Meenakshi, Meena in short, nearing 70 still has in her face unmistakable traces of her beauty of her younger days. Gifted with a very fair complexion and a permanent smile in her eyes, she radiated warmth and cheer. Though her hair had turned silver gray, the body bent with age and her legs pained a lot, she was active. God has his inscrutable ways. He gave her the beauty and the good nature but found it fit to snatch her husband while she was in her twenties. She had her aged mother to take care of. But the mother too soon departed to her heavenly abode unable to bear the misery of her only daughter. With no education or wealth to fall back, she was taken under the kind shelter of an elderly and well to do cousin of her dad, Cheema as he was known. A kindly man, he asked his wife to take care of her as one of their family. It was a big family with many members including children.
Cheema’s wife Lalitha did not take kindly right from the beginning to Meena coming but her husband overruled her. A stodgy woman with plain looks and overbearing nature she was not comfortable with a beautiful young woman staying with them. Her sons were a few years older and married. Without revealing her dislike openly, she started harassing the poor destitute in myriad ways. There was a cook working for the family for long years and she picked an unnecessary quarrel with her and sent her away. Lalitha told her husband that she and Meena would manage without difficullty.But actually the entire burden fell on Meena with Lalitha just overseeing and finding fault. The poor thing slaved from early morning to late in the night without a frown in her face.Cheema knew the situation and suggested they find someone to help Meena in the chores. Lalitha taunted him for his excessive concern for Meena and asked him to leave things to her that are in her domain.Lalitha ensured that she alone served the food for her husband. Meena took care not to come in the presence of Cheema uncle or speak to him unless spoken to. Cheema’s sons and daughters pitied with Meena but were afraid of their mother’s foul mouth.
Years rolled by and the girls in the house got married and went abroad. Out of three sons two left for US while the youngest Siva continued to live with parents. He was employed in a multinational company in a good position. His wife Rachna with a doctorate in economics was in a private bank.An extremely good natured lady she was aware of the bad treatment meted out to Meena. Whenever she went to buy dresses for herself and her daughter, she never forgot to get Meena some nice cotton saris. On one occasion as she was giving a packet to Meena, Lalitha was irked and commented “Rachna, I know when to buy saris for Meena. You don’t have to buy and start a new practice”
“Amma, I think it is best for you not to interfere in what I do. Gifting someone known and dear to me is my prerogative. I don’t need your approval” Rachna replied brusquely
Taken aback, Lalitha kept quiet and screamed at Meena “.Don’t be standing here. Go and soak one litre of rice and half litre of urad dhal to prepare batter.”
“She will go after I have finished with her. Meena mami, let us go to my room”. This infuriated Lalitha all the more and she stomped out in anger.
On a Saturday, Rachna came to the kitchen and said “Mami, I have seen you having pain in the back since yesterday. You could not even walk. I intend to give you total rest for two days. I want to cook. What was the menu you were contemplating? Do not think I cannot cook. My mom had taught me everything”
“No, no please. I don’t need any rest, Rachna. I am fine. Let me do.Mami will get furious. Please allow me to do my job” Meena pleaded
“I am not inhuman watching you struggling. I will do the cooking come may what. Leave it to me tackle”Rachna said.Meena’s eyes became moist at her concern and compassion.
Lalitha over hearing the conversation barged in and asked “What is the insinuation? Who is inhuman? You can be direct in your accusation. This is my kitchen. I don’t want you to meddle. You will pamper her and spoil the smooth routine in these two days and go to office thereafter.Meena will cook” thundered Lalitha
“No, I have no intention to go. I will take voluntary retirement and will be at home henceforth. We two will take charge of the chores. I have as much right to the kitchen as you have”
Lalitha screamed calling “Siva, come here for a moment with your father. I want this matter to be set right here and now”
Siva and Cheema rushed hearing her shouting and asked “What is the matter? Why are you disturbing us?”
“Your wife is spoiling the discipline in the house. She says she will cook and let that Meena take rest and that I am inhuman and torturing her. When I asked how long you can cook with your office work, she says she will take voluntary retirement. She threatens that the kitchen is hers and that I keep out of it” wailed Lalitha
Rachna turned towards her husband and said “Meena mami has acute back pain and suffering since a few days. She is in no condition to work. I will not allow it under any circumstances. I offered to cook and your mom is objecting and tells it is her kitchen”
“Rachna, what is all this unseemly scene? Take mami to a doctor. Let her take complete rest. These two days you can cook. I know my mom would not object” Siva said
“Why are you standing like a pillar? Your daughter in law is defying me and Siva shamelessly supporting her. Am I a door mat to be trampled by all and sundry? That wily Meena is setting one against the other” Lalitha shouted at Cheema
“Daddy, I am taking voluntary retirement unless we employ a help for mami. She is no position to work whole day. I have made my position clear”
“Amma, I agree with Rachna.Mami needs rest. There is no financial constraint to employ a help. If this not acceptable we are leaving with mami to a separate house. Make your choice” said Siva
“Lalitha, gracefully retire from household burden and spend your time profitably. Leave everything to Rachna. She is smart and can manage well. This is my wish and I am sure you will listen to me” said Cheema.
Lalitha realized everyone was against her and Siva and Rachna were determined. She quietly took the bunch of keys hanging at her hip and gave it to Rachna. Siva hugged his mom and said “Sweet mummy. Do not be afraid. You are still in total charge but learn to let go as you age”
There was a loud laughter and Meena quietly went towards kitchen followed by Rachna.