Anupama looked out of the window. The sound of laughter and fun had distracted her from her potter’s wheel. Outside the window she could see Ankush and Ankitha rolling on the grass, dirtying their clothes which had been pristine at breakfast. She grimaced at the thought of grass stains and mud on the expensive clothes she had got specially for her grandchildren. Her eyes now panned on Malathi who was sitting on the grass herself and trying to tickle either of the kids as they rolled close to her. Hair had come loose from her old fashioned bun and her sari was crumpled. Anupama grimaced and glanced at her own reflection on the floor to ceiling mirror on the wall of her studio. Her crisp apron protected her designer suit. Her hair was tied back and held in place with a tortoise shell banana clip, not a strand out of place, not a strand daring to be different from the others in shade and texture. Even her hands covered in wet clay seemed well groomed. A smile of pride formed on her lips, pride at the way she had maintained herself at the age of 56. She could easily give some of the Bollywood heroines of her generation a run for their money. She ensured that. Looking out of the window again, she watched Malathi playing blindman’s buff with her grandchildren. The kids giggled and chortled as their Daadi grabbed the air near them and groaned in exaggerated manner as she missed. “Daadi… You can’t catch us… try harder…” squealed Ankitha as she threw some leaves at her paternal grandmother. “ I give up,” said Malathi as she flopped down on the lawn and removed her blindfold. “You both win, and I lose. You are too smart for me..” She enveloped them both on a huge bearhug as they both clambered on her, crumbling and staining her clothes even more. She seemed to hardly notice. Anupama recalled the day Malathi had arrived. She and Renu, her daughter, had gone to the airport with the kids to receive her. She remembered how Malathi had come out of the Arrival gate clad in a pale sari with a red canvas bag slung over her shoulder, dragging a beaten VIP suitcase. She remembered how Ankush and Ankitha had squealed in delight and snatching their hands free from their mother’s, had run towards their Daadi. “ See Mamma… see how much they adore their Daadi,” Renu had smilingly told her. “ That’s why I told you not to worry. Amma will take care of the kids easily. Your routine will not be upset at all.” “ But I’ll have to put up with your mother in law, no?” said Anupama. “ Mamma! Seriously! I should be the one to crib about my MIL …not you! And I am okay with her. Why can’t you get along with her?” Renu sounded slightly annoyed. “Well, for a starter, she’s boring. She has no interests, no hobbies and has no topics to discuss other than her family, temples and God. I can’t believe that we are of the same age.” Renu had shrugged and smiled at Aupama. “ Comeon, Mamma. It is just for three weeks. After that your world will be restored to you intact.” Renu had looked at her mother with a half-smile as she said that. Her mother and her mother- in- law were as similar as chalk and cheese. Her widowed mother was a chic socialite busy with her club, friends and her hobbies whereas her mother in law was a typical housewife, concerned about her immediate surroundings, her home and her children. Her mother had had an illustrious career at a multi national bank in Dubai where her parents had lived till a year back when her Dad died. She had moved in with Renu and Bhaskar at the insistence of Bhaskar who would not let her buy a flat nearby. “ We will give you your space and shall not meddle with your schedules, Mamma, “ he had said firmly but with concern. “ But please don’t think of living alone.” Anupama wondered what Renu and Bhaskar were doing. They were in touring Europe on business and were too busy to call often, though Renu kept sending her emails half a dozen times a day. Aupama was a bit annoyed that Renu kept asking how her kids and her mother- in- law were rather than ask how her own mother was coping with the situation. But then again, Renu had been like that since childhood. She, Anupama, had ensured that she had raised a well disciplined, independent girl who would not cling to her and make a nuisance of herself. Malathi and the kids had disappeared from the garden and it was quiet once again. With a sigh Anupama got back to her work table and started kneading the clay. She wished she could knead and remould Malathi into a more appealing personality. She could do with some makeover, she told herself. She wondered what Malathi was upto. The silence from the garden was intrusive. With an impatient sigh Anupama banged the mass of clay and washed up. She went out of the room that served as her studio in search of her grandchildren and their other grandma. Renu and Bhaskar had done well for themselves. After a decade and a half abroad, they had succumbed to reverse brain-drain and got back to their roots, though it had initially bewildered Anupama. Why anyone would want to sell a 5 bedroom house and cars and a career in the US, the land of dreams, to take up jobs in India was beyond her comprehension. She had tried to dissuade Renu but her daughter had been quite adamant. They had earned enough, she had said and she wanted a more stable life for her kids, one among uncles, aunts and cousins rather than the solitary existence she herself had led in her childhood. They had invested in a sprawling bungalow in the outskirts of the city, inside a building project of a major construction company. Bhaskar’s uncles and aunts all lived in the city so there were a lot of comings and goings. Renu seemed quite at ease with all her desi in- laws. Muted laughter was coming out of the kids’ room and Anupama peeked through the half open door. Malathi was blowing soap bubbles into the air through a pipe made of the stalk of papaya leaf and Ankush and Ankitha were jumping up and down their bed trying to catch them. The bed was a total mess and soap water stains were everywhere- on the floor, carpet and the furniture. Annoyed by the mess and irked by the boisterous fun they seemed to be having, Anupama strode into the room and took the pipe from Malathi. “ Malathi! What a dangerous game to play indoors!” She tried her best to keep annoyance from her voice. “Look at the room…It is a mess! Now, Ankush…Ankitha…pick up the pillows and put them where they should be. Get down from the bed… you are supposed to sleep on it not jump all over it.” “I’ll clean up, Anuji,” said Malathi. She did not in the least look guilty at being caught behaving like a kid. Serenely she told the kids to go to the kitchen and wait there for her. When they left, she said to Anupama, “ I am sorry if we disturbed you. It is just that the kids said they missed their parents…so I thought I’d divert their attention. I’ll clean this up.” She started picking things up off the floor and restoring order in the room. Anupama continued to be irritated by her daughter’s mother in law. The kids always hung around her. One way, that was a solace as she did not know how to handle them. She couldn’t tell them stories or mess up her clothes to please them. That just was not her forte. She hadn’t done that to Renu and she sure was not going to do that for Renu’s hyper kids. But later as she went to the kitchen to take out her lunch from the fridge, she overheard Ankitha , “ Daadi… your parathas are awesome! I give you ten out of ten for it…” “And for my raita?” asked Malathi laughingly. “ Hmmm… a 7 out of 10,” said the little girl. “ I give you 8 out of 10 for the soap bubble game,” said Ankush. “Only 8?” said Malathy with a smile. “I thought you enjoyed it.” “Yeah… but Naani came and spoilt it, no? And I burst only 14 bubbles…” said Ankush. “ I give Naani 3 out of 10 …” started Ankitha and immediately was shushed by Malathi. “ Shhh! You are not supposed to rate people…only activities,” said Malathi . “ That’s our game… no rating people. Now, be quick and eat your lunch. If you lunch fast and take a nap I’ll take you to the park in the evening.” Yaaaaay! Cried the two kids and started eating with gusto. Walking back with her bowl of sprouted bean salad, Anupama felt a little discomfited. But before she could analyze her feelings, her mobile rang. It was her friend Mrs. Parekh about the Charity Bazaar they were going to host. She had more important things to do than worry about ratings of children’s games. But obviously the ridiculous game continued and could hear childish trebles shouting their ratings for everything from French toasts to newly stitched silk lehangas and kurtas… Malathi and the kids seemed to be happily oblivious to the absence of Renu and Bhaskar and annoyingly enough, oblivious to the presence of Anupama. They never got in her way and were very politically correct in their behavior whenever their Naani was around. But Anupama couldn’t help a twinge of jealousy when she heard the giggles and laughter shared by the two children and their Daadi. “ When will this woman leave and let peace reign in my house again?” She thought. “ This is not just your house, Anupama,” reprimanded her conscience. “ It is also Malathi’s… In fact, she has more right to this place than you… it is her son’s house.” “Oh…shut up!” she hissed at her suddenly alert conscience. Silence was being intrusive again… intrusive and loud. She suddenly felt lonely. She missed Dev, her husband and longed for company. Where was Malathi? Maybe she was with the children. She walked towards the children’s bedroom. The door was half open. The kids were tucked up and Malathi was reading a story book to them. Surprisingly she was comfortable, if a little regional, with English. “…… And they lived happily ever after!” said Malathi closing the book. “ Now be good children and go to sleep. We’ll have great fun tomorrow. “ “ Daadi, will you stay here till I fall asleep?” said Ankush. “I am scared.” “ Of course, darling, I will.” Said Malathi and hugged her little grandson and kissed him on top of his tousled head. Anupama frowned in disapproval. She had never given in to Renu’s demands like that. One had to be firm with kids. “Daadi if you let me rate people I will give you 10 out of 10,” said a sleepy Ankush. “And I’ll give Naani 2 out of 10… that too ‘cos I am being good,” said Ankitha. “That’s not very nice, Ankitha,” said Malathi but a shell-shocked Anupama could detect a faint smile in her voice. “ She is not nice, Daadi,” said the little girl in her call a spade a spade voice. “ She never smiles or laughs…she scares me.” “ I wish she’d go away and you come to live with us forever and ever, Daadi,” said Ankush. “Ssshhhh! You should not speak like that about your Naaniji like that. She loves you so much. She buys such expensive toys and clothes for you,” said Malathy. “ But she never hugs us or cuddles us like you do. She never plays with us.” cried Ankith. “And I don’t like to hug her,” said a forthright Ankitha, “ She pokes me with her bones when I hug her… I like hugging you more..” Malathi laughed aloud. “Come on now…close your eyes and go to sleep. I’ll be here till you sleep.” She got up to switch the lights off. Anupama moved away from the door quickly but not before her shadow was seen by Malathi. She was sitting mortified in the drawing room, when she felt Malathi’s hand on her shoulder. “Please don’t take their words to your heart,” Malathi said in a kind tone. “ They are just kids and impulsive. They don’t mean it.” “Oh yes…they do. They dislike me. They never come near me. They have pushed me out of their lives… just like their mother, my own daughter.” Anupama ‘s bitterness broke free of the veneer of indifference she had always donned. “ Now what do you have against your own daughter?” asked Malathi genuinely puzzled. “ Oh.. you don’t know? She looks upon you as a mother. I am just a relative to her. She telephones you every alternate day. She sends me smses. Even if she talks to me she reports to me what she has done there. To you she speaks – about her children.. about home…” “May be you need to show more interest in them,” said Malathi quietly. “Family is more important than the society, Anuji. Look, I am not finding fault with you. I understand you have had a tough time after Dev Bhayya passed away. But you have shown immense courage. You have collected the broken pieces of your life and glued it well together. Only, I feel, you need to show your daughter and her kids that you care for them too. That the little things in their lives are of importance to you… as important as a charity fundraiser or a club members’ get together. It shouldn’t matter to you if the kids make some toys out of your clay… after all it is but clay. Relationships are as fragile as unbaked clay. You have to shape them properly in your heart and bake in the kiln of love. Think about it, Anupamaji… You are far more intelligent than me. Malathi walked quietly away… leaving Anupama to ponder about and realign her attitude. ************************************ Malathi, Ankush and Ankitha returned from the temple. As they entered the drawing room, a heavenly smell invited them to the kitchen. Rushing there, they were stunned by a very rare spectacle! Tins of flour, dried fruits and sugar lay open on the table. The smell of freshly baked cakes was wafting in the air. Recipe books lay open. Anupama was kneading a dough covered in flour. “Naanijeee! What a nice smell!” yelled Ankush as he ran towards the fresh out of the oven, cake. “Wait, you scamp. Let me slice it for you,” said a visibly happy Anupama. As she cut big wedges of cakes and plated them for her grandchildren, her eyes met those of Malathi who gave her a ‘thumbs up’ sign. Young Ankush and Ankitha gulped down the cake and as she watched, they both ran to Anupama and hugged her around her waist. “Thank you, Naani… you make the bestest cake in the whole world,” Said Ankush rubbing his face on her apron and leaving stains of chocolate cake on it. He was even more delighted when his Naani bent down and hugged him close. “ Will you both help me cut the cookies into shapes? I have these animal shaped cookie cutters…” The kids screamed with delight and set about baking cookies with their newly found Naani. Malathi sighed with contentment. Ever since she had come to her son’s house she had sensed Anupama’s displeasure. It was like a cold war between the Daadi and the Naani. The war was now over and nobody had lost. In fact, both had won… ***************************************************************************** DISCLAIMER: The idea behind this story is not mine. It belongs to a British short story writer. This story is based on hers. I have borrowed the ‘concept of Rating’ and the ‘Reason for the two ladies to be together’ from her. The language, the situations and the dialogues are entirely mine. Still the credit for the novelty of the theme goes to her.