Little screams

She is old now - a lot of the fire has lessened . The television is a constant companion- the complications and the villainies of the soaps sometimes cross over into reality and confuse her. Its no use telling her that the machinations and subplots are products of some scriptwriters overactive imagination , creating grist for TRP ratings and the advertisements which support and sponsor the shows. Somewhere in the soap a doorbell ringing has her toddling off to the window and calling out "Ke ke". Normally chatty by nature she is gregarious and eager to chat with anyone - be it the sweeper or the maids with whom she has on - off love hate relationships , or her grand daughters' friends .

Somewhere she is still the excitable teenager , a little bemused now by the world the girls inhabit, so far removed from her own childhood and from the spartan , thrifty atmosphere her children grew up in and which she now denies whenever her son pulls her leg .

Once , deprived of attention from her husband , she now seeks it compulsively but again that confusion sets in .. small , with snow white cottonwool hair , the denture exercise clashing with numerous social obligations , she lives in constant self denial - of love , of care , craving sometimes masochistically the life of the mother threatened by callous sons and villainous daughters in law , which populate her serials - sometimes she wants to go and live in an old age home which she imagines she will paint with the rainbow colours of her gaiety - she looks on them as an alternate hostel for old girls - it is no use telling her those ladies are social discards - herded there by families that do not care for them - her grand daughter takes a small "soap garden" painfully constructed by the mother with a bar of scented soap and innumerable pins- holding inside the pin barrier a tiny plastic garden ,as a gift , on a school sponsored visit to the age old home . When she returns she says one of the old ladies , held her hard and close - the child is sad and broods a bit and points out the vague , sad eyes and the slow tread of feet of the little old ladies in the tv programme they air on a Bengali channel

Nobody loves them , she explains to her grandmother -but the old one is impatient - she will liven them up , she says . The younger child is worried for some time that her grandmother will suddenly go off to an old age home .It takes a lot to reassure her that this cannot happen in her family because the old lady is much loved by all of them .

Sometimes , in between haranguing the maids , tending her serials and the tv set and the sudden spurts of discipline she subjects the younger child she counsels the daughter - in law- the mother has to be strict and strong with the children - an iron hand is necessary , she says , these men are too soft .You have to be strict with my son ,too , she says . The daughter in law is impatient and irritated for these dialogues normally occur in the early mornings when the two sit over a pot of good Darjeeling tea before the hard day starts and at a time when they should ideally discuss more convivial subjects .

At times she stands in front of her husband's photograph and sighs - the old man was domineering but had treated her with tolerance , a non interfering tolerance and acceptance of all her eccentricities -which to the daughter in law had seemed a loving in his own peculiar way , but it was difficult to imagine that they had ever been in love and created two children - in old age , their interactions were hard and sharp at times , calculated to hurt the other ; there were jeers and sneering and sniping at each other ; the ultimate humiliation being the old man's major domo being allowed to handle the cupboard where she kept her jewellery and in effect a domestic sacrilege because in Indian households , the woman of the house ties the keys to her sari ends .

One of the first things she did immediately after he died was to pick up the keys and tie them firmly to her sari end thereby giving a signal that she was the boss now which was a good thing and supported strongly by the daughter in law who had disapproved of the major domo meddling around inside that cupboard .

Now she is the mistress of the house, the head of the family, in sole charge of her finances - but now it is too late to learn new habits and indulgences , to spend money without giving justifications and without ferreting away a bit if the household money into her secret cache ,to be the master of one's own life ,money and fate .

Emancipation , she says - it is a hard word ,it has layers of meaning and lends itself to different interpretations at different times .But mostly , it has to do with control over one's money which gives you the power to stand on your own feet -.
I tend to agree with her


dipali said...

Very very moving, and oh so true- the squirrelling away of funds, the need to justify each expense to oneself, even if no one else concerned-
I guess a lifetime of frugality and of feeling answerable to another ingrain these habits very deeply into the psyche.

Usha said...

A fiercely independent spirit ina weakening and sagging body - is a constant struggle. At least being in control of your finances props up the ego.
And I totally agree with both of you on emancipation and being in control of your own money.

NWRMK said...

That is one powerful post. Poignant and a real glimpse into types of relationships that our daughters will not know first hand. You continue to awe me by your narrative style and ability to write beautiful prose.

Thanks for sharing.

Thinking Cramps said...

What a vivid word-picture. I can imagine this old lady. And some of her was in my Dida too, and so I'm sitting moist-eyed in a cyber-cafe and wishing there was a grandmother to hug.

Unknown said...

Dipali- Its so true and I have seen so many in the earlier generation do it

Usha - Yes , ultimately it is one on the more important aspects of life

Onedia - Thanks

Ana - Come hug BRG when youre next in Cal - she's one feisty lady.

Poorna Banerjee said...

the only word I can come up with is "shundor".

this post deserved that comment.

Jane Turley said...

A poignant post indeed.

I agree also that too many old folks are out in homes for "convienance." Shortly we are to have my Father in Law living around the corner from us(with my sister in law)Unfortunately, he is in the dementia stage of Alzhemiers.. and I see very difficult times ahead.

Life is not always easy, even though I often make light of it!

Elendil said...

A very beautiful post. Regarding the last bit, being still financially dependent on my mother, I sometimes wonder how much money matters to one's self esteem and power. This post explains some of it. It also reminds me of, or rather contrast with, my own grandmother, who unfortunately is quite the opposite. She's gradually losing all ability to think. The regression scares me.

A Muser said...


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