" Why did you bring that stuff in ?" screamed Sheetal Taneja, " It's supposed to bring bad luck." Her husband, Arun was amused. He was holding a lemon tied to a string with green peppers. He sneered at her and added," It's just a piece of lemon. Somebody threw it outside our house. Why don't you prepare lemon rice out of it?" She snatched it away from his palm and threw it outside her apartment.
Unfortunately, the cursed lemon landed just outside their quarrelsome neighbor, Mehta's house. Mrs. Mehta was furious. She picked it up and strode towards Sheetal's apartment. Sheetal hated the smirk on his face. He loved to tease her and enjoyed her reaction. Sheetal took him to task for his stupid action.
Mrs.Mehta stopped outside her house to eavesdrop on their slightly heated arguments. Sheetal's voice could be heard even from a considerable distance. " My dear wife, you could be an opera singer with that voice of yours. I am sorry for offending you," he added with a smile. Sheetal grinned at him. Mrs.Mehta was disappointed to find that the debate had not escalated.
She pressed the doorbell with a determination to bombard Sheetal. The latter opened the door to find Mrs. Mehta snorting like a raging Bull. She yelled at Sheetal," You are a wretched woman! How dare you throw this lemon outside my house?" Sheetal replied," I am sorry, Mrs.Mehta. I did not do it on purpose. It was a mistake."
Her quarrelsome neighbor accepted her apology. " I will forgive you this time," she responded, " Forget the whole issue. I was wondering if I could have a cup of tea with you." Sheetal wondered at the audacity of the woman to scold her in her own home and impose herself upon her. " May I come in?" asked Mrs. Mehta without waiting for her response. Sheetal said," I am sorry to have kept you waiting outside." Arun greeted her politely before disappearing into his bedroom. She stepped aside to let her in.
Mrs. Mehta made her way to the living room. She reminded Sheetal of an overstuffed penguin. She sat on the couch, occupying most of the space. Sheetal offered her a glass of water. " Where are your children?" she asked after taking a sip from the glass. " They are doing their homework," came the reply.
Sheetal excused herself to prepare tea for them. Her neighbor picked up a magazine lying on the coffee table and turned the pages. Fifteen minutes later, Sheetal had tea with Mrs.Mehta. The latter tried to convince Sheetal to join her MLM business. She kept on chattering non-stop for nearly an hour. Sheetal barely spoke a word or two. She desperately needed an Aspirin for her headache. She stifled a yawn and gave her an exasperated look.
Mrs. Mehta took the cue and got ready to leave. She said," Don't forget to call me and let me know your decision." Finally, she made her exit, making Sheetal heave a sigh of relief. She glanced at the clock. It was 7.30 PM. She hadn't time to prepare anything. She decided to check up on her family before jumping into action. She lived in a spacious three BHK apartment in Andheri. Arun was busy talking to someone on his mobile in the master bedroom. Her children Yash(7) and Aditi(10), were watching cartoons in their room. Her widowed mother-in-law Usha was snoring loudly in her comfortable double bed. She came back to the living room and ordered food through Swiggy. She cursed her neighbor for wasting her precious time. Sheetal loved cooking for the family. She avoided going to a restaurant or ordering food online as far as possible. Arun would take them out for dinner at least once in six months.
Sheetal paced restlessly in the room, waiting for the food delivery. She had already kept the cash ready for payment. She dreaded facing Arun, as he would make fun of her. She received the food parcel after half an hour. She disappeared into the kitchen stealthily. She called out her family for dinner. She had ordered their favorite dishes. Arun caught the glint in her eyes. " Wow! Mummy, you are a genius! It looks so delicious. I am going to gobble it up," said Yash, staring excitedly at fried chicken with hot chapattis and vegetable pulao. Arun winked at her to indicate that he won't reveal her secret. She was grateful to him. Her mother-in-law praised her cooking. Arun helped her to clear the table. Her children and mother-in-law wished them good night and went to bed.
The couple sat together on the couch. Arun could read the guilt and shame painted on her face. He consoled her," Don't blame yourself for the dinner fiasco. I appreciate your quick thinking and order food from outside. It's Mrs.Mehta's fault. What happened to that fat buffalo? What did she discuss with you?" Sheetal commented," I wish I could stitch her mouth to prevent her from talking. I could even use Fevicol to glue her lips together. Her husband deserves President's award for tolerating blabbermouth like her. She wanted me to join her business. I never gave her any commitment." Arun chuckled at her remarks. He was fond of her great sense of humor. She reciprocated his love with equal sincerity. Arun was 45, and Sheetal was 40. They ended their day by hugging each other.
Bad luck knocked at her door on the following day. She broke the heels of her sandals while trying to catch an autorickshaw. Her son had left behind his lunch box. Her children attended The Venus International High School, where she worked as a teacher. She barely made it to her school on time. She asked a peon to hand over the lunch box to her son in Class 3A. Most of the day passed uneventfully. She tripped over the staircase and scraped her knee while returning home. Arun had his share of bad luck. His company lost an important project. His boss blasted every employee present in the office. Arun had to work overtime to compensate for the loss.
Sheetal waited anxiously for his return. She had reheated the food in her microwave oven. Arun came home after 10 PM. He appeared to be very tired after a hectic schedule. He greeted her with a forced smile. They discussed the incidents of the day after Arun had his dinner.
Sheetal witnessed stranger events taking place in her house, over the next few weeks. Food started disappearing mysteriously from the utensils. The thief had finished half of the dinner prepared by Sheetal. When she questioned her mother-in-law, she vehemently denied having anything to do with it. Her children also made it clear that they had nothing to do with the theft of food.
It was Saturday evening. Sheetal had prepared Aloo Parathas with Malai kofta. She had counted them before leaving the kitchen. There were 25 parathas for the family. She entered her children's room and watched TV for some time. Her husband was playing games on his mobile in their bedroom. The food thief sneaked into the kitchen and piled up six parathas on a plate with adequate kofta.
The dinner time arrived shortly. Everyone gathered around the dining table. Sheetal was dismayed to find six parathas missing. She cast an alarming look at Arun. Sheetal announced that the food thief had struck again. Aditi felt thrilled and urged her father to start the investigation. He faced his mother," What were you doing when the thief entered the kitchen? Your room is very close to the kitchen. You could have heard any kind of movement or noise."
His mother threw him a dirty look. "Are you accusing me of stealing food?" she asked him furiously," I will not tolerate this insult. I am going to throw myself in front of a running train." She left the dining table, followed by Sheetal and Arun. She picked up her handbag from her room. She turned around to find Sheetal blocking her way. The latter accosted Usha by commenting, " You don't need a purse to jump in front of a train. Please leave it behind. We will use the money for your last rites."
Usha felt like slapping her. Arun added fuel to the fire with his witty comments.
He said," Please excuse my naive wife. I apologize on her behalf. Sheetal, don't you know the consequences of her jumping in front of a train? Her bulky figure will lead to the derailment of the train." Sheetal and Arun burst out laughing. Usha turned crimson in anger. Arun continued to tease her," Mummy dearest, committing suicide is not your cup of tea. Hanging yourself with a rope across the ceiling fan will not help. You will end up bringing the entire roof down with your overweight. Poison will not affect you because it is present in your blood. Don't think of jumping from the terrace. If you happen to fall on somebody, he will die. Otherwise, you will break your hip and the pavement as well." Sheetal had tears in her eyes from laughing incessantly. Usha couldn't help but laugh. Sheetal stopped laughing and apologized to her. " Mom," she said," Please don't be angry with us. We never intended to hurt your feelings. I should never have commented about the train episode. However, I thought that it was the only way to stop you from taking any extreme step. We love you very much." She hugged Usha and kissed her gently on both the cheeks.
Usha had not expected this from her daughter-in-law. She felt a surge of affection towards Sheetal. Arun snapped her out of her reverie. " Let us resume our dinner," said Arun, squeezing her hand gently. " Forgive me, dear children," said Usha," I already had my dinner. I am ashamed to admit that I am a food thief. I couldn't resist the aroma of hot parathas. I have an enormous appetite nowadays. I crave for food, though I know that I should not overeat."
Sheetal felt sorry for her. She asked Arun to look after the kids. She continued to pamper her mother-in-law. She exclaimed," You need not feel guilty. We will consult a doctor for a diagnosis. I think you have some kind of eating disorder. We will work together for your medical treatment at the earliest. Don't be afraid to share your problems with me. I am your daughter and not a daughter-in-law."
Usha kissed her forehead and asked her to finish her dinner. Usha felt rejuvenated after Sheetal's words of encouragement.
Sheetal fixed an appointment with her family doctor on Monday. She took leave on Monday to accompany her
mother-in-law for a medical examination.
Usha started her treatment with a reputed therapist. In due course of time, she recovered completely. Sheetal assisted her in doing physical exercises to get back in shape. The Taneja family got even closer to each other than before. They enjoyed each other's company immensely.