Anuradha Devi woke up early that morning. The day was special to her as it was her seventieth birthday. She wondered if any of her children or grandchildren would remember the day and wish her.
She slowly stepped down from her bed and went to the toilet. She was still quite agile and active for her age; thanks to her restricted food habit and disciplined lifestyle.
Anuradha Devi lost her husband to a massive cardiac arrest even before she had turned fifty. Her son Indrajit, alias Jeet, was then in his final year of engineering and her daughter Rukmini, alias Mini, was waiting for the results of her Higher Secondary Exams. A woman, who was used to a lavish lifestyle, now faced financial crisis and the harsh realities of life. She no longer had the advantages of a spacious company flat and car. The family shifted into a small rented single bedroom apartment in a down locality. Her husband, who believed in a luxurious lifestyle, was extravagant in his expenditure. No one had imagined that his exit would be so sudden and so early. After his demise Anuradha Devi struggled a lot to complete the education of her two children. She managed to get a job of a teacher in a primary school and in the evenings gave private tuitions.
Now Jeet was a senior manager in a multinational company and Mini was a lecturer in a reputed University in UK. Both had married the partners of their choice, had children, and were happily settled in life. Anuradha Devi lived with Jeet and his family in a spacious 3 bedroom apartment provided by his company. Despite leading a comfortable life Anuradha Devi felt lonely and melancholic at times. Mostly her days were spent staring at the small television screen in her room.
Anuradha Devi prepared tea for herself. It was a Sunday and the others were still asleep. She quietly sat in the balcony and sipped her tea. She remembered how her husband used to pamper her on her birthdays. She would wear a new dress and cut her huge birthday cake amidst claps from friends and family. All those happy days became a pleasant memory after his untimely death.
Nobody wished her in the morning. After breakfast Jeet came to her room. She thought he had come to wish her, but instead he said,
"Ma, I have come to give you some good news. My company has given me a promotion and transferred me to Mumbai."
Anuradha Devi looked at the happy face of her son and smiled.
"Congratulations my dear. When are we going?"
Jeet looked at Anuradha Devi and seemed to hesitate. He cleared his throat and said,
"Ma, the company accommodation in Mumbai won't be spacious enough for all of us. So we can't take you with us. I have arranged for an old age home for you in Howrah."
"Old age home?" Anuradha Devi was shocked.
"You will love the place, Ma. It's beside the river Ganga. You will get a nice view of the river from the balcony of your room."
Anuradha Devi did not reply. She felt her eyes getting moist. But her son chose not to notice it.
"When do I have to go?" she asked.
"This afternoon. We are leaving tomorrow morning. Hence there's no time. Movers and Packers will arrive within an hour and start moving the furniture."
Anuradha Devi sighed. Fate had always played strange games with her. She silently watched her furniture being carried away from her room. She found it hard to control her tears. But she was determined not to show her weakness to anyone else. She went to the washroom and silently cried.
Jeet's wife and children were out in the market since noon to do some last minute shopping. Hence nobody came to say goodbye to Anuradha Devi when she left the flat in the afternoon. She silently wiped her tears and got inside Jeet's car.
After driving for an hour the car stopped in front of a small two storied building. There was a neat, small garden in front of the house. The pious river Ganga could be seen at a distance.
'Probably this is where I would be breathing my last,' thought Anuradha Devi and sighed. Jeet led her into a spacious room on the ground floor with a big balcony overlooking the garden and the river Ganga. Anuradha Devi noticed that her furniture had already been neatly arranged in that room. The only new furniture was a new 32" LED television set on the wall.
"Are you happy with the arrangements Ma?" asked Jeet.
Anuradha Devi barely smiled and said nothing. She wondered how many more years she would have to live and endure the loneliness of this neglected life.
It was already dark. Jeet switched on the light and said,
"Come, let me introduce you to the other inmates of this house."
He led Anuradha Devi to the dark hall outside and clapped.
Suddenly the hall was flooded with lights. The big room was decorated with colourful balloons and streamers. Happy faces laughed from every corner and sang "Happy Birthday to you" in a chorus. Among them were her daughter Mini, son-in-law Debashis, daughter-in-law Shrija and her grandchildren Gogol, Toton and Jhinuk.
Anuradha Devi couldn't believe her eyes. Tears streamed down her cheeks as Jeet hugged her and said,
"Happy birthday Ma. You always longed for a house of your own. Today you got it. This is your son's house, that is, your own house. So, how's your birthday gift?"
Anuradha Devi did not know what to say. She happily cried as her grandchildren hugged her from every side and wished her happy birthday. Mini and Shrija made her wear a new silk sari and cut a huge birthday cake. Mini had especially flown down from London with her family to celebrate her mother's seventieth birthday. Anuradha Devi couldn't remember when she had last felt so happy.
Later that night, Jeet and his mom sat in the balcony and enjoyed the view of Ganga in the silvery moonlight.
"Ma, did you really believe that I could leave you in an old age home and abandon you just like that?" asked Jeet.
Anuradha Devi felt a little embarrassed to remember how sad and dejected she had felt throughout the day.
"Do you remember Ma," continued Jeet, "the day you got tired of my daily pranks and threatened to leave the house? I tightly held on to your sari pallu and refused to let go fearing that I would lose you forever."
Anuradha Devi smiled and nodded. Jeet kept his head on her lap and said,
"Oh Ma, how could you think that I would ever stop loving you? Shrija was sure that you would see through my prank but..."
Anuradha Devi passed her fingers through her son's hair and lightly kissed his forehead. For the first time in many years, she did not miss her husband on her birthday.