Trishna drives through the steady downpour, sheets of rain obliterating her vision. The headlights are on even though it’s just afternoon. Seated next to her is her twelve-year-old son, and on the seat behind is her thirteen-year-old daughter. Heads bent, eyes glued to their phones. She might as well be travelling alone.
‘Bleagh! Varun, you sicko! You just farted,’ Jia yells at her brother from the backseat, glaring at him.
‘I did not,’ he retorts, turning around and flinging his packet of potato chips at her.
The silence was better, Trishna thinks, as the two of them break out into a loud fight.
‘Guys! I’m driving in the rain, okay? Just stop it,’ Trishna finally snaps. Jia snorts and rolls down her window. Varun gets a blast of chilly air and a good lashing of rain, and he turns around and yells at her to roll the windows back up.
It’s been this way from the morning, since they left Bangalore. Fifteen days ago, her mother’s house help, Chinnamma, had called to tell her that her mother had tripped on the stairs in her home and broken her neck. Her mother, who had been strong and healthy and could easily have outlived her, was dead. She hadn’t seen her in nearly two decades.
The kids had been suitably chastened on hearing that their grandmother had died. But then, they had never really known her. Trishna’s mother was just a name and a photograph to them. Shankar’s death six months ago had affected all of them, and another death in the family so soon was hard to accept, so they hadn’t been curious when Trishna hadn’t returned to Dakhara.
The truth was that Trishna hadn’t wanted to see her mother like that. In her mind, her mother would always remain the way she’d been the last time she saw her. And she hadn’t been too keen to face the townsfolk who would inevitably be there at the funeral either. But for the past couple of days, she’d been feeling increasingly restless. She was surprised to realize that it was a yearning to go back. She wanted to go back to her hometown, to the house where she’d spent a good part of her growing years. Her mother’s lawyer, Mr Devaiah, had called her too, asking her to come and speak to him regarding the property her mother had left her.
And so, nearly twenty years after she left Dakhara, she is on her way back.
‘When are we stopping for lunch?’ Varun asks her for the umpteenth time.
‘When we see a restaurant,’ Trishna replies, looking ahead stoically. The town of Dakhara, where she grew up, is still an hour away, and the chips and chocolate bars have long been eaten. She almost misses the chaos from when they were small kids because at least it meant that they’d tire themselves out and fall asleep.
‘Nani used to live alone?’ Jia asks suddenly.
Trishna sighs loudly. ‘Yes,’ she replies.
‘Why didn’t she ever visit us in Bangalore? Why didn’t we visit her here for our summer holidays?’ Varun asks.
‘Haven’t I told you both before?’ she asks.
‘Yes, yes. We know about your big fight with her. But you never met her again?’ Jia asks.
How casually Jia dismisses the event that shaped Trishna into the adult she’d become, thinks Trishna. Her mother refused to leave Dakhara. And there had been no chance she was ever going back. But how could she explain it to these two?
‘We fight all the time. Can you imagine not seeing us for so long? Can you really be so angry at someone you love for so long?’ Jia persists.
‘No. Never with the two of you. But…things between my mother and I weren’t like how they are with us,’ Trishna tries to explain. ‘I…I left home when the situation was really bad. And my mother never forgave me for that.’
‘Hmm,’ Jia muses.
Trishna looks at her for a second and then turns her focus back to the road. She wonders what’s going through the minds of these two kids.
Lush green fields pass them by outside, and the air is heavy with moisture. The rain lets up and Trishna lets her internal radar relax.
‘Are you feeling bad that you didn’t meet Nani all these years?’ Varun asks.
‘Yes,’ Trishna replies after a moment of silence. Jia is looking out of the window. Trishna wishes they’d go back to their bickering.
‘What kind of a person was Nani?’ Jia finally asks.
Cold. Distant. Trishna keeps the thought to herself, unsure of what she can tell them. She glances at the mud-spattered milestone on the side of the road. It reads Dakhara: 70 km.