Story by Dr.Sangeeta Sharma

The septuagenarian was partially limping on one foot while taking the evening stroll on the jogging track of the landscaped garden of her posh complex. It was perfect ambience. Lush green manicured garden with beautiful kids making merry on the sliding boards, see-saws and other fancy swings. Despite cheer spread all round, Leela  felt cheerless.When one is in pain even the most beautiful thing on the earth doesn’t appeal. Lonely Leela was in similar situation. With severe pain in her right foot and constant agony in her heart, she had finally relented to the constant demand of her daughter-in-law, Dolly. Every evening, as she returned home from office, she started insisting, “Ma, why do you sit at home throughout the day? You should go out at least in the evenings.”  Poor woman, a retired accountant from the Accounts department of Central Railways, did not reply back to her that it was just as a nanny, she stayed home the entire day. Leela was currently leading a lonely life sans her husband who had passed away two years back.

She had shed more than 10 kilos in the last two years and her health had deteriorated fast since then. Twenty two - year old Vijay, her younger son, who was strongly attached to his father, had almost lost his good sense after his father’s death who was  a great and noble soul. He had lost all interest in life and had begun taking shelter in occultism and similar areas. Leela wanted to withdraw him from that self-destroying practice. She started coaxing Vijay for marriage. She thought that was the only way out to retrieve Vijay  from his father’s grief.

Dolly, a student of Vijay’s own college had already set her heart on the blue-eyed, fair-complexioned and intelligent Vijay. Dolly was a charming, feisty girl doing her post-graduation in Accounts from the University of Mumbai. Owing to her hour-glass figure and sharp wit, she had bagged the title of ‘Ms Sophia’ in the personality contest of her college in the final year of her graduation. Dolly had great fan- following among her juniors and peers. Wherever she went, she was surrounded by her factotums. Being from an affluent family, she was magnanimous with her friends, splurged large-heartedly on their visits to the canteen. Outings were planned to Lonavla and Goa and an all-women team used to travel by road having lot of fun enroute.

On one chilly winter day, as Vijay entered the college canteen, he heard Dolly declaring before her friends, “Hey folks, I am announcing today, if I ever marry, I will marry only my Prince Charming named Vijay. That’s my promise!” There were lot of cat-calls from her female friends those enjoying in the canteen. They hooted to cheer her up. Vijay overheard the comment but quietly slipped out of the crowded canteen where he had come just for a cup of tea, which was his energy–drink. Vijay, a six-feet hunk with hair tied into a bun, was quite an introvert and with the early demise of his father felt like an orphan. Doing his Master’s in English literature, he had become an avid follower of Karl Marx and Hegel and their theories. He desired to transform the society into a classless egalitarian society where the profits did not go only into a few pockets but distributed judiciously. Busy with his creative pursuits and reading philosophical books, he did not pay any serious attention to his mother’s requests for marriage.

As time passed, Leela proposed several suitable matches to Vijay. But Vijay was adamant. He did not want to marry. He once explained to his mother, pragmatically, “See, nowadays it’s not possible to have the cake and eat it too. Either you can have the son or the daughter-in-law. The moment your daughter-in-law comes home, she will try monopolizing me. Ma, see these days girls are not as value-oriented as they used to be before. Nowadays, girls come with a fixed mindset. They are not tolerant at all and at the first instance will kick the mother out. And you know, Ma, I want to preserve my only treasure- my mother.”

Time passed and Dolly and Vijay both completed their Master’s from the same university.
After finishing her college, Dolly got the job of the Accounts Manager at the five-star Taj hotel at the Gateway of India,Mumbai. One day, Vijay got a friend request from Dolly on his Facebook. Vijay was fond of increasing number of friends on his Fb and he accepted. It was only when he saw the posted pic on it, he realized that she was the same girl who had sworn to marrying him and only him in the college canteen.

Cursorily going through the filed pictures, he was amazed at the marvellous change in her once ordinary face. Those days she was tomboyish and a bit careless about her appearence. With time, she had become more feminine in her sartorial selection. There she was, with high glam-quotient. Vijay could remove his eyes from the appealing silhouette with great effort.
For the first time, he felt impressed by the girl called Dolly.

Later developments just followed each other in a jiffy. His first private meeting at Nariman Point with Dolly which later became a permanent part of Vijay’s daily routine, his meeting with her parents, the fixing of the date of the marriage and finally the wedding, all happened in a fast-forward manner. The day when he heard himself whispering to Dolly lying in her lap, “Dolly now I can wait no longer. Let’s tie the nuptials,” he could not believe his own ears. Dolly had been longing to hear these words.

She had observed fasts and  prayed to God a hundred times to fulfill her dream of marrying this handsome guy. Had met her prospective ma-in-law several times personally and assured her of taking good care of her, post-marriage. Dolly in a cajoling tone had persuaded Leela, “Ma, once I come as a bride in this household, I will not allow you to enter the kitchen. Will serve you piping hot food all the three times of the day and press your feet at the end of the day. You have struggled throughout your life. You should now relax and spend the rest of your life in the devotion of God. Just make Vijay acquiesce to marry me.”

Leela had thanked her good stars for finding such a rare piece of a woman in the 21st century as a bride for Vijay, her dearest, youngest son. She had heard several cases of horrible daughters-in-law. Words of Sunaina, her childhood friend, rang in her ears, when a year back she had narrated the horror of her younger son’s failed marriage. Horrified she was narrating the experience with her daughter-in-law, Sujata: “Sujata was so ill-mannered that at the very first instance she used to start hurling abuses on me: “Haramjaadi, Saali, you have tied your son to the end of your  saree’s pallu. He is no man who can’t listen to her wife’s complaints but sides with his mother. I will see to it I get you handcuffed by the police, you mother-son duo…!”

She recalled how Sujata had actually called the police and left no stone unturned in getting both of them incarcerated. She also got successful in putting her son, Sulabh, behind bars for full seven days. For the first time,Sunanina’s illness had become the saving grace for her. Police could   not take stern action against her only because she was bed-ridden and for this reason all the charges of violence and cruelty alleged on her by Sujata proved to be holding no ground.

Leela shook off the dreadful thoughts out of her mind with a sudden jerk of her head.
With great pomp and splendor, she got the two married and exhausted a major part of her life’s savings in this marriage. Vijay being the younger son, she did not want to leave any of her desires unfulfilled. “For whom will I save money for? Sanjay  is already settled in the US. Now Vijay is the only anchor of my life. What do I require money for? I am going to spend the rest of my life with Vijay and Dolly only. God has rewarded my sacrifices by gifting me by finding such a beautiful and obedient bride like Dolly for Vijay. No more do I long for a daughter.”

How six months flew after the marriage of Vijay, Leela could not make out. During these months, the newly married couple had been off on honeymoon to Bali and Singapore and had got shifted to this new apartment within a month after returning from there.
But that was the end of her bliss.

Vijay and Dolly had resumed their work. Throughout the day, while Dolly was out, she expected that her ma-in-law should monitor the maid and keep a watchful eye on her. Once back, she expected a hot cup of tea for herself, needed privacy  and so felt very irritated with her ma-in-law’s  presence in the two-bedroom flat. Leela started feeling claustrophobic in Dolly’s presence. She, who was the owner of the house, but, of late, had started feeling like a bonded labour. She had invested her life’s savings in buying this swanky flat for the cynosure of her eyes, Vijay. It was the couple itself that had pressurized Ma to dispose off the old house which was somewhere in the back alley of  the suburban Mumbai and purchase a new one in a decent complex of a southern Mumbai suburb.

Vijay was the youngest of the two sons of this retired accountant who had struggled throughout her life along with her postmaster husband to make both ends meet. The elder son’s wife, Rekha, was so ill-tempered that she did not allow Sanjay, her elder son, to stay for long with his small family consisting of his old mother and younger brother. Squabbles on insignificant matters started soon after the patriarch’s death. Ultimately, the mother exhausted of settling the daily disputes, had herself asked them to leave the house and settle wherever  Rekha wanted him to .This permission had fulfilled the desire of the elder son and his wife. However, for Ma, desertion by her elder son was like losing both her limbs. Husband’s death had left her purposeless but this abandonment had taken a double toll on her whole being.

At the time of departure, Sanjay had promised Leela that he will soon call her to stay along with his family. “Ma, don’t worry! I will soon come to take you off. You will stay with me. I will not leave you with Vijay, the good-for-nothing fellow. While here, the whole problem was created by Vijay. Rekha is such a loving woman. She used to take care of all your needs.” Leela  just remained quiet. She knew who was right and who was wrong. But being the eldest she knew what was in the larger interest of the family.

Hardly a phone-call in a month from Sanjay, made his feelings clear for his broken mother.
She felt fleeced by both her daughter-in-laws. One had fleeced her off in terms of money and another has taken away her son. She was not able to comprehend the way of the world …. Was it not always tit for tat?

World’s ways are mysterious!! Even if you sow well, sometimes you don’t end up reaping well, thought Leela.

While she was deep in her thoughts, her friends of random age-group, beckoned her from the garden to join them for a round of musical chairs. Instantly, she felt her blood rushing and heart racing. Excitedly, she greeted them.

Mingling with her friends provided her the much-required relief from the drudgery of domesticity.