Maleg was a middle-level manager. With three daughters and two sons, life was one treadmill of a task.
His widowed mother was their sheet anchor. She looked after them all, including Maleg and his wife. They were the only family she had.
|Maleg was devoted to his mother.
The five children were her daughter-in-law’s prime responsibility: Bahu had to make sure they drank their morning glass of milk, took lunch to school, came back to a welcoming home, and rested well. Then his mother herded the children out to play.
Television programmes those days were limited to the evening hours. So when Maleg was at home, he monopolized it. Otherwise, his mother insisted on watching religious programmes and Krishi Darshan. That was her way of protecting her grandchildren’s young minds from getting corrupted.
Maleg lived in the house his father had built, so there was no question of moving his family when he was transferred out of town. He would spend a lot of time and energy trying to get a posting back home. More than his family, he missed his mother.
He liked to touch her feet every morning. After work, the sight of his mother waiting for him at the door lifted the weight of all weariness. Moreover, her calm personality helped him keep his hot temper in check.
She fussed over him, but she was not possessive. She made sure her Bahu spent time with him. She would beckon all the children to come and greet him. Then they were shooed away while she plied the couple with tea and snacks.
Getting busy in the kitchen, she would leave the two together. In an hour she would be back. Bahu must get up and attend to the children’s studies while Maleg watched television. His mother would meditate in the prayer room.
Time for dinner, and then the children were allowed to sit around their father. He was not very demonstrative, but he did his fatherly duties full justice. When his youngest daughter was born, Maleg’s mother had advised him never to shower undue love on one or the other child, but to be even-handed with his affection.
The daughters were married off one by one as soon as they came of age. It was a quite struggle arranging three weddings in a couple of years, but Maleg’s father had left him a small inheritance. His own frugal living too had helped collect a neat sum for the purpose. All the girls were happy. He had followed the simple tips his mother gave him for finding them the right grooms: educated sons of joint families not living on rent.
His sons were not yet fully settled when Maleg was a year from retirement. Orders came for his posting, and he was most reluctant to go. Strange were the ways of public corporations. They transferred everyone who was on the verge of superannuation, quite a quirky practice, he held. When a man is old, he needs his family more.
As luck would have it, his mother had a sudden seizure. Though he was only an hour away by train, by the time he reached and they took her to hospital, complications had set in. She became bed-ridden.
Bahu had a lot on her hands, what with her sons needing their meals at separate hours and all chores now her responsibility. She had no time for her mother-in-law. Maleg decided to commute by train. He was up before dawn to clean her nearly limp body, change her clothes, say a prayer by her bedside, feed her a small meal and then off to the station. He would fret all day till he was back with her. Then he would help her bathe and wash her clothes, careful at all times that she never felt embarrassed.
This went on for a few weeks. She recovered some strength, but not enough to be self-sufficient.
One day he found his wife washing his mother’s soiled clothes. He stepped in, saying: “I do not hold it against you that you cannot take care of her. She is my mother, and I understand that you find it repulsive having to clean her up. You have other responsibilities, but mine centre on her. Your marriage vows do not bind you to serve her as well.”
Bahu replied tearfully: “That is indeed how I convinced myself. I even allowed myself to forget how completely she devoted herself to us. I saw you tending her, and gradually my nausea gave way to a deep regret that I did not take up my duty by your side. Forgive me, but I will henceforth share equally the duty of her son, as he has shared his life with me.”
Maleg did not need to bathe his mother again. Her quiet submission to fate as she lay there helpless inspired him to take up study of religion. He would read to her from a variety of scriptures late into the night. He also found the strength to conquer his angry disposition at this late stage in life.
His mother died a year after Maleg retired. He devoted the rest of his life to her memory, serving the infirm and his religion.