Vying for attention
She looked up at the steep climb that lay in front of her and sighed. It felt as if she had been walking forever, yet there was no end in sight. Kamini was not used to this! She had agreed to come to this trek only for Anu’s sake. Lately, she had a feeling that she and her daughter were drifting apart.
Running a restaurant does not come easy, and who would know it better than Kamini! She had given her all, to take ‘Kamini’s Kitchen’ where it was today. And it had not come without a fair share of sacrifices. As Kamini toiled in the kitchen, ensuring every dish was perfect and that all the customers were perfectly happy, she had less and less time to spend at home.
She had tried to balance work with home but with the restaurant’s growing popularity, it was becoming more and more difficult. She had let go of a lot of things. But the one thing she did not want to give up, was the beautiful bond she shared with her daughter. And when Anu blamed her mother for prioritising work over her, Kamini could not take it anymore.
“All right beta, you pick a place where we can spend some time together, I’ll take the day off.”
Now, huffing and puffing uphill, Kamini could not help but wonder if Anu had picked this place just to spite her. She had wanted to spend some time with her daughter but Anu was marching ahead and only stopped to wait for Kamini to catch up. As soon as Kamini reached the point where Anu was, the girl took off again, leaving the older woman panting and trying to catch up.
“Enough is enough!” thought Kamini as she trundled to the spot where Anu was waiting for her. Even before she reached, she raised her hand to ask Anu to stop.
“Beta, I am tired,” panted Kamini as she reached her daughter.
“I need to eat something before I collapse. Is there a restaurant nearby?”
Looking at her mother’s condition, Anu softened a little. She said in a flat voice, “There is a place a little further ahead. The lunch there is fabulous. We can eat there.”
Kamini had no choice, so she plodded on behind her daughter. She wondered why is there an eatery in the middle of nowhere and more importantly, how does Anu know about it!
True to her word, Anu took a small left turn a little further down. As Kamini finally caught up, she was shocked. She did not expect a fancy restaurant, but at least a decent roadside dhaba is what she had imagined. But in front of her stood a mud and stone hut, with a thatched roof and a few plastic chairs placed haphazardly outside the front door.
“Are you sure Anu? This looks like someone’s home!” Kamini blurted.
Anu glanced at her mother, turned to the hut and called out, “Auntie, Auntie are you there?”
To Kamini’s surprise, an old woman walked out. Clad in a pink saree, her head covered in the traditional pallu and a smile on her face, this lady asked Anu, “Khana chahiye?”
Anu nodded and the lady gestured towards the chairs before going back in. Kamini struggled to process what was happening. She owned the fanciest restaurant in town and her daughter never even stepped in there anymore. Yet, here she was, at a stranger’s house asking for food!
What could this place possibly offer that Anu did not get at ‘Kamini’s Kitchen’?
She did not know what to expect and for the first time in so many years, Kamini felt totally out of control.
This was too much for her and she burst out, “Anu, I have asked you to come over to the restaurant so many times. We could spend time together having the best meal in town made from the choicest ingredients. You refused… and THIS is the place you choose to eat at? How do we know what they are going to serve? There isn’t even a menu to choose from!”
“Yes mom, but. there you are the owner, worried about details – whether the plating is proper, are they bringing out the right cutlery, are there any customers waiting….I could go on and on.”
Kamini went quiet. As the delicious aroma of the food cooking inside wafted out, both mother and daughter stared at the ground. She was trying to process what Anu had just said. As the mustard seeds sputtered in the oil, their enticing smell reminding Kamini of the simple old days, when she used to cook for Anu and they would talk endlessly.
Today, they were sitting side by side and had nothing to say. Instead there was so much resentment and anger.
The old lady appeared at the door of the hut again, carrying two thalis – simple chapati, rice, dal, salad and a single potato sabzi. Kamini could feel hunger pangs and realised her mouth was watering.
Even before Anu could say anything, she picked up a chapati from her daughter’s thali and said, “I am older to you and hungrier. You made me walk all this way and now I am going to eat as much as I want. You ask for more chapatis for yourself.”
Anu stared at her mother and burst out laughing.
She could see her mother, not the astute businesswoman, but her fun loving and jovial old self. She called out to the lady in the pink sari, “Auntie, aur chapati la dijiye.”
Mother and daughter settled down to enjoy the simple meal and each other’s company.
This story was written during the Short Story Writing Workshop. It was lightly edited by Rashmi Bansal.