Warm and pleasant sunshine of late December carried no bliss or hope to old Katherine’s’ tired eyes. In the compound of this old age home, sitting on a bench under the Neem tree, she was lost in her thoughts of distant past when David was still alive and together they were considered to be the most lively and cheerful couple in their community. A fresh wave of disappointment and gloom overshadowed her thoughts and she made a futile effort to wipe out her wet eyes.
It’s Christmas today. Since morning, the compound is full of buzzing activities with almost a continuous row of visitors visiting the inmates. Cheerful parents with children in colorful dresses and attire are carrying bouquets, candles, cakes and a variety of presents for their elderly relatives lodged in the home. This was also symbolic to the fact that some amount of empathy, love and consideration is still left in the heart of people for their elderly parents or grandparents.
It’s about two months now since Katherine was almost forced to join this old age home by her son and daughter-in-law. This year, rainy season was particularly harsh for Mumbaikars but people were now feeling relieved and life was back to normal on usual track. She wondered she was already seventy-three and how long she will live now. As such, she always felt a void after David’s loss that life no more had any charm and bliss the way it was in the past. She was pondering over past when parker broke the news of his plan for shifting her to the old age home.
“Mama, I notice that you feel very lonesome all days. With both of us at work and that growing children too are not staying much at home, you get bored all the time. In old age home, you will find good company with many people of your age, with whom you can at least share your feelings. Besides, you would feel more comfortable there with a majority of inmates being of your own age group…”
Parker was continuously speaking without offering her any opportunity to speak or put forth her point of view. He was perhaps apprehensive, in case Mama expressed any reservations, he may not be able to implement his plan. Pamella was busy in dusting in the drawing room and at the same time keeping her eyes and ears on what was transpiring between mother and son; after all it was originally her idea.
Off late, Pamella had become quite irritable, every off and on complaining about the paucity of space in the house.
“Look Parker, children are growing now … they need some space and a separate study room too … they have to perforce study in the drawing room … and then, you know, in Mumbai we have frequent guests … there is absolutely no privacy for us and our children.”
In their one bedroom flat, Parker had some time back carved out a small room by covering balcony and Katherine used to sleep there with Harry. Sophie was about six years old and was still sharing room with parents. Children were indeed growing so were their needs and they really needed more space. With their income, it was not possible for Parker to look for a bigger and more spacious flat. Katherine’s old wooden box, sewing machine, old dressing table with which she was so emotionally attached and likewise many personal articles had already been disposed off one by one declaring obsolete and surplus in the past. Perhaps it was Katherine’s turn now.
“But Mama, you don’t have to worry about any things, for you will be living in Mumbai only. We will come to meet you every weekend along with Harry and Sophie. Besides, we shall be in regular touch on telephone just in case you have any need … Pammy darling, please get Mama’s belongings properly packed and let me know when you are ready.”
Parker finished his monologue and without waiting for Katherine’s response, he got engaged with his laptop.
“I’m already done with Mama’s belongings … I have also packed up her favorite cookies and chicken hotdogs” Pamella promptly responded.
“Am I to go today, itself?” Katherine was stammering out of sheer apprehension and fear.
“Yes, Mama, I had visited the place day before and have already completed all formalities.”
“…But children are not at home!”
"So what! We would be coming to you next Sunday along with children.”
Such a big hurry! Katherine was simply unable to understand all this. Harry and Sophie - both children love her so much. After all, this was she who actually looked after them ever since birth under her personal care. Pamella had performed her motherly act only during the maternity leave. She sighed to recall how grateful Jenny used to be those days.
“Mama, due to your affection, commitment and care, my children survived and grew up, otherwise, God knows what would have happened with our full time jobs to earn our bread and butter.”
Children are grown up now. Harry is ten and Sophie about six years old. They are able to manage their daily chorus … so what is Mama’s need or relevance now?
Suddenly with the gush of wind, her scarf got loosened. She tightly fixed her scarf around ears and neck and put on her shawl. This year December was reminding her about Delhi winters where years back she used to live with her husband and children. In the past, she never felt so cold in Mumbai so why this year now… Perhaps, she has become too old to get along with vagaries of climatic changes. But if this change has occurred only during last two months or this is due to depression of ouster from her home and kin, or loneliness caused due to lack of warmth in relationship with her kin.
Parker said that he would come on Sunday. Instead, a phone call came that Harry is not well so they are unable to come. On the following weekend, he informed he was away on official work. Thereafter, there were no phone calls and she also avoided to call back out of sheer apprehension. For the first time in life, she was far away from the family and children on the occasion of Christmas.
When she was in Delhi and David was still alive, they used to celebrate Christmas for almost a month. Friend and relatives would come on reciprocal visits; lighting, music, exchange of gifts and a lot fun would be shared. She remembered how she used to go to any extent to fulfill demands and needs of Parker and Alison.
David would at times tease her, “Darling, sometimes please bestow your attention to me also…These children would abandon you one day and go their own way. Only I can guarantee you a lifelong company, none else can do...”
Then she would affectionately rebuff Joseph, “Dear, this is the way of life! My children may go away or abandon me one day but how can I leave them?”
David could not keep his promise of life-long company to her and left for his heavenly abode way back. Alison settled in Birmingham, U.K. after her marriage. One by one, everybody abandoned her but she could not leave any one till date. Perhaps this is also a way of life.
Suddenly, she had a gentle tap on her shoulders. It was her roommate Suhasini Khandelwal - “Come along, dear, this is lunch time now. Let’s go together and eat something before it is too late.”
Katherine looked around rather sheepishly with her sad eyes fixed at her.
“Suhas, you please go ahead and take lunch, I don’t feel like eating at the moment.”
“Alright!” said Suhasini and she turned back to pick her stick. She already knew what has happened with Katherine’s hunger.
But then in this home, almost every inmate has the same story and same pain. She has left her home only recently, therefore, she is so unwilling and sad. Gradually, this will become a habit and daily routine and things will be alright. Her own kin have not visited her even once for the last four years. Perhaps children may have their own reasons and compulsion. Why to have so much fuss and worry about all this.
Katherine was under tremendous stress as if something is breaking inside her. She was finding breathing so difficult. After all, during these years she had become so attached and was very fond of Harry and Sophie. Now, all of them must be too busy with Christmas celebrations. Perhaps they might have even forgotten her by now.
“Oh Jesus! What more pain and miseries I have to go through during remaining life. It is unbearable now, please take me to your shelter and refuge.” Katherine muttered.
“Granny - Granny, you are sitting here! …Oh God, we have been searching for you so long!”
Suddenly, Katherine noticed two children running towards her. Cries and sound appeared so familiar but she was unable to clearly recognize them from a distance with her tearful eyes.
“Mary Christmas, Granny.” Children clinged to her and started madly kissing her.
“Mary Christmas, Mama.” Parker and Pamella stooped over her shoulders.
“We have come to take you back home, Granny.” Children cried with overjoy.
“Yes, Mama, after your departure when the children came back from picnic, they were so shocked and sad that they became ill constantly crying. In fact, Harry remained hospitalized for several days. He was even babbling under delirium that the way Mummy and Papa have thrown out Granny in her old age, he would do the same to them when he would grow up.”
Parker’s throat was getting chocked up while narrating all this -
“We were so scared. The Doctor told us that Harry was under a deep shock. We assured him that we would go together to bring back Granny as soon as he gets well. Then we have partitioned our drawing room to carve out another room big to accommodate you with enough comfort and ease. For these reasons, I could not come earlier nor did I telephone you. Besides, we had resolved to give you a bigger pleasant surprise on the occasion of Christmas after the earlier crude shock. Please forgive us, Mama. We have been really ashamed and missing you.”
“Yes, Mama, today I have also cooked the almond cake of your choice.” Pamella was gently caressing her shoulders.
“Please come with us, back home, Granny. We want to eat plenty of cake and sweets from your hands.” Children’s eyes were glowing.