Coffee, memories and a delicate relation called Ma in law 

It’s been raining cats and dogs since last night. Only two days have passed that we have returned to Kolkata. After holidaying for close to two months in my hometown, amidst fun and chatter with my joint family members, the emptiness of this flat was haunting for Gogol. It was evident that he was struggling to cope up with the new environment. I had quite a rough night,kept up by the continuous downpour and the intermittent waking up of the toddler.

Yet the rain soaked morning looked beautiful. I woke up to the smell of moist soil, sound of continued drizzling and breeze whistling. All that was needed to make it perfect was a cup of freshly brewed strong coffee. I love my coffee the sugary-milky way. The new bottle of unopened Nescafe was lying in the top cabinet of my kitchen. Time for it to make it’s presence felt. That aroma of coffee beans has always been enough to get me through the day.  Strangely I realized that it also reminded me of my mother in law.

Growing up, coffee was considered a luxury in middle class families,an item worth purchase only when winter finally arrived. The tropical weather and bengali household shaped me into a obsessive tea drinker. But my heart was always sold out to Nescafe. During winter break, most of my lazy afternoons were spent sipping coffee on the quilt laid out on the scrubbed portico floor. I would eagerly wait for the clock to strike 4 pm. That’s when Ma would go to the kitchen to boil the milk. I would hover around to have her call me to add coffee powder and sugar to the piping hot glass of milk. Long back, I had swapped the option of drinking from a cup with that of my really tall glass. Coffee glass in hand, I would rush back to the verandah in a desperate attempt to finish the last purchased book before sunset. Most of the times, it would be a book by Satyajit Ray or Sunil Gangopadhyay. I was in love with my Feluda and Kakababu/Santu.

Coffee has always been a hostelites savior. The sleepless nights of writing chemistry practical books, preparing for exams, working on projects and assignments – spectrum ranging from graduation to management days, cities varying from Kolkata to Delhi to Bangalore had one process in common – boil water, add milk powder, sugar and coffee. And we were good to go,whatever be the problem. Quite a number of times, hunger pangs at unearthly hours and parties thrown out of the blue were skilfully tackled by the deadly combo of Maggie and coffee. Running out of coffee powder close to curfew time was nothing short of emergency for a hostelite. Anyone willing to share their coffee supply in such a crisis scenario was categorized as a bestie forever.

The winter of 2015 found me spending a considerable amount of time at my in laws place in Berhampore. Gogol was just one and a half months old, my youngest sister in law was getting married and I was weighing on the options of going back to work post maternity leave or quitting. At the risk of stereotyping, most of the the joint family set ups leave very little scope for individual likings and choices. The norms are laid out in black and white. Opinion acceptable by majority counts and gradually one gets used to adjusting to everyone else’s wishes quite a lot of the time. At my in laws, everyone loved tea-summer or winter. Most of the family members preferred raw tea and milk tea was an option catered to only when specified by an individual. Having grown up in a nuclear set up, I was used to having my way around. Having stayed away from home half of my life, I had developed strong preferences. I hated raw tea and  didn’t budge from my demand of milk tea. My mother in law, who I call Ma by virtue of my marriage to her son, without any fuss whatsoever tweaked the age old ongoings of the kitchen. Milk tea was prepared for me at all tea breaks eventhough it meant additional work for her.

It was getting cold and I had started missing my coffee. Nobody drank coffee in the house or so I believed. My husband, by then had become more of a let’s hope healthy, let’s drink green tea sort of an individual. Nurturing the rebel within, I purchased few pouches of Netscape and some milk powder sachets too. Surprisingly, no one seemed to have a problem with my caffeine obsession. The hurdle laid in my mind, in my pre conceived notions. The last teatime at 7pm saw everyone drinking raw tea and I would be boiling water to make my watery-sugary coffee. Very soon, having figured out my preference for coffee the milky-way, my Ma in law altered the volume of milk purchased. I was having my sugary – milky coffee just like I used to drink at home. All thanks to her, my in laws house was becoming home for me. In few days, I started asking her to share a cup of coffee with me. Sometimes she would smile and tell me to make an extra cup for my father in law. She was happy with her raw tea. I was developing the impression that she wasn’t fond of caffeine. On one of the biting cold evenings in January 2016, she coyly asked me to count her in for coffee. I had stopped asking her by then. She asked for it the next day too, blaming it on the freezing cold weather. Few days later, no questions were asked. The evening ritual meant making three cups of coffee, occasionally four if the husband was around and willing to give company. Drinking it together discussing the by gone days were my sessions of bonding with Ma and Bapi.

Summer started after two months and as always, coffee was kept off limits until winter again. It was also time to move back to Kolkata. The December of 2016- during one of our telephonic conversations, she casually mentioned how much she missed having me around, drinking coffee with her. Without me there, there wasn’t any coffee enthusiast buying, preparing or nudging her to drink coffee. It took me a while to figure out that she actually liked  coffee and loved me. Married in a joint family, being the first daughter in law of her generation,catering to the responsibilities of huge household, she had been accustomed to give up her happiness, her choice, her likes for the sake of her family. Not that she ever regretted it or complained about it. But she was also determined not to let her daughter in law forget her preferences. In her own way, she did all that she could to make it easy for me. In the process of rediscovering her love for coffee together, I had discovered my first friend in the house.

This winter, I have a lot of plans for and with her. I intend to introduce her to some  new varieties of coffee delights, take her to a new place for a mini vacation, watch a bengali movie with her in a multiplex that she keeps talking about. I’m going to spend a little more time with her to soak up her experiences, know her better and help her figure out her likes and dislikes. As I sip my coffee, I see my son emulating the role play of drinking coffee at a distance. I smile at him thinking about the unspoken subtle bond between his Dinna and me. There’s love, there’s respect, there’s the eventual, inevitable future of handing over responsibilities but the strongest feeling is that of having each other’s back as aides for individual  survival in this journey of holding the family together. She’s my shield, my savior, my friend – just that I call her Ma. She’s my darling mother in law.

Author: Sonia Chatterjee

Who am I? An erstwhile banker turned blogger/writer/author. Any qualifications? A Post-Graduate degree in Chemistry followed by a second Post-Graduate Diploma in Management. I completed a one-year MFA in creative writing course from the Writer's Village University, U.S. in Dec 2020. Though I must admit that I am still trying to figure out how and when I can connect all these dots. Have I done any real work? If two years in market research, six years in banking as a branch head, three-plus years of blogging, writing, and publishing a book can be considered as real work, then yes! Where do I live? After spending life like a nomad for sixteen years in Delhi, Bangalore & Mysore, I am back to where it all started from - Kolkata. My favorite things - Books, coffee, travel, food, and my five-year-old son. What is this blog about? Through Sonia's musings, I intend to explore writing in various genres, create social awareness, spread laughter, and give words to emotions. Anything for readers? You can check out my book 'Deal of Death' on Amazon Kindle. If you like fast-paced thrillers, this Detective fiction introducing the woman sleuth, Raya Ray could turn out to be your perfect weekend read.

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