by Prachi Shah

The family tried their best to make her feel at ease but the one thing Sonal and Indu couldn’t refrain from was hugging each other and pulling each other’s cheeks. It was how they were – proximity meant multiple hugs, caresses and kisses. And it made baa squirm, although after two weeks, her squirming began to be accompanied with a smile. “Hey bhagwan! There you two go again!”  

But baa was proud of her daughter and granddaughter. She had never realised the strength that Indu possessed. She kept smiling in the face of her cancer and joked around, laughed and danced even though her body deteriorated day after day. Begrudgingly, she realised she envied the bond Indu shared with Sonal. “I never hugged my kids. Not even when they were babies,” she said to Sonal one day, while Indu rested. “You know, I lost my second child? He was but an infant. He had a fever, just a little bit. I was working in the kitchen till late. In that much time, his fever shot up and he got a seizure and he died.” Sonal’s eyes widened. “I am so sorry Baa.” Baa shrugged. “It was a long time ago. Although I do think of him from time to time.” Sonal clasped Baa’s hand. She wanted to hug her, but she knew it would make Baa flinch. Hailing from a tiny village in India, baa had married at the tender age of 13 in a huge family. Although she had birthed five sons and two daughters, she had never played with her children, had conversations with them or listened to their stories. Her heart was full of love, but years in a strict household had made her believe that tactile displays were silly. 

A month flew by and soon, Baa was back in the village. She had grown closer to her daughter and she called more often. But one night, baa received the dreaded news. Indu had succumbed to her disease. The funeral was in two days and although her family advised against it due to her age, Baa insisted on being there for it. Once again, she found herself at her daughter’s door. She rang the bell. Sonal opened the door. Both women stared, looking for Indu in each other. Suddenly, baa enveloped her granddaughter in a hug. For a moment, Sonal stood still. Then, her hands clasped baa with fierce grief. The hug was awkward but also soft, warm, and familiar. It felt like home. “She hugged you like this, right?” Baa asked softly. Sonal could only nod as she buried herself further inside her grandma. Time stopped for a few moments as a mother and daughter stayed in an embrace, mourning the loss of a wonderful daughter and mother.

Indu hugged her teenage daughter, Sonal, who gave her a bigger squeeze in return. They heard a soft sigh in the background. It was Varsha, Indu’s mother, who everyone referred to as Baa. Indu and Sonal both burst out laughing. Baa had seven children and she had never hugged either of them. “I never had the time. There were so many mouths to feed, vessels to clean and clothes to wash,” she’d say. Baa had come from her village to visit Indu in Mumbai for the first time in 25 years. Raised in adherence to old values, she was deeply uncomfortable staying in her daughter’s house. “Even drinking water at a daughter’s sasural is sin, and look at me, staying here for a month.”

Prachi Shah is a creative writer who enjoys writing stories for children and adults. She is an avid reader and fascinated by dark, weird stories as well as fantasies. A former freelance feature and script writer, she is now juggling work on her own book of short stories and being a mother.

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