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“Don’t stop me now. I have finally found my home. And it is near your house. You can come and meet me any time you like and I can visit you anytime you want."
“Don’t stop me now. I have finally found my home. And it is near your house. You can come and meet me any time you like and I can visit you anytime you want.”
“But why do you want to go and live in the old people’s home Mother? We all are here. You can stay with us in anyone’s house. You have plenty of homes to stay in!” said Arundhati looking aghast after her mother told her that she planned to stay in the Pensioners Valley. The Pensioners Valley was a place where old people who were alone, lived.
“I can’t live anywhere else. I don’t feel comfortable anywhere.” Her mother calmly replied.
”But those were, no, are your homes! The place where Mama stays, you have spent your childhood there. That flat in Bangalore where we lived while I was in school. Or this house where I live with my family. You’ve spent your life in these homes. But you never said you were not comfortable here”
“Yes I lived there, but it really did not feel like home”
“How can you say that? For 18 years you lived in the sprawling bungalow where mama now lives.”
“But did I really live there? My parents were doctors and very keen to serve. So my mother joined work as soon as I was 6-months-old. She would drop me to the creche and pick me in the evenings. After I started pre-school, I would go there from the creche. I spent more time in the creche than at home.
“As I grew up, I would go to various classes in the evening as there was no one at home to take care of me. Later, because I opted for the science stream, tuitions kept me busy till late night. So I was home only for a few hours. It never felt like a place to relax. Everyone was on the go.”
Arundhati looked at her mother. She hadn’t thought of this aspect of her mother’s life.
“Then I chose the IT department and for the next five to six years, room no. 7 was my home. I was the most comfortable there. After that, due to placements I would shift to various cities living in women’s hostels or in PG’s.
“Once I got married, your dad and I both were working since the living costs had increased. And in the IT sector, time seems to have no meaning. The houses we lived in during this period were rented more for convenience than comfort. These places had to be within walking distance from your school, safe for you to be left alone in the house. They also had to be close to residential areas, shopping centres and public transport.”
As realization dawned over Arundhati, she remembered coming back from school to a lonely house. Still, she persisted, “But we enjoyed the holidays, ma!”
Her mom had a logical response to that too. She said, “Holidays we spent going to some place and sight-seeing. We booked hotels with 4 or 5-star ratings. We had to cram so many things in the little time we had that we never used the rooms to the fullest extent.
“It would be very tiring. I would have loved to spend time just relaxing, doing nothing. Even when I was a kid, we used to go to exotic places where Mom and Dad’s conferences were held and it was the same thing.”
Arundhati was quiet. She was trying to understand what her mother was saying.
“So you see there were no places where I could relax. Even in your house, you gave me a separate room. But I could not leave my computer open for fear that Nisha would come and try to play with it. I cannot lie down and do nothing because someone is at the door or it is time to pick Nisha from her play school or just something else. I am not saying I don’t like doing this, but I cannot relax here. This is not my home. Nor was the house from my childhood my home. Maybe the only place I felt at home was my Room No 7.”
“What do you mean?” asked Arundhati.
“Home was perhaps just this body I inhabited and this too was alien to me at times, its folds and creases, its pains and needs. Home was everywhere and nowhere. Home, I realised now, was anywhere the heart slept in peace. Home was where one unpacked one’s cares and settled them into the wardrobe with one’s clothes. It was where one was complete. And that is how I felt when I spent a few days in the old people’s home. I did not have to worry there at all like I do here if I am not feeling well…”
“But we take care of you..”
“Yes, you do. But do you understand what I go through when I feel ill? I am responsible for your daughter when you are not home and I worry what will happen if I suddenly fall unconscious. What will she do? How frightened she would be! And it can happen. I am now in my sixties. My joints hurt almost constantly and I also have diabetes.”
“No. Don’t stop me now. I have finally found my home. And it is near your house. You can come and meet me any time you like and I can visit you anytime you want. Plus, more relatives will visit me especially to see how you have abandoned me,” said her mother with a naughty grin.
“Mom is right, you know” she said to her husband as she tried to explain the situation that she had willingly given in to. Her mother did seem happier now that she was in a place she could finally call her own.
This story was shortlisted for our June 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. Our juror for the month Kiran Manral says “Ageing and the indignity associated with it, and the need to be independent in the twilight years succinctly captured in this short story.”
Image source: a still from the short film Everything is Fine/ LargeShortFilms on YouTube
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