A Telugu ‘అనుబంధం’ story written by Sesi Saradi is translated into English as ‘The Bond’ by the same author, Sesi Saradi.
The house is silent. Lalitha sat alone in the living room, holding the news paper. Holding, not reading! At her age she has nothing to do except dwell in the past. Today is not an exception. She started reminiscing the time when her son Ravi is a ten year old boy. That’s the time she lost her husband to an accident. Even now she shudders with fear when she remembers the hardships she went through at that time.
As theirs was a love marriage, not approved by both their families, none came to her rescue when the calamity fell on her. The future looked bleak and dark. “How to bring up Ravi and educate him properly”— that’s the only thought that frightened and motivated her. With mearge family pension from the Government, she somehow managed. As long as her husband was alive, there was no reason for her to go out for work. But now, necessity prompted her to work as a teacher in the nearby Nursery school. Ravi too understood the situation and studied hard. She felt that their joint effort bore fruit, when Ravi became an Engineer and secured a job in campus placements. Everybody thought she is very lucky, but they alone knew what she went through to come this far in life.
Later, as Ravi is now working, she started to look for a suitable bride for Ravi. One evening Ravi brought home a lovely girl and introduced her as “Sujata”. “I met her at the bus stop. Very nice girl, mother”, he added, looking hopefully into his mother’s eyes. Lalitha understood her son’s heart. She invited Sujata into the kitchen to prepare tea and asked her about her family. Lalitha liked everything about Sujata and without wasting time fixed a meeting with her parents. Within three months Sujata became her daughter-in-law. Sujata’s nature is very pleasant and never gave Lalitha any trouble and she felt blessed.
Sujata is a working woman but insisted to do all the house work herself. Lalitha did not agree, saying, ‘You go out to work and I stay at home, so let me at least do this much, as long as I can.’
After five years, the house reverberated with the laughter of her grand children, Sri Kant and Sirisha. Now Lalitha’s hands are full with work. She prepared breakfast and packed lunch boxes. After everybody left she finished the remaining work and took lunch. By the time she made snacks for the afternoon, Sri Kant and Sirisha are back from school, bringing all their childhood worries and innumerable questions. When Ravi and Sujata came from office tired, they found a peaceful home. The children’s home work is already done and while Sujata fixed dinner, Lalitha took the children to the nearby park and temple. Life at last began to look picture card perfect.
As the children grew, the house they lived started to look smaller. Ravi took a two bedroom apartment nearer their school for rent. With that Lalitha’s life took a new turn. With running water and modern amenities, she quickly finished her chores and had more free time. There are quite a few people of her age in that building. They all met after lunch and shared their past lives and present problems with each other. Lalitha is happy and wished for nothing more from life.
Within a few years there came so much changes in their lives. Ravi left his job and started his own firm. After the initial hiccups he is running his business successfully. Sujata also got promoted as the branch manager of her office. Sri Kant and Sirisha are attending college. Lalitha can no longer help them in their studies. As soon as coming from college, they go out again for tuition classes. After a while, they started asking for separate rooms. A partition had been erected in the middle to make it two parts. But the children never missed a chance to complain how cramped their room became.
One day Ravi came home early and asked Lalitha to accompany him. For a moment her heart stopped. “Where is Sujata? Why are you taking me out?”, she asked anxiously. “Don’t worry, mother, Sujata is fine”. Thus reassured she went and sat in the car. Ravi drove her to the outskirts. There are a few houses and many empty plots. “I took a plot mother” said Ravi pinpointing a plot. Lalitha’s heart is filled with pride. Her son – her Ravi, owns this piece of land on which she stood.
Ravi said, “The apartment we are living seems small now and you always wanted a separate room for Puja. Children too are also asking for separate rooms. So, I thought it will be best to build our own house to suit our requirements. To this Lalitha nodded her head approvingly.
Soon construction started, and Ravi took her to the site from time to time for her guidance and suggestions. Soon the construction is over and a year before they came to live in this big house, where everything has a specific place. Before long her grand children, who fought for separate rooms are studying at another city and staying away from home. With Ravi and Sujata busy with their work, Lalitha is left alone in that big house most of the time.
“Why did you send the children away? Aren’t there colleges here?” she demanded her son one day.
“It’s better to stay at hostel mother. Times have changed and if they stay here, all they do is watching T.V. and going out with friends. This way they will concentrate on their studies.” Lalitha had to agree with her son’s reasoning. But she is unable to bear the loneliness. How happy she was at their old house! There she interacted with people of her age. They shared the same interests and health problems and discussed them and exchanged advices. But now everything changed. How long can she talk with them on phone? While she might be free, they might have work at that time.
That’s the time, she thought about the old age home. There she can be in midst of people. But she knew her decision of going to an old age home will break Ravi’s heart. She also knows that he will understand her problem.
That evening when Ravi came home, he noticed his mother is subdued and calm, which made him worried.
“What happened, mother? Are you not feeling well?” He asked anxiously.
“No, Ravi, I am perfectly all right”.
“If you find anything wrong with your health, don’t hesitate to tell me, mother, I will immediately take you to the hospital”. Saying that Ravi went to his room.
Ravi never forgot the sacrifices his mother had to make for his sake. He always tried to make things easy for her. Lalitha know how her son feels about her and how much it will hurt him if she wants to leave the house. Still, after supper she went to his room, which surprised him greatly. It’s always Ravi who went to his mother’s room. He immediately realized that something is wrong and his mother wants to discuss about it.
“Come mother, sit”, he patted on the bed. “What happened, mother, you are off colour since evening?”
“I have nothing to do in the house, Ravi, I am feeling bored and lonely”
“Why mother, I purchased a DVD and all your favorite movies. Aren’t you watching them? Come let me show you once again how to use it”. Ravi stood up to go to her room. But holding his hand, Lalitha stopped him.
“I know how to operate it, but how long can I watch them alone? If you don’t mind I want to say something to you’’…. She hesitated.
“Tell me, mother, you know I will do anything for you’’ Responded Ravi.
‘’Don’t think otherwise Ravi, these days many old people are staying in old age homes, I too want to…” she stopped suddenly watching her son’s ashen face.
‘’Mother!’’ he uttered the word with such pain that Lalitha realized how hurt her son is. ‘’It’s only a suggestion, Ravi. I will go only if you are willing’’. Having said that she hurriedly left the room.
Back in her room, she is devastated by the realization that her son is hurt terribly. She knows that Ravi will not be able to sleep that night. She felt bad for hurting him. But when she has any problem, whom else can she turn to except her only son?
In his room Ravi felt suffocated. He shut down the computer on which he is working when his mother came in and went and stood in the balcony. The fresh and cool air somewhat relieved him. From his boyhood, he grew up with only one aim. To earn enough money and give his mother all the comforts she lacked in life. And by God’s grace he managed to do it. But what he never imagined is, his mother could feel lonely in midst of luxury.
‘’Did I made a mistake constructing this big house?’’, he asked himself. He gave everything to his mother, still she is suffering from loneliness. How did it slip from his mind that she too needed friends and companionship of people her own age? He never said ‘no’ to any of his mother’s wishes. Her wish has always been his order. But can he fulfill her wish now? Can he bear being separated from his mother? No, he can’t, but he equally can’t bear to see her sorrow. With these thoughts he went back into the room.
Sujata, who came from the kitchen after discussing the next day’s menu with the cook, is surprised to see Ravi not sitting in front of his computer.
“Is there anything special planned? Waiting for me?” she asked playfully, coming towards him, but stopped short when she looked into his face.
“What? What happened? Is there any news from the children?”
It’s Ravi’s habit to answer his personal mails at night and Sujata’s mother’s heart suspected something is wrong with her children, even though she talked with them before coming to the bed room.
“No, they are fine. Come sit beside me”, beckoned Ravi. Sujata is still trembling with fear, as she had never looked her husband so agitated. Taking Sujata’s hand into his, Ravi said, “Mother wants to go to an old age home”.
For a moment Sujata did not understand what he is talking. Ravi continued, “Just imagine, Suja, if mother thought of leaving me, then how lonely she might be feeling! I can’t live without mother but I also can’t see her unhappy and suffering”, he said with a voice choked with emotion.
Sujata is aware of the strong bond that exists between the mother and son. That’s the reason that, in these twenty years of married life, she never asked him, even playfully, “whom do you love more, me or your mother?’ because she knew the answer, it would be “mother”. That does not mean that he loves her less, but his mother and he shared a special relationship. They went through the ups and downs of life together. Encountered many problems and surmounted them. As far as she is concerned, she came into his life when all the troubles are over and they are leading a peaceful life. She can understand how hard it is for her husband to bear his mother’s unhappiness.
“Sleep now, we can find a solution tomorrow’’. Even though Sujata reassured him, sleep eluded her. She remembered her own mother and thought, “Is mother also suffering from loneliness?’’. When she came for the house warming ceremony of this house, she stayed here for almost two months. At that time it seemed that, she wanted to be near her daughter. But now Sujata started to think in a new direction. Her mother might also be suffering from loneliness and felt good to be with Lalitha. Sujata now remembered how both of them walked in the garden, watched T.V and discussed politics. How happy both looked! Sujata cursed herself for not thinking in this way before. “What do we think? That they are old and should do puja and be happy with that? Why don’t we realize that soon we will also be their age and can we bear if our own children treat us the same way? Why do we forget this basic fact? Slowly an idea formed in Sujata’s mind. By that time it’s already 4.30 A.M and she found that Ravi also could not be able to sleep. She said gaily, ‘Brush your teeth, I will bring some coffee’. While drinking the steaming beverage she said, “I got an idea”, Ravi looked inquiringly.
Sujata said with a far off look in her eyes, “I never gave much thought to this problem before but my mother might be feeling lonely too. Why don’t we ask her to come and stay with us for a few months and then your mother can go and stay with my brother for some time. This way they will not only have company but also change of place”.
“Brilliant idea”, said Ravi clapping his hands, “but should mother have to go”? He asked desolately.
“Isn’t it better than her going to an old age home?” Said Sujata smilingly and continued, “I thought the whole night. This problem is not ours alone; but society’s in general. Now a days more and more youngsters are working in foreign countries leaving their parents either alone or in old age homes. Just imagine, there are about six or seven elderly people in our friend’s circle. Let us make a list of them so that we can form a society and take turns to house them. This way they won’t be lonely.
Ravi nodded his head in agreement, “but we shall also see to it that there should never be more than two older persons in the house. That way it will be easier to look after them”. To this suggestion Sujata too agreed.
With a lighter heart, Sujata rang her brother and explained the situation to him and arranged everything for her mother arrival.
Ravi went to the garden with a coffee cup, where his mother is sitting after her puja. Ravi clearly remembered the days when they could not afford to drink coffee on day to day basis. His mother preferred coffee to tea but made it only on Sundays to save the money on milk. Now he can afford good, thick milk and the costliest coffee powder but the taste never matched the thin, watery coffee his mother made on Sunday mornings, at those far off days.
That’s what he said to his mother, handing her the coffee cup. She smiled at him and said, “No, Ravi, the coffee is tastier now but at that time it’s a luxury for us, so it tasted better. Now we drink it daily, so we can’t savor the taste. Things of the past always look better because they will never come back”.
“Yes mother, you are always right. I took your presence in the use for granted. Its only when you wanted to leave that I realized how important you are to me”.
Lalitha looked tenderly at her son and said, “I am sorry, Ravi. I will never bring up that subject again. You have not slept at all. I can say it looking into your eyes”.
“It’s only because you shared your problem with me that I could think about a solution for that”. Then he told her about Sujata’s idea.
“If there are anyone in the house to give you company, you won’t think of going. Will you mother?” He asked like a child.
Lalitha thanked God silently, for making Ravi the man he is and also making Sujata her daughter – in – law. Because without Sujata’s support and understanding, Ravi may not have done this much for her.
Watching the mother and son from the balcony, Sujata’s eyes misted. There also came a gleam into them when she thought of her son. She is sure, when she becomes old, her son will be as considerate towards her, as his father is towards his grandmother.
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