He was at it again. Practising his heart out. ‘kumaaraa sukumaaraa’. I was trying my best to get my head wrapped around the central idea of this story. I tried becoming oblivious to my surroundings. It was sure a tough ask.
Why Uma wanted her freedom? Why did she behave the way she did? Was it really necessary to leave Bengaluru to work so far away? What was her motivation?
Uma decided enough was enough. She decided that she has overstayed. It was time to leave. She had completed her studies. No one will be surprised to see her go away. Especially to work. The offer from Pulvinus was interesting. Just the job she was looking for. A posting at Perth! She had never been outside of India. At least it would take her away from here.
She wanted to start all over again. She wanted to clean the slate of life and begin anew. She needed a break and a very real one at that.
Here was Bengaluru. What was she running away from? What is bothering her?
Oh! He has finished his practising. I was hoping that I would get less distracted. The ideas were far and few between and I was beginning to feel that I would not be able to complete the story.
Clearly she had made up her mind. Did she hate those around here so much?
“Twenty years in this place” Uma said to herself. Now it did not seem so long. She never knew her father. Something her mother had never mentioned. However that did not stop her hating her father. A father she had not seen, not even a picture of him. Her mother – step mother was a simple woman. Uma’s world was her step mother. Uma had seen more of the world than her mother. Still with all the love her mother had for her Uma could not wipe off the hatred within her. All through – her school, college, friends, and neighbours she was faced with one never ending challenge of answering the dreaded question of who her father was.
It seemed everyone was interested in knowing her father. Who was he? What his name was? She did not know. Her mother never told her anything. She was fed up coming up with excuses, lies and plain outrage at times. She was not even aware if her father was dead or alive. The nights she had cried herself to sleep hating herself and all those around her was something she wanted to forget and get going.
She was convinced. It was time to jettison the Bengaluru baggage. Her mother, her home, everything she had been surrounded with from her early childhood.
The visa would be ready in ten days. Her luggage was packed and ready. She hadn’t told her mother yet. “It can wait” she said to herself. Her mother was old. Well past into the eighties. She was living on borrowed time.
Uma was looking forward to her job. After majoring in anatomy, she became interested in preserving the dead animals. With no taxidermy schools in India, she was self-taught and managed to hone her skills with animals, albeit small ones, that died accidentally around her house. Sometimes her friends, would give their pets for stuffing.
I heard the doorbell ring. I looked at the time in the mobile. 2.45 pm. I wondered who would drop in at this hour. I suddenly realised that I was expecting some guests. They were on time! I was hoping they would leave earlier than usual.
Was she really ready to leave her mother alone? How did she plan to support her?
It was cold, very cold that night. The wind whistled through the window cracks. Her mother complained about the wind. Uma got her the sweater and the shawl and switched the room heater on. She boiled the water in the electric kettle and left it on the side table for her mother. She wished her a good night and turned to her bedroom. Next day she would get her visa. She was hoping to get a cheap flight ticket to Perth.
Her taxidermy work was well received by her employer, Pulvinus Artefacts. She would work with them for three years as per the contract and she hoped to settle down at Perth if possible.
She realised even she felt cold. “I hope mother is all right” she said to herself. She went once again to her mother’s bedroom to check. She could hear the slow strained breathing coming from the bed. The hot water bottle was half full.
Uma quickly boiled some more and filled up the bottle. She felt mother would really need it during the night.
Finally the guests left. I was glad they did. Back to the writing.
What will the morning bring? Will it be gloomy or sunny?
The early morning rays obliquely shined through her window. A slight breeze made the morning a bit nippy. Uma woke up earlier than usual. She went down to collect the newspaper which the boy has thrown awkwardly and she found it on the transom. The milkman too had delivered the milk pouch. Ouch! Leaking once again. She made a mental note to complain.
She made the breakfast and then she realised that her mother was not yet up. “She must be tired” Uma remarked to herself and decided to let her mother sleep for some more time.
The doorbell rang. It was the courier from the visa office. Uma was overjoyed. Her visa was ready and all she had to do was get a ticket and go to Perth.
Uma decided now was the time to break the news to her mother. She laid the breakfast table and went on to wake her mother up.
The water bottle was not consumed at all. Uma gave it an enquiring look and proceeded to open the curtains to let the sunlight in. She turned put off the room heater and uncovered the bedsheet on her mother. Her mother did not move. Uma noticed there was no breathing sound.
Her mother was no more. Uma felt dazed. Her first reaction was one of irritation rather than sadness. “I hope my trip would not be affected” she said to herself. Uma composed herself and said “At least I was saved the bother of telling her of my trip”.
The hatred in her was increasing. She felt all those around her were conspiring against her and her plans. Uma was just not ready to lose her mother not yet.
The entire house was miasmic and held no appeal for her to go about her chores. She looked at her mother. She wistfully remembered the day her mother celebrated her 18th birthday. She recollected how happy she had felt that day.
How can she leave her mother? Bury her? Cremate her?
On one hand Uma wanted to scream with joy and leave for Perth immediately and on the other her mother’s lifeless form seemed to mock at her and brought her to reality.
Uma was over wrought with herself. She had never engaged with her mother. Her step mother was useful – that’s about it. But now her instincts told her she was wrong. She must make retribution. Too late – her mother was no more.
It was dinner time. I thought I ought to finish my dinner as quickly as possible.
How will Uma break the Gordian knot? She was no Alexander!
“I cannot leave mother here like this” she said to herself. She made up her mind. Her mother will live on forever. She made up her mind and went about her plan.
She cleared the bedroom of all unwanted things. She quickly made a list of things she wanted and proceeded to buy them. By the time she returned it was well past seven in the evening.
Uma put on her smock and undressed her mother and quickly went about cleaning her body, clipping her mails, and cutting her hair short. Then she made practised incisions on her mother’s body and removed all her insides. The liver, stomach, pancreas, lungs, intestines, heart and the ovaries.
Uma packed each of them in a double zip-locked bag. They would be burnt individually at the incinerator at the college.
She ordered blocks of ice and no one asked the reason. After all she was a taxidermist. The ice kept the body cool and the doors and windows which were already sealed kept the smell in.
Next morning all the organs were burnt at the college incinerator. Uma went on to buy large quantities of bandage. She meticulously wrapped the shrunken body – now that all the internal organs were removed, including the brain, the eyes, the tongue and the teeth.
All those mummification and animal stuffing experiments helped her. Four days passed and the basic mummification process was complete. She turned on the air conditioning and in a week’s time the semi-finished mummy was truly dried and devoid of odour.
Will Uma leave the mummified body and go to Perth? How will she take the body? What can she do?
Uma was exhausted. She felt all was done and she was ready to leave for Perth. The ticket – her one way to freedom – had been bought. She scouted around for a commission and she was excited. A rich local farmer had lost his prized buffalo and wanted it to be stuffed. A chance to make some money before leaving.
It is ten in the night and the time is ticking. Need to complete the story. Need some fresh air. A visit to the local lake is needed to refresh the mind.
Uma should have an elegant solution. How can she get her freedom?
The farmer called her to inform that the buffalo was ready for stuffing. It would be arriving late in the afternoon. She made all the arrangements to receive the carcass of the buffalo. The delivery was prompt and efficient. In forty-five minutes they delivered and left.
Uma was calm and composed. It had been a long time since she was this clear. She went about her work. The buffalo was finally stuffed. It did look a bit plumper than in the photograph the farmer had sent. However that could not be helped. Who would want a skinny buffalo?
The buffalo was ready. Uma had it polished and boxed it for delivery. She called the farmer and told him that the stuffed animal was ready. The farmer agreed to pick it up in couple of hours.
Uma was ready. The pickers came and picked up the box. With all the paper work completed and the fees for the stuffing on hand she was all set to leave for the airport.
She looked around and checked to see if she had forgotten anything. The house agent was notified. With nothing more to do she set forth to the airport and freedom.
Is that all? No a twist is needed here.
The delivery truck trudged along and arrived at the farmer’s ranch. Three farm hands well-built swiftly unloaded the stuffed artefact and mounted at the centre of the foyer in the ranch. There the buffalo stood majestically. The farmer surveyed the buffalo. A grand beast indeed. Worth all the money he had spent getting it stuffed.
By now Uma had reached the airport. It was a long ride. She had mostly slept through it. The series of speed bumps jarred her into waking. She looked around the airport for the last time. She did not expect to ever return to Bengaluru. Two flights and she would have her freedom.
She made her way to the check-in counter. Her phone rang. It was the farmer. She went on to answer. The farmer was happy and wanted to thank her for an excellent job. She felt happy. After all the stuffing was the best work she had ever agreed to do. The father if alive would never be able to reach her. How could he? Her mother was no more and no one else knew where she was.
The plump buffalo, a grand beast, continued to stand the foyer.
Uma went on to Perth and finally got her freedom!
He was at it again. Practising his heart out. ‘kumaaraa sukumaaraa’. Now I can listen to my heart’s content.