Monday 16 April 2012

The daughter’s husband

He was in college when Shubhendu fell in love with a stunning girl he saw at the bus stop. She lived in the neighbourhood and used to take the “women’s special” bus to the university. It took him all of a year to approach her. She did not seem to mind his company, and soon they were regularly exchanging notes on studies and career plans.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
Shubhendu was affable and caring.
Digital sketch: Harjeet

Shubhendu went on to complete his MBA while she took her time completing her master’s. He landed a job with a hefty pay packet at a reputed firm, and later managed to get her employed in the same office.
It was not pure coincidence that his family moved into a house opposite hers soon after. He was besotted with her, but hadn’t yet opened his heart to her.
She was rather flighty but sweet, full of the goodness of life that he sought. It was time to ascertain if Cupid had struck her heart too. Indeed he had.
He invited her over to his place and introduced her to his family as an acquaintance, hoping they would take to her.
They did.
Shubhendu’s next move was befriending her family. They were wary of him, apprehensive of an alliance between two very different communities and its long-term consequences. But he was so humble, unassuming and wholly charming that it was impossible not to like him.
A quiet marriage took place before the registrar. No dowry, no exchange of gifts, no fancy reception.
Shubhendu insisted that she give up her job when she was carrying their first child. A second one followed within a year. His parents were ecstatic.
So were hers. Living within shouting distance of each other, the two families developed deep ties. He was as much a hit with her family as she was with her in-laws.
Over the years, his father-in-law came to dote on Shubhendu, to the extent that they spent at least an hour together every evening. He came to be regarded as the son of the family, more than his brothers-in-law who willingly passed on their responsibilities to him.
His in-laws began depending on him for every decision, financial, social or health-related. His parents did not grudge it, because he struck a fine balance between the two families. Besides, his wife took really good care of them.
A few years into their marriage, Shubhendu got lucky with a whopping amount in salary arrears plus a chunky bonus. He bought a piece of land in a township coming up in an adjoining suburb. The plot lay neglected for long, but when his children grew up and wanted to leave the cramped quarters, Shubhendu had to make a tough decision. He started building a house on the land.
His father-in-law’s health, which had been deteriorating, took a turn for the worse meanwhile. Stopping the construction halfway, Shubhendu devoted to him all the time he could spare from work. He was there to take him to the doctor, to feed him, to lend his shoulder when he could no longer sit on his own.
There came a time when his father-in-law had to be repeatedly hospitalized, and doctors warned that the end was near. Shubhendu had built an enviable reputation at his company with his affability and hard work. They understood when he sought long leave.
He would not move from his father-in-law’s bedside but for a shower, to attend a phone call or visit the doctor. His wife fluttered around, but could contribute little. His brothers-in-law would pay lip service and push off to work. His mother-in-law helplessly watched her husband withering away.
Shubhendu would not let a nurse into the house. He attended to his father-in-law’s every need, from washing him and helping him turn sides so that the dreaded bed sores did not appear, to feeding him soup or juice when he could take solid food no more.
In her family, tradition does not allow a married daughter, her husband and in-laws to take part in funeral rites. Shubhendu not only lit the pyre but also participated in every other ritual reserved for sons. The brothers-in-law did not demur, for their father had expressly said he wanted his daughter’s husband to perform his last rites.