Manasvi couldn’t take her eyes off the parcel on her lap, the contents kept her mesmerized. It had been years since she had received a gift as beautiful as this. This birthday was indeed going to be special, after all her birthday was being celebrated after 35 long years.
Manasvi had been married to Harsh soon after she turned 20. A bubbly girl who loved the bright hues of red and green, the scent of fresh flowers in her hair and found music in the tinkling of her anklets and bright bangles was in for a shock when Harsh admonished her for this loud dressing. “Dress with class,” he said with a look of disdain. “Women in our house don’t wear these kurtas and salwars, wear presentable sarees in sober colours” he admonished further. That had been the day she had shifted to the soft muted shades of cream, peach and the pastel hues of powder pink and blue.
Over the years Manasvi grew to love sarees and learnt to pair them with just a pair of gold bangles and red bindi. But she had a soft corner for chiffon sarees with chikankari work. She loved draping them for every occasion until the year she turned 40.
Like every year, her birthday was not celebrated that year either. “We keep ageing, why to make all this noise about it” Harsh had told her the first year into marriage when she had asked about his plans for her birthday. The status quo remained the same over the years. But Manasvi ensured every other family member’s birthday was celebrated with fervor, specially Harsh’s birthday. That year as she got ready for his birthday dinner, he looked at her pastel green chiffon chikankari saree and exclaimed “you should dress according to your age. You have crossed 40, dress in traditional silk and cotton sarees, all this chiffon and Georgette don’t look good at this age.” That had been the last day she had worn a chiffon saree. She had packed them all up and over the years given them away to her younger female relatives. Like the numerous changes which she had silently accepted over the years, she put up with this as well.
The only time she had longed for the bright hues of pink and green had been when she had gone shopping for her son’s wedding last year. She found the Banarasi silk in a shade of dark maroon fascinating and longed to buy it, but she could see the disdain in Harsh’s face when she asked the salesman to show the saree. But her son Aarav had seen her pining for the saree and had got it for her, despite Harsh’s disapproval. But Harsh’s with his constant disapproval of the supposed loud and age-inappropriate colour of the saree ensured that she never wore it for the wedding. She had worn it months after the wedding for a dinner with her daughter-in-law’s parents and though the women at the dinner had praised her saree, Harsh was confident they had said that only as a formality. Which meant she would never wear it again, but Manasvi looked at the saree with longing each time she opened her wardrobe.
The arrival of her daughter-in-law Sonali had proved to be a turning point in Manasvi’s life. The girl had seamlessly blended into her home in this one year but she had done so entirely on her terms. Sonali had frankly communicated at the outset that she would not accept a change with which she was uncomfortable. This had irked Manasvi in the beginning and she had not spared to moment to label her headstrong and stubborn. But over the months Manasvi had come to appreciate her daughter-in-law’s guts and her ability to handle situations tactfully. When they had been deciding on sweets for a festive occasion Manasvi had told her “we only make ras malai and kalakand, that’s what Harsh and Aarav like”, Sonali had responded, “let’s add motichoor ladoo this year, the platter will look too dull without colour and I don’t like milk sweets much. What is your favourite let us add that as well.” Manasvi could only smile at this suggestion; the smart girl had managed to get her way without questioning or even changing the status quo.
Sonali noticed that her mother-in-law was not happy, she could sense that Manasvi missed being her true self. A couple of months back, one day all of a sudden Sonali announced at dinner time “I have appointed a cook from tomorrow for making the evening dinner. Ma will be going to the ladies’ club yoga class in the evening and meet up with her friends after that. She also needs to relax. Don’t you think it’s a great idea papa?” Her question took Harsh by surprise, and he simply nodded his head as he chewed his food. He did not like this suggestion one bit, but then he did not want to create a ruckus.
Manasvi had initially attended the yoga classes with apprehension but had come to enjoy them gradually. She made some wonderful friends and soon she waited for the evening to arrive every day. But her daughter-in law’s surprises did not end with the yoga class. Today morning Manasvi had woken up with a warm hug and a loud birthday wish by Sonali and she had given her this beautiful parcel wrapped in bright blue, asking her to open it later. At the breakfast table, Manasvi was surprised to see a box of bright orange juicy imartis. “Aarav told me; they are your favourite,” Sonali said as she served her two big pieces of the Imarti. How she had longed for the sweet all these years, but she knew, Harsh disapproved of it and ended up never buying it. “Dress up well in the evening ma, your friends will be here for the celebration” Sonali shouted out to her as she left for work.
Here, Manasvi sat adoring her daughter-in-law’s thoughtful gift: a bright red chiffon saree with intricate chikan embroidery with lipstick in a shade of bright maroon and matching bangles to go with it. Manasvi berated herself for ever doubting Sonali, the girl had made an effort at understanding her, which no one in her family had ever done.
After all these years Manasvi had a genuinely happy smile seeing her reflection in the mirror draped in the gorgeous saree, with a tint of red adorning her lips. As she walked out into the living room to greet her guests, Aarav exclaimed “you look gorgeous ma.” She could see Sonali smiling at her and then she looked at Harsh who had a stern expression on his face. “Let us go for yoga classes together from tomorrow morning, shall we?” she asked him with a nudge.