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What is it about a working woman retiring from paid work that makes family and friends think she is now “free” for supporting their lives, no matter how misguided?
It was the last day at work for her. Now she was Mira Nair 53, Rtd Govt. Servant 1989-2017.
The farewells, bouquets, speeches, lunches, felicitations brought a lump to her throat… for a woman it’s a special feeling to be recognized for her work who otherwise stayed in the shadows as a mother, missus or bahu, but never her own person.
Tomorrow would be another day. The name board outside her cabin would be gone, along with her official stamp/ seal; keys surrendered after handing over of charge, bidding her adieu…a strange feeling of ennui overcame her.
As she walked she turned back to look at the imposing structure behind her, her second home for last 28 years, a place that had shaped her identity – for one last time, as tears welled up.
Funnily, when you give up responsibilities to the next in line at workplace, you are truly done with it, but how about our homes?
What happens to women like Mira? Does life hold any element of change for women in their 2nd innings?
And then came the day after her retirement, at home, and people called her.
She woke up to a phone call from her brother Arvind telling her of their plans to visit the US leaving Zedan, their pet Labrador with her, “…since you’re free,” he’d said, “he’ll be great company and you’ll never be bored.”
Whatever’s gave people the idea that life must be boring after retirement?
Mira ran to check on the upstairs flat where her aged in laws lived. If the attendants had switched duties in the morning, the meals for the day, stock of medicines, stuff…her father in law had Parkinson’s and mother in law was a diabetic who needed regular jabs of insulin.
All this while, her own father tottered outside despite being told to stay indoors. He was a stubborn man of 86 years, and insisted on having own way despite several falls and hurts. He hated his attendant and picked up fights and tantrums for no reason.
“He stole my shaving cream and toothpaste…” her father complained, “the bugger doesn’t do his job well. Chuck him out and get someone decent; after all he’s paid to do his job!”
The attendant was angry. “Aap ke pitaji kehte hain ki main maid ko line marta hoon…yeh koi baat hai?? Mere ghar mein aurat hain toh phir main doosre aurat ko kyon dekhoon..?” (Your father says I keep eyeing the maid. Why should I? I have my own wife!)
Had it been another day Mira could have laughed but, not now; there was no escaping.
The phone rang and this time it was her daughter Arna. “Ma Varun loves your appam and chicken curry so we’ll be there for lunch…”
If only someone would ask her what she loved to eat, Mira thought ruefully feeling tired of her son’s -in-law farmaish. Arna hated cooking so every other day she dropped in at her mother’s for meals. Varun was a big eater and polished off everything without a second thought for anyone. She had to save something before, or else nothing would be left.
Arna announced, “Amma, you won’t be bored for long; we have been planning a baby for some time. Now that you’ve retired it’s going to be much better.” This came as a shocker because the couple hardly had any money and barely managed with borrowings and credits, but the prospect of raising a baby looked scary for Mira not Arna.
Phone rang again. It was Arna’s in-laws.
“It’s been 2 years and no baby has yet showed up; it’s shameful for us… people talk… time’s running out for our son…” Funnily it didn’t matter to them if the son didn’t have a stable job, income or a house, and how could a baby ensure respectability?
“…Arna is 25… at her age I had 2 sons. You must talk to your daughter of her responsibility, and let me tell you being a grandma is the most satisfying job,” the lady at the other end assured her. “You’ll never know how time flies.” Whoever had told the woman that time stood still after retirement? thought Mira.
The phone rang again. It was her husband’s sisters Shalini and Maya congratulating her. “It’s a great time to enjoy your 2nd innings. We were thinking of coming over for the weekend… been long since we’ve met amma”.
Shalini didn’t eat anything that had cauliflower, capsicum or okra in it, Maya was a strict vegan, Arna and Varun loved their meat, and others couldn’t stand the smell of it. Mira felt weary thinking about the menu; all she wanted was to run away someplace.
She had barely finished when the doorbell rang. It was the attendant from upstairs “…uncle bol rahe hain ki unko attendant nahi chahiye…nikal jao” (Uncle is saying he doesn’t want an attendant, and I should go.)
Mira put on slippers and went to off to check. Her father in law had kicked the attendant in a fit of rage, and her mother in law was feeling faint with stress. Mira tried to calm down her father in law saying she would look for another person. “Until then we’ll have to pull on with this one.”
The attendant had to be mollified into staying back, “Pitaji ki umar ho gayi aap bura mat mano…” (He is old, don’t mind him so much) between fixing a glass of lime juice for her MIL, and returned to cook lunch for the day.
Mira was reeling under pressure from Arna’s plans to shift in with her as she was unable to cope up with work from home pressures. Mira dreaded the thought…Varun was a free loader with a head full of fanciful ideas, and Arna only fuelled his ego with her silliness. Last she had heard was that he wanted to give up his job and start a business. “I’m just not cut out for a ‘desk job or ‘taking orders,'” he had announced grandly. Mira had choked.
Mira had had enough by the end of the day.
She rummaged in the cupboard for the bottle of Sula wine that she and Manoj had saved for the right moment.
Moments can wait; life cannot, thought Mira, feeling a sense of elation as she poured the deep burgundy liquid into the slender glass. She switched off the phones, and sat down by her favourite place in inhaling the mogra flowers of summer, as she made mental notes to fix a few things.
~ Go ahead with her trip to Hyderabad.
~ Call off the weekend family get together.
~ Ask her brother Arvind to take over their Dad’s responsibility for a few weeks, and tell him to find alternate arrangements for a dog sitter.
~ Text Arna to rethink her plans until they were financially sorted. “Sorry to say, Arna, but I don’t think you’re ready for a baby right now, and I won’t be able to support you on this as I have my hands full right now.”
Some things in life needed to be taken head on; there are no two ways to do them…thought Mira, finding some sense of clarity finally.
Image source: a still from the malayalam film Varane Avashyamund
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