Monday, June 1, 2020

The shrew

Parvatha Vilas, a palatial building on a six ground plot, large and imposing was rightly named after the lady of the house, Parvatham. You might have not known her but you must have certainly seen Khubsoorat with Dina Pathak and Rekha playing admirably well the  important roles in it. The lady of the house in the film was a no-nonsense, nose upturned type with no trace of smile in her face. Her writ ran large in the house and her wishes were commands strictly obeyed by all members of her family. The character in our story is no different but even slightly worse than that
Tall and heavily built, with a stentorian voice and hawk like eyes, Parvatham never took a No for an answer. She brooked no dissent and went into rage at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction to her diktats. Hers was a large and affluent joint family of five daughters and three sons. Three daughters were married and two of them live separately close by. One married daughter continued to live with her family at her parent’s place. The three sons who were all married continued to live in the house with their wives and children.
Subramania iyer, a capable lawyer with lucrative practice, while at home was a timid man with shifty eyes and of small build. He had stopped practicing since two years. Most thought he was henpecked but he believed in the dictum discretion is better than valour. He knew all his renowned communication skills and knowledge were of little avail against the harsh-tempered termagant. That she was disagreeable and evoked more fear than respect among her children, husband and servants is a fact none disputed. The evening dinner when all assembled as a rule was more a silent ritual of filling the stomachs than the bonhomie of family members eating together, exchanging good natured banters and laughing around the dining table.
Parvatham always decided what should be the daily menu giving scant regard for individual preferences, what dress to be bought for whom and what dress to be worn on what occasions, what courses the children should take in their colleges, what time the TV can be on and what serials can be seen by whom. The younger daughters and the grandchildren never liked her autocratic ways and detested her habit of checking their mobiles unseen or refusing permission for granddaughters to go out with boyfriends and insisting they are back home for dinner. She was in short a terror in the house running it at her will and whims. She was no doubt a well-intentioned lady though and being the only daughter in her house, pampered and spoilt, she grew to be a shrew. One gets somewhat the scenario of the house, if one can remember Mrs. Trunchbull of the movie Matilda.
Of late, she suffered from memory loss and would repeat the same instructions again and again. She would rebuke the servants for not carrying out her orders that had already been complied with. But she would strongly deny that she suffered even a trace of amnesia and none argued with her for fear of her foul mouth. The doctor suspected signs of onset of dementia though she managed her chores on her own. Nevertheless, her forgetfulness caused concern and fear to all.
 It was on one such day when family members had gone to a function at relative’s place. When they returned in the evening, Parvatham was not to be seen. The servants had no clue when and how she went out of the house. Even the security at the gate had callously missed her slipping out unseen. Everyone scurried hither and thither searching for her in all rooms and neighbourhood. She was not to be found. They phoned and went out searching for her amongst friends and relatives but could gather no useful information.
The next day they lodged a police complaint for missing person. Two or three days had elapsed with no news about her whereabouts. But there was a total metamorphosis in the atmosphere at the house. One could hear shouts, peals of laughter, happy guffaws and joyful screams with many running about without fear of reprimand. The old man was before the TV watching WWF wrestling matches nonstop alternating in between to cricket and tennis. One could hear the buzz of mobiles nonstop. The dining table got totally a different fare with several items to suit individual tastes. TVs were installed in many rooms. They took the plates and watched TV sitting on sofas that was earlier strictly forbidden. They got up late, took bath whenever it pleased them. There was a total laissez-faire or anarchy depending on the way you look at it. There was a sense of freedom all around though they inwardly missed the old lady and pangs of sadness were felt.
At the suggestion of the old man, an advertisement with her photo was inserted in the popular dailies both English and Tamil.. Within two days, they received a call from a senior home.
“Sir, I am the Secretary calling from ABC senior home. Three days back some people who found her loitering aimlessly in the vicinity brought her here in the night. She seemed a decent looking rich lady from the jewelry worn. She could not answer our questions properly or realize her predicament. Luckily we saw the advertisement today. We wish you to take her away immediately. She is threatening all and ordering about the other inmates as if she owned this place. We understand that she is not alright. However, we are not running the place free. We collect 15000pm from each. We cannot keep her free here. Please come and take her immediately.”
The son who attended the call said to others who crowded around him, “Mom is safe at a senior home. She is suffering from amnesia but it seems her old imperious ways have not left her. They want her to be taken away immediately as it is a paid home for senior citizens at Rs15000 pm.”
There was some silence. One of the sons nudged by his wife spoke, “Mom is not well. We had problem even when she was in full possession of faculties. Now with signs of dementia, I shudder. Why not allow her to continue there? We can pay whatever money they want including the salary of an exclusive maid for her. We can visit her by turn regularly.”
The eldest daughter-in-law said, “We all like her though she acted as a Mother Superior of a strict convent. Let her stay there for some time for her own benefit and we can take a call later.”
When the son who took the call found there was no objection from others, he spoke to the secretary to tell him,” We will give you a ring shortly. Please wait”
“We cannot wait. We can keep her with us in our assisted living block on a fee of Rs. 20000 pm covering the expense of a maid also. Three months’ fee must be paid in advance along with a small deposit. If this is not acceptable, we shall send her by ambulance after lunch. Please convey the decision in five minutes,” said the Secretary.
There was another round of hushed confabulations and everyone looked at the old man after explaining that house now bore the atmosphere of a home instead of a hostel earlier and they be allowed to enjoy the freedom and peace for some more time.
Like the Oracle, the old man finally gave his ruling. “Let it not be mistaken that we have no affection or concern for Parvatham. She loved us so much that she was willing to bear the cross of being disliked by all. But it is a fact that she tread on the corns of everyone here. The house is now wearing a joyful atmosphere after years of stuffed feeling. She is also not physically and mentally well and needs some rest which I am sure this house cannot offer. Although the secretary’s words that he would send her here in ambulance smacks of black mail, we will not succumb to such threats. We would on our own accord allow her to stay in the Senior home for six months initially. We can take a call at the end of the period. Each one of you should promise to visit her frequently. Tell the Secretary accordingly and give a cheque for six months’ fee.”
There was great rejoicing accompanied by dancing to which the old man said “This is not becoming of us. We really miss her.”


  1. I totally disagree with that family'a decision to keep her in the Senior him. What goes around will come around.

  2. Sad but a true commentary on the realities of life. A control freak should understand that its OK to let some things slide for the sake of peace and harmony in the home. If she had done that, maybe the family would not have abandoned her to the old age home. Just the fact that they were willing to bear her expenses doesn't make it less of an abandonment.

  3. A well narrated story, could picture the atmosphere.
    A difficult decision of balancing. When you are authoritative and the no non sense type you will always be disliked irrespective of your intentions. While Parvatham s situation is pitiable, the approach of the family is borders on selfishness.

  4. A well narrated story. Many a time while such decisions may appear harsh the well being of others is also to be considered.

    Hope at the end of 6 months Parvatham mends her ways.

  5. Loved the flow in this story that took the captivated readers engaged and ready to offer advice and suggestions as the problem of Alzheimer's and dementia have become commonplace.
    Though it is indeed a harsh ruling to put anyone in a senior citizens home, here it has been a case of sow what you reap!
    Brilliant use of words and phrases to describe the scenes of Parvathavilas, could feel the tough task master and keeping the family under the thumb!

  6. KP Sir you quill flows with such commanding ease, language simple but emphatic, imagery is so powerful & vivid. It's as if I am actually present in Parvatha Vilas witnessing the proceedings in flesh and blood. A real life and realistic situation. Difficult to say what or who is right or wrong. Parvathammas regime was Hitlerian, autocratic,despotic & completely non humanitarian with total stifling of freedom. The family was feeling throttled, choking & gasping for breath.
    Do not blame the great rejoicing at Parvathammas disappearance for a few days. There was no love lost for this unpopular disciplinarian, only resentment. There was no question of bringing her back. But the family cared for her enough to let her stay at the home along with maid and had no qualms about footing the bill. This is not a question of a right or wrong decision. It's perhaps the best decision under the circumstances since Parvathamma was already sufferring from dementia and would not recognise family members anyway. I presume that the Sr. Citizen home was a good one, well equipped,to provide a happy ambience and good care for the matriarch. The family also enjoyed unencumbered independence and profound happiness.

  7. I don't know what to say except vthatbthecwriting was gripping that sort of ended in a whimper though!

    Thank you for sharing.

    Best wishes and warm regards
    Hemantha Kumar Pamarthy

  8. Let me correct some wrong perceptions. I have visited several Senior Citizens homes in Coimbatore. Generally well equipped, good infrastructure & nice ambience. Facilities include excellent rooms, common dining hall,delicious food, prayer hall, temple, sprawling campus, well landscaped, guest rooms etc. The word home is a "misnomer". These places are actually Senior Citizen deluxe retreats. Citizens who live here enjoy their stay, they are not lonely, have access to entertainment, games, library, music sessions etc.- swimming pools, badminton courts, table tennis, chess, carrom , card tables et all.
    Maintenance teams take care of house cleaning, washing of clothes & vessels.
    A worry free happy life.

  9. Gripping story and it was easy to visualise as I read along. I wish the family had brought Parvatham back though.

  10. Your command and your thoughts are so clear and lucid. You so draw a vivid picture of the lady. I think for myself after a certain age I will like to willingly move to an old age home. An old age however does have stigma in our society. As for the heroine I wish she has a decent life in the ole age home.

  11. I was immersed in the situation at the Parvathamma house. The Khoobsurat daadi example was very apt. Both older generation and younger generation should give space to each other, otherwise the whole atmosphere at home will be stiff. Breathing space should be there for every member of the family. Here, felt a bit sad though. But very well narrated story, Kp.

  12. The story was in the genre of the Hindi movie, Khubsoorat. You have a good knack of writing stories focusing on human emotions through well defined characters.
    Keep rocking !
    Take care
    Chitra Solomon

  13. The ambiguous ending leaves us wondering about what happened next ?
    Instead of directly stating what happens to Parvathamma , the ending makes us speculate about what might come next — without establishing a right or wrong answer.
    Partha Sir, you have deliberately left it open for more interpretation.

  14. Liked the narration and the choice of words being used..very nicely articulated..but somehow personally I could not go with the ending which was unusual sad though may be harsh reality no doubt..mother is a mother after all..all love and care is hidden behind the bossy attitude but this is the reality these days..I got an opportunity to be associated with an old age home recently and have seen similar instances there, ppl leaving their old age parents to senior homes on similar grounds, though the senior citizens are provided equal care and affection at old age home..but still its very sad to see all this...

  15. Children did not want mother home. But how can a husband be partner in the crime.

  16. no doubt its a well narrated story.நிறைய பர்வதம்களின் நிலைமை இப்படித்தான்! கதை எழுதியவிதம் அருமை wonderful!

  17. Very Well narrated so many dimensions in this story! great work KP!

  18. A very well narrated story which made me feel I myself lived with the family in Parvathavilas. Though I feel sorry that she landed up in an senior citizens home at the point when she needed the love of her family the most I cannot fully accept her way of ruling over everyone in the family! A house is built with so much of gives and takes from each and everyone living in it! Her strict actions has overruled her good intentions that has led to her landing at the home! Hope time will help the family members come to a correct decision!
    Your stories or writeups are filled with emotions!

  19. Very realistic story that may make many think before taking their parents to old agd homes for no strong reasons. Here the family thinks they have a strong reason and took such a decision. Decisions depend on perceptions and there is no right or wrong.

  20. Padma BhaktapriyaJune 2, 2020 at 3:22 PM

    Very realistic and sad in general I feel women take better care of their spouses than vice versa. There may be exceptions

  21. Her husband also ruled in this favour for the interests of his family... Sad when elders are left at such homes.
    Understandable when there are no loved ones to care. But, in this case, there's a sprawling family in the same city!

    I remember Dina Pathak's role in the movie- Khoobsurat- vast contrast with her "double role" in Golmaal movie! :)

  22. Very thought-provoking story. Looks like some aspects of Parvatham's character are her own, and some due to her age and dementia. I agree with some of the other comments that senior homes today are actually very well equipped, both medically and in terms of personal comfort.

  23. Having explored the topic of old age problems in India extensively in my blog, I can go with the decision of the family. However, your last sentence holds a wealth of meaning and wistfulness on the part of the husband. It is an indisputable fact that age couple grow older, they get used to each other's behaviour and idiosyncrasies and are apt to miss them when they are either away or have passed on. It is that wistfulness that I detected in that sentence. Was it placed there to convey that feeling, KP?

  24. I read your story Shrew. I can understand the feelings of the sons & daughters- in- law when they don’t want the lady to come back home. How can her husband behave like others. He moral of the story is if the mother - in -laws treat the youngsters in the house strictly, in later life they will be thrown out of the house.

  25. Why the sad ending? Is there another perspective of the husband?