A chance meeting with an elderly, lower middle class woman, on a winter evening, on a train revealed the many trials and tribulations of her simple life. She grapples with changing times and values and stands for the rights of a third son, not her biological child. Rakhi unfolds the truths of an unknown person.
It was a Friday on a winter evening. I was traveling back home for the weekend. I rushed into a ladies compartment. My reservation was still awaiting confirmation. Luckily, I got a window seat.
As soon as I settled down, my eyes fell on an elderly woman on the seat, opposite me. She was in her late 50s. She appeared impoverished, possibly a lower middle class person. She was simple, neatly dressed, with gold ear rings and few red bangles. She was calm and serene. We exchanged smiles.
Small talks began. She asked me when the train would depart. Slowly the train chugged out of the platform.
We were about to reach the first stop. She was talking to someone on her cell phone. In expiration, she said, in Hindi, “Nahi lag raha hai phone” (the phone is not reachable). But she assured the person that she was fine and not to worry.
She said that her husband was retired. He stayed in a village. Her husband was worried as she was unable to get through to her brother, who she was visiting. I reasoned it might be a network problem and that she could try later. I returned to the book I was reading.
She enquired about me. When I told her that I was working in Mumbai, she chirped that her younger daughter-in-law, educated and working, earned better than her son. She confessed that her son was still in search of a proper job. He did small jobs and earned little.
In no time, she told me more about herself. It seemed she was forlorn. Words gushed out of her like a wild mountain stream. She lived in Charni Road, Mumbai with her elder son. He was unemployed. Her younger son stayed nearby.
She had a third son in Mumbai. He too stayed close to her house. He was educated, employed and had recently married. In fact, he was her brother-in-law’s son but she had mothered him from a young age.
When she married, her brother-in-law was still studying. She looked after him and had helped him settle in life. She took her brother-in-law’s son under her wings. He had never been any different than her two sons. She spoke more of her third son. She took care of all three, equally.
There was a divine glow on her face as she talked about the three little boys and their many childhood escapades. Those were innocent times, she said.
She told me of the good times and not so good times. She spoke of the trial and tribulations of an honest man, her husband, who worked in a bank. Her simple an honest father-in-law had managed to buy a modest one bedroom hall kitchen apartment and had rented it out to supplement the meager family income. How the tenants tried to grab it. The long drawn legal battle in the courts and the utmost difficulty in getting it back was what she told me.
She exclaimed, “It’s not easy to cheat honest people. God helps. It takes time but dharma (righteousness) wins.”
She was silent for a while. She rued, “My two sons are not like their father. They do not like to work hard and earn money the honest way. They look for shortcuts.”
She was sad that her elder son is greedy and unreasonable. He wished the small apartment to be divided in three equal parts. Her husband and her brother-in-law are the joint owners of their father’s property. A proper division would mean that her brother-in-law’s son – her third son’s share would be bigger than that of her two sons. This wasn’t acceptable to her elder son.
With a sad voice, she said, “He is quarrelsome. His father left the house and went to stay in a village as he could not take the daily insults and squabbles any more. We both (her husband and she) can’t be unfair and cheat our third son.”
Her eldest son threatened to kill her third son, if she or her husband were to sell this property and distribute the money rightfully. On the other hand, the ousted tenant was still trying to grab the property. If she was to move out for good that tenant might kill her son, she feared.
To make things murkier, her eldest son and his wife ill treated her. She had not had any food for last four days. Her husband or her third son does not know anything about it. Were she to let them know the mess between the brothers and father and son would deepen. The family would be torn apart. It was better that she remained silent, she reasoned.
She clarified that she had not left her son for good. That she was visiting her brother after a long gap of nine years. But, her husband from the village and she were unable to contact her brother.
I was sad that I had no eatables with me. It was a rare mistake. The train had few stops. I was heartbroken that she would alight from the train, hungry.
Unmindfully, I scratched an old injury, still not healed, on my left arm. Blood started oozing out. I brought out a tissue paper from my bag and was wiping it. She took charge of me. She took out a clean handkerchief from her bag and wiped my blood. She assured me that it was clean and forbade me to use paper. Her tender, loving touch embalmed me.
I had dozed off, hardly reading the book. It was 11.15pm. A station arrived and I woke up. The elderly woman was getting down here. She bid me goodbye.
I saw her fidgeting with her cell, as she walked away into the cold night. She hardly had any warm clothes on. Hunger and cold could not break her indomitable spirit.
I kept thinking about her for a long time…
A mother, she was unmindful of her own problems. She loved her ‘third son’, who wasn’t her biological child. She wasn’t blind to the greed and avarice of her eldest son and that of the tenant. She still wanted to keep the home together.
She was just another face in the crowd of 1.25 billion Indians. A nameless woman – a wife, sister and a mother – who was lost in the huge crowd that she belonged to.
Her namelessness was her cocoon.
Perhaps I am wrong. She has a name, “Maa” (mother). The first word every child utters.
I saluted her. I found my role-model.
Pix from Net