Neena’s Confidante

Neena was the sole caregiver of Amma and though one would think that Amma was dependent on her, Neena felt otherwise.

Neena inhaled the aroma that emanated from the pan and took a deep breath. The aroma of cumin interspersed with butter transported her back to the modest kitchen in her native village. She could picture her father standing in the kitchen wearing his white crisp kurta as he made delectable concoctions for his only daughter.

Neena grew up in a home where both her parents worked together in tandem to keep the house up and running. She had a blissful childhood in her modest two-room house. The house was small but every nook and cranny gave her memories of a lifetime. Neena’s young heart imagined that her life would follow the same cheerful course. But how wrong she was!

When she was sixteen, the catastrophic clutches of destiny snatched away her parents. They passed away in a road accident and Neena was devastated. Relatives thronged her now gloomy house and soon it was decided that she should be married off.

Neena wanted to study further but she had little say in the matter. With her parents gone, she had to concede to her uncles’ decision. After all, by getting her married they could get rid of the responsibility of a young girl. So, at sixteen Neena found herself married to Sunil.

In the beginning, Sunil was good to her. He was kind to her and it seemed to her that probably he loved her. But within months of them getting married, slowly, and steadily he changed. He would shout at her at the drop of a hat. If the food was not to his liking, he would yell at her. If she forgot to iron his shirt, he would go berserk. Things that looked trivial to her created turbulence in Sunil’s demeanour.

“Why are you standing here like a rock? The food will not cook itself. I am already late for work.” Sunil’s harsh words shook Neena from her reverie and brought her to her present- A present which was not pleasant.

Over the years she had grown accustomed to Sunil’s jibes. He had anger issues and Neena would be at the receiving end of his nasty outbursts.

There were just three people who resided in the humble second-floor apartment. One of the corner bedrooms was inhabited by Sunil’s ninety-year-old grandmother Sumitra Devi. ‘Amma’ as she was addressed by Neena and Sunil, Sumitra Devi was a frail old woman who could hardly walk. She would be on her bed and age had shrivelled away her memory. She mostly rambled incoherent sentences and Neena was the only one who could understand her gestures and garbled sounds.

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As soon as Sunil left for work, Neena took a loud sigh. She could now stop walking on eggshells. But before sitting down with a much-deserved cup of coffee, she had to tend to Amma. Neena was the sole caregiver of Amma and though one would think that Amma was dependent on her, Neena felt otherwise. Amma was Neena’s lone companion in the corner second-floor apartment. Each day after Sunil left for work and she had to help Amma with her chores, Neena would ramble on and share with Amma her anguish and all that ailed her being. She would even outpour her dreams and fears to her unsuspecting nonagenarian grandmother-in-law.

Today too, like every other day, with dexterous precision she began feeding Amma her morning breakfast. Dabbing her face time and again with a damp cloth, she fed small morsels of porridge as Amma stared at her with a faraway look in her eyes. As always Neena began her soliloquy of sorts, “Amma, you know what? Today the tenth exam results were announced. And this time too amma, girls outshone the boys. I saw the pictures of the girls. They were beaming with pride and happiness.” Neena spoke animatedly and suddenly turned pensive. She paused as she waited for Amma to swallow the small spoonful of porridge. Making Amma eat was akin to making a one-year-old eat. It was marked with constant instructions of Neena uttering, “Chew amma, yes chew slowly.”

At times amma showed extreme displeasure and would not open her mouth. On such days, Neena would take Amma out in the residential park. There sitting underneath the sturdy Gulmohar tree amma would- after much cooing and cajoling – eat her breakfast. The two women would sit, one blabbering away to glory and the other mumbling gibberish. People passing by would peek at them- some with prying curiosity while others with a sense of fascination. Some would even look at Neena woefully with pity in their eyes. Yet little did they know that for Neena the time spent outside the four walls of her house was much cherished. The house where Neena had been living since she had gotten married fifteen years ago, was a constant reminder of Sunil’s aloofness and contempt. An air of sullenness hung large in the air and Neena was more than happy to step away from it.

Today though amma behaved like an obedient child and gaped at her as Neena rambled on.

“Amma, you know what, I was in grade ten when I lost Ma and Papa. I had been looking forward to appearing for my board exams. But…then suddenly I found myself a married woman. How things would have been if Ma and Papa had not left me. Maybe I would have been a smart and educated memsaab, like our neighbour Anjali.” Neena could not help but smile as Amma looked at her quizzically. Many times Neena felt that Amma was listening to her with rapt attention and was actually nodding along.

She continued, “Yes amma, just like Anjali. She works in a bank and have you seen how she carries herself? She walks with an air of elegance. I think earning your own money gives you that confidence.” Neena retorted with vehemence.

But the very next moment her voice fell. “Then what do I know? I have never stepped out and done anything worthwhile. You know amma, many times I thought of inviting Anjali home over lunch or dinner. How fascinating it would be to listen to her talk. But then, you remember how Sunil shouted at me and asked me to stay away from these feminist kinds.”

Just then amma snorted.

“Oh, look at me going on and on,” Neena at once patted Amma’s back and got up to get water for her.  At times she wondered if not for Amma who would she have talked to? She knew everyone in the housing society she had been staying in for the better part of her life. Yet no one could cross the boundary of acquaintance and waddle in the waters of friendship. Neena often looked at Amma wistfully. She had been told by Sunil how Amma used to be a firebrand of a woman before Parkinson’s and old age withered her spirits and body. Neena came to know from Sunil that Amma was a nurse back in the day. She would tell Amma often, “Amma how great you would have felt to be able to live your life like that. To be able to decide the course of your life…”

Many times, Neena pushed a pen and a diary towards Amma hoping that she might scribble something. Sometimes amma would pick up the pen and scrawl something. But it was never legible enough to read. Neena still persisted, in a faint hope that maybe someday she might have a two-way conversation with her only confidante. But all she could ever get were zig-zag lines and indecipherable words.


Days elapsed and while the nights seemed shorter, afternoons dragged at a dreary pace for Neena. On one such day, Neena woke up with a start. Yawning with an air of languor still clutching her body, she stood up from her queen-sized bed. She suddenly remembered what she had dreamed in the wee hours just before reality took hold. The sheer remembrance made her smile. Next to her Sunil snored blissfully. She sighed. She silently hoped for him to sleep a bit more. More sleep left him with less time to bombard her with vicious insinuations. With slow yet steady steps, she reached Amma’s room.

“How did you sleep amma? I had such strange dreams. I saw that I was wearing a pantsuit and attending a meeting. Can you imagine me doing that?” Neena went on while pouring water into Amma’s copper bottle. As she turned around, she saw Amma’s face. At once she felt something was amiss. Amma’s eyes were closed and her face had a white pallor.

“Amma….” Neena shrieked and ran towards her bed.

As she touched Amma’s forehead, she knew.

An errant tear at once made its presence felt on her left cheek. She was too stunned to move. A couple of minutes elapsed. Slowly she wiped her face and collected herself. She needed to tell Sunil. But just as she was about to pick herself up, her eyes strayed towards something next to Amma’s bed. A red-colored folder sat next to Amma’s pillow. Neena’s hand shivered as she opened the folder. It had a stack of papers. A few minutes went by before she could read what was written in those papers. When reality hit her, she sat there transfixed. These were the papers of Amma’s old ancestral house. Amma had left the sole ownership of the house to Neena.

Next to the folder was the diary that Neena had bought for Amma. It was the same diary that Neena had handed over to Amma many times, to hear from Amma but to no avail. Overcome with emotions, Neena picked up the diary as it was symbolic of their silent conversations over the years.

As she turned the pages with grief writ large on her face, Neena’s eyes fell on the last page. She stared incredulously at it as tears enveloped her vision. The letters though looking like a kid’s mindless scribblings, were legible enough to be understood.

“Study Neena. Become a memsaab.”

Wiping her tears, Neena couldn’t stop herself from replying, “Yes amma, I will …I will.”

The morning sun rays peered through the open window, at once drowning the room in its soft refulgence.

Image source: Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash

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About the Author

Meha Sharma

Meha has worked as a Business Analyst in an elite IT firm and as a full time professor in management colleges. Having earned an MBA degree in Human Resource Management and an MA degree in read more...

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