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Having been confined within house for over a month now, was having severe effects on people. And some of them were present in this very house itself.
“Papa, your tea,” Meera held out a cup for her father-in-law and moved to the other side of the bed to give the second cup on her tray to her mother-in-law, Veena.
“What happened papa?” Meera asked him politely, when she saw the still full cup of tea in his hands. He seemed lost in his own thoughts as he stared at the TV.
“Your husband!” he told her angrily, “is of no use. One thing I’ve asked him to do but he doesn’t bother about it,” he added.
Meera gave a worried look to her mother in law, wondering what her husband might have done now to cause such anger. She just shook her head in a simple no and pointed towards the blank television. Meera turned to look at it carefully and realised that the television was not switched off, but it actually was not working!
The cable was down all morning, and her retired father in law, Sunil ji, was now fuming like a ball of wool on fire!
“I asked him to call the cable wala and check with him why is the network not coming? Meera, will you please ask him what happened?”
Sunil ji had already asked his son seventeen times since the morning and Vikas had already told him that the technicians are working on it. But the wait seems to have aggravated him further, not helping him understand that Vikas couldn’t do much about it.
Meera smiled at his desperation and walked out of the room silently. Ever since his retirement, Sunil ji had only two major activities that would cover his entire day- spending time with friends, daily without fail, and television.
However, since the lockdown had been announced, his first activity had been rolled under the carpet by his family. Now after strict instructions from all of them, he was ‘punished’ to stay at home and spend the day with his other interest- television. Due to the fault in the cable, he was getting worked up, not being able to do anything at all!
Meera next went to her bedroom, carrying the third cup of tea on her tray for her husband. He himself had been harassed about something for the last few hours, and this was his third cup of tea since morning.
“Vikas,” she started softly, not sure about the depth of his particular problem at hand. And neither knowing what his reaction to her question would be. “Did you speak to the cable guy? Why isn’t the network not coming?” she asked.
Vikas stopped what he was doing and glared at her.
“I’m not asking,” she said quickly, as if a huge bowl of boiling liquid had overflown near her and was moving away from it to protect herself from getting scalded. “Papa was saying…”
“Just ten minutes ago I told him I’ve spoken to the cable guy, and that he is working on it. He said there was a technical issue and is getting it repaired as soon as he can. What else can I do about it?” he shouted.
“And,” he continued with a little annoyance, “it is not ‘network’, it is ‘signal!’ ‘Signal’ hota hai cable mein. Network mobile aur WiFi mein hota hai!” (Signal is for the cable. And network is for mobiles and Wifi!)
“I know… woh papa had said that so I repeated it by mistake. But what is wrong with you? What are you so anxious about?” she asked.
“My credit card is not working!” he stated simply. And Meera knew how important it was for a credit card to be active during these times when almost everything was being paid for online.
“How come? Till yesterday it was working?”
“I wouldn’t have been going mad if I knew why!”
“Why don’t you use Varun’s card for the time being?” she suggested smartly.
“Because your son is an idiot!” he hissed at her, spewing the venom of his anger and misery on her. When Meera didn’t say anything, he continued, “Your son used up the entire balance that was there in his card! And now my card is also not working! God knows what has happened to it, the card has got corrupted and is not making any other transactions with it!” he shouted at the top of his voice.
“Is there something important you had to pay for immediately?” Meera asked with concern.
“Yes! My Netflix account has got deactivated! And now I’m not being able to reactivate it. Can you believe it?” he questioned her furiously.
‘No!’ she wanted to say out loud, but didn’t dare say it, knowing too well what the repercussions would be. With the temperament already flying sky high, a blast would be nothing but inevitable.
“Tomorrow is Monday, I’m sure the bank will be able to help you….”
“But what am I going to do today?” he stared at her, wondering if his wife had gone mad or was irritating him out of fun. “Without Netflix what am I going to do today?”
Meera decided to leave the room without another word, and headed straight to her son, who had been sulking in his room since yesterday. He had been distressed and low about something, and had refused to tell even her neither had he eaten dinner properly. As a matter of fact, he hadn’t even had breakfast today!
“Varun?” she knocked once before entering the room, dark and humid! “So, are you going to save money by sitting in darkness and without the fan?” she enquired in jest.
Varun just looked up at her face, shook his head in a dismissal at his mother’s absolutely not funny joke.
Meera turned on the light and fan and entered the room, which was more like a garbage dump or to give it a sophisticated name- a dust bin! Clothes lying on the chair, books strewn all over the study table and floor beside where he sat, cds lying on the bed with a some empty chip packets thrown around them.
“God! The condition of your room is much more dangerous than corona! What have you done to it Varun?” Meera shouted with exasperation. “What is wrong with you?”
She began working on the room with grave seriousness, muttering somethings in between. “So many times I’ve told you to keep things tidy but you never listen. Now I have to do this also for you!”
On and on she kept mumbling about his shortcomings and the increased workload that was now taking a toll on her health and patience at the same time.
After almost half an hour, Meera stretched after throwing his fifth t-shirt in a pile of clothes needed to be washed. She slumped on her son’s bed and stared at him curiously.
“Are you OK?” she enquired worriedly. When he nodded slowly, she continue, “Varun… how much money did you use from your credit card?” she jumped straight to the point.
The way he was behaving, and by her husband’s rage, she knew the amount was not a small one, she wanted to know how much.
“Come on. Tell me, five thousand?” she asked calmly. “Ten?” she asked with a hint of stress. When he still didn’t reply, she continued with a big swallow of anxiety, “Fifteen…?”
She couldn’t dare to go any further, and now her heart was beating loudly with apprehension and open fear. “Varun!! How much?” she asked indignantly.
Meera held her breath involuntarily, and was shocked at the figure. “Thirty thousand! Seriously?” she glowered at him with pure displeasure. “May I ask what did you need the money to pay for?”
“Online games, mom! You know how much I love playing online and…” the energy with which he began flew out of him like a balloon deflating after being pierced with a pin. The pin, here, was the glare his mom was giving him.
“Online games?? Varun! What were you thinking?”
“Nothing…” he stated simply, “you know how much these games mean to me…and I don’t have anything else to do, so what else can I do?”
After few more minutes of explanation, he realised the she was not listening to a single word he was saying and turned quiet once again.
Meera got up from the bed and opened the bedroom door to leave.
“Lunch will be ready in thirty minutes…”
“I don’t want to eat.”
Half an hour later, Sunil ji and Vikas came out to the the living room and took their respective seats on the dining table.
“Where is munna?” Sunil ji asked Meera, referring to his fifteen year old grand son.
“He doesn’t want to eat papa,” Meera informed her father in law generally.
“Why?” he asked rather angrily. “What is happening to this house I don’t understand!” he stated in the same agitated fury he had been engulfed in since morning.
“Did you scold him again?” he questioned his son in a ‘how dare you’ tone. “He is your only son you fool! Why are you after his life all the time?” he semi shrieked.
“Munna…munna!” Sunil ji called twice for his ‘aakh ka taara’. Varun maybe a typical teenager in his attitude towards his parents, but when it came to his grandfather, he dared not go out of line.
Before Sunil ji could even open his mouth to call him a third time, Varun came and stood in front of him.
“Aren’t you hungry?” he asked in a casual tone.
“Of course I am! I’m starving actually. Mom,” he turned to his mother in a reprimanding way, “why didn’t you tell me that lunch was ready?”
“Enough, enough…stop that drama now and eat.” Sunil ji knew his grandson too well and that he was just trying to act in front of him.
After the first round of chapatis had got over, in silence, Sunil ji began again. “How many times I’ve told you not to shout at your son, but you just don’t listen!” he stated accusingly, “and neither has the cable started yet!”
Vikas was all set to boil up now, having been poked by his father way too many times, especially today since morning. He was behaving as if Vikas has purposely disconnected his cable ‘network’ was just pretending to get it fixed. Also, he was unnecessarily being angry at him for being upset with Varun and scolding him.
Varun gulped the food on his plate hurriedly, realising any moment he could be driven into this argument between his father and grandfather. He finished his food as soon as he could and was almost ready to get up.
“You always blame me for everything! Why don’t you ask your ‘munna‘ why I scolded him in the first place!”
There it was! Now was officially sucked into the wrestling ring of his elders and willingly or unwillingly, he would have to throw a few punches (not literally) to just survive.
“What is your father saying munna?” Sunil asked him, as if he was talking to a two year old and trying to know the reason why he is crying? Vikas rolled his eyes in the sheer frustration, clearly furious at the difference of attitude between him and Varun.
“Woh dadaji… actually… I thought, you know… woh, waise…”
“I’ll tell you papa,” Vikas jumped in between his son and his senseless words. “He has spent thirty thousand rupees…in just two days time, that too on rubbish!” he blurted each word angrily. Sunil ji looked at Varun with disbelief.
“How can you do something like this?” he asked Vikas angrily.
“What did I do?” Vikas questioned back with even more anger. “He is the one who spent all that money on some stupid game!”
“Yes…but he is just a kid now. You should have known better before giving him the card to use!”
“I don’t believe this?!” Vikas answered with even more frustration.
“Yes it is highly unbelievable. I’m sure you must have been busy in your Netnix, while your old father is sitting here without a TV!”
“It’s Netflix papa!! Not Netnix!”
“Oh I don’t care whatever it is…all I know is that my cable network has not resumed yet! That’s it!”
Meera, Varun and his grandmother, all three just looked from one to the other, waiting for this horrible session to get over. Having been literally confined within the four walls of the house for over a month now, it was having severe effects on a few people. And some of them were present in this very house itself.
Clearing up after lunch, Meera made herself a strong cup of coffee and headed to the balcony, where her mother in law was sitting quietly.
Meera heaved a heavy sigh and turned to observe Veena ji, who was sitting in complete peace. With a small smile shaping her lips, she just sat there in silence, enjoying the bliss of the solitude and stillness.
“You know when we were small, we didn’t have any television or telephone in our house,” she spoke to Meera. “In fact there was no radio also till I got married, but people were more merrier and jolly about their lives.”
Meera wondered how she got to know about what she was thinking in her mind. “But then how did you all manage to keep yourselves busy and happy and satisfied?” Meera was actually intrigued about how the people lived in the older times when there were no facilities available to anyone. “Mummy, how do you manage to keep yourself… alive? What do you need to keep yourself satisfied?”
“Nothing. I am enough for myself, and I need nothing else to keep me happy, satisfied and smiling.” She looked at Meera with her typical mischievous smile, and continued, “if you are not content with yourself, no television, Netflix or online game will be able to help you. However if you are happy with yourself, you will always be ‘enough’ for yourself, and sometimes even for others.”
The words just told to her did not have a very deep meaning, but made a deep impact on her mind and soul. She smiled at Veena ji and lifted her cup of her favourite sweet strong coffee to her mouth.
“Waise…hamare zamaane mein coffee bhi nahi hoti thi…”
Meera stared at the cup for a few seconds before actually realising the meaning of what Veena ji had said. She smiled at her mother-in-law (who was watching her with interest), and put her cup aside. She just sat there, trying to be ‘enough’ for herself!
A version of this was earlier published here.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Thappad
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