Aruna sat on the hospital bed in solemn silence. The last few weeks were spent in quiet reflection. Did she have any regrets now that she was on her death-bed? Not really! Did she have any scars? Plenty! Would she do things differently in the past? The answer was an emphatic no. She knew she played her role well – good daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother.
Her family was watching her anxiously from the glass window. Sumathi and Aditya, her children were there with their respective spouses and children. How she wished that they had realised her worth earlier. Things would have been so different.
Aruna´s life changed drastically after her marriage to Santosh and their permanent shift to the United States of America. She went from holding a lucrative IT job as a software engineer in Bangalore to becoming a stay-at-home mother in Tennessee. With two children in tow, a home that needed to be managed and the green card processing that took ages to be approved, Aruna had to choose home over career with a saddened heart. Santosh took on the financial responsibility of the family solely and made sure that his family lived the great American dream.
Aruna seemed to have it all – a happy marriage, two healthy children and a comfortable lifestyle. But, there was one thing that was missing in her life and what she longed for. No, it wasn´t love but more important than it. Respect!
Aruna confided her feelings to her close aides but they dismissed her situation as normal and her feelings baseless. She was told that she was lucky to have an efficient and providing husband like Santosh. She knew it too. When it came to Santosh, she had no doubts about his love and loyalty to the family. He gave her no reasons to doubt or think otherwise. Yet, she couldn´t fight this nagging feeling of being taken for granted. The feeling exacerbated in vulnerable situations, serving as a gentle reminder to her. Whenever she felt sick, all she longed was her mother´s comforting presence and love. But, she was far away in India. Santosh didn’t fulfil her emotional needs.
Santosh didn´t value the things that she did for the family. Somehow what she did at home always seemed pale in comparison to his job. It was ironical because Santosh and Aruna were city-bred and studied in the top educational institutions. Both of them were equally qualified and Aruna matched Santosh´s intellect. If she were still working, she would be drawing the same salary as him if not more. Yet, he didn’t see her as his equal.
Their children, Sumathi and Aditya were born in the US. There were years into their marriage when Aruna felt that she was a single parent. Santosh´s job entailed a “living out of a suitcase” lifestyle. Even when he was at home, he couldn´t care any less about Aruna´s piling responsibilities.
Sumathi and Aditya were privileged and entitled kids who grew up into similar adults as well. Aruna struggled to parent her two children. While it was an easy ride in the beginning, it was a harrowing experience as time went by. The clash of ideological values and belief systems were too glaring to ignore. There was not just a mere generation but also a wide cultural gap between them. Her sacrifices for the family didn´t mean anything for her children as well. They found her naive to give her all to the family and believe that their lives depended on it. Rather her!
Aruna´s repeated pleas to change fell on the deaf ears of her family. They continued to take her for granted and ignore her. None of them felt that she was competent to give them any advice owing to her ´frog in the well´ (as the kids jested in good humour of course!) existence. They couldn´t see the bigger picture that she was the backbone of the family. If she collapsed, so would them.
After Santosh´s death, her time was spent oscillating between Sumathi and Aditya´s homes. Aruna was at their beck and call for every need of theirs. She was their free baby-sitter, cook and house-help. Her whole life was centred on giving selflessly that her own health started to decline. Even with a weak heart and limping leg, she would carry on her duties with religious fervour. For years, her ignorant children failed to see the warning signs. Rather they chose to turn a blind eye to her deteriorating condition.
The final straw was when she collapsed in the bathroom with a heart attack. Even when it was a full-house Sunday morning, with the kids playing music on loud blast and Sumathi glued to her smart phone, there was no one to attend to her on time. A joint decision was soon taken by Sumathi and Aditya to send Aruna to an old-age home. They couldn´t take up the responsibility of looking after a terminally ill woman especially when they had other compelling issues that needed their attention.
At 67 years, the doctors told Aruna that her days were numbered owing an ailing heart. It was 4:00 pm. The visiting hours time. Sumathi and Aditya came in with her grandchildren. Aruna took a good look at her family one last time. Their love for her was unmistakable. Was it remorse that was writ large on their faces? And maybe the much deserved respect and value that she pined for too? Or was it just her wishful thinking?
But, Aruna refused to give up on her family. She clung onto faith and hope even at this looming hour of death. As their mother, she was willing to go the extra mile to save their organic relationship. She saw her relationship with her children as bent but not broken.
After all, Aruna chose to care for her near and dear ones not just of responsibility, but also of her instinctive desire to give her best so that they get the best of hers – thoughts, words and deeds that would pass on to their next descendants. Hers was a life-path paved with a deliberate choice to give and give immensely with no trace of any ostensible element of human nature.
She called for her grandchildren first. Still recalling the feel of their tiny fingers, she held and kissed their hands before kissing them a final goodbye on their forehead. She looked at her children, Sumathi and Aditya and said –
“We have one life and how we live it is what makes all the difference. We are not born free individuals who live as we please. Freedom is a misunderstood word. It is another word for responsibility. Responsibility to do the right thing. Responsibility to treat what we have been blessed with utmost respect and gratitude. To give back in equal measure what we receive in abundance. That´s what life is all about. Creating heaven right here on earth. I have done my bit. Now, it´s your turn.”
Sumathi and Aditya came closer to her and hugged her tight. It was time for Aruna to bid adieu with a weak heart. Her vision was getting blurry and she felt the consciousness drift from her frail body. She smiled in contentment knowing that she could finally rest in peace.
Author´s Note: In this story, I draw parallels between the universal and human nurturers. Our planet faces grave environment threat in the form of climate change, endangered species, waste disposal, urban sprawl and more owing to our sheer negligence and abuse. Similarly, nothing much has changed for the the 21st century Indian woman since the times of Draupadi from ´The Mahabharata´. We (men and women) abuse our privileged position and power to rape and strip our nurturers of all their dignity, respect and worth. It´s time show our love and pay our respect to our Bhumi.
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