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However, when Mukta got to know about her appa’s deteriorating health, she took a long sabbatical from her job and came back to Puri to be with her foster parents, and took care of her appa till he breathed his last.
There was an eerie silence in the air; Dhara could sense the clutches of overwhelming loneliness grappling her thoughts completely. The stillness in the room in the absence of her life-partner was deafening, until Mukta stepped in and started packing her mother’s luggage to embark on a new journey of togetherness. The wait was over and after a year of her husband’s demise, Dhara had decided to move in with Mukta and Shanti.
Born and brought up in Chennai, Dhara was a happy-go-lucky woman and had no qualms in relocating to a new place, Puri, when her husband Karthik got an opportunity to head a new department in his early 50’s. They had a son Sundar, who was completing his college and was all settled to move to U.S for his higher studies. The couple had been leading a settled and comfortable life in Chennai, but was not afraid of coming out of their safe cocoon and start a new life afresh in a pilgrimage city.
The first few weeks after moving to the city, Dhara did feel some homesickness anxiety, but she was extremely fortunate to find a friend in her maid Shanti who shared same age and vibes too. Language was indeed a barrier, but this did not seem to be a hindrance in their ceaseless chats owing to sign language and broken Hindi-English. Shanti displayed her fondness for Dhara by bringing her special traditional dishes, and that made the affection between them grow manifold.
Shanti had a young daughter Mukta, 19 years of age, and used to frequent Dhara’s house with her mother to help her in household chores. Dhara had developed a special bond with Mukta too for her affable nature, and Mukta’s love and affection towards Karthik and herself.
Shanti was a widow as her husband had died early in an accident while Mukta had only faded memories of her father. With the passing time, owing to Sundar’s physical absence in their lives and also due to Mukta’s endearing nature, she became the cynosure of their eyes, and on Karthik’s insistence, she started calling him “appa”. The adoration grew strong over the years, and Dhara and Karthik helped Shanti in every way possible to ensure that Mukta completed her studies.
10 years had passed, old age had set in, and owing to health issues, Karthik took voluntary retirement. He was not keeping well since the past few months post his retirement and was constantly asking Sundar to come back to India so that they could live together in their Chennai home.
But his only son was not willing to come back; he did not even manage to come back to India to meet his ailing father for one last time. However, when Mukta got to know about her appa’s deteriorating health, she took a long sabbatical from her job and came back to Puri to be with her foster parents, and took care of her appa till he breathed his last.
After Karthik’s demise, several phone calls were made to Sundar to break the dreaded news but he was not reachable for an entire day. The body was kept in the morgue for 4 days until his ‘beloved’ son arrived to get ready for the funeral rituals.
Dhara was in a state of shock and denial and was crying inconsolably at the loss of her life partner. The grief was immense and melancholy had set in but that did not deter her thought process. Fighting her incessant tears, she announced, unwavered, to her relatives, that Mukta would do her appa’s last rites as she had assumed the role of a son when needed than Sundar.
This decision of hers was followed by strong opposition and bitter condemnation by her relatives, some deriding her for bringing disgrace to Karthik’s soul and others for going against the societal norms. But she stood firm like a rock, undeterred by the fierce opposition as set by others. She knew that her husband soul will only be free and liberated when his daughter lights his pyre.
A version of this was first published here.
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