THE NEW BE­GIN­NING

... in fresh sur­round­ings.

Woman's Era - - Contents - Jayan­thi Dwarakanath

She had told him years ago when they met that if she needed help she would call him. He had given his con­tact num­ber as­sur­ing that he would help. He came within hours of her call to make sev­eral calls and ar­range the fu­neral.

The fam­ily house on Green Street had come alive iron­i­cally with the death of its mas­ter Ni­ran­jan. An as­sorted crowd of neigh­bours and rel­a­tives who had never been seen in the house ear­lier had gath­ered, fill­ing the rooms and the cor­ri­dor and spilled over to the gar­den which was beau­ti­ful, un­be­com­ing of the sit­u­a­tion.

Ni­ran­jan lay life­less in the liv­ing room. They had re­moved his shirt, chain, watch and even the name which he had proudly owned for 65 years. The body draped in a white sheet waited for the priest to come. Neeru dressed in a sim­ple cot­ton sari sat in her ha­bit­ual quiet – the ar­ro­gant calm which now seemed a som­bre grace – oc­ca­sion­ally nod­ding in re­sponse to some queries from some­one, get­ting up now and then won­der­ing what peo­ple did when they waited for some­thing. Shiva had deftly taken charge. He was her dis­tant cousin. She had told him years ago when they met that if she needed help she would call him. He had given his con­tact num­ber as­sur­ing that he would help. He came within hours of her call to make sev­eral calls and ar­range the fu­neral.

Neeru had lived iso­lated from her rel­a­tives all her life. They said she had many sib­lings but no one knew where they were and how many of them were now alive. The di­ary that Neeru had con­tained some names and num­bers. Shiva did not ask her who they were. He just called a few of them in the hope that some­how her mother would come to know of Ni­ran­jan’s demise and join the fu­neral. As he wished, Sushma, Neeru’s mother, came.

Sushma sat in a cor­ner fac­ing the en­trance of the house cov­er­ing her face with the pallu of her sari. She didn’t talk to any­one. Peo­ple who sat next to her moved away when they caught a glimpse of her face, with the pallu at times flut­ter­ing in the breeze. It was dis­fig­ured. The pink and white patches on the face and the half-de­stroyed nose gave them the scare. No one knew that a kitchen fire ac­ci­dent had played havoc on her self and her life.

When she ar­rived, Sushma went up to Neeru and held her hand. Neeru shoved her off and moved away. Sushma then chose a cor­ner and sat gaz­ing at the dis­tant sky.

The priest ar­rived and there was com­mo­tion, with the peo­ple repo­si­tion­ing them­selves. Sushma got up and went close to the body. Neeru came and stood next to her. They per­fomed the rit­u­als and Neeru was re­lieved when it was all over. Ev­ery­one came up to her and ut­tered some sense­less words they thought would be com­fort­ing. When Sushma said, ‘bye’ she nod­ded. She didn’t even ask her with whom and where she lived. It was im­ma­te­rial for her.

Neeru had been mar­ried off at the age of 18 to Ni­ran­jan who was 25 years older than her. In fact, he was older than her mother.

Neeru was the el­dest of six chil­dren. All was well till Sushma met with a ma­jor fire ac­ci­dent and the doc­tors gave up hope. Ni­ran­jan who had known the fam­ily of­fered to marry Neeru drawn by her stun­ning looks and also to help out the fam­ily in cri­sis. The wed­ding was a sim­ple cer­e­mony in a tem­ple at­tended by the fa­ther and the sib­lings. The fa­ther was an el­e­men­tary school teacher and he strug­gled to make ends meet. Ni­ran­jan had of­fered fi­nan­cial help to the fam­ily and the ar­range­ment seemed good. Nat­u­rally not for Neeru. Though Ni­ran­jan was a good man and kept his promises Neeru was hos­tile. He re­alised that he had wronged her and lived hop­ing some day he would en­joy wed­ded bliss. Sushma who sur­vived mirac­u­lously be­came her sworn en­emy. Wasn’t she the one who de­cided upon her mar­riage?

Neeru grad­u­ally dis­tanced her­self from her fam­ily. Now it has been years since she had any in­for­ma­tion of her fam­ily mem­bers. Neeru steeled her­self to an ex­tent that she slowly grew to hate hu­man­ity it­self and lived aloof.

But now Ni­ran­jan’s sud­den death did throw her off bal­ance. Neeru started feel­ing the vacuum.

Months passed. Think­ing sev­eral times over she re­alised that she needed some­one around. Neeru put an ad in the pa­pers, `Pay­ing guest ac­com­mo­da­tion avail­able.’

There was a very good re­sponse and Neeru care­fully chose Mira.

Mira was a jour­nal­ist and she was smart enough to han­dle the quirky and irk­some land­lady. Within a year, she even felt com­fort­able and so was Neeru with her. They started in­dulging in small con­ver­sa­tions and Mira started shar­ing with her her pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ences. When Mira started trav­el­ling a lot Neeru even started miss­ing her.

Mira had just come back from one of her trips when she was sur­prised to find Neeru with a wel­come smile and a cheer­ing cup of cof­fee. They had a small chat over cof­fee.

“It is such a beau­ti­ful town…kadambam… strange name isn’t it? You know, ma’am, I went there to cover an old-age home. So peace­ful, green, hid­den, not sur­rounded by trees. The dis­ci­pline, the way the in­mates are taken care of… sim­ply won­der­ful. I’m go­ing there in my old age,” Mira said laugh­ing.

Neeru could vi­su­alise

Af­ter check­ing Neeru’s cre­den­tials the lady in charge took her to the prayer hall where the old women had as­sem­bled. Eyes closed and hands folded, they seemed to be field­ing ques­tions at the pow­ers that be. She looked from one to the other.

Laugh­ter is the medicine for stress!

the place and she was im­pressed.

Mira’s trips then be­came fre­quent and she was also to be trans­ferred to an­other town soon. Neeru started feel­ing very lonely. She re­mem­bered what Mira had said—some old women from the home had been adopted by fam­i­lies. “You don’t have to look af­ter them. They will look af­ter you. Most of them are fit enough to run a house.”

Neeru got the ad­dress from Mira. She cor­re­sponded with the ma­tron of the old-age home. Af­ter ex­chang­ing a few mails she got a call from the ma­tron and she started on her jour­ney to Kadambam. She reached the town and had no dif­fi­culty in lo­cat­ing the home. It lived up to Mira’s de­scrip­tion. The ma­tron in charge took her around when Neeru ex­pressed her wish to adopt a mother as she had men­tioned in her mails. Af­ter check­ing Neeru’s cre­den­tials the lady in charge took her to the prayer hall where the old women had as­sem­bled. Eyes closed and hands folded, they seemed to be field­ing ques­tions at the pow­ers that be. She looked from one to the other. Af­ter a sweep­ing glance her eyes alighted on her. She was petite and serene. It looked like she had a copy­right over calm – it was in such abun­dance, enough to dis­trib­ute to the world at large. Neeru pointed to her. “Good choice,” the ma­tron’s smile seemed to say. “But wouldn’t you like to talk to her be­fore de­cid­ing?”

“Not nec­es­sary…it’s an in­stinct…”

Af­ter the prayer Neeru met the lady.

“Bhavna, this is Mira.”

Bhavna looked at her. Her eyes enor­mously rounded up and she smiled. “What can I do for you, my child?” she asked.

“Come with me and make my home. Will you?”

Bhavna folded her hands and lifted her gaze of­fer­ing a lit­tle prayer.

“Miss Neeru, can you please wait here? I’ll talk to Bhavna and get back to you.”

Bhavna fol­lowed the ma­tron into her room.

Min­utes passed and it was al­most half an hour. Neeru waited anx­iously won­der­ing if Bhavna would agree. She buried her face and her anx­i­ety in her hands and let a few min­utes pass when she heard the rus­tle of foot­steps. Neeru looked up. Bhavna stood, a suit­case in hand and a bag hung over the shoul­der. “Shall we?” “All the best, Neeru,” the ma­tron said.

Neeru smiled look­ing at Bhavna in­dul­gently while her hand moved in­vol­un­tar­ily to take her suit­case.

“Thank you,” she told the ma­tron.

“There will be a few rou­tine check-ups for a few years. Just a for­mal­ity.” “No prob­lem, bye.” Neeru walked ahead while Bhavna stood for a sec­ond, hur­riedly wip­ing a tear.

It was just last year an Aus­tralian doc­tor cou­ple on a visit to the home had ar­ranged her plas­tic surgery. She got a new face, a new name and now her very own daugh­ter!

Sushma sat in a cor­ner fac­ing the en­trance of the house cov­er­ing her face with the pallu of her sari. She didn’t talk to any­one. Peo­ple who sat next to her moved away when they caught a glimpse of her face, with the pallu at times flut­ter­ing in the breeze.

“It is such a beau­ti­ful town…kadambam… strange name isn’t it? You know, ma’am, I went there to cover an old-age home. So peace­ful, green, hid­den, not sur­rounded by trees. The dis­ci­pline, the way the in­mates are taken care of… sim­ply won­der­ful. I’m go­ing there in my old age,” Mira said laugh­ing.

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