Radha Will Not Cook Today

by Purabi Basu

Morning hovers on the edge of night. A cool breeze swirls gently in the dawn.
Reclining in bed, Radha breathes in the fragrance of the white and orange shefali blossoms.
Last night was unusually calm, free from the frequent quarrels with husband, mother-in-law, sister-in-law.
Her body temperature is quite normal – she has no fever. There is nothing physically wrong with her, she is not even tired.
It is not raining outside. The sky is clear. A beautiful blue.
It is neither too cold nor too warm. Radha’s only child, Sadhan, is perfectly healthy.
Husband and son are still sleeping soundly beside her.
Nevertheless, Radha suddenly decides that she will not cook today.
Radha will not cook today.

Radha calls the sun and says, ‘Do not rise yet. Today I will stay in bed for a long time.’
She has no chance to talk to the night. Night had slipped away a before Radha made up her mind.
Radha calls the birds and says, ‘Keep on singing your early morning songs. Today I want to stay in bed and listen to you sing.’
She calls the clouds and says, ‘Help the sun. Hide him in the anchal of your sari.’
She calls the shefali and says, ‘Do not shed your blossoms any more. Imagine that day has not yet broken.’
To the dew she says, ‘Keep on falling in little drops onto the grass below.’
The sun listens to Radha. For a long time he does not appear in the sky.
The clouds stretch and cover the blue sky.
The birds continue to sing ceaselessly.
The shefali blossoms cling more strongly to their stems and continue to adorn the branches.
The dew drops keep on falling and embrace the grass with their loving wetness.
Radha yawns and stretches on her bed.
Meanwhile there is commotion in the whole house. Everyone has woken up late today.
Forgetting his maths tables and his spelling, Sadhan gazes outside.
It is time for Radha’s husband, Ayan, to go to market.
It is time for Radha’s sister-in-law to go to school.
Radha’s mother-in-law has completed her morning devotions and is awaiting her first meal of the day.
But Radha is still in bed.
Radha will not cook today.
She will not cook, no, she will not cook.
Radha will not cook today.

‘What’s happened? What’s wrong?’
‘Will everyone starve today?’
‘I can’t understand what the matter is.’
Mother-in-law, sister-in-law, husband are all amazed.
Radha is unconcerned
She slowly leaves her bed.
She picks up the water pitcher from its corner and moves leisurely towards the pond.
‘Will my son go to work hungry today?’ Radha does not reply.
Her mother-in-law is angry. ‘I’m asking you, where did you learn to be so high and mighty? What is the matter?’
Radha does not reply. Her husband is perplexed.
‘Sister-in-law, it is time for me to go to school.’
Radha does not reply. Her sister-in-law is sad and surprised.
Radha sits down quietly by the pond and dips her feet in the water. Behind her there is commotion. With her loud wails, mother-in-law has gathered people around her. Radha is unconcerned. She sits gazing at the water.
The small fishes – puti, bojuri, kholsa, kajali – come in shoals amid gather at Radha’s feet.
‘Go away, leave me now. I haven’t brought any food for you today.’
But the fishes continue to turn joyous somersaults. Radha’s presence is enough. They want nothing else.
Radha looks up at the sky. The sun laughs down at her.
‘Are you angry?’ the sun asks.
‘Why couldn’t you wait a little longer?’ Radha asks, hurt and angry.
‘If you look at the fields, you will realize what would happen if I delayed any longer.’
From where she sits by the pond, Radha glances at the wilted fields. Radha is worried. ‘Will they survive?’
‘Just smile, and all of them will come back to life.’
Radha stands up. Twirling around, she laughs and laughs. She stretches out her arms.
Radha laughs. And laughs. And laughs.
The grain stalks seem suddenly to rouse up from sleep. They give themselves a little shake and stand up tall.
Suddenly Radha finds her husband shaking her by the shoulders.
Her mother-in-law is glowering with rage and cursing her bitterly.
Her sister-in-law stands weeping in dismay.
But Radha is still laughing. Laughing. Laughing. Radha is still laughing.
The wind rustles through the leaves in tune with Radha.
The water of the pond ripples delightedly in laughter.
The birds chirp melodiously in unison.
The fishes dance and float and dive.
The flowers softly nod their heads in harmony with the leaves.
Radha laughs. And laughs. And laughs.

Her angry husband shatters the empty rice pot and leaves for the market hungry.
Her mother-in-law continues to wail and curse at the top of her voice.
Her sister-in-law steals in gentle steps to a neighbour’s house.
Her son Sadhan comes slowly to the pond and stands beside Radha.
But Radha will not cook.
She will not cook, no, she will not cook.
Radha will not cook today.
Radha turns her head slightly.
For a moment she wavers. Then, she steels herself.
Radha sits down on the ground. Then she gets up immediately. She is aware that she is not ill. She realizes for a moment that the most normal things in life can make one ill. So she is not afraid.
‘Mother, I am hungry.’
:The cry is repeated, as if from far away. Mother, I am very hungry.’
There is turmoil in Radha’s heart. The smooth sea is suddenly racked by a storm. Holding her son close to her, Radha continues to gaze at the water.
Then she looks up at the sky. Up at the sun.
She looks at the trees, at the birds, at the flowers, at the leaves.

Radha looks longingly at everything around her.
A small crow comes from nowhere and, plucking a small ripe papaya, casts it into Radha’s lap. Picking it up with both hands, Radha peels it and feeds her son. Sadhan’s hunger is not assuaged.
Radha calls the kingfisher and says, ‘Bring me the lotus pod from that lotus cluster in the middle of the pond.’
The pod is huge – it is sufficient to satisfy any hunger. But Radha’s son eats only a little of it.
‘Mother, I am very hungry. Aren’t you going to cook?
Sadhan is just four years old. He feels very hungry. How is a small fruit going to satisfy that hunger?
Mother, aren’t you going to cook?’
Her heart wants to burst. She almost succumbs.
Still, somehow, Radha manages to say, ‘No.’
Radha will not cook.
She will not cook, no, she will not cook.
Radha will not cook today.
Clasping Sadhan to her breast, Radha walks to the orchard. Sitting cross-legged on the grass, she lays Sadhan in her lap. Then she looks carefully around her. There is no one anywhere near. The leaves of the star apple and jackfruit trees move gently in the breeze amid create a soft canopy for Radha. Radha gently uncovers her breasts. Her firm, well-rounded breasts gleam in the light of the sun, under the open sky. Radha lifts her left breast and pushes the nipple into her son’s mouth. With her right hand she caresses Sadhan’s head, his hair, his forehead, his eyes. For a few moments, Sadhan is bewildered at this unusual occurrence. Then slowly, very slowly, he sucks at the budding nipple of his mother’s breast. At first he sucks gently, then he starts sucking harder, till he finally tries to suck with all his strength this nectar from his mother’s body.

Radha is pensive. Radha is eager. But nothing happens. What is she to do now? Straightening her backbone, stretching both her legs in front of her, Radha seats herself more comfortably. She glances once all around her. She clenches her teeth, she bites her lips. She is asking for something, praying for something. And just then it happens. Cascading like a waterfall, overflowing both sides like a swollen river that floods its banks, causing her whole body to tremble violently, something bursts forth from Radha’s breasts.
Radha looks at her son’s face.
Sadhan bubbles with laughter.
From the sides of his active mouth the white milk foams in little drops to the ground.
Radha laughs.
Sadhan laughs.
The cloud conies and covers the face of the sun.
The shalik bird rests on one leg. A cool breeze swirls gently.
Radha laughs.
Sadhan laughs.
Radha has decided that she will not cook today.
She will not cook, no, she will not cook.
Radha will not cook today.
Translated by Niaz Zaman and Shafi Ahmed
‘Radha Will Not Cook Today’ is anthologized in Infinite Variety (UPL)

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