Living Together15 mins 180 15 mins 180
"Grandpa, what is meant by living- together?"
"It's about a joint family dear. Grandpa, grandma, daddy, mommy and children all live together under one roof."
"Like us? But in my lesson, it is given as a big family."
"In our family, we have just lost your grandma. And you are also a single child. That's why it looks small." But grandpa thought that just his presence was enough to make it look big. 'At least empress of the house thinks like that'.
"And mommy also said that only."
'Yes, if the empress says it cannot go wrong. But no, I should not pollute a kid's mind'. He did not say anything, just smiled.
Why was everything a problem for him? As long as his wife was alive he did not see any problem. He thought that everything was fitting in. She could manage everything without bringing to him any hint of what was going on. Now that she had gone he could not understand what was lacking in him. Of course, he could not be of any help in his daughter-in-law's kitchen. But the purchase of all the groceries and vegetables fell on his shoulders. He took it only sportively even though at times he felt it was a burden, maybe due to age or some illness. He never showed up which was never appreciated though. And he too never expected. What was more sickening was that he was neglected many times. He could not know where he erred but his purchase would be left untouched for days together until it perished and thrown out. He used to sit perplexed for days together.
When he got ill it was needless to say that he was unattended but he never cared for that. Nature cure was the only remedy he could think of and fasting took the main part most of the time. He was lucky in that respect. He did not become weaker just because of that. Mentally he was strong otherwise. His only concern was that he could not feel at home with his daughter-in-law's indifferent attitude towards him. Every time it was a sort of declaration that she did not like his presence. He tried his best to get rid of such a feeling not knowing that he had no part to play in the game as he was only a witnessing victim. His son also had no role to play but to turn his head away from the scene. Such an attitude could do favour only to his son and not to him. It rather worsened his condition. But he could not tell this to his son. Time could only distance him from his son. He always had the doubt whether such a relationship was worthy of being maintained. He could do nothing but witness everything in silence. Most of the time his grandson held his hands in his sufferings though unknowingly.
He never wished to ponder over spilt milk. As far as possible he filled his memories with pleasant past and hopeful future. He took the help of books and his past life with his wife. But there were times when he had to bury himself in depression especially when his health disturbed him. His situation in the family compelled him to avoid any activity other than the household routines. Maybe he was afraid of facing the displeasure of the family members.
Of course, his fear came out to be nothing but true in certain circumstances. Once he opted to join a movement for the help of the victims of a flood in the city but immediately it was his daughter-in-law who held the flag in her hands in protest against him objecting his move mainly pointing out at his age and health. He knew pretty well that her reason was far from true as the help he was supposed to offer was well within his limits which he explained well in advance. But everything fell on deaf ears to suit their convenience. He was ultimately compelled to live within the family with his heart outside the family.
Sometimes he got a feeling that he could go back to his village but he was afraid that he would die of loneliness. His house in the village had modern facilities like TV, sofa etc. but he did not buy a fridge as it was not needed in a village. Of course, that was his opinion. But he had to live in loneliness. That was the biggest threat for him.
Even then there were occasions when he opted to go back to his village. His son took it - or mistook it as blackmail. Maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong. But his daughter-in-law grabbed the opportunity to take the matter to the streets and make it a big issue. Those were the moments when he actually felt like he was wrong in his complaints and his presence was needed in the family.
But the following days proved him wrong. His daughter-in-law openly started criticizing him for not going also. "This old man cannot go and live in the village. He just says that he cannot leave us and live there alone. That's all a lie. He doesn't have the comfort of sitting at home and demanding like here. He has to do work which he is afraid of. He will never go away from these comforts." Such were her confrontations.
After that, she would declare some indirect punishments. She would stop talking to him so as to avoid offering anything to him from her side. He had to go to her and ask (beg) apologetically. He would be denied lunch unless he repeatedly apologized for his unwarranted offer to go to the village. Even his grandson was banned from talking to him. But his grandson had his own tactics to ease the situation and that was more than enough for the old man.
He could never imagine living in an old age home. Thank God his son and his wife also never imagined that. Part of the credit had to go to the society. But the old man could not somehow believe it. He opined that if he was ready then they also would have been ready. He could not read their mind in this matter alone. As long as nobody started the subject he was fine.
Temporary relief came to him when an important function was to be held in his village and they were all invited for it. He felt very happy to know that he could visit his village and spend some time with some of his friends whom he could not meet otherwise.
Their stay in the village lasted for about a week. The old man was really feeling as if he was in his heaven. Every minute, whether it is a friendly gathering or protest by a group, he relished the moment with full enthusiasm.
Tranquility of a village owes partly to its natural scenery. The old man was sitting on the banks of a stream near a paddy field as though all his sorrows could vanish overnight. It was true of course but the calm stream could not claim to have the full credit. It was the previous day's effect that he felt very light at heart. From the day he entered the village even though he was enjoying every minute of his stay there he was having some uncomfortable feeling which he could not identify. He could not be very sure whether to continue in the village itself not accompanying his son on his return without giving any notice. He was partly feeling guilty about such an idea of getting into his mind. He himself was not sure whether he really wanted that. Again the thought of loneliness began to haunt him. He wanted to get rid of the phobia but again the thought of going back to the city with his son troubled him even more. This time he wanted to take a decision but he did not have enough courage.
The cool breeze and the serene atmosphere here near the stream guaranteed that they could bring solace to him and give a solution to his problems. It could have been his imagination but after sitting there and taking a long breath to get rid of the suffocation he was experiencing so far he had a feeling that his solution could be there. He was in a mood to whistle loudly which he couldn't dare to do in the city. Suddenly he felt a shadow in the vicinity. He raised his head. That lady was coming towards him. She was a little far off so he thought she wouldn't have heard his whistle.
Seeing her so many doubts clustered his mind. He saw her for the first time the previous day with the NGO group that visited his house for some aide or donation. They had gathered in the village for some charity purpose. Maybe for building a school and a hospital in the village they needed help from the public and were collecting funds. Though the old man was willing to offer whatever he could his family was not in favour of the offer. They built up some excuse and turned them out empty-handed. His inability to offer some help to them was deeply pricking him inside. This lady's pleading eyes stayed in him for long. They wanted to say something to him and he felt like he was reluctant to hear her.
She was a lady in her mid-fifties. She looked as if she had more maturity for her age but that did not add to the looks of her age. She was well composed and polite. Her balanced mind seemed to give her a helping hand to the services she got involved in. That was the first day this old man felt ashamed of never considering such social services as a motto in his life. Certainly, she was his inspiration at that moment. The happiness she was deriving from such services was visible not only in her eyes but throughout her body expressed in her gestures. When she was able to get involved in such noble activities why couldn't he do that? How could he miss a treasure like that so far in his mundane life filled only with a silent vacuum? No doubt he had such ideas before but they were crushed in the budding stage itself. Was it a lack of confidence and courage to assert himself at those moments? How was it that difficult for him which she found so easy? Perhaps she did not have a compelling surrounding. But who had the right to thrust upon him such a difficult situation? It was him; he was the only reason for his conditions.
She was almost in front of him. He could not raise his head out of shame for not offering any help to her team. Maybe she could have studied that in his eyes in their first meeting itself so she might have come now to ask for help when he was alone. He felt ashamed once again for such a thought passing through his mind. Does it mean that he had taken her for a beggar? But begging for a noble cause should not be considered mean. It is as noble as the cause.
"Hello sir, I am Aarti. Hope you remember that we met yesterday," without even expecting a reply from him she sat near him. He was taken aback by her gesture. He was so conservative that he could not imagine a lady sitting next to him but was hesitant to react. After all, she seemed to be well educated and insulting her behaviour was beyond his imagination.
"I never thought that you would be so timid. I heard that you are from Chennai. Are people in your place so reserved? Oh Sorry, I am only talking. I have taken too much of liberty with you," she was talking without giving any gap for him to think of answering.
He slowly raised his head. His eyes were still gazing at the ground. He was trying hard to express himself but was beyond words. And he was afraid even to raise his eyebrows for the fear that she would find out his weakness.
"I am sorry to have disturbed you," she was about to get up. He suddenly raised his head and uttered some words in haste which she could not decipher. She waited for him to collect himself. It took a few seconds but that seemed to be a long silence for him as he was struggling with his emotions. At last, he gathered himself and blabbered now of course with a little more clarity, "I am Gopal. Just last week we came here. I belong to this place only. But I never knew that such activity is going on here." She could understand that much. But as she seemed to know about him more she kept silent though. She let him reveal more about him.
"I could have.... I wanted to.... I... I..."
"I can understand. I have heard that you are living with your son and visit here very rarely even though you have your house here. So I think you could have some reservations within yourself."
"No, no. Nothing like that. I don't have any reservations. I am open. You can take liberty with me." He did not know how to proceed with the conversation.
"I thought you don't want to talk freely. I am a chatterbox. So I take a lot of liberty with anyone I meet. My opinion is that if we talk more we can make others understand us more, isn't it?" He saw her smile beaming. Maybe ladies are more conversant. "But sometimes the more we talk the more we hurt others." He could not avoid the thought of his daughter-in-law at that moment.
"Is it?" She sounded as though it was a piece of news to her. "Okay, I agree. Silence is gold. But we can talk about positive things. If I don't talk to you and you don't want to listen to how can I can make you understand what I want from you?" She laughed a little loudly.
He threw a puzzled look at her. "From me? I am after all a useless old man."
She did not allow him to continue, "nobody is useless in this world. Grab the opportunity to know what you are worth. Automatically you become useful."
He could now catch her point. She had come to him only for some help, maybe monetary. But in that case, he would prove to be really useless as even the meagre savings he was left with he had already parted with his son for some purpose which turned out to be a petty expenditure. As long as he was going to be with his son he did not bother about that. This house was the only property that he had and his son was not bothered about as it could fetch no income. He had no pension to manage his private expenses. He was reluctant to reveal all these things to others as he considered them to be personal matters. His blank smile was the only answer.
"Yesterday I could see that you wanted to help us in some way or another. I could read it in your eyes. Am I taking too much liberty with you?" She paused for a minute. He nodded in silence.
She continued, "our team is leaving the village but I will be staying as I am the only person who could afford more time. I am single at present. I lost my husband a few years back and my son and daughter are away with their families. So I have the facility to offer them this small favour. We have some spade-work to do here regarding our project. So..." she gave a glance into his eyes without continuing the conversation.
"So tell me what I can do for you," she was happy with his first reaction.
"I heard that you are going back in a couple of days leaving behind your house vacant. So if you permit me. ... to stay in your house,.... maybe a room only,.. I will be very grateful to you. I am ready to give the rent you quote."
He was speechless for some time. His face showed that he did not expect that.
"I think you require some time to decide. I don't mind waiting for your response. Shall I come to your house tomorrow to know your answer? Can I assume that one day is enough for you to decide? Am I right?"
Somehow he felt that it was easier for her to come to a conclusion while he was always struggling to arrive at a decision. Maybe ladies are more prudent, sharp, confident, bold and what not?
But did he need one full day to decide? Either he could decide on the spot or never. He knew pretty well that his son or daughter-in-law would never be allowing him to decide anything on his own. Yet he wanted some time to make up his mind. First, he wanted time to assert himself that he could take decisions on his own. Was it not his life that he was living? Why should he be always answerable to someone? It just occurred to him that his wife was not wavery like him. Whether her decision was right or wrong she was never hesitant to go ahead with her decisions come what may. He was a coward. He could never do what he wanted.
She got up. He felt helpless. He remained there unmoved for hours together.
"Why do you want to punish us? For what wrong we did are you doing this? What will people around me think of us? In what way do you think we didn't treat you well? Didn't we provide you with good food and shelter? Did you not have the freedom to go anywhere you want?"
"I can never say that. I know that you took care of me well. But now I started feeling that life is beyond that. It's my life. I have the liberty to decide what to do and when to do. I want to stay here and join them in their social work. I am healthy enough to take care of myself and so don't worry about me. I am happy that I got a chance to prove myself. When I am done I'll come to you. Now please leave me to enjoy my life the way I want." His son had no answer.
But his daughter-in-law could not keep quiet. In the city she started telling everyone she met across the street that her father-in-law was enjoying 'living together' life with an enchantress at this age.