by KParthasarathi 15 Sep 2008
The house was palace-like with large well-furnished rooms and all provided with air conditioners, indicating the affluence of the inmates. The large Iron Gate leading to the portico, where three cars were parked, was always closed with the security guard opening when a visitor knocked at the door. There was a small room 10x10 added a few years back. The owners evidently had thoughtfully provided a fan but forgot about the air-conditioner. The room was adjacent to the pump house and one could hear the motor running, which it did throughout the day, to pump water to the tanks, for watering the large garden and the green lawns. There was a window and a ventilator, though the former remained closed to prevent the menace of mosquitoes. One could smell the unpleasant and stale odour. All this description of the room is necessary as the story revolves around its inmate lying on the old cot with a few folded blankets doing the duty of the bed. The bed was covered by a red-coloured rubber sheet as a matter of abundant caution. On it lay an old woman of eighty-plus, mostly motionless with the eyes moving. She neither spoke nor showed any sign of recognition but lay inert the whole day. A maid was appointed by her son to look after the old woman, clean her and feed her through the mouth. The ladies of the house or the sons rarely entered the room that was kept out of bounds for the children.
It was in this house that she had run the household like a queen and kept her flock under her discipline. She was affectionate and warm but never tolerated slovenly habits from her bahus. As the head of the family, she was more feared than respected. They disliked her totally but could not do much as the three sons attempted to pacify their wives, but without upsetting their mom. The house belonged to her. After the death of her husband, two sons went to live separately in two other houses that also belonged to her. She had three daughters too, all living in the same city. Things were moving along without major hassles till she fell one day in the bath room and had her back-bone damaged. At her advanced age, nothing could be done to restore her walking. She was confined to bed but could sit up initially. Gradually, she became an invalid, lost the power of speech and the movement of limbs stopped, putting an end to all modes of communication with her. As guests kept coming frequently, the eldest bahu decided that it was best her sick mother in-law stayed in the corner room at the rear of the house and shifted her without even a formal mention of it to her husband.
The eldest bahu felt one day that she had taken care of the old woman adequately and that it was the turn of others. What used to be a grumble, turned into loud protests and abuse of the old lady under the impression that she had lost her power of hearing and understanding. The bahus would openly quarrel within her earshot mentioning the past hurts from her hand and how they detested her. None of them wanted her. The sons, for fear of antagonising their wives, kept mum. One of the sons said if it was inconvenient they could leave her at a hospice and share the expenses equally. The daughters kept their distance. The old woman felt that sending her to a home would be deliverance for her and welcomed it. But she had no way of expressing herself except blink with tears in her eyes. The sons never came near her to pass their hands affectionately over their mom. They would crane their necks from the door as if she was suffering from some contagion. To add insult to injury, they would make highly-insensitive remarks that she was sinking and would not last for even three months.
When relatives visited the house to see the old lady, the bahus would talk so much telling that their mother-in-law was like their own mother and was always loving. The eldest said that she often spent the nights with her in her room, massaging her limbs till she slept. What passed in that despairing mind of the old lady no one could know except for the sight of moving eyes with tears trickling down her withered cheeks. Was she thinking of the blatant lies these people around her uttered? The attending maid, who knew all, was invariably sent out on such occasions.
The pitiable but alert lady could do nothing about the indignities heaped on her but to shed her tears and pray incessantly to God to take her away soon. She heard and knew the unseemly auction going on amongst the sons as to who should have her. She wanted the Almighty to save her from this living-hell and have her with Him. Barely two weeks later, God answered her prayer when she passed away in her sleep peacefully. As ill-luck would have it, the eldest bahu, on the thirteenth day of the ceremonies, fell down in the same slippery bath-room, hit her head and was admitted in hospital in a state of coma. Doctors were sceptical about her regaining normalcy and could not say when she would revive, if at all. Her daughter-in-law was seen dusting and readying the granny’s room. Was it destiny’s way of getting even?