This short story on including our senior citizens in our lives will touch your heart and get your mind asking questions.
It was seven in the morning. Prema badly wanted her morning cup of coffee. She missed her husband Kailash who could have been the perfect excuse for her to potter in the kitchen and make their coffee. The son or daughter in law wouldn’t have dared to object.
Kailash had been a demanding person all his life and no one questioned his authority. He would have his morning cup of coffee at six o’clock sharp and leave for his walk soon after. On his return he would want lemon juice with honey and sprouted lentils. His routine was set and Prema was always on her toes attending to his needs.
Amma you need to rest too. Her son had said. You are not getting younger by the day. It was okay when he was working. But can he not relax his rules a bit?
She would just smile in response. His concern was touching but she knew better. Her daughter-in-law tried to help but had been put off when everything she did was criticized.
The dal was overcooked, the sabzi was too spicy, the curd was sour and the soup was bland.
She had felt bad for the girl and took it upon herself to cook for the family. It was equally upsetting to see the way Kailash controlled his son’s life even after his wife’s arrival. He expected his son to spend or save money as per his advice. They would plan an evening out but would coax the mother to get the father’s approval.
Didn’t they go out for dinner last week?
That was to celebrate their wedding anniversary. This week they want to watch a movie with friends.
How about next week? Haven’t they planned anything yet? And why not? You’re here to babysit and me to attend phone calls and open doors…..
Prema knew that it would be best not to respond. A wrong word would spoil everything.
There were times when she wished that her son would revolt and move out. But he wouldn’t. He was too much in awe of his domineering father to even think about it.
And then Kailash suffered a massive heart attack and died on his way to the hospital.
His death transformed Prema’s life in the most unexpected manner.
She could not sleep beyond five in the morning. If she tried to work in the kitchen, her son’s sleep was disturbed.
Now that Appa is no more can’t you stop creating a ruckus in the kitchen before daybreak?
Getting up early was disturbing him. Making a cup of coffee for herself was equivalent to creating a ruckus.
She tried listening to bhajans keeping the volume low. The daughter-in-law sent the grandson to ask her to put off the TV. She tried to take a stroll in the neighboring park. The milkman and maid arrived and the daughter-in-law found it onerous to open the door for them.
Your mother does it deliberately. She cannot bear to let me sleep a little longer. She never went for morning walks when Appa was around.
The food she prepared was either too oily or too spicy. Pastas and pizzas replaced paranthas and puris. As if it was healthier to eat pizza instead of puris. She gave up eating onions after her husband’s death and the grandchildren would want onions added to every preparation and their mother would invariably forget to make a separate dish for her.
She tried reading the newspaper and solving crossword and sudoku. But one fine morning the newspaper did not arrive. The son said that he preferred reading it online. It made no sense to pay for a wi-fi connection if one did not make full use of the Internet. He would take his laptop to work and the iPad was off limits for her. No one bothered to get her introduced to it and she was in awe of the gadget and preferred to stay away from it lest it crashed when she tried to use it.
TV time was fixed. No TV for her when the children studied, when her son watched football, the grandchildren watched cartoon shows or her daughter-in-law watched her cookery and/or other talent shows.
She had been an accommodating person all her life. But the kind of accommodation that she was now subjected to was suffocating.
She had been an accommodating person all her life. But the kind of accommodation that she was now subjected to was suffocating. Her husband had set rules and she had abided by them. Back then, she had felt included. It was her home. The house was the same but it was no longer her home. She felt like an outsider.
She could not pin the blame on her son or his wife. They had lived in subjugation for long enough and it was natural for them to want to run the house on their terms. Why could she not express her needs? Why was she always worried about annoying them or intruding into their space? The problem lay with her. She was perhaps the odd person out.
It was all so confusing. With her lifetime companion gone she was no longer confident of herself. It was as if a part of herself had gone away with him. The sad part was that no one seemed to notice that she too had a mind that could get depressed and lonely.
It was then that she took to writing stories. At the age of seventy five she wrote short stories – ‘mini stories’ as she fondly called them. The stories depicted her childhood, teenage, herself as a young mother as also her interactions with the world around her. They analyzed the problems faced by young mothers in running a household and problems between spouses and how even with both trying to be accommodative, there could be issues. In her stories she offered solutions to minor and major hiccups in one’s life. All her stories were handwritten in a hard bound notebook and put away in a corner of her chest of drawers.
A famous Tamil magazine was planning to publish a special issue to mark the fiftieth year of its circulation. A section was devoted to senior citizens who had been among the first readers and entries were invited from such persons. She wondered if she could send in hers. She picked out a story from her collection and copied it on plain paper and posted it to the address mentioned in the magazine. She had not forgotten to add a note mentioning how much she enjoyed reading a particular story in the very first issue of the magazine. Needless to say that her mini story got published and a copy of the special issue was delivered to her by speed post along with a letter appreciating her contribution.
Her son was surprised to know that his mother wrote well enough to merit publication – that too in a renowned magazine – and asked to see the remaining stories. Her daughter-in-law was happy and secretly relieved to see that she had offered her perspective on house-keeping and the upbringing of children without complaining about or grudging their life style.
Very soon, the daughter-in-law’s friends came to hear of her stories and approached her for useful tips on running their homes. Elderly ladies came to share their own bitter and not-so-bitter experiences with her and benefited by her insight and advice. Her son joked that he would soon have to set up an office for her.
She only smiled and said that she was happy to be useful to society – all she wanted was to be included.
Hands together image via Shutterstock
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