At the age of twelve, she had crossed the borders from Bangladesh. She was a refugee of the India’s independence movement. She found shelter in her maternal uncle’s house in the suburb near Calcutta. She is 92 now. The distant memory of her journey across the border is crystal clear though she cannot recall a sentence she had spoken a minute ago. Her brothers, nieces, nephews, grand-nephews/nieces are getting exasperated as she repeats the same sentences throughout the day. Back then too she was worried about the safety and security of her parents, brothers and sisters. Eight decades have gone by since then in worrying about and nurturing different generations. and even though, her memory has got muddled, she still tries to assert her matriarchal role by repeating annoying reminders through the day and night.
She was the matriarch of the household ever since she could recall. A role bestowed on her by circumstances. She had to be a pillar of support for her siblings when she was in her teens. She gave tuitions to make ends meet. She cleared her matriculation and got a school job. A stern teacher retired as the stern headmistress. She was revered, respected, feared and loved. Her say in all matters at school or home was the final. Her nephews and later grand-nephews had different nicknames for her – Hitler, Pope, Mother Teresa. Her sacrifices had been supreme. She had led a celibate life to educate her brothers, then her nephews/nieces and later her grand-nephews/nieces.
After her retirement as head mistress of a school, she felt a great void. She filled that void with newspapers, TV, grooming up grand nephews and nieces. She looked after every nitty gritty of the household, starting from the accounts, kitchen to household needs. Without her approval, nothing could be bought, no one could marry or even leave the town for job or any other work. She gave prime importance to everyone’s education and career so much that nephews, grandnephews avoided her strict study regimes. The sterner she became, the more frivolously rebellious they decided to be. She could not fathom where things were going wrong. The more tightly she tried to hold them, the more they slipped away. No one understood her love except when they ended in trouble and she bailed them out. With clockwork precision, she had run the household which was the only life she knew. Now her family lived in a comfortable house with electricity, water, a TV and all the little luxuries of relative prosperity but memories of lack still haunt her.
And so the woman who nurtured everyone out of their lacks is today an annoyance. Her fragile, demented mind has turned everyone hostile. They bicker about her previous nights’ tantrum which has somehow dwarfed her affection, her entire life of sacrifice and her role in their lives.
The walls of the home that she built has begun to crack. A fierce matriarch has turned into liability. In her over protectiveness, she forgot to groom these generations to be independent, strong thinkers and doers. She bailed them out of trouble so many times, but they do not know how to bail themselves or her out of this phase and give her the much needed comfort, now that she needs it.
There she lies – barely able to hear or walk, lost in her own world of imaginative demons that need to be exorcised to keep her family safe. She screams, talks, tries to warn but nothing makes sense. She knows her days are numbered so she wants the savings and the accounts to be protected. And some money set aside for her last rites too. She is not sure if those who have depended on her all their lives can handle her absence. The worry keeps her going and holds her back from going.
Pillars…they are always the last ones to give away.
Madhuri Katti is a Physics teacher and a blogger/writer with a keen interest in literature, movies, art and photography.