“Little Mother! Little Mother! Abbaigaru, abbaigaru!” the maid-servant Lachchmi called loudly. She broke down wailing: “All is over, everything is over.”
In a few minutes the doors of the rooms opened. Sons, daughters, daughters-in-law and the eldest daughter of the house, all thronged into the old man’s room. Then arrived the neighbours as the news of Muralidhara Rao, the old man’s death made its rounds He had been the senior most resident in the area around and a widely respected person.
“The old man said ‘Lachchmi, you go now, it’s past two already’ and I could never guess I’d see him today like this.” She wailed cursing herself for not being by his side in his last moments.
Lachchimi remembered the day her own grandfather left them.
“Poor man! He breathed his last on the cot,” somebody was saying as two people were laying him on the mat on the floor.
While the body was being shifted down the younger son skillfully removed the buttoned diary under the old man’s pillow to the privacy of his pocket.
The elder daughter-in-law noticed that the daughter of the house saw something not meant for her sight.
The purohit came and after what he thought was a decent while asked the eldest son as to how long they would keep the body. Looking into the man’s bloodshot eyes, he withdrew into a corner.
Peace reigned in the house till the cremation was over.
After the wick lamp displaced the cot and bed in the old man’s room, the elder daughter-in-law asked the brother-in-law gently, "Raghava, I'm like a mother to you and you need not hide anything from me. I saw you remove something from father’s bed. What is it?”
Raghava Rao didn’t reply and the sister-in-law was persistent. “Look, we are all heirs to this property. But the poor man saved it all for us. All of us, by God’s grace have been earning and saving enough money. It is not as though we depend on this share. But then it is fair that we share it equitably. I have, as you know, a particularly soft corner for you. I have always seen in you my younger brother whom I lost.”
“Vadina, please don’t worry. I’m going out for a little while. My wife is not coming down for she has been unwell. The house is full of relations and friends. We cannot die with the one who’s dead. Please look after the kitchen and supervise the cooking.”
He walked out with the car keys in his hand.
The elder daughter-in-law called up the lawyer without losing any time and the lawyer was brief on the line: “Muralidhara Rao garu wrote his will and testament. I can’t tell you the details of the bequest now. I saw him putting the document in a book-like diary that closed with a press-button.” And rang off.
She had the lawyer brought after ten in the night and forced her brother-in-law to produce the will.
“You read this yourself, sir,” he said and putting the papers in the lawyer’s hand went upstairs to attend on his wife. The lawyer cleared his throat and began reading out.
For a man drowning, his memories flash before his mind in quick succession. I feel like that now.
But I don’t think I’d die so soon. The Doctor assured me that I’d live for at least two more years. I heard him telling the elder one so.
The doctor said the swollen feet do not necessarily indicate death at hand.
But who can say? The coming of rain and the departing of life can never be exactly foretold. Even a minute is not ours, as the wise men say.
I took to something which none in the family ever did, this business. They say that a Brahmin never makes a good businessman.
However much I earned, however much cash I had, I had always lived in fear of bankruptcy. I was never sure of the morrow. I was always tense, which gave me high blood pressure.
What odds did I face! What tribulations and tensions! How can you, my children know the lengths to which I went to save the money! It is not much: never was I satisfied with what I had stowed away against a rainy day.
Whoever would listen to this old man’s anguish! What I write to you is something not just boring but totally tiresome to all of you. You should be cursing me now, but then, I must have it out. I am glad you can’t answer me back.
Should children be grateful to their parents, especially when they are bed-ridden in a terminal illness? Did they solicit to be brought into this world? Why should this attitude in children surface only after they get married and only after their mother is gone?
This old rascal, as the saying goes, you feel, doesn’t die or let go the mat.
You’d curse and appear impatient! But what can I do? Dying is not in my hands, is it?
I too wish to be gone. But that moment doesn’t come for the mere asking
You are not children, I brought up only demons. How is it that you don’t have any kindness, any compassion even for the decrepit, dying old father!
I don’t have the satisfaction of breathing my last in the hands of the sons of my loins. Perhaps this is my fate.
I don’t think I have done anything so sinful as to deserve this kind of end. I was a little strict and principled with money. True, I have been. Money is like that. If you open a little of the fist it goes out running away.
If there is one thing I dread, it is poverty. That was the reason why I walked out on the promise I made to that Lalita! It was a mean act of cowardice. I’d been treacherous. I plucked out a piece of my heart and accepted Narasamma as my bride.
As our adage goes: How can little crows know about the blows from those catapults!
Now to my last will and testament: you should all listen to these words of mine to the very end. Now you all stand before a body that needs nothing, not your compassion, not your nursing and certainly not your food. You are my children and those that got married to them.
Your mother was not like me. A very dedicated wife she never spoke anything to hurt me. Never crossed my wishes: an evolved soul. Perhaps for that very reason she went away well before me, all in peace without having to depend on your nursing. What she enjoyed and possessed, I never did, at any time.
About making money: it was my be all and end all-- the very purpose of my existence. When once you have it, the other preoccupation would be to keep it intact without letting it ever disappear from your hold.
Now that I come to think of it: it is more difficult keeping money than making it. It is not a question of how we are making it, but one of how you are parting with it, spending it.
With Narasamma gone, my tribulations began to shoot up along with my blood pressure.
At the juncture when you would be anxiously waiting to occupy my room, the necessity of writing this will makes me gather my thoughts.
These thoughts of mine should be drilled into your heads along with the pain I suffer day in and day out helplessly.
What is good husbandry and what is miserliness? How thin is the line that divides the two! My wife knew that mine was not miserliness.
Lalita, the one whom I left in the lurch, knows my mind and my heart.
How much did I spend on the children? Would it have been possible if I had chosen softer options!
How could you ever understand the privation I suffered in my youth! In those times I used to send the elder one at college sumptuous sums of money. What was my business, after all, in those days!
Did he ever realize how I managed all that!
Though the girl was poor, though I loved money, didn’t I yield to the young fellow’s fancy and consent to his wedding spending my own money for his happiness! I did that because I knew what it is to love. He shouldn’t suffer the pangs of remorse I suffered for dumping Lalita.
Narasamma, thinking that it would please me used to make demands, would ask for this or that subtly from the girl’s parents. But I never thought that the girl would hold me guilty for any villainy. If her own father were like that would she treat him like that?
Let it be so with a girl from another house. Why should my son be mean? How to put some sense into his educated head!
This property is mine - totally self-acquired.
I bought a dilapidated house and after some years– gathering money for every brick, – in those days, when cement was five rupees a bag, saving every anna, I built this two-storied building.
Those who know us say: “You are royal! What else could you want, both your son and his wife are doctors”. How can I tell them about what I miss!
Every one of my children comes here on some business, some work. They come as visitors not as loving children. I am left to my pain, my suffering.
I have a daughter who is helpless: with a child at breast every year. “How can I come?” She asks me and leaves me speechless. She’d add: “He wants to go in for a new car and he needs some money. Can’t you give it, of course, at the usual interest?”
A daughter’s stoniness gives more pain than a son’sat least that has been my inference.
The second son has been a scoundrel all along. Only his mother could hold him on a leash. Somehow she prevailed upon him to complete his graduation. By way of caution I got him married to a friend’s daughter. He and his wife – theirs is world of their own where nothing else ever figured. He took after his maternal uncle.
Rascals, when their mother was ill, they came, every one of them. Took care of her, nursed her and spoke kindly to her.
But what sin did I commit to be treated differently and indifferently!
Yesterday the doctor looked at me strangely. He looked as if surprised to see me alive. I know how these minds of young people work. I can read them like a book.
The disease is such that it would win. But for some reason my life-breath seems to be fighting, knowing full well it’s a losing battle.
I have to vent my feelings, but I can’t sit and write. I’d write for a while in bed, rest for sometime and resume writing.
There’s none here. There is just that little woman Lachchimi sitting, leaning against the wall waiting for my call. Poor thing: very young. I wonder how these scoundrels can ever repay the debt they and I owe her. There is no need for blood relationship to serve: only the will is necessary. I’ve been thinking hard for this entire week. I’m not able to decide as to whom I should leave my property to.
My children don’t deserve to inherit it. They only have academic degrees but no heart or sensibility to think of a dying father.
I write the following with my full heart and being totally aware and awake, after thinking long. I write this in my own hand.
In a moment of madness I ordered for Lalita a pair of bangles and lied to Narasamma that they belonged to some party who pledged them for a loan.
Lalita refused to take them. She got angry very coyly.
“Chee chee, what do you think you are doing?” She wriggled out of my clutch and ran away.
In sexual experience and feeling, a man is more selfish! Perhaps a woman can’t be so.
On my father’s death, after the customary elapse of a year’s time to negotiate a wedding, Lalita’s father broached the subject of his daughter’s marriage. But I needed money. Lalita used to go with my mother always pulling at her pallu right from her childhood. She must have looked forward to getting very sweet things from me. We had a number of occasions when we were alone.
“Murali! Father is on the look out for an alliance for me,” she began in earnest one day. She is very tactful. How affectionate was her little heart!
I took twelve thousand rupees and tied the knot to Narasamma. I consoled myself thinking that I did so for the family, for my future. I really lulled myself into the belief that I made a sacrifice…. But these children… they never treated me with love or affection. I’m only a sure source of money for them.
Whenever my daughter called me aside affectionately, it was only with a petition for funds. Coming to the grand children, they are driven to the conviction that if they came in they would catch some infection. Poor kids! What do they know! They believe their parents.
What else could there be in a sick room with a dying neglected man in it!
After my demise, this self-acquired building and the money in the banks in my name and my wife’s and the jewelry of my wife …
Poor Lalita! They gave her to a poor pig-tailed Brahmin. She gave birth to three sons in less than three years, nonstop, and in a lorry accident the husband was crushed. She became a widow.
After my death…
Lalita does not know how to handle money or take care of it. The kids have been eking out their living washing vehicles or driving trucks. A damsel carved in gold, now she has a tonsured head and an odd sari style. Nothing to eat but every year a child … What can one say about such men!
She has no use for money. If I were to make over some money they’d ascribe it to vulgar unholy intentions. My children have dirty minds.
The elder daughter-in-law went to the extent of suspecting my liaison with that poor Lachchimi.
But for the fact that both of them had been doctors, they could have given me a grand daughter of that age.
We can’t do anything on our own. Could I give Lalita those bangles I got made for her! Could I at least talk to her openly!
That’s life. Quite funny, too.
I wish I could see my daughter-in-law Doctor Swarna’s face after listening to the contents of my will. I want to see her eyes.
Some desires are strange. Was it for some in an orphanage that I saved up all this! Wouldn’t it merit the curses of my own children if I did what I fancied to, really!
Poor Lachchimi! I promised her to give money to go in for a second marriage. But she refused
The poor thing, she worked day and night, a lot for me. She stayed virtuous while everything around is only disastrously tempting. For some reason I remember my daughter who died in her tenth year. She would have been this maid’s age had she been alive.
It’s unjust to decide the caste of a person just by birth alone. Whether one is a human being or a demon depends upon the actions, the capacity for compassion and thoughtfulness
About the elder daughter, perhaps I was a little harsh. How can she do anything not to the liking of her hubby’s word? Then the younger son: he’s cross for I never allowed him to play with money, which he himself did not earn. Then the doctor fellow: he has been making money. He knows I’m no longer likely to live. There would be no point in staying with me losing the income. He really takes after me. He does nothing. not profitable or income generating. Their children, they say, never like to miss their classes. Their eyes are always on Engineering seats or IAS. My blessings to my children, and their children too.
They should get and know giving affection and love.
I do hereby solemnly declare in this will, that after my death, just as paternal property devolves on the progeny, this too should go to my children.
They have to decide the shares among themselves. After the division of the property the eldest son should consign these papers to fire and forget me. This is my last wish.
One final word! I’ve forgotten Lachchimi, the loyal maid. The money and the ornaments I gave for our lawyer’s keep should be conveyed to Lachchimi in the presence of everyone in the house.”
Muralidhar Rao’s children stood looking into one another’s eyes as the lawyer concluded his reading to produce the small knapsack to be given to Lachchimi.