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Here's a story about taking care of elderly parents, the ingratitude children are capable of, and the things that truly matter in life.
Here’s a story about taking care of elderly parents, the ingratitude children are capable of, and the things that truly matter in life.
One often meets one’s destiny on the road one takes to avoid it.
Clad in a light pink sari, Kavita pushed the few tendrils of hair which had escaped and murmured, “Mrs. Harish Shrivastva,” smiling to herself in the mirror. How different she looked! She still couldn’t believe her own reflection – bindi! Mangalsutra! If only her students could look at her! They would be surprised, delighted. She looked younger than her fifty years. Happiness had given a glow to her.
Early in life Kavita had adopted an austere, simple look – at first out of necessity, and later she found it embarrassing to change. Father died quite early, leaving the burden of bringing up two younger sisters and a brother on Kavita’s tender shoulders. Money was always sparse – so austerity was the outcome.
Gradually, the siblings were settled, mother passed away, and the brother clucked about her like a broody hen telling her to think of herself and get married. He had settled in the USA. A time came when she didn’t want to pick up his calls. She knew he loved her, and was worried about her.
To keep herself busy, Kavita joined the local Arya Samaj Samiti and became an active member. Now her evenings did not drag; she had things to do after coming back from college. She felt useful. Last year, a national level meet of all branches had been held in her hometown, Chandigarh, and there she had met Mr. Shrivastva – Harish from Bhilai. Harish was a widower, and had two sons and a teenager daughter.
He needed a feminine presence in his life. He also realized that Kavita would have no problem in adopting his children because she had a long history of being a nurturer, a caregiver.
Harish and Kavita were drawn to each other. They wanted companionship. Harish had lost his wife fifteen years ago and had been too busy bringing up his children to think of his own needs. He needed a feminine presence in his life. He also realized that Kavita would have no problem in adopting his children because she had a long history of being a nurturer, a caregiver. They got married – and here was Kavita admiring her new self, new role, new home and her good luck.
Harish proved to be a partner worth waiting for. His sons Atul and Pankaj were wary of Kavita. They were polite but distant. Kavita couldn’t blame them. She just hoped that Harish had been able to convince them about the rightness of the change he was introducing in their lives. But Sanjana had no such qualms and easily nestled under her wings. Kavita resigned from her job after enjoying a lien of one year, during which she had come to the decision that she had indeed become a member of Shrivastva family.
The decade of mixed blessing flew on wings. Kavita hardly had any me time. She still felt a small thrill when she sat beside Harish while performing havans, and silently thought with pride ‘My husband!’ If their shoulders touched, the sense of possessiveness – which had long muted into the security of belonging – gave her peace. The neighbourhood had accepted her whole-heartedly.
At times ,she felt like she was dreaming. She felt she had everything – a loving husband, children – what more can one ask for in life? The children were respectful. She had not tried to take their mother’s place. She had tried to be friendly with them, and they had responded in their individual ways. Sanjana was the most spontaneous.
First, Atul got married. He was working in Banglore, so Kavita could stop worrying about him since he had a partner now. Then Sanjana got married. Kavita had her plate full – weddings, after all, are projects on a big scale. Then the deliveries of babies!
Atul had a son, then a daughter. His wife Malika praises her mother-in-law before all and sundry,”Mummy had given me such support and help. I’m lucky. Every girl should get such a MIL.” Then Sanjana had her daughter and son. Kavita had become an expert at looking after expectant mothers, new mothers, and babies – Kavita, who had not borne a single baby.
Secretly, he was very proud of Kavita and his decision to marry her. She had thrown herself into the role of wife and mother with no holds barred.
Harish felt he was indeed blessed. Secretly, he was very proud of Kavita and his decision to marry her. She had thrown herself into the role of wife and mother with no holds barred. Only one more responsibility – Pankaj’s marriage – remained. He had used his superannuation funds in the two earlier weddings and was feeling the crunch. Kavita had sensed this and had generously offered to share her savings.
The wedding was celebrated. Kavita and Harish sighed with relief as the last guest departed. The house gradually returned to its normal routine. In the next few months, Kavita tried to ease the newly weds into the mundane reality of day-to-day living.
At times, Harish did not like Pankaj’s attitude towards his mother. Pankaj’s wife, Savita, too was picking up cues from her husband. This worried Harish. Kavita always soothed him, “Don’t worry. These are initial adjustment problems – they will pass. Teething troubles, Harish. Just relax.”
“Yes, yes. Perhaps I am being sensitive. He has always been a good son. He will look after you when I’m gone.”
“ Where are you going?” Kavita pretended to misunderstand. “Shall I get ready too?”
“I am nine years older than you – so I will be the first one to go. I have made the will and left the house to you. But I am certain Pankaj and Atul will take care of you,” he smiled contentedly. Perhaps it had been a premonition. He got a heart attack that same night, and the next week was a blur in Kavita’s memory. She still could not believe she would not hear his voice again.
So many people – relatives, friends, and acquaintances had come to offer condolences. It was a project bigger than the acknowledged big, fat Indian wedding. In between the rites, while she was sitting surrounded by relatives, Pankaj had come a few times to get some papers signed. She had quietly put her signature where asked.
In between the rites, while she was sitting surrounded by relatives, Pankaj had come a few times to get some papers signed. She had quietly put her signature where asked.
After the seventeen days’ ritual was over, Atul asked her permission to return to Banglore, “Mummy, life moves on. I have to join office, I don’t have any leave left now.”
“Yes, of course. You go.”
“Mummy, why don’t you also go along with Atul? It will be a change for you – it will help you to come to terms with Papa’s passing away,” suggested Pankaj.
“Yes mummy, you also come along with us.”
Kavita was so depressed that she had lost the will to live. Pankaj’s wife packed her clothes, and she came to Banglore with Atul.
At first, Malika and Atul were caring. In the nights, Kavita could hear Atul and Pankaj talking on the phone – it was a small flat. They were always arguing about something. When she asked Atul, he side-stepped it – saying it was nothing important.
Kavita became aware of the change in Malika’s behaviour but she tried to ignore it and occupied herself with the children. Their innocent chatter lightened her sorrow. In this way, two months passed. She asked Atul to book her a ticket for Bhilai. Every time she had called Pankaj, Sarita had picked up the phone making small talk, assuring that she would make Pankaj call back, but he had not called.
On the weekend, Pankaj arrived on their doorstep unannounced – unannounced at least to her. It seemed like Atul and Malika knew that that he was coming. Kavita felt the change in the atmosphere. Suddenly they had all turned into strangers. Pankaj was the one to break the ice,”I have brought all your belongings. I asked Sarita to pack each and everything of yours. See, your relation was with Papa. Now he is no more, so you should go back to where you came from.”
.”..See, your relation was with Papa. Now he is no more, so you should go back to where you came from.”
Kavita looked at Atul, who at least had the grace to look shamefaced. Malika too did not make any eye contact. Pankaj was the brazen one.
“ Papa had left the house in your name. I have taken your signature on the papers, remember? Now it belongs to Atul and me.”
Yes, she knew, as she was no green illiterate . She had known what she was putting her signature on – but had hesitated to kick up a scene among all the relatives. She had wanted to read the whole document before signing, but had trusted Pankaj. She had been bothered about what the relatives would say; “Here she has lost her husband and she is bothered about the bank accounts and property!”
Atul halfheartedly tried to stop Pankaj. “ Pankaj, listen. This is not right.”
“Oh, really? Then you keep her – I don’t want her back in Bhilai. I still haven’t forgotten the ridicule we had to bear when Dear Bappu brought her – his brand new wife.”
She felt any moment now Pankaj would start addressing her by her name. The word ‘mummy’ seemed to have been mummified in his memory. The gloves were drawn. Fangs were bared.
Or, had they never accepted her? They had just needed a housekeeper, cook, servant, nurse rolled in one, and utilized her services given lovingly.
Kavita quietly left the room. She called Sanjana. Sanjan picked up her phone on the first ring as if she was waiting for her call, “Mummy, I’m sorry. But what can I do? You know Pankaj Bhaiya. He will make your life hell. You better go back as he says.” So easily they had pushed her out of their lives. Or, had they never accepted her? They had just needed a housekeeper, cook, servant, nurse rolled in one and utilized her services given lovingly. They had needed the services, not the love.
“Oh, Harish! I’m glad you cannot see this avatar of your children. Thank God, he has spared you,” she silently talked to Harish – a habit which she would have for the rest of her life. She made up her mind and asked Atul to book her a ticket for Chandigarh. She felt cheated. Who had cheated whom?
The children had put her in the cage of accursed. Had Harish cheated them by giving their mother’s place to her? Maybe he had played with their feelings. But can two consenting adults not create their own safe haven? Had the two of them been self-centered, focusing only on their own needs?
She tried to be objective. She knew there are no truths, only interpretation. She had, like that poet Wordsworth, gained her quota of daffodils – the memories of their togetherness. Harish had given her life a new hue, made it richer. She was thankful to the unknown for giving her this chance to share her life with such a wonderful man.
“Unwanted old parents is a common story. I will think of the children with good will. I wish them the best. I will not let them turn my memories sour,” she ruminated, sitting in the balcony of her old home. Sometimes you have to walk away from people, not because you don’t care, but because they don’t. The old adage from her childhood playground scenes came to her – “Victors keepers, losers weepers”. She will keep her golden memories.
The eternal question isn’t “What is evil?” The question is “When does good become evil?”
Pic credit: Image of elderly woman via Shutterstock.
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If her MIL had accepted her with some affection, wouldn't they have built a mutually happier relationship by now?
The incident took place ten years ago.
Smita could visit her mother only in summers when her daughter had school holidays. Her daughter also enjoyed meeting her Nani, and both of them had done their reservations for a week. A month before their visit, her husband told her, “My mom is coming for 4-5 months!”
Smita shuddered. She knew the repercussions. She would have to hear sarcastic comments from her mother-in-law for visiting her mother. She may make these comments directly only a bit, but her servants would be flooded with the words, “How horrible she is! She leaves me and goes!”
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Trigger Warning: This has graphic descriptions of violence and may be triggering to survivors and victims of violence.
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