OM’s Birthday: Damyanti Biswas
The trees on the distant hillside changed from dark shapes to green as he watched, a morning ritual for the last few years. He coughed, inhaling bitter, fragrant smoke, the air of the Himalayan foothills no match for the dozen or so cigarettes and the occasional cigar he smoked every day. His gaze stayed on the hill opposite, where mist rose around tiny homes nestled amid trees.
Somewhere under the sloped bright-red roof of the sprawling bungalow perched on that hill, he imagined her already awake, going through the hundred yoga poses she taught the rich and famous, who paid fabulous sums to spend time at her retreat.
He should really head over to the kitchen, check on the staff, make sure everything was in place for breakfast but he decided to linger a few more minutes, watch the sun rise over her bungalow and make its way to his balcony. He could smell the bread rising in the large oven— his sous chef seemed to have it all in hand.
Bread— that’s how they’d met—in a cooking class he taught long ago, his fingers nudging hers as he showed her how to handle sticky dough. He spoke to others, but he paid attention to her— impossible not to— her snub nose sniffing the bread fresh from the oven, her harsh yet endearing laughter as everyone tapped the crust and listened for the right sound, the dark blond ringlets of hair she did not bother combing through.
She stayed on when others left, giving yoga lessons first to the guests at the hotel he worked at, then moving in with him and depositing her scant possessions in his cupboard: the mats, the yoga pants, essential oils, crystals.
They never mentioned marriage, not even when his traditional Indian patents began to insist he propose to her. He wanted to, but couldn’t risk spooking her because she seemed to sit uneasily in his life, like a crane by the riverbank, ready to fly off at a moment’s notice. Don’t get too attached to anything, she said at dinners with strangers, hotel guests. Don’t get attached, period. We’re all guests upon this planet.
When Om came into their lives unannounced, he welcomed the nappy changes, the soothing of colicky wails at dawn, the gurgles, the way the baby kicked at their palms. She insisted on naming the boy—Om is the undying, constant sound of the Universe, she said.
It all felt unreal, he told her. He said it to anyone who’d listen, to the kitchen help, to his boss. This was unasked-for happiness for a chef who had newly found his feet. His parents made peace with the thought of a najayaz grandson, born out of wedlock. He was a boy, fair-skinned, pink-lipped, but also unmistakably his— that was enough for them.
Three days before his first birthday, Om left, just as he had come, without fuss.
All he’d had was a cold. Sudden Infant Death syndrome, they called it. No reason. He just stopped breathing. Happens to babies not yet one year old, the doc told them.
She left, too, though not as far. A silent meditation retreat. A call, followed by a long hike in the Himalayas. Another call, a long retreat in an ashram, somewhere above Rishikesh. Then her number was deactivated. Next he saw her was on a TV screen, instructing a bunch of young types on the correct crane pose.
She remembered what day today was. Of course she did. He would send out free cake to all the guests today, on-the-house, on Om’s birthday. He had told her, having found a way to one of her events.
He never got to eat cake, she’d said.
We can’t not celebrate his life, he’d told her, and that was that. Each anniversary of the day they’d lost Om, she went into a silent retreat, by herself, in a cave no one knew about, a secret fiercely protected by her closest disciples.
He stood up, the sun on his face now.
Walking down the stairs and to the side entrance of the hotel, he set his chef’s cap on his head.
Outwardly, it would be another, regular day, which would end in celebration with his staff and his guests, all of whom would drink to Om’s health, the boy ‘who studied in a foreign school.’
Inwardly, he would wait today as he’d waited the past years, for her to come down to his place, and eat the cake he’d baked for their son.
Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and supports Delhi’s underprivileged women and children, volunteering with organisations who work for this cause. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. She recently won The Fay Khoo Award in Penang, Malaysia.
This guest post has been written as part of my Third Blogiversay celebrations that started today. NatashaMusing turned 3 on 6 December, 2019.
I was joined by my very talented blogger friends who graced NatashaMusing on some of my favourite genres: Musings and Reflections, Photography/Art, Travel, Well-Being and Fiction.
This is the last of all the absolutely wonderful posts. I was unable to publish it due to some unforeseen circumstances. Damyanti, thank you for bearing with me, and for wrapping up the celebrations with such a powerful piece of writing,