Lovely was your typical Punjabi bride; audible from metres off. Her bells and baubles bespoke of life’s promises. The one discordant note in her squeaky new life was her mother-in-law. “I think your Mum may be a latent hypochondriac,” she had begun to make tentative sounds around her groom.
Mummy Ji regularly updated her list of ailments. If it was, “The smoke from the sheller is burning my throat,” one day, it would be, “The pesticide on the okra has upset my stomach,” on another. Her irksome aches and pains were rivalled only by an intense distrust of the medical fraternity. She refused to present herself to what she called a “plain MBBS.” Her physician had to be a specialist with published research and an award or two.
Fatigued with this on-going saga of ailments, the family had all but tuned her out. Lovely was Mummy Ji’s uninitiated and obligated listener. This one way monologue formed the basis of their flaky familiarity over the next decade or so. Lovely learned to mask a growing impatience with courtesy and silence. “I think her mind plays tricks,” she would tell herself.
There was more; an obsessive preoccupation with cleanliness and an ever present insecurity over religion and rituals. “There is so much to be grateful for, why can’t Mummy Ji be happier?” Lovely had graduated in her communication with the husband. But there was no insight forthcoming from the family other than a hurt withdrawal.
Until one day.
The house shot into an overdrive. Beeji was coming home from the hospice. With her terminal prognosis and a life expectancy of three months, she had expressed a desire for reunion and reminiscence. Lovely did not know what to expect. She had never heard anyone speak of Beeji. A mute spectator, she watched the bed ridden elder wheeled and settled in.
It was one of those lazy summer mornings when a lone hawker’s cry wends around tree lined lanes. Lovely sat playing cards with her nieces and nephews. Mummy Ji was hovering over Beeji, concluding the diaper drill. The patient lunged suddenly, the room going still. Everyone turned to the bed. Beeji was holding Mummy Ji’s hands, tears rolling down withered flesh, “I am sorry, so so sorry.”
She had carried the bitterness of her son marrying below him half her life. “I would not acknowledge your mother-in-law while we lived together,” she looked at Lovely. “My hurt ego preferred hospice care to being dependent on a daughter-in-law I did not consider fair, cultured and religious enough for my son. I was wrong.”
Lovely turned to her Mummy Ji, suddenly seeing it all. “Do you see how Beeji’s dismissal affected your DNA, your cells? It made you compulsive and obsessive. How can you bear now to change Beeji’s diaper after a lifetime of painful rejection?”
“That was her karma; this is mine,” the smile was wan.