Short Story: Don’t Even Ask! Poochho Mat! by Aditi Mehrotra


TBASS

 

“Dadi, please stop throwing methi leaves on the answer sheets.” From where I was perched, I could watch over everyone in the courtyard. I had one eye on them, the other on the open pages of my history textbook.

The Indian Renaissance:

Social Reforms and Women Empowerment

Half of these words sat in the shadow of my head. I sat on the steps that went up to the roof of the house, a few peanuts in my fist, head resting ever so slightly on the iron railing through which I could see everyone if I rolled my eyes to the left.

It was difficult to concentrate with all the chatter. Everyone drags their chores to the centre of the courtyard, around our holy tulsi plant, during winter months. Whatever can be done in the sun is done in the sun. My grandmother was settled comfortably on a jute charpoy in this courtyard. The shadow of a towel hanging above her, on a clothesline that ran from a nail on one wall to the water pipe in the opposite corner, fell on her face. Like a starving cat with a heavy coat, her crisp starched puffy saree didn’t give away her small-boned figure. From up here she looked like a bundle of clothes, her back rounded and one knee pulled close to the chest, as she craned her neck into her work. She was sifting through small heaps of coriander, dill, and fenugreek, separating fresh leaves from the thick stalks. A quick pinch —and into a large dish with tiny holes they went. The stalks were thrown into a pile on the floor right next to her; they would later be disposed, into the flowerbed in the corner, where purple periwinkles bloomed scantily.

“Dadi, stop throwing methi leaves on Bua’s answer sheets,” I repeated, from my perch.

“What are you doing, Ma?” Gudia Bua jumped up from the chair where she had been slouching, some student’s red- inked fate on her lap and several others scattered around her feet that were propped up on the charpoy, next to her mother. She quickly pulled the answer sheets to her side and started gathering them. She was visiting us—her mother’s house—for the short winter break, and had brought all her paper correction work with her. She was a school teacher.

“Arre! What do I do, the leaves are so wet they keep sticking to my fingers,” Dadi said, jerking the leaves off her stout fingers, but this time more carefully, away from the sheets. Embarrassed by her daughter’s tut-tuts, Dadi then snapped back at her, “Why do you bring all your reading writing kitaab-kaapi with you?”

“What the hell! Where else do I do it?” Bua said, raising her voice. “Who understands that this is not a mechanical process? One needs a calm mind and a relaxed body, right? Don’t even ask how difficult it is to get this work done in that house! Poocho mat!” She looked up from the answer sheet and around at her audience.

 

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