A dove was making her nest above the old rusted hanging meter board. For days she just could not fathom from where those straws fell on to the floor. Perhaps the straws fell loose because the nest could not be made properly and the strong breeze blew away the straws. Later, she saw the straws lying in the heap. In the evening, both the male and female doves sat closely touching each other. Silent, quiet, they sat as if in meditation ……. absorbed completely in their own thoughts ……. perhaps contemplating on their future or deeply worried about some thing.
Their sandy brown beaks, bright glittering black round eyes, their slim shapely neck and delicately shaped average-sized body, their sweet chirpings were very engaging. She usually spent her evenings in the verandah, intently watching the children playing, shouting in the play ground. But these days, she neither watched the TV nor read books. Those sounds, voices or images disgusted her. Nothing can replace live physical presence. She had already realized this stark fact. But the arrival of the dove couple had stirred her very placid existence. Now instead of sitting idle, she had enough reasons to be active. She would sweep the clutter of straws made by the doves. When there was nothing to do she just sat and watch the doves with amusement. The way the doves sat together intimately against the wall and guarded their treasure of straws flapping their wings began to arouse her faded memories.
Strange are the ways of life. How one’s life unites with the other is the wonder of this world. After marriage, both, she and her husband built a small two-room house. They believed that the ecstasy of living in one’s own house was incomparable – ever so satisfying. How happy were they! Their daily evening outings, cooking new recipes, eagerly awaiting the arrival of her usually late husband – all this filled her with contentment. Though they had sufficient material comforts, they never desired for more. Their hearts were full of joy. They knew their future would be prosperous. That small house was always full of family members. Life without them was never complete.
The birth of their eldest son changed their vary life. All people of the house would sit around the baby sparing him only when he went to sleep with his parents at night. His poor parents gazed at him wondrously, admiring his petal-like pink lips, fair face. And if he laughed or cried in sleep, she would call her husband, ” Listen! Look ! Come quickly.” Even a whimper from the child would make her lift the child, carrying it to and fro. And the husband would followed her worriedly scolding her, ” Why is he crying ? What’s wrong ? Is he suffering from cramps ? What did you eat today ? You have no control over your food. Look ! He’s our flesh and body. A lovely creation of two beings.” Then they would kiss the the child lovingly.
Suddenly she felt her breast and found something shining – a feather, perhaps. She climbed a chair and peeped into the nest. Oh! what a beautiful creation. The nest which looked so untidy and rough from outside was round and neat with feathers and cotton-wool layering the bed on which lay two light brown eggs. These eggs throbbed with life – the symbol of a new creation – a new being.
Nature has moulded every being in such a way that it would become a living form. Didn’t her abdomen become egg-like ? Four months later, she could feel like stirring in her body, she thought. She caressed her abdomen which was now fat loose and hanging down. It still bore long white birth marks. Whenever her son asked her, ” What are these white marks ?” She would laugh and say, ” You know the doctor took you out by cutting my stomach, you naughty body!”
She would blush when he touched her abdomen with tiny hands. In his photograph as a six month old infant, he still looked so innocent. Her entire being was flooded with motherly love from the mother dove. Perhaps the mother dove also cherished the same tender love as she had during her pregnancy – eagerly awaiting the arrival of the child. She saw that for full four days, the mother did not move from her vigil. She tried several times to draw her attention but the dove did not even stir. Worried that the dove was in trouble, she tried to find the cause of her absolute stillnes s. But nothing happened. She then, remembered how during her advanced state of pregnancy her body was bent back and it was troublesome to sit or rise. May be, the dove also was experiencing the same problem. But when the father dove arrived in the evening, the mother dove barred him from entering the nest. She squeaked angrily and flapping her wings drove him away. How she wished she could understand their language. She could very well sympathize with the mother dove’s situation. Her life’s mission was to give birth to her child and protect it all cost. A mother can cross all barriers to guard her child- no matter what happens.
She pull out an album. Not just one but a dozen in all, marking birthdays, christening or naming ceremonies, eternalizing children’s playful antics – both toddlers lying naked – all memories came rushing by as she uttered their nick names and felt them playing nearby.
The flapping wings of the mother dove broke their reverie. The agitated mother dove was flapping her wings loudly, sometimes alighting on the wires or doors, never allowing the father dove to approach the nest.
She softly rebuked the father dove, ” Peace ! My dear peace ! Don’t trouble her. You’ll never understand the anxiety of a mother. It’s her flesh that is there in the nest.” She knows, the moment the little ones come out of the shell, they will seek their own space – will fly away to some far off place. But a mother, after all, is a mother. She never bothers about the future. For her, he is the most intelligent person who will scale the highest rung of success. She had also cherished such dreams.
The eldest became a doctor and left home for a lucrative job. The younger one also chose to settle down in Mumbai after completing his M.B.A. and both were left alone. The younger one had married against his father’s wishes and had to face his father’s displeasure. The situation wouldn’t have worsened if the son had not retaliated violently to his father’s anger. In a moment their life long efforts to create an ideal home crashed to pieces.
”Never ever imagined that the two would turn out to be so selfish. How self-centered are they! They forgot their parents are still alive,” retorted her husband sadly.
” We wouldn’t have gone with them any way, we’re happy here,” she tried to pacify him. She knew how shocked the father was at his son’s behavior. Their words stung him like barbs. They stuck into his heart forever, festering into a wound. For long forty years both had laboured hard to secure their dear one’s future. But what did they gain in return ? Emptiness ! Loneliness ! Their son’s homes, their vary walls reflected an unnamed indifference. Their sons created such situations that they were forced to return to their own house. They sealed their lips even though their hearts were full with pain. Helpless, they silently suppressed their feelings.
” Suppose we didn’t have our own house,” he asked agitatedly. He went on, ” Children these days consider their interests first. Their career, their families and their comforts are their first priorities. Even a slight frown on their wives’ faces raises their blood pressure. Their households are theirs exclusively. We or our relatives are just non-existent. Where shall we go if some misfortune befalls us ? Where will you go ? We sheltered and educated so many children, got them married. Our Bua- Paternal Aunt lived with us after being widowed.” He just could not forget his son’s callousness. Day in and out the pain of rejection gnawed at his heart, at his vary soul.
” Why do you feel so dejected about the whole affair ? Let your children live as they want to,” she tried to console him with all kinds of logical explanations. She didn’t want her husband to harbour bitterness and hatred against their children; nor could she imagine any separation from her kids. As time went by, all arguments and explanations ceased. A strange coldness froze all relations – Their children, their own flesh and blood, their heart and soul alienated themselves from them. They lived in a world free from all shackles of responsibilities. Nature does give freedom to all. But can everyone be free ? Free from Nature, free from her web-like structure, free from her mysterious powers ?
The eggs cracked open, the shells lay apart. She quietly watched them breathlessly ……. there were two little birdies – hairless, red. They were breathing. ” Oh ! I feel like kissing them, ” she said to herself excitedly. The smell of a newly born, which only a mother can sense filled the nest.” No ! – no, ” the mother dove will be irritated,” she muttered to herself. The father dove was generally away for the day, but the mother dove would either sit by her little ones or wander nearby. She would scatter grains next to the wall and the mother dove would rush and grab them for her babes. Yes, a mother had to feed her young chicks. And as the evening spread her shadows, the mother dove would gather them under her wings protectively.
She had seen a black cat with cruel yellow eyes hovering around. Her glittering yellow eyes narrowed greedily at the sight of the nested creatures. Her own heart trembled with fear as she saw the black cat smacking her lips. She was scared lest the cat attacked the nest. Plagued with fear, she tried to find ways to protect the birds. Though the windows were wire-meshed, the cat could easily squeeze through the grills. Perhaps, this was the reason why she couldn’t sleep well. Even a mild sound woke her up. Turning and tossing in bed, she tried to sleep but she just couldn’t. The arrival of the birds had indeed brightened the atmosphere ……. their safety was her main concern. She got up to check the nest. She switched on the lights. The father dove was sitting on the walls on his night duty, and the mother sat with the chicks ever so alert. The father dove seemed miffed at being separated from his lady love. How she nestled against him …… he remembered fondly. ” You don’t need me. Day and night you spend with your kids. Earlier, you could not sleep without me. You know, I can’t sleep unless you stroke my forehead. I feel so stressed. And you ……. you’ll fall sick if you continue to be on night duty all the time,” scolded her husband. He would often taunt her or just stop talking to her.
”Why don’t you understand ? Babies are so restless, they throw away their covers at night , they might catch cold or mosquitoes might bite them ! Somebody has to look after them. And do I ever neglect you ? Aren’t they your children too ?” she questioned him.
He would pretend to be angry and say, ” All right ! Go ahead ! But mind you, they will grow up and fly away so high that you won’t be able to hold them. And then……. you’ll have no one but me.”
She looked steadily at her husband’s photograph and murmured softly, ” Were you really teasing me then or you had foreseen all this ……. your words proved true.” After gazing affectionately at the mother dove for some moments, she went and lay down to sleep. But her mind was in a violent turmoil. Last year, her husband died. Children came, performed all rites routinely, and went away without even asking her to accompany any one of them. Her trust, confidence shattered her. All her expectations and hopes were lost forever. She hardened herself to face the long journey of life all alone. She was confused and puzzled, never could understand how her children could become so indifferent.
She knew she had to forge her own way in this wide world. The initial days were full of tears and loneliness. For months, she sat in the verandah all by herself lost in memories or watching homing birds. The setting sun brought tears to her eyes. People would advise her to live with her sons. But how should she tell them that there was no place for her in their homes. Lost in the past, she was jolted back into the present by a loud shriek. She rushed into the verandah and saw the demonish black cat poised to stalk her prey. The two doves were flying around, flapping their wings loudly ward off the cat. Circling their nest agitatedly, they wailed their hearts out. She rushed at the cat and drove her away. The doves reassured, settled down peacefully.
” Did the cat eat one of the birdies ?” she asked herself fearfully. Her heart throbbed fast. In the darkness of the night, she felt utterly helpless. Her eyes rested again on the nest. ……. She was lost in her memories again …… she remembered clearly how she hollered like a mad woman when her eldest one cycled far away. She ran crying loudly looking for him. ” Have you seen my son…… he was on a cycle ……” , she asked all passersby. ”Yes ….. Yes, don’t worry, you’ll find him ……, ” said an old man. But she was inconsolable. She didn’t rest till she found him. Later, she found out that her son had followed the servant. She had a strong urge to phone her sons but she repressed herself.
The doves moved from the nest revealing the two tiny birds alive. They had grown soft feathers like silk strands. They moved about here and there as if eager to fly in the high sky. The mother dove fed them, nourishing their delicate bodies. And they cooed to her in their sweet voices.
One day, she found the nest empty. ” Has the cat devoured them, ” she anxiously thought to herself and looked for them everywhere. ” Oh! God, why has Nature fated and weak to die, ”she remarked losing all hopes. There must be some sign of their whereabouts …… but the birds were nowhere.The empty nest looked ugly and lifeless. She remembered how her own house looked deserted, abandoned when her sons left after their father’s death. The same fearsome air pervaded the house. The droning winds and stony silence literally stifled her. Suddenly her gaze fell behind the flower pots. There ……. there they were, the two doves and their little ones pecking at the fallen grains. The birdies were learning to fly. Her eyes moistened as she watched them spread their delicate wings and started flying.
Once again memories flashed across her eyes. Her eldest toddler was learning to walk. He rose, stood and tumbled down bruising himself – whimpering in pain. But in no time he started running . She had taught them to cycle ….. how and when they learnt to drive a scooter, no one knew. Tears welled up into her eyes. The agent of creation is always sidelined, she thought sadly.
She waited for the doves to return. The clock revolved fast to 7,8,9 – but the doves did not return. The nest lay empty like her own heart. The straws dispersed here and there. She prayed fervently for them to come back …… her eyes wandered all over the place, searching for them among the flocks of birds flitting about. But the doves were gone. Boredom turned into depression. She was waiting ……. waiting for the doves or her own children !
Days passed into months, and suddenly one day, she saw some straws hanging on the same rickety, rusty meter board. The meter reader had asked her several times to replace the board but she didn’t have the heart to do it. The new board would not bear the straw, they would slip down. The next day her heart missed a beat when she saw a heap of straws lying on the floor and a dove sitting on the board. Her eyes mellowed with colours of expectations.