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The Widow

The Widow

12 mins

Who goes to a temple or a church or a mosque? What for humans would have to go to these places? Is it because we truly believe god is there; he sees us beneath his splendidly created paradise with all glories in him and suffering with us? Or is it a secret place of submission and surrender, created by humans themselves, of all the qualities we inculcate in us? Or is it for seeing fellow sufferers so we taste the animal instinct of me too you too attitude of us?

I don’t know. My mind was full of questions as I walk through the veranda of the temple. I seriously question the mere existence of myself, for that matter any human being, in this world. We work hard, we want money, we love our special ones, we bear children, we suffer due to age and we suffer death. What do we do really achieve? Is that the love of my special ones or is that the money I have earned? Is that the house that I built? If nothing is giving me happiness or satisfaction, what will? Or is the human race like any other animal, is bound to just exist and vanish with nothing extra? If that is the case then industrial revolution would not have happened, technological revolution would not have happened, money would not have been invented etc etc. which would have left us still as men who lived in caves. We would have been born, would have gone for hunting, would have reproduced and would have died. We didn’t do that. Why? I don’t know.

Why am I getting these thoughts? Those too in a place where I have asked God himself to provide me promotion and wealth. Where I bargained with him for the Rs.5000 I will give for his temple’s trust if I am successful. I was successful. I became one among the top in my company yesterday gaining me money, popularity and what not. I was happy, extremely happy; but short lived. My mother has been diagnosed with cancer. A fine blow to my extremely ambitious, black circle eyed, face. My world has turned upside down. When I called her to tell her of my success, I got the information of cancer’s success upon her. I am devastated. When I try to still digest the fact of my mother, my work asks when I can start work in the US. My wife, my children, all had great hopes in going to the US. Now all those expectations have been killed and they feel devastated as they always had dreamt of a rich and luxurious life in the US. Here I am, sitting in the temple, alone, which I visit every week for bargaining with God for money, now thinking to bargain on my mother’s life. When I bargained on money, I didn’t hesitate at all. But at a time when I have to bargain with God on my mother’s life, I am being slow in its execution. Is it irony? Finally, I bargained for my mother’s life in exchange of Rs.50000 to the temple trust. Hope God finds the trade better.

After all the thoughts, somehow getting ready to go on with the flow, I come out of the temple. I don’t find her. Where is she? The old lady in 70s, in brown saree, without blouse, with a big magnifying glass spectacle, with ashes in her forehead, with a gracious smile like that of Parvathi herself. Every week, I see her, give couple of bananas and get her blessings before I get into the car. This is happening for 4 years. Not even once I have not missed the glimpse of her when I walk past the temple gate. Is she fine? Is she not well? Like my mother? What would have happened? Where is she? My mind started exploding with thoughts.

Not like the usual me, crossing by without even thinking about, this time, I wanted to know what’s wrong with her and I really wanted to know. I gathered the guts to stop by and look around the gate to get to know, to whom I can ask about her. In all these years, I think I have done only one good thing, I have smiled to people who stare at me when I walk. This has really helped me everywhere right from my workplace to my neighborhood. Nobody really complains anything about me to anyone. They do the vice versa. Due to this practice, I have known an auto rickshaw driver who parks his auto in the stand nearby the temple. He is a man of discipline I suppose. His dresses will be neat, ironed. His forehead will not be without a thilak or ashes. Fully shaven face with thick moustache and with less hair in the front, salt and pepper, not completely bald. He cannot comb his hair in the front but only at the back of his head. Whenever I cross the gate and reach my car, I use to smile at him which I don’t know, became like a routine whenever I visit this temple. I have only smiled at him so far in all these years and now I am going to speak with him for the first time. He was wholly into the newspaper he was reading. I crossed the busy road as if I was crossing my own limitations.


“Sir, how are you? “

“I am fine sir. How are you?”

“I am also fine sir. Life is going sir. Tell me sir.”

“Hmmm… Yes… There will be an old lady sitting here right? … She is not here today… Where is she? Do you know anything about it?”

“Which lady sir? Sundari paati?”

“Sorry, I don’t know her name. One with big glasses, no blouses, that lady.”

“Yes sir, her name is Sundari, Sundarambal…. She died last week sir…”

My saliva turned solid so that I cannot swallow it myself. I was not able to control my shock.

“What? How did it happen?”

“Don’t know sir. I was the one who saw her without breath in her room nearby. I went to pick her up from her home as she was not able to walk for the past 3 months. Last Friday, I went to her house to pick her up, called her, she didn’t answer my call. I went in and I saw her without life”, his face turned pale in sorrow. “Life is like that sir.”

“Oh, is it?” I slowly asked him in a very low voice with my mind being blank like never before.

“Do you know her sir?”

“No… When I pass the gate, I will give her bananas; she will not accept money… And she will give me her blessing… Her smile is the one which makes me to look for her… She had a divine smile…”

“True sir… You can see goddess in her smile… She was a good soul…”

“Yes… Were there any children for her or any relatives?”

After a big sigh,” Children? Relatives? She was more or less an orphan sir…”

My heart was sobbing inside that I didn’t show it in my face.

“Is it? Pity… God is bad…”

“Sir… One son was there but before 5 years he left her…”

Suddenly, I saw myself as the son who has left her.

“Oh… Why?” Why am I asking all these questions to him? Is it my guilt?

“Sir, if I explain you, it is a long story. If you want to listen, let me tell you.”

“Please tell me … I can hear and wait…”

“Sundarambal is her name. She hails from an orthodox Brahmin family, in a place near Kumbakonam. In her community, they will marry her in their early age itself, by 14 or 15. Same way, she was married at 15 itself. That time, after marriage, bride and bridegroom will not be together till the time when the bride can really withstand the brutality of childbirth. Due to that, Paati was staying at her parent’s house till she was 19. Her family was very wealthy. They were working as clerks in Zamindar offices and they were yielding good money, her father.

Suddenly one day, her father got ill and died without even knowing what disease he had. This was the time she was about to go to her husband’s. Then her brother took over all the activities of his father and he was to get married. After some days, she went along with her husband to her in laws house. They were living happily for a year until some day, her husband died in a snake bite when he was returning from work. Paati was 21 that time and she got a son. Paati’s husband had a brother and he got married just before the death of his brother. Now that couple found Paati to be unlucky to the family and with all the relatives, they decided to send paati to her parent’s house once for all.

Once paati came to her parent’s house, there initially her brother was supportive of her. But after he got married, his wife was against paati being at house as she was considered unlucky. And according to her customs, she was asked to wear only kaavi (brown – saffron) saree, which would symbolize her as a widow. Her brother’s wife was insecure of the family’s as paati would be beautiful in her early days ripe in her age. She was staying with them for 2 to 3 years with day by day the problems given by her sister in law grew more and more. She was asked to do all the household works to the extent of what not. Paati’s brother and his wife didn’t get children after they got married and that was really hurting them. For that, paati’s sister in law told that paati was a curse to the family and that is why she is not getting any child. This caused more rage in her which ultimately led to paati, along with her son was sent out of the house on a rainy day, in the night. Then, paati stayed in the front veranda of the house and she after the rain stopped, she took her son and went to one of the neighbor’s house, finally coming to Chennai.

Then she did household work, cooking work for a wealthy family in Chennai meeting her ends. Even though she was poor, she did work continuously, educating her son up to BA. Who would know how much she would have suffered in the hands of snakes who would try to gulp her age? God only knows. Then she married her son to a bride who was really a witch, she separated paati and her son, now she is living in the other part of the city only. You know sir; paati gave 15 pawns of gold to the bride during her son’s marriage. Who would give such an amount of gold to the daughter in law in this age of betrayal and cunningness? She was a gem sir. After her son left, she still continued to work doing pappads at her house and selling for a small price to the shops nearby. She never begged and she never asked anyone for help sir. When my daughter attended puberty, she presented a watch of Rs.800 sir. Such was her generosity.

I used to take her to places that she wanted to visit. She will call me by coming to the front of her house. I once took to her brother’s place here in Chennai when his wife died. Paati didn’t even weep, she opened her small packet cloth, gave Rs.5000 to her brother and she came back sir. That day, you should have seen the faces of those bastards. God is there sir. And you know what; her brother and his wife didn’t have children at all. I came to know only when I heard people speaking that nobody is there for that lady to do her last rights.

Sir, in the morning when paati died, I called his son to inform the news. He was shocked but his wife was shouting at him saying that now he has to spend for all the last rights. I felt very bad sir. I didn’t know what to do. I told her son to at least come and see her face for one last time. But his wife plucked the phone from him and hanged the call. After that one of the neighbors told that she had left a note on her last rites with him. In that she has mentioned that Babu has to perform the last rites if her son is not coming for her…………. I am that Babu sir…….

I performed the last rites for her completely. I spent the savings I had on paati. My wife and daughter didn’t say a word against sir. Then one day, her son came. Gave Rs.20000 to me and said thank you for doing all the rites and his wife was like devil and he cannot do anything against her. I told him only one thing sir, I don’t want this money and straight to his face told him that he and his wife will feel for what they have done one day. That’s all.

I don’t know sir, why paati wanted me to do the last rites. But I consider it to be my boon to do so sir, because, my mother died when I was 5 years old. I don’t really remember what I did for her. God gave me a chance to experience it.”

After finishing this long narrative, he stared at me. “This is what happened sir. Good soul, gone”.

“Oh… Thank you for telling me all these things”.

“Sir, who will hear these entire things. I don’t know. I thought you will listen, I told. My burden is reduced now.”

I smiled. “Ok sir. See you.”

“Ok sir. See you.” He just smiled at me and again got into his newspaper.

My heart was literally heavy as if I have a big stone tied around my body. I am stepping too slow. I am sweating like hell. I see the temple’s tower once. I cross the road as if I cross myself, again.

My mother. She is a widow. She lost her husband at the age of 25, when I was 5 years old. I know what she has gone through. We use to travel in bus, counting the coins in her purse, I use to count them and tell her that we can go in this bus, that bus etc. She worked as a teacher, grew me up as a single woman. Many came to her with proposals of marriage, but she never turned herself to them for the sake of me. She even took odd jobs of selling saree going to every household in the scorching sun. I saw her suffering, studied hard, did well in all of my studies. Got placed with a good job, got married, had children, live a luxurious life. But I still remember me counting me coins in her purse for bus travel. That is me. I am that boy. Not this Vice President of a big company or an owner of a luxurious car. I am that boy who wants to travel with limited number of rupee coins that my mother had. I am nearing my car. I count my coins to reach my mother with cancer. Here I come, mom; Sundari.

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