after him. Shriya was nine years old and took after her grandmother.

Shriya waved her paper. “You see, I finished my drawing!” She jumped up from the chair and rested her hands and chin on her grandmother’s shoulder.

Amma examined the photo. “Abbot! Handsome!”

Shriya gestured to a woman standing near pink and yellow roses. “It was you, Ammamma, the day we planted the roses, Mom and you and me. I wanted you to see them bloom, soooo I made them bloom, in the photo.

Sid chewed on his pencil. “I had math class that day. I would have loved to be there.

Amma squeezed Sid’s hand, “Next time we’ll plant the flowers together.”

Shriya looked up. “When will it be?”

Devaki looked away.

After a short silence, Shriya said, “Ammamma, what do you want me to draw next?”

“Nonsense, Dad. All of your drawings are first class.

“No no. You say. When were you happiest? I’ll draw this.

“Hmm.” Amma bit into a piece of mango with a distracted smile.

Devaki stirred the sugar and placed the teacup in front of his mother. Amma’s eyes widened, her mouth opened like a half moon.

“Mom? Shriya grabbed the sheet of paper and shuffled it.

Devaki gently stroked her daughter’s back. “Why don’t you just draw your favorite thing about Ammamma?”

As Shriya sat down in her chair, Devaki noticed that Sid was looking at her grandmother.

“Sid, tell me, why did they build the wall?

He sat up. “Some people say it was to keep invaders out. Others say it was to show the power of the Roman Empire. But no one really knows.”

Shriya took a blue pencil. “You’d think they would have figured it out by now.”

Sid scoffed. “Like you know something.”

“I know many things.”

“The first time I rode a horse.” Amma’s voice was soft, but everyone turned to her. “I was just a girl of twelve, maybe thirteen, on vacation with my family. Where was he? Huge mountains in the back. Snow. Shima! It’s there that. And I rode a pony! For years, more than anything, I wanted to ride a pony, and here I was, on a pretty brown pony! I was so happy I thought I would pass out.

Shriya bounces on her chair. “I’m going to draw this!”

Amma continued, “Then once I came home from a party. My closet was completely open. My saris, blouses, petticoats were all over the bed. Devaki was only seven or eight years old. And there she was, in front of the mirror, nicely wrapped in my sari. And you should have seen his face! She was so afraid that I would be angry. But I couldn’t help laughing. What a little thing she was – staggering on my heels, lipstick all over her face. We had a wonderful tea party where she pretended to be me and I was my friend Sashikala. After that, I always locked my closet carefully. But that day, what happened!

“I don’t remember,” Devaki said. She wanted to ask if the saree was silk or cotton. What color was it? Was Devaki’s hair tied back? Was it evening?

Sid smiled and picked up his bowl of mangoes. “Mom! I didn’t know you were so mean.

“It sounds so fun, mom,” Shriya said.

Devaki sipped his tea. “When I was growing up, I remember all the fuss. Family get-togethers. Neighbors and friends joined us. When my dad’s parents were alive, we had a constant stream of guests, cousins ​​and aunts Amma was always chatting with someone or another.

Her mother smiled. “Are you saying I’m a talker?”

Devaki tilted his head. “And you were also a real card shark. You ruled bridge nights at the Bangalore club.

“Don’t listen to your mother! Amma patted her hand and chuckled.

Sid poked more mango. Shriya leaned towards him and he let her eat the morsel.

“Why did you stop kitty parties, Ammamma?” Sid asked.

Amma blew on her tea. “Oh, the ladies have all become old. Only I stayed young.

The kitty parties were disbanded after seven of the ten women died. Bridge games at the Bangalore Club came to a halt when Devaki’s father fell ill.

“Guess what?” Devaki squeezed Amma’s shoulder. “I have reservations for dinner tonight. At the Blue Sky Cafe.

Shriya swung her pencil. “Yesssssss!”

“For tonight?” Sid looked up.

“You still have a few hours to finish your homework, Sid. It will be special to release Ammamma tonight.

Amma said, “The ice cream there was excellent. Sitaphal, isn’t it? »

“It’s a seasonal flavor,” Devaki said. “And they still have it, I checked.”

Devaki carried the dishes to the kitchen and piled them in the sink. She went to her room, started the computer and started editing a document. She worked in the communications department of a technology company. She loved her job. Most of the other employees were young graduates who had moved to Bangalore from smaller towns and villages. Devaki loved their naivety, their raw ambition, their zeal. She viewed her work as a creative process of reducing volumes of information into clear, simple lines.

Devaki had always enjoyed working with words. She had written for her school newsletter and edited her college magazine. Even now, she jotted down haiku on a notepad. She read books of all kinds with an almost ferocious joy. When the beauty of a specific phrase struck her, she stopped and repeated it out loud. Sometimes a particular word reminded him of an image so vivid that it seemed more real than the space around it. As a young girl, she had entrusted it to her father. He said she was bringing back snippets of her dreams in her waking life. He called it a dream catcher.

Her father had worked in a publishing house. He devoted his mornings to birdwatching and his evenings to All India Radio. As a girl, Devaki had sat beside her, engrossed in her storybooks as the radio hummed in the background. His father wore khadi shirts, thick black-rimmed glasses and a Titan watch. He had treated his wife with indulgence and a kind of wonder, as if she were one of his exotic birds. Amma, in turn, had dealt with his food, his lack of exercise, his smoking, and he beamed with attention.

After his death, Amma took over the finances. At first, she invested in small stocks and bond funds. Over the next year, at the request of a trusted friend, she mortgaged the house to invest in an import-export business. By the time Devaki found out, the company had gone bankrupt. Devaki had settled out of court – a court case would have dragged on for decades. Yet she had no choice but to sell her mother’s house. The sale of the house had enveloped Amma in a thick fog and she had moved in with Devaki like a child held by the hand. It was three years ago.

In the privacy of their new living arrangement, Devaki noticed his mother’s strange behavior. Amma navigated the new spaces of Devaki’s house with the old map in mind. She looked in amazement at her clothes in a strange closet, her old bedspread applied to an unfamiliar bed. And how did the old hairdresser get from this corner to this one?

Devaki noticed other oddities. Amma’s gestures had no relation to what she was saying, as if she was talking to you out loud and silently to someone else. She would say Orange juice when she was talking about orange juice, and lady-bag when she was talking about purses – only hers, not someone else’s. Devaki guessed that these were phrases from his mother’s childhood, a secret language that had resurfaced in old age.

The times when his mother looked like his old self were gone. Over the past year, Amma had started bumping into walls. Devaki came home from work to see bruises, like inkblots, on his mother’s face. After administering a physical exam and a panel of lab tests, the doctor confirmed what Devaki already suspected. Devaki wasn’t sure exactly when Amma’s dementia set in, but she was sure the slide had started shortly after her father’s death. Either way, Amma needed a part-time nurse and a full-time babysitter. Even though she worked twelve hours a day, Devaki knew she couldn’t afford it.

Two months ago, on a hot morning when the children had left with their father, Devaki had shown his mother the Ashiana nursing home brochure. The house was in a quiet, hilly area outside of Bangalore. It was run by two of Devaki’s college friends who had promised to keep an eye on Amma. Ashiana seemed ideal and a room had recently become available.

Devaki had talked to his mother for a long time. They had visited a few times. Amma was to move there tomorrow. Devaki thought her mother was ready, but these days, with Amma, she could never be sure.


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