Stories Apne Apne by Raj Deepali Pandey

“Take your lunchbox beta, I have packed it.”

“I don’t want it, give it to your son, whom you love more than me”, shouted a 9 year old girl, leaving for school, banging the door.

2nd lecture, and she started feeling guilty for her insolent behaviour towards her mother. The little one remembered the time when she brewed tea for the first time for her father but he left without having it as he was getting late, and she was very much hurt. She now realized how her mother must have felt when she refused to take the lunchbox. She fought back the tears brimming in her eyes.

       3rd lecture. She could feel the hunger now. Last night her mother promised to make fried rice for her lunch. She picturised the delicious food by her mom and regretted badly.

        Few minutes later, a peon entered the classroom, with a little packet in his hand. He handed it to the teacher with a note and said something to her. The teacher read the note, and called out her name. “Ria, it’s your lunchbox, probably you forgot to carry it. Your mother has sent it.” Those words were no less than a miracle for her. She ran towards the teacher’s desk and took the box. She came back to her seat, and while the teacher was not looking, she carefully opened the box slightly and peeped in. It was the fried rice. Its aroma spread so fast that the kids sitting at the seats just in front of her turned back to locate the source of the delicious smell. One of them was the monitor of the class, the stereotypical “teacher’s pet”, whose sole aim was to get the children punished and receive a pat on her back. She quickly closed the tiffin and kept it in her bag, smiling and waiting eagerly for lunch break.

        The doorbell rang consistently. She opened her eyes and hurriedly ran to the door. It was the milkman. She got the utensil, got the milk measured and came back to the kitchen. While she kept it to boil, she thought about the dream she had. The dream of her happy childhood. Now a 25 year old married lady, labelled as mature and responsible by the world, was still a child from within, craving to be loved and pampered. Two years had passed since her mother’s untimely demise, but her pain has not lessened a bit in all these years. Married in a staunch orthodox household, only allowed to work outside because her husband stood by her side, she always missed that warmth in her family. Though she always thanked her stars for giving her such a wonderful and caring life partner, but his work commitments couldn’t allow him to take care of her every time she felt alone.

       Her mother- in- law was a stern lady, who always wanted everything on time, whether it’s her morning tea or evening supper, and she never felt the need to ask her daughter- in- law about her well being. For it was expected that a lady who can manage a house skilfully can undisputedly look after herself too. At times Ria felt lonely, or maybe depressed. It was then when she missed her mother the most. Being a strong lady, she knew she had to fight it all alone, and she managed it quite well, always wearing a beautiful smile on her face, as expected by the good daughters-in- law to do, deceiving the world into believing that she had everything any girl could have asked for.

         After preparing the breakfast and lunch she laid the table. By then everyone had gathered for the breakfast. Rahul was in a hurry, so she quickly packed his lunchbox and handed it to him, apologizing for waking up late. He smiled at her and left for office. Her mother- in- law said nothing, though Ria knew that she wasn’t pleased with her, as her son left without having his breakfast. Ria too, felt guilty, but chose not to say a word. She served breakfast to her and went to get ready for her office.

She too left after half an hour without having her breakfast. She even didn’t pack her lunch in hurry. “Just a punishment for being a late riser”, she smiled to herself. She went to her desk and started her work.

         The lunch break was still half an hour away. She started feeling the pangs of hunger. She felt like she was experiencing the dream she visualised in reality. Only she knew that this time her mother was not there to send her a box of joy. Disappointed, she went back to work, waiting for break so she could get something for herself from the canteen.

       Few minutes before the break, a peon came to her desk. “Madam, your mother- in- law came and asked me to give you this”, he said, holding out a bag to her. She peeped inside and unexpectedly, found a lunchbox. She was so thrilled and surprised by this gesture. She opened the box, the food she cooked in the morning for lunch, everything was there. But she found one extra box in it. She opened it and to her joy, found gajar halwa. From its aroma, she knew that it was cooked by her mother- in- law. She was astounded and moved by this gesture.  “She especially cooked it for me”, she thought as her eyes were filled with tears of joy.

Hesitantly, she dialled her mother- in- law’s number. As she picked it up, Ria didn’t know what she would say. “Hello.” The lady on the other end of the phone spoke.

“Hello, Maa, did you have your lunch?” Ria asked as it was the only appropriate conversation she could have thought of raising.

“Yes I did. Did you receive the lunch box?”

“Yes I did Maa. Thank you so much.” Ria said, overwhelmed and trying to control her tears.

“Don’t they say anything to employees who talk on phones during the office hours?” The mother- in- law tried to sound stern as usual.

Ria smiled. “No Maa, It’s not that strict. Moreover it’s lunch time.”

“There’s someone at the door, I need to go.” She disconnected the call.

Ria knew that the emotional conversation was not their cup of tea, yet she discovered the new kind of love and warmth which she never knew existed in her mother- in- law for her. She realized, it’s not always about the care and over- indulgence that one shows explicitly, but some gestures speak a thousand words.