A Phone Booth Story: Ode To Small Town Single Moms Empowering Themselves In Adversity

Power changes the dynamics you have with people in your life. It changes everything. For the woman, it changes things even further. Every step we take forward is an answer to the thousand-pin pricks of our daily struggle that we have gone through.

Radhika Dhingra
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Image sourced from X (formerly Twitter) @memorable_90s

Let's name this story Udaan. It is the story of the time when growth bulldozer was swiftly flattening out the old-world charm of the city of Amritsar, when "1961 Kesar Ka Dhaba” tucked in the intestine of the old bazaar was among the few places to relish traditional Punjabi food. A slim supple frame of Veera stood near the desk; she was fiddling with papers. Her hair pulled back in a low plait. She wore little makeup and was wearing a polka dot white red sari. The red dots on the sari enhanced the colour of her cheeks.


“We are late” Veera said, gobbling down the bits of aloo paratha.

Mumma extended her wrinkled hand to give the Karah Prashad. The Karah Prashad is a type of semolina pudding. The sacred pudding is regarded as a blessing. In all these years when the miasma of melancholy surrounded our lives, the only thing that went with seamless continuity was my mother fervently praying for our time to change and our struggles to mellow. People who follow the Guru Granth Sahib offer Ardaas before undertaking any significant task and today is one such day. 


We passed through familiar lanes, small brick houses, cycle stands, age-old sweet shops, vegetable hawkers, open drains and tea stalls. The monsoons had made the roads impassable. The roads are dirt tracks with traffic coming from all sides. It’s strange how day-by-day nothing changes, but when we look back, it seems life has moved in all its sagacity.

In the winter of 1994, the universe conspired to turn everything against us. Daddy died in an accident and left us with uncaring selfish relatives, a house we couldn’t call ours and a shop which was fraudulently sold out. We were literally on the road. In my growing-up years, I realised that one of the hardest parts to deal with is the feeling of not being supported by the people you once considered your safety cushion. The sheer agony imprints in the memory and stays there indelibly. 

That was the time when Veera was in first year of college. She used to take tuitions in a dilapidated one-room set utterly bereft of confidence and Mumma used to run a telephone booth to support the education of her 18-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy. For years we hadn't seen happiness shining at our doorstep. For years our one bedroom used to get converted into a coaching room. As soon as Veera came back from college, she took back-to-back coaching classes. In her fiendishly busy schedules, she would take time to do mock test papers and make notes for the impending exams she had to crack.


Adversity doesn’t give you an option. The only option is to sustain the thing called life. It teaches you the temerity to take risks and the effrontery to look life in the eyes. I have my druthers to reaffirm that the subtle supple Veera had a very solid spine. One tragedy changes the whole course of life. Snatches your childhood in a blink of an eye, and makes you a responsible adult. While Veera was studying, I would stand on a stool to make chai for her. When Mumma would sit in the booth, we would manage the household chores so that her aching back gets some respite. Together we were a team.

Veera and I are a generation apart and I was never devoid of her warmth, pampering, friendship and fondness. A few days back she called up in my engineering hostel and broke the news. I immediately applied for leave and got on to the next train to Amritsar. 


As we reached the destination, I could see the whole clan of relatives. My aunt walked towards Veera and held her hand.“Veera Puttar, it is so good to see you flourish. We had full faith in you. It is so good when children of the family make us proud, so proud.”

Veera kept an affable demeanour. Some wounds need much more than verbal bandages; you cannot smoothen the pain with words. 

Amrinder Uncle came forward with a bouquet of flowers and ruminated “We knew with you at the helm nothing is possible.” I can’t tell you how feeble and trite his words sound to me as if they have been plucked out of a contrived plotline.


“The kids of the family need blessings and guidance from Veera didi,” he said buoyantly. To which Veera smiled and held Mumma’s hand as she stepped inside the sprawling bungalow of the district magistrate with a shining nameplate underneath. Veera Malhotra (IAS) DM, District Amritsar had moved into a new house.

Power changes the dynamics you have with people in your life. It changes everything. For the woman, it changes things even further. Every step we take forward is an answer to the thousand-pin pricks of our daily struggle that we have gone through. We have paid in time, uncertainty, lack of money, a cacophony of criticism but we didn’t lose faith and focus.

There is a strange calmness I see on Veera’s face as she has gotten where she had to.

This is a fictional short story, authored by Radhika Dhingra. 

Suggested reading: Inheritance Of Personal Trauma In War: Vacuum My Family Faces Even Today

Single mother motherhood Amritsar Power Dynamics