A Story Dedicated to All the Sushilas of Our Country
Sushilamma! Flowers! Are you inside?”
Kokila had called out at least thrice. She had to go to a dozen houses more to sell her fragrant ware. But Sushilamma was taking longer time that day to come out and buy her usual hand length of jasmine tied in a string. It was a sultry evening, the neighbourhood women had just got up from their short nap and listened to the flower seller’s call.
Sushilamma was not the type who loved to nap or the type who answered the door bell lethargically. Despite her sixty plus age, she was quick on her feet and never seemed fed up with her household chores. People of that area had watched her for a long long time. She had come to live with her husband and her in-laws right after her marriage there, said those who knew her well. People of her age or older (and I am one among them), remembered her taking charge of the whole household efficiently as her mother in law was ailing at that time, and passed away soon. She was seen hurrying in and out of the house, taking care of her husband and father in law (who was rarely seen, but his cough was heard at regular intervals) and her two children who were born subsequently. Those who saw her daily till now had never felt thirty years had rolled by. She was the same Sushila getting her children ready, cooking, running errands attending to the door bells………..
With a lithe figure, she had always been active. She had aged, no doubt, with pepper and salt hair (and salt predominated now). Yet her quick walk to the market with a cloth bag for buying vegetables or the brisk way she used the broom to clean up when the maid was absent, had not changed much. There were some changes in the household, though. Her father in law had passed away. Her sons got employments, first one got married, and her husband had retired.
Her husband could not be seen much before his retirement. Most of his waking hours were spent in his office and the rest were spent behind the newspaper in the front porch, without counting the hours spent on bathing eating etc. But after his retirement, people saw him seated in the porch, that is, they could see his leg portion which was not covered by the newspaper. People saw her bringing coffee and snacks to him and saw them disappearing (the coffee and snacks, of course) behind the news paper and she promptly carried the empty cups and plates inside the house. It was a routine sight that all passers by had got used to seeing, till one day her husband succumbed to a massive heart attack.
Her married first son and daughter in law stayed with her. Her second son was away in the north. Her first son was a brilliant fellow who had a lot of promise of going abroad, but having married a girl equally brilliant who was employed in a key position in a big Indian company, had given up his foreign dreams to please his pretty wife.
The women folk of that area were a bit bored of Sushilamma. She never had the time to talk to them nor did her living give any value addition for their gossip. They asked her about her daughter in law, their relationship. No report of heated arguments between the mom in law and the daughter in law, on who would do the household work, or no complaints about the working daughter in law neglecting the house. Pretty boring was all they could conclude from what she said.
Only a couple of hours ago that day, they saw the daughter in law bringing home a cup of considerable size. When asked, Sushilamma had told them that her daughter in law had won the best performer award in her company. Her son had told her that day was The International Women’s Day and his wife’s hard work had been recognized at last.
When Kokila shouted again a few heads peeped out. “What has happened?” Some wondered aloud.
“Nothing,” replied Kokila.
“See, Sushilamma has come now. Are you not well, Sushilamma?”
“No, the maid has taken leave and I was washing the vessels. There were only a few left when you called and I thought I would finish them all and open the door.”
“Take this and offer it for Goddess Lakshmi,” Kokila offered a few inches more of flower.
“They say today is women’s day, whatever that means, for us all are same, women’s day or men’s day,” both of them laughed at her joke and both turned their back to the world and went to do their work.