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Monday, October 22, 2007

The Visit

The Visit

I stopped a few seconds, as if to muster courage, before entering the dilapidated, two-storied building. It was a late afternoon in June, and my first monthly visit. Her room, as I knew, was in the extreme north corner on the first floor. I had come here the month before to settle her in her home to be – for the rest of her life. The room had a slovenly look about it, was dimly lit, very humid, and the fan moved ever so slowly. The window was shut tightly. I wondered why. The walls had a nondescript colour. Quite obviously the room had not been whitewashed for a pretty long time. The floor too was unclean. In short, it was a dreary, dingy place – and I had selected it for her. But what else could I do? I didn’t have much of my salary left after doling out the heavy installment every month for the loan I’d taken for our new flat, the money I had to give Sheetal for running the house, and after meeting all the other expenses. This was the best I could arrange for her.

She was sitting on the bed, her hands resting on her lap. The bedspread and her saree matched the colour of the wall. I felt a pang in my heart to see her drooping shoulders, the haggard look on her face, the dark circles under her eyes. Her dull and depressed eyes lit up when I entered, a ghost of a smile appeared on her face. I remembered her old jovial disposition, always so eager and inquisitive about everything.

I looked at the fan. “The regulator does not work. You can open the window if you wish. But be sure to shut it before you leave. Mosquitoes swarm in after dark”, she said in a tired voice. I wanted to take her hands into mine, but refrained. Instead I asked like a fool.

“ Well how are you?”
“Why are you asking? Can’t you see for yourself?” she retorted.

“Do you eat and sleep properly? You look thinner and weak” I carried on.

This time she did not answer but heaved a long sigh.

“How is your wife? (She always referred to Shettal as’your wife’ and it irritated Shettal). You’ve not brought her along? And how is Pumpu darling?”

“They are OK. Pumpu’s exams are on . That’s why..” I did not finish my sentence. I was feeling guilty and found myself groping for words. But she seemed not to notice and drawled on about the other inmates of the old age home, her new fund companions. She was narrating stories about old and abandoned people – how Senbabu had fallen from the staircase and broken his leg how Meetai, the youngest among them, visited everybody in the morning … things that interested me the least. She had become garrulous with age, and at home, Pumpu was her best companion. The two of them were inseparable. I often wondered at the sight of them, one so old and one so young – chatting happily, like two friends of the same age. But Sheetal never liked it. “A bad influence on Pumpu”, she would grumble. Pumpu was much more attached to dadima than her own mother.

Suddenly I remembered that Pumpu had given me a card for her. I took it out from my briefcase and handed it to her. It was a simple card made out of Pumpu’s drawing book page folded in two. One the front, she had drawn yellow and red flowers. Inside, she had written in her childish handwriting. “To Dadima with Love” . at the bottom, she had added – “Dadima please come back soon. I miss you very much.” Pumpu was too young to realize that her dadima was not going to come back to live with us. She looked at the card and stopped talking. She was almost clutching it to her bosom. Tears started flowing freely from her eyes. I felt so miserable. I stood up and touched her feet. “I think I should be leaving now. It is getting late”. She nodded her head, touched my head and said “Take care” in a chocked voice

I was walking back, head bowed, dejected and defeated man. I hated myself and felt like a beast. Here was my mother – a lonely widow, infirm with age, who had cared for me for so long, had given her best years for me. And here was I – abandoning her in this godforsaken hellhole. I almost turned back from the door and said “Maa don’t worry. I am here. I will take care of you. I will take you back home. You will live in peace,. You and Sheetal”. But someone inside me urged me to go out of the room, down the stairs and into the street. I looked up and saw many old men and women looking down eagerly at me – for I could have been their son who had come to pay them the monthly visit. I thought of my new flat – lovely and neat. But could it be called “home” ? I wondered.

A Rose for Mother

A rose, a jasmine, a tulip for you!
Whatever I say, however I do,
my tributes are ever so small for you
Like the ocean, like the sky
Deep and endless was your love for me!
God touched me through your hands Mama,
Nectar you fed me.
Standing by the river where time flows
I beg for a chance a –new
To tell you this was really how I felt,
Mother! that is my Love for You

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