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“Don’t tell me you agree with her?” “Why not?” “What will people say? Her father, my mother. Living under the same roof.” A short story.
Here is the first winner of our February 2017 Muse of the Month contest, Ashima Jain.
The cue for this month was from the movie Piku, in which Piku confirms that if her friend wants to marry her, her 90 year old father comes along with her.
“This is not going to work. I won’t allow it.” Naman slammed his hand on the table to emphasise his point. Taken by surprise, Dhwani shuddered in her seat. It took her a few moments to regain her composure.
Thankfully, the restaurant was not busy tonight. Barring a few members of the staff and one other table occupied at the far end, the place was empty.
“How can you be so sure?” she asked. “Have you discussed it with anyone? Have you given it any thought?”
Naman thundered in reply, “There is no need. My decision is final.”
Dhwani pushed away her plate in anger which still held the remaining half of her dinner. Leaning over the table, her elbows resting on the edge, she said, “It is as much my decision, as it is yours. You cannot decide for all of us. I would like to hear what your mother has to say about it before we jump to any conclusions.”
“There will be no further discussion on this subject, Dhwani. Especially with my mother. You leave her out of it.” Naman poured himself another glass of wine and resumed eating.
Dhwani watched him, tapping her foot lightly in an attempt to expend her nervous energy. This date night, that had come about after many months, was clearly ruined.
The drive home was silent. Both husband and wife avoided any and all conversation; Dhwani scanning through the children’s schedule for the rest of the week, while Naman listened to the radio.
Back home, Dhwani checked her phone as she crawled into bed. There was a message from Dhiraj.
Hey Sis, Sorry for dropping a bomb on you today. Have a week to decide. Waiting to hear from you before I tell Dad. Thanks again for everything.
She contemplated whether to bring it up again with Naman, then thought the better of it. It was probably wise to leave it for tomorrow. A good night’s sleep might be just what was needed to bring it into perspective and allow for a more civilised discussion.
Ignoring Naman, Dhwani switched off her bed-lamp and went to sleep.
The next morning, with the children packed off to school and Naman getting ready for work, Dhwani helped her mother-in-law finish up in the kitchen, before they all sat down for breakfast.
She had been unable to sleep all night and was still unsure how to approach the topic. The deadline hung like a naked sword over her head. Dhiraj’s future was hanging in the balance.
“Dhwani, are you feeling alright?” asked Mrs. Mathur, interrupting her thoughts.
Naman looked up from his plate and Dhwani thought she saw him glare at her for a fraction of a second.
Missing the exchange between her son and daughter-in-law, Mrs. Mathur continued, “Why aren’t you eating? You love idlis for breakfast.”
Not having an answer, Dhwani pushed the spoon around her plate while Naman helped himself to another serving.
The old lady was a smart woman, well attuned to their behavioural ticks. She immediately picked up on the tension between husband and wife.
“I see”, she observed. “Let’s hear it. What is the problem?”
The couple looked at her and then at each other. Naman shook his head. A signal to Dhwani to remain quiet. Dhwani, on the other hand, decided this was the opening she was looking for. One that had miraculously dropped in her lap. This was her golden chance.
Disregarding Naman’s signal, she began, “Dhiraj has been offered a job as Vice President.”
“Oh! That’s wonderful news”, said her mother-in-law, with an ecstatic clap of her hands. “I am so happy for him. Your brother is such a bright and hardworking young man,” she said. “I will call and congratulate him today. Your father must be so proud.”
“No!” exclaimed Dhwani, realising soon enough that it came out louder than she meant it to.
Confused, Mrs. Mathur looked at her.
“Sorry Mummy”, said Dhwani, placing a hand over hers in apology. “What I meant was that Appa doesn’t know yet.”
“This position that Dhiraj is being offered is in Germany. He will be required to relocate there for at least 3 years”, she explained.
“Is that a problem?”
This time, Dhwani eased the words out, measuring every syllable. “Dhiraj and I don’t want Appa to be left alone. He hasn’t been keeping well these past few months. On the other hand, this opportunity is too good for Dhiraj to let go. Taking this will propel his career forward.”
“So, what have you and Dhiraj decided to do about it?” asked Mrs. Mathur, though she could gather where this conversation was heading.
Dhwani paused to look at Naman before answering. “I was thinking Appa could move in with us… ”
“And I told her it was out of the question”, interrupted Naman.
“We have plenty of room here. Everyone will still have their own space”, Dhwani pointed out. “And I will be at peace knowing I can look after him here.”
“Do you have any idea how many tongues will wag?” Naman questioned. “Everyone in the neighbourhood, from the President of the RWA to the trash collector, will be talking about us and spreading all kinds of nonsense. I have to think about the well-being of this family.”
“Naman, He is my father. I have a responsibility to him. I can’t just leave him on his own at this age.”
“You also have a responsibility to this house. This is your home. Your family. There are other options.”
“Such as an… ”, Naman couldn’t bring himself to say it, for he realised the implication of his words a moment too late.
Mrs. Mathur could see the argument was soon going to get out of hand. She pointed out the time in order to divert the conversation. “Both of you are going to be late for work if you don’t leave soon. Why don’t we continue this discussion in the evening? It will also give me some time to think about it.” She patted Dhwani’s shoulder and handed out their lunch boxes to them.
As they got ready to leave in their separate cars, Mrs. Mathur reminded Naman of her doctor’s appointment.
He promised to be home on time to take her.
When Naman returned at 4:30pm, his mother was already waiting for him. They left almost immediately to avoid getting delayed in traffic.
“I was so happy to hear about Dhiraj’s success”, said Mrs. Mathur. “He finally came out of his shell and is doing so well now. I remember he was just a boy when you and Dhwani got married. Mr. Nair would always worry about him. But look at him now. Vice President.” Mrs. Mathur smiled as she reminisced.
Naman nodded, “Yes, I am happy for him too. But don’t worry, Mummy. I will handle Dhwani. She is not thinking clearly right now. I will explain it to her and we will find another solution.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Mrs. Mathur.
Naman turned to look at her. “What do you mean?”
“What is wrong in Dhwani’s suggestion?”
Naman’s foot instinctively hit the brake, slowing the car down and moving it into the middle lane. “Don’t tell me you agree with her?”
“What will people say? Her father, my mother. Living under the same roof.”
“What’s wrong with that? If, at our age, people can live in an old age home with perfect strangers, why not in the comfort of our own home, together with our family?”
“Don’t deny it Naman. I know that’s what you were going to suggest today morning – That he should move into an assisted living facility.”
“He will be well taken care of”, Naman commented.
“Are you saying that if you or Dhwani were to be assigned a position out of this city, or country, that would be my future? An old age home?”
“What? No! That’s different.”
“Really? Tell me. How is it different? You’re telling me that in that case, I cannot go and live with your sister, as I often do every few months?”
“Mom, you’re confusing the issue. Nimisha’s in-laws travel so often, it doesn’t make a difference to them.”
“So, the fact that they are hardly home makes it acceptable? Or is it that both her in-laws are alive and together, while I am divorced? Therefore, having a widower move in to live with his daughter’s family, which includes her divorced mother-in-law, is unacceptable?”
Despite being taken aback by his mother’s point of view, Naman persisted, “Our society has not progressed enough to accept this. Even in an upmarket neighbourhood like ours, a scandal will break out. People will talk. Tongues will wag.”
“Naman, tongues that want to wag, will wag. If we had to live our life wondering what others would think, we wouldn’t get very far. Look at it this way – Both you and Dhwani work long hours. Then there is the travelling. At least one of you, if not both, are away for a week every month. The children are still young and need someone to watch over them. Having Mr. Nair around may be a good thing. We can choose to spend our time alone or with each other, depending on how we get along. The house is big enough that no one would be stepping on anyone’s toes.”
Naman refused to give in. “That’s not how things happen. A husband and wife’s parents living together – It’s just weird.”
Mrs. Mathur shook her head in disappointment. “Listen to yourself, Naman”, she said. “All I am hearing are double standards. I expected better from you.”
Choosing not to answer, Naman drove quietly the rest of the way, even as his mother’s words played over and over again in his head.
That evening, Dhwani stayed back late at work, mostly to avoid the uncomfortable conversation awaiting her at home. She needed to gather her own strength before another attempt to make Naman understand. She had to make this happen. This was the only way.
The next day was Friday. Dhwani and Naman were home by 6:00 since it was a much more relaxed day as compared to the rest of the week.
They had just sat down for tea when Mrs. Mathur returned home from her volunteer work at the Residents Community Centre. Dhwani poured her a cup of tea while she updated them of the new initiatives being implemented for senior residents.
Halfway through, Naman interrupted their conversation.
“I was thinking we should call Dhiraj and Appa over for lunch on Sunday. What do you say?”
Dhwani exchanged a confused look with Mrs. Mathur.
Naman continued, “It will be a celebratory lunch for Dhiraj’s success. He deserves to be congratulated properly.”
“Would that be appropriate?” asked Mrs. Mathur. “His acceptance of this position depends entirely on the decision about Mr. Nair’s living arrangements. I am sure he is expecting to hear from both of you about that. Have you come to a decision?”
Naman looked at Dhwani. “Yes”, he replied.
“What do you mean, Naman?” demanded Dhwani. “You have to discuss it with me first.”
“We already did. You said it yourself. Appa will move in with us. I am sure he will be happy here, being around the children. And Mummy can involve him at the Community Centre so he isn’t lonely. I think it’s perfect.”
Dhwani was stunned, even as her head was reeling. What had just happened?
She felt a hand squeeze hers and turned to see her mother-in-law smile knowingly. Dhwani wondered if this was her doing. Then she remembered her mother-in-law’s oft-repeated words. Sometimes, it is best to not question the good things. Just go with the flow.
Dhwani nodded with a smile. “Yes”, she said. “It is perfect.”
Ashima Jain wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2017. Congratulations!
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