(Drafted: 23rd July 2012)
‘Pash’ Khosla never got herself threaded, or in her words ‘made’. Nor did she ‘destroy’ her body the way women do today. Her hairlessness is God given.
”Does she ever let me say a few words, or complete a sentence?” her daughter in law quibbles from the kitchen, as Pash talks to me. The kitchen is not a place where her daughter in law has been constrained to, but one she feels obliged to function in. And so she unloads her pent up frustrations from there ; about how her mother in law must see, hear and have her say in anything that takes place within the walls of her house. ”She even instructs me on how I should make my hair”. However, one glance at the venerable lady, with permanent smile lines and bright eyes tucked behind paper thin, crinkly lids and this complaint loses its fire. If it had any at all. Mothers rarely grow out of their ‘instructing’ ways and I bet in Pash’s eyes she was merely fulfilling her duty.
Prakash Sohni is her birth name.
Writing ‘Ram’ in the countless squares of her gridded notebook, she finds solace. With silver hair flowing from her temples to the nape of her neck, she recites mantras from a timeworn book, through creased lips that inflate and deflate with every word.
Her and her daughter in law are more in sync than they realise. Whenever they have something to say, they express their statements simultaneously. Whoever has the chance of being in their company is subjected to stereo-sound banter. I have often felt their words squeezing into my ears, sparking and melting with one another.
Prakash wanted to go to the temple yesterday, and she was taken last night. Today she wants to eat chaat, so perhaps she will be treated to some this evening. “She always gets her way and then acts as if we do nothing for her”, her daughter in law mumbles as she sweeps her shopping plans to the side.
Pash needs to look forward to something everyday so that she doesn’t have to dwell on her memories, good and bad.
She’s the only person I know who has lived in the thick of Delhi’s blood soaked streets during the partition. When I asked her about that period in her life, her face changed to one tinged with melancholy. At first she refused to relay what she witnessed, “Please child, don’t make me remember.” I retracted, and then she slowly told me about the bloodied bodies she saw on staircases in the neighbourhood, and her brother ducking on the floor of a Muslim commissioner’s jeep in order to escape from a village outside of Lahore.
He escaped with his two friends and a 14 year old girl who had lost her parents. They were driven to Amritsar and took shelter in the Golden Temple, like many others. Prakash’s brother survived, but was haunted by the image of the young girl whose only words were ”Mujhe ghar jaana hai” ( I want to go home) which she whispered repeatedly throughout the ordeal. She would take a tiny helping of food and retreat to her spot; a small space close to the roof , until one day she was found dead there and no one could hear her pitiful voice again.
Pash has more than a dozen grandchildren and at the age of 88 (which is a rough estimate since she doesn’t know when she was born) she is ready to pack her bags and catch 20 hour flights to meet them. I’m glad I got to know such a fiery woman and look forward to meeting her again.