Guest Column

Salute To Chitranani And Her Feisty Spirit

Published by
Anwesha M Pautsch

Ma told me about Chitranani’s passing the other day and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. 

Chitranani was our house help for a few years starting in late 2004 when we moved into our then new apartment in Bhubaneswar. Ma told me she vividly remembers how one morning she answered the door and there Chitranani was, standing with her little boy, Kanha, who was around 6-7 years old. She had shown up because she knew we had just moved into the sparsely occupied apartment complex and would probably be on the lookout for someone to help with chores in the house. She had told Ma that she was sending her son to an English-medium school and she needed more income to help with her son’s tuition. She worked in a few other households in the complex to raise that extra money. I was not aware of this until I heard of her tragic and extremely untimely demise. She passed away on November 22, 2021. She was 41. 

She was a petite, young woman with beautiful long, black hair always worn in a neat bun that sat at the nape of her neck. She was around 27 years of age then, a single mom with a little boy who always accompanied her on weekends and school holidays as she did her rounds in each house. I was vaguely aware then that her husband had left the family, leaving mother and son to fend for themselves. I never asked her anything about it and she never brought it up either. She flitted about the apartment gracefully as she cleaned and stacked the utensils in the sink, took a broom to sweep the house, and once every few days went with a washcloth and a bucket to mop the floors. 

Her son would sit in the living room with his book bag by his side keenly watching the cartoons on TV so that his mom could work without any distractions. I remember his sweet and mischievous little face very clearly. I would sometimes interact with him and realise he did not mind being ferried across various houses on a Sunday when most children enjoy a day of languor and the luxury of staying safely ensconced in their own homes. He did not have a choice. His mom did not have a choice. It was just her and him and perhaps this realisation was all that was needed for them to keep going. I had never seen Chitranani sad or lament about the cards she got dealt with in her life. That did not mean she was bereft of emotions. She just never showed them in front of an audience. Besides keeping up with the house, she also indulged my requests for tea when I made them. She was always a quiet and sweet presence. After her day was done, one could often see mother and son holding hands walking away from the apartment complex. 

Then I left home in 2005 for a job first and then later on for my studies in America. I returned in 2009 for a brief period and she was still working in our house. Still the same small-framed, petite woman with her beautiful hair neatly tucked. Ma and Daddy informed me that she had picked up work in quite a few houses in the years I had been gone and occasionally played truant from her duties at our place. I did not understand things from her perspective then but I do now and I wonder if on those days she just felt overwhelmed from the constant need to keep going despite it all. Who hasn’t wanted to at times just escape the constant cycle of drudgery? 

My parents informed me that their friend, Paul, who lived in Canada and visited Odisha every year for his literary pursuits, had come in contact with Chitranani and decided to sponsor her son’s education until he finished school. It was an immensely benevolent act that must have helped take some of the burden off her chest. Ma said she saved every single bit of that money for her son. In the ensuing years, I lost track of her after she eventually stopped working for us. But Ma said she occasionally ran into her in the complex and that she had also branched out into the street-side food stall business.

Ma told me how on a sudden sighting of Chitranani in 2018 she had been shocked to find her beautiful, long hair gone. It had been replaced by a bald head covered with a scarf. I remembered Ma told me how Chitranani loved her hair and had always been meticulous about taking good care of it. She informed Ma that they had detected some form of cancer and she was undergoing chemotherapy. Her son had been taking her on all her clinic and hospital visits, in an ironic reversal of roles from years ago. Her estranged husband had also come back to assist her at this point of her life. Ma ran into her again in September of this year and apparently she was awaiting a blood test result, after which she would come by to see her in November and possibly cook in our house. 

Ma was waiting to hear from her but that day never came. A neighbour informed her of Chitranani’s passing. She was gone. A brave and courageous single mother who had probably never had it easy, forever hustling, and taking life by the horns. Just so her son could have a decent shot at a good life. Something like this shatters my ability to make any sense of life. Why isn’t there a cosmic balance sheet of how much one has already endured so as not to top it off with more suffering? It’s unjust, unfair and was exactly in line with what Chitranani would have calmly, unquestioningly considered yet another day in her life. I salute her and her brand of quiet resolve, fierce mothering, and the great fight she put up all along. She was not just another face in the crowd. Kanha’s loss is irreparable, I know, but I earnestly hope that he has been imbued with his loving mother’s feisty spirit. 

Anwesha M Pautsch

Works as a Registered Nurse at UNC Rex, North Carolina, USA)

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