‘Auntie?’ , implored Ashima cautiously.
Her aunt Pamela, who was making hot chocolate for her favourite niece managed to mutter a faint ‘hmm?’
‘I am 25 now.’
‘All grown up, eh?’
‘Remember the question I asked you years ago and you told me you’d tell me when I was 25?’
Pamela handed her a mug of deliciously heavenly chocolate as she sank into her bean bag beside the young woman.
‘Of course I remember Ashi! Well, how time does fly!’
Pamela didn’t know how to begin but she decided to start with a routine query,
‘Tell me Ashi, have you been in love?’
Ashi eyed her delightful aunt with hesitation before lowering her guard.
‘On and off, I think I might have felt something bordering on love.’
‘And I hope that you get lucky, my dear.I hope that one day you’d be in that place where you just want to spend your life with someone, married or not. That you’d want to watch your child grow through trying times.’
‘For me, I never had that happy chance.’
Ashima raised her brows in mock disbelief.
‘You are telling me that you never fell in love, auntie?’
‘Oh, no, I did. I did fall in love so many times. Or I believed I did. In retrospect, everything is a blur.
In retrospect, everything seems a lost opportunity. At least that is what some people keep reminding me.’
Ashima knew only too well that Pam was referring to her brother, Ashima’s father. He had only lately resigned to the fact that his 51 year old sister was not a bitter woman who kept to herself because she hadn’t married.
‘But you never felt the need to have someone close to you most of the time?’
‘Ashima, I had my books!
I had my students. I had young, eager minds waiting to be sculpted. I did not feel the lack of a family.
Sometimes I did feel lonely. But you see, you can feel lonely in a crowd. If it is meant to be, you can drown in your own loneliness as you sit with your arms wrapped around someone.’
‘And it surely gets painful at times, Auntie?’
Pamela placed her mug on the floor. Ashima couldn’t make out her aunt’s expression as she bent but when she looked up, her gaze seemed distant.
‘I’m sorry if -‘
She began but was cut short by an impatient wave of her aunt’s hand.
‘I do not know Ashi, why the world wants to believe that I am resentful because I chose my way of life. Isn’t that wishful thinking? Like I manage to break away and you’d make such a fuss about it, and say youre sorry about my life, making me question my own choice at times.
But that is just how the world works. You ought to be a wretched wreck if you decide to do anything that they dont sanction. It gives them the satisfaction of saying, ‘I told you so!’
But you see, I have had my books clutched tight, drawn close to my chest on some nights and I cherish that.
I have had my students look up to me and that is enough.
I have this family. You are enough.
I sing and dance and draw and make friends.
This too, is beautiful.
As beautiful as walking into the sunset holding hands.’
‘And if I ever wanted have the joy of watching a child grow into a wonderful, kind person, I have had you. Nahi?’
Ashima fought hard to hold back tears. She alighted the wickerwork chair and walked up to her aunt.
Bending down, she wrapped her hands around the woman, tears streaming down her cheeks and onto Pam’s shirt and said,
‘Yes, ofcourse, yes.’