SHORT STORY: Fat Polish Mama

With 80-year-olds seeking divorce, a drama unfolds in the court... But, what you see is not what you get in this story by Nikhil D Hegde

Fat Polish Mama

You can call me Fat Polish Mama. Everyone does.” Her voice boomed strong for an 80-year-old, reverberating around the courtroom. Nothing else seemed to matter when she spoke.

“No Ma’am,” replied the judge, politely. “This being a formal hearing, we shall observe certain courtesies. You are Mrs Glenda Dharmadhikari of 3rd Adda Raste, Varada Crossing, Chikkamangala. And the court shall address you thus.”

“Suit yourself,” she said. There was a tiny second when the judge opened his mouth to continue, but Fat Polish Mama was not finished.

“Though I never ever got half that courtesy from Bumblebee over here,” she continued. “He calls me Mama too! Can you believe it, Dameon? My own husband, and he calls me Mama!”

Bumblebee was standing at the other end of the courtroom, his face now flushed red.

“That’s enough!” The judge brought his gavel down twice. “You may speak when asked to do so; not before, not otherwise.”

Garuda gulped nervously. Jaynarayan watched as his boss pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed his forehead.

Leaning over, Garuda whispered, “Who’s Dameon??!”

He didn’t know either. Luckily, it seemed the judge missed it as he now addressed their counterpart.

“You were saying…?” The judge asked the plaintiff advocate.

“Yes, your Honour,” Rajanna stepped in, “my client is known to the town as kind and benevolent. This woman here has exploited his nature.” He gestured towards Mama as he walked over from behind his desk. “Perhaps it is the arrogance of her heritage. She thinks being half Polish gives her a superior edge over the rest. She chides her husband repeatedly, calling him names and insulting him. What part of this man looks like a bumblebee, My Lord?”

“You’ve aint seen what I’ve seen,” Fat Mama shot at him, “he floats, and he buzzes! And then floats some more… that’s Bumblebee, boy!”

“My name is…”

“And there is not a single hair on him… bald as a bee too!”

“I…,” Rajanna looked from one person to another, but he wasn’t given much time as Fat Mama went on.

“Last time he came home stoned, he couldn’t tell the right pyjama leg from the left. I tripped on the spare leg you know! I ask you, boy, is that safe for a lady with my bones? What say you, Dameon?” She looked at the judge inquiringly.

“I am not Dameon!” He banged the gavel twice again. “I AM THE JUDGE HERE! The defendant team is advised to ensure appropriate conduct in court!”

The break couldn’t arrive any sooner for Garuda. The room they sat in wasn’t the most comfortable but the rickety old fan was a big plus when Jaynarayan selected it earlier in the morning. He had to call in a favour to get this one. The Sessions court was a busy place in their small town in the heart of Karnataka. It was the peak of summer in May and a great number of absurd and frivolous cases, which otherwise lay in dusty piles, found revival as there was little better to do for the judges. Of course, they didn’t just do the absurd ones. There was always the odd case that perked up ears all over town and this was one of them.

Some still called her ‘the white woman’, but Fat Mama was only part-foreign; not only was her mother Indian, but she was also known to be fluent in many regional languages. She had resided in Chikkamangala for a good 15 years, ever since she moved down from Calcutta. All adored the boisterous old woman who barked her way through everything.

“Why do you keep calling him Dameon?” Garuda asked her at the first chance.

“Why, he looks like my brother Dameon, doesn’t he now? Of course, my brother died but it feels so good to say the name aloud again!” And with that, she patted Garuda on the back and excused herself.

“This is getting out of hand!” He told Jaynarayan once they were alone. His boss seemed exasperated. They had to check the scripts all over again, he said. They simply had to.

His employer Garuda’s firm had taken up Fat Polish Mama’s divorce case and Jaynarayan was an integral part of it. Indeed he had convinced the boss to take it up in the first place.

“What 80-year-olds want to go for a divorce,” Garuda had wondered. Besides, Mama was not the best client to have and Jaynarayan had to admit that after the second hearing at the court this afternoon. Everything they asked her to say, she countered. Anything they asked her to avoid bringing up, she agreed, only to say it loud and clear in front of the judge!

But Fat Mama had approached Jaynarayan herself, and the diligent lawyer promptly went to her town to do his homework. One thing became clear as the summer blue sky after his visit. Everyone loved Mama! Well, at least the children would tell him that. The woman was no less boisterous around town, yelling for the whole neighbourhood to hear. Talking to Mama scared people out of their wits. Never did she care what people thought of her. But all that was for the best, said the kids in the area.

Fat Polish Mama’s house is our house.

And that house was a modest quarters in one of several two-storied buildings on either side of a narrow lane. Mama could be seen outside early morning, drying clothes in her balcony. Children waved at her and she beckoned them in with a thick fat hand. They would spend good time with her playing, chatting and complaining about their elders. What they loved most though, was the security. For no parent dared to come and tell off Mama.

By the time he spoke to the matured and the sensible, Jaynarayan knew what to expect. They only brought a smile to his lean, taut face.

It was nearing lunchtime when he climbed the steps to her apartment. I should tell her I didn’t mean to come at this hour, he thought. Jaynarayan knew the lady lived alone and decided it was inappropriate to stay back for lunch. He knocked at the door once, then again after a minute.

“Push,” the voice cracked through the silence. He pushed, but it didn’t budge, so he gave it a firm shove.

Although short for her built, Fat Mama still had a good stride. Yet she walked towards him rather slowly now, stopping around four feet away.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded suspiciously.

“I…,” he fumbled for words, not anticipating this reception.

“Garuda is here too, is he?” They were all on first-name terms to her.

“Oh no, no… it’s just me. I just came by to say hello,” he blurted out.

Fat Polish Mama continued to stare, her large spectacles adding to her big frame.

Jaynarayan was rooted to the spot until her laughter literally shook him. She guffawed, pointing a finger at his face.

“Oh Jaya, I was only pulling your leg. Common in now, will you?” She held his left arm and pulled him in.

Mama showed him around the house. Jaynarayan saw that there was minimal furniture, a few souvenirs from her days in Calcutta, and lots of decoration on the walls done by the local children she often hosted.

Ten minutes later, Fat Polish Mama seated him at the table as she went in and brought out lunch. The young advocate had not forgotten to apologise, but that was about as relevant now as discussing life outside planet earth. The food was there and he was to eat with her. She had a way of making the unspoken quite clear.

***

“Where is our client, Jaya?” Garuda peered through their office window on the second floor the following day.

“Must be around, it’s unlike her to be late.”

“We’d better brief her well this time. We can’t afford a repeat of yesterday!”

The next session began an hour later, with Rajanna explaining what he called an ideal marriage. It was a fine speech that detailed the dos and don’ts. It was also rather dull. So Fat Mama butted in halfway:

“And you know better, is it? How many years have you been married, oldie?”

The court burst out laughing. Garuda was appalled and the bemused judge seemed to suppress a smile. Many might refer to Rajanna as an oldie, but he could only be as old as Mama, if not younger.

The advocate ignored her and went on to finish.

Very soon, it was Bumblebee aka Mr Dharmadhikari’s turn to speak. The tall, lanky man began nervously.

“Your Honour, all I do is sit with some buddies with a few pints after a week’s hard work. And she lets all hell loose, does Mama. She scares them off as well… no one dares to come home now! I have no company except her. Do you know what that’s like?”

He went on in his squeaky, low voice, trying to recall what he’d rehearsed.

“She fights with my mother too… pushed her into the mud once. Her face was covered in muck!”

Mama shrugged, raising both her hands. “She’s a funny woman – she said something about her husband, we both laughed and I patted her on the back. That’s all it was - just a pat! She lost her balance.”

“You know how weak she is…”

“Weak?? Naaah… she had the fattest bottom I have ever seen!”

The courtroom split into laughter. The judge was onto his gavel in a jiffy. Garuda stole a quick glance at Jaynarayan before his gaze dissolved into some notes on the long table.

When it died down, Fat Mama went on, “You couldn’t push that woman if you tried. She has stronger legs than the pigeon-footed sticks you carry around all day. My Mom-in-law always knew where she stood. She prayed to the ground before she stepped on it. Inside or outside the house, it was always the same. And I respected her, Your Lordship. I respected that lady immensely.”

***

Fat Polish Mama
Fat Polish Mama

The decision was decreed to be a closed-door affair with only the concerned parties in attendance. And so it was that they all looked forward to Thursday, the anointed day of judgment. This was not before the judge made his displeasure clear about Mama interrupting proceedings with her ruckus and that he would really appreciate having more civility on their final appearance. As neither her husband nor her advocates could guarantee such conduct, it was agreed that asking her to skip was in everyone’s interest. Jaynarayan obliged to convey the message. Mama took it well. “That’s very good. I have somewhere else to be on Thursday, Jaya.” She patted him on the shoulder. “You handle it!”

The d-day arrived and they assembled at 10 am sharp in the office of the judge.

“As you all know,” began the clerk, “we have gathered to finalise judgment on the divorce of Mr and Mrs Dharmadhikari on this day, the 21st of May, 2019. The court records the absence of defendant Mrs Glenda Dharmadhikari who is indisposed, and recognises advocates Mr Garuda Jayant Cariappa and Mr Jaynarayan to be present on her behalf.”

The clerk was probably finished but nobody could affirm that for the judge cut him off right then.

“Let’s get straight to business. What is it that you would like to retain Mr Dharmadhikari?”

“All I ask, your Honour, is that I be allowed to keep what my parents have left me. They are no more and they wouldn’t like to see me part with their little things.”

“By little things, you mean their assets, I presume?”

“Yes, your Honour,” said Rajanna. “Specifically, that includes a house, a few antiques and relics, an old Ambassador car, and...”

The senior advocate for Bumblebee walked over and whispered to the judge, helping him turn a few pages in the document.

“Everything else you have from Calcutta…”

“That she can have, your Honour.” Bumblebee looked on, his eyes wide and hopeful.

“Mr Garuda, I take it there is a substantial interest of your client in Calcutta?”

“Yes, your Honour,” Garuda stood up, “she wishes to retain the house in Alipore Road, and all its belongings.”

“And there is a joint bank account and a provident fund in the name of the plaintiff.” The Judge turned to Mr Dharmadhikari. “Do you raise any claim to the said accounts?”

“No, Sir.”

“That would be most suitable then,” said the Judge. “I bequeath those to the defendant as well.”

And the rest of the formalities proceeded quite smoothly to the satisfaction of all present.

As they were leaving the hall, the judge quietly asked Jayanarayan and Garuda. “So, is Fat Mama leaving town? Destination Calcutta it appears?”

“Actually no, your Honour,” replied Jaynarayan, “she only wishes to pass on the house to her children.”

“A son and a daughter, I’ve heard.”

“That’s correct. Though I doubt they’ll move back to Calcutta either. Both are settled outside the country.”

“Well… children these days,” lamented the judge with a shake of the head, “the least they could’ve done was attend the divorce of their parents!”

***

Jaynarayan had delivered the news on the phone. When he reached her place though, a young man stood near the edge of the doorway of Fat Mama’s apartment. A visibly younger woman was pushing the sofa in its right place behind him. Both looked up as he arrived.

“Hello,” he smiled at them, “my name…”

“We know who you are,” said the woman. Somewhere outside, a sparrow perched itself on a tree and began calling out aloud. The woman smiled slightly and invited him in.

The siblings had Mama’s high cheekbones and her nose perhaps, but he couldn’t place the rest of them.

“Please… sit.” The son, Samarth, was clearly a man of few words.

“Mama has gone out. She’ll return in the evening,” her daughter Mishika informed him. “Not to worry, I only needed to deliver these documents. I will explain what she needs to do.”

When he refused tea, Mishika poured him some water. The siblings sat down to listen as he brought them up to speed with the legal work that was done so far.

“Aah… is that it?” The son asked.

“Yes, yes, that will be all. Kindly ask her to sign here at the bottom,” Jaynarayan pointed on the page.

“I must get going,” he stood up suddenly, “I have a flight to catch.”

Mishika hugged her brother warmly. When they broke, Samarth once again offered his hand to Jaynarayan and exchanged parting pleasantries. This time, he didn’t meet his eyes.

Once he’d left, there was an awkward silence in the living room, with only the chirping of the lone sparrow for company.

Jaynarayan finally cleared his throat gently. “You are here on vacation then?”

“Yes, for two weeks… well, it’s not actually a vacation. I quit my earlier job and I’m negotiating a freelance role now.”

“That’s good.” He nodded. “Maybe you can work from Calcutta? After all, you have a house there now.”

Mishika did not respond.

“I understand you didn’t wish to attend the divorce proceedings. It must have been painful.”

She looked up as he went on. “Your parents… at least this was how they wanted it… it would’ve been hard for them to go on.”

“Mr. Jaynarayan, my parents loved each other dearly.” She looked away to the window. “None of us wanted this…” She trailed off, her gaze apparently searching for the sparrow that had gone quiet.

“Please don’t mind him,” she inclined her head in the direction her brother left. “He cares only too much for Mama. All this… has been a lot on him.”

“Of course not, I understand.”

Mishika looked apologetic and not wanting to prolong this any further, Jaynarayan stood up to leave.

“I think you should know…,” she said, “our father died a long time ago.”

“Ohh…,” Jaynarayan sat down again slowly.

“You see, at the time we didn’t have much to go on. Many suggested we sell the old house in Calcutta. We needed the money. But Mama wouldn’t budge. The legal work meant getting a death certificate for her husband and she was having none of that. The loss… was too much for her.”

“So…,” Jaynarayan began.

“No,” she shook her head, “she never remarried. Bumblebee is an old family friend, known to both my parents back then. He arranged this… case.”

“This was… a mock separation?” He said the words slowly, hardly believing them.

Mishika nodded, smiling sadly. “Bumblebee’s idea. He convinced her to pretend she was getting a divorce from him! Then he produced fake documents to show he was Dad.”

Jaynarayan was taken aback. “They were… they really knew so much about each other. It didn’t seem anything but real…”

She laughed. “That wasn’t too hard. He is a drunkard alright. Those things she said... she’s just known him for so long. She imagined what it would be like to be a wife to him!”

Jaynarayan was too stunned but found his voice. “So a separation meant the house would pass on to you, without declaring your father was no more.”

“Yes, she was fine with that. He was away for quite some time anyways, she said. It’s okay to declare us separate.”

“Do you know Sir,” she asked him, “why they call her Fat Polish Mama?”

The daughter had moist eyes when he looked at her.

“There was a street outside the Alipore Railway Station where men sat in a line for hours shining boots. And she sat there too, a widow and mother of two, shoe polish smeared on her arms and feet. She did that for 20 years. That’s how she raised us.’

Mishika’s smile returned. “In the beginning, it was boot polish Mama… Then she told them she was the fattest so they should say ‘Fat’ instead!”

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