Jayamma looked at the wall clock that had been given to her as a wedding gift thirty years back. It was already eight thirty and there was still no sight of Madhu and Rekha. The baby lying in the cradle looked like it might wail any minute but was content moving kicking its leg at the moment. Jayamma contemplated lifting the baby to her shoulders but deciding against it turned to her husband.
“Re, will you call them? They are usually here by seven, na?”
Srinivas did not seem to hear her, so drawn in was he by the cricket match that was being telecast live. His children had often joked in the past “If appa is watching a match, even an earthquake can’t budge him.” But Jayamma had never brought into that idea. So she repeated a little more tersely this time,
“Re, do you want to call them?” in a semi-loud voice, half-fearing that the baby might start crying. She tapped her husband’s shoulders for good measure and repeated it once more.
Srinivas turned away from the TV with an irritated expression on his face.
“They must have some meeting at the office. Why are you troubling me, ma?”
“No, re. Madhu would have told me if he had a meeting… Aren’t you worried about our son?“
Afraid that he might miss a catch, Srinivas took a minute until the commercial break to reply to Jayamma. “So what do you want to do now? Maybe Rekha had a meeting…” he frowned at Jayamma adding “…You call them”, Srinivas turned back to the TV notching up its volume a little.
As the noise of a thousand boisterous fans from the Kingsmead Stadium at South Africa filled the Bangalore household, the baby which had been quiet so far decided to join their league. It started out as a meek sound at beginning, like a kitten really. But when no adult peered at it for a few seconds, the baby decided it was time for the high works. The kitten sound turned into a tornado and almost drowned out the cricket noise. Tears started flowing from its eyes like a river and its face started resembling a ripe red melon.
Srinivas and Jayamma looked at each other shocked by the baby’s sudden change in temperament. Flustered, Jayamma started cooing to the baby, “Baboloo, Baboloo… what happened? Your stupid mother will be here soon dear, don’t you cry…” Srinivas tried to do his bit by lowering the TV volume and alternatively shifting his gaze from the baby to the TV and back again while repeatedly saying “what happened, baby.” But the baby was in no mood to listen. It was way past its dinner time and it wanted its mother’s breast at any cost.
Setting the cradle swinging, Jayamma hurried to the kitchen to heat the leftover milk from morning all the while muttering beneath her breath. “Irresponsible people, don’t they know that the baby wants its dinner by eight?” She lifted the almost-empty sugar dubba and scrapped its bottom with a bent spoon. When few of the remaining crystals that clung to it refused to budge, she gave the dubba a good bang against the wall, and looked at it viciously. “They take it for granted that I will be there.. What if I had gone for my meditation class and Baboloo is just with his grandpa…. That fellow can’t light a gas for all his life’s worth” She cast a dirty glance towards the hall where Srinivas had by now moved towards the baby and was desperately dancing around the cradle.
Quickly wiping the split milk drops from the kitchen slab, Jayamma carried the feeding bottle back to the hall. “Here, hold this” she thrust the bottle at Srinivas without glancing in his direction. She first checked the baby’s bottom for wetness before lifting it to her shoulders. She rubbed its back up and down cooing sweet nothings. Moving the baby tightly against her chest, she took the bottle from Srinivas and gently took it towards the baby’s crying mouth.
When the warm silicon nipple touched its pink lips, the baby stopped crying instantly. It opened its mouth wider and tried to take in the entire nipple only to find it too big for its four month old mouth. Baffled at its non-cooperation, the baby spit out the nipple and scrunched up its face ready to cry again. Jayamma smiled amused at its greed, just like its father, and tried to coax the nipple back into its mouth. A drop of milk escaped from the bottle and fell onto the baby’s mouth. Tasting its sharp sweetness, the baby immediately started suckling the nipple forgetting its intention of a moment back. Jayamma heaved a sigh of relief and settled back against the brown sofa coated liberally with dog’s hair. “Re, change the channel; it is time for the serial.”
Srinivas reluctantly lifted the remote from the floor and changed to the Udaya channel for the serial the household had been following for ten months. Today is a crucial day. The mother in law was going to confront her daughter in law over her neglect of household duties.
“Increase the volume, re” Jayamma commanded.
To be continued…