[Vhridhashram is derived from two words, Vhridh meaning old or aged and ashram meaning hermitage or a place to dwelling in simpler terms. Vhridhashram thus translates to ‘old age home’.]
[I wrote this story almost four years ago! I am posting the story as it was, four years ago. Please forgive me for any errors that might have crept in. Hope you enjoy reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.]
The grilled window was serving more than a despondent message. Sujata, now almost seventy-five, was observing the sun rise over the horizon. She was always fascinated with the imagery and never missed a chance to see it. Now that she has become too old, her sleep had vanished into thin air. She stays awake most of the time during the day as well as the night. “Only if Ashok was here, to share this with me”… She sighed. Alas, nothing in this world is permanent. Ashok, Sujata’s husband departed five years before, leaving her alone in the old age home.
She put her hands around the cold metal and excitedly waited for the sun to come up. What intrigued and fascinated her most was the fact that the most important star resembled a vermilion bindi, like the one girls put on their forehead, often considered an auspicious epitome for marriage. She could not stay here any longer; she was feeling claustrophobic in this old age home. His son had ditched her and tossed her into this place until her soul would wear out. Her son, her Bablu, whom she loved more than anything, left her. She was surviving on the pension of her husband. Her only friend inside the home was Paarvati whom she confided in, told all her miseries. She was like a sister to her and listened to all her incessant sad stories day and night. After all, she was not much different than Sujata.
Today, the sunrise seemed a little more special; the skies were filled with clouds bearing an amalgamation of orange-crimson hues. Sujata admired the view, filling herself to the brim. Sighing again, she looked at the ceiling fan which had a dupatta attached to it. Yes, she was going to commit suicide, she has lived outrageously long and it was time to depart, she could take it no more. “But going like this?” she questioned herself, “But then, it is better to go with dignity isn’t it,” she thought.
Paarvati was elated! She had discovered that she and Sujaata share something more than their friendship, they were supposed to be kin, and she had received a letter from her daughter, which elated her beyond measure.
Paarvati: Sujata, open up! I have good news for the both of us! Sujata, open up!
Sujata was running with her toddler who was barely three years old, trying to keep in pace with him. “Bablu, stop now”, she almost cried as the ordeal was taking place for over an hour now. Bablu was Sujata’s only son and the apple of her eye. Bablu’s father Ashok was a normal government servant with a meager income. But they left no stones unturned when it came to Bablu’s well being.
Sujata: Bablu’s father, have you brought the Cerelac for our son?
Ashok (somewhat dejected): Yes! But I could not get you paneer as the Cerelac took the whole money I had!
Sujata (finally catching Bablu): I don’t care for myself, we have a son to worry about, not paneer.
Bablu was too small to understand what sacrifices his parents were making so that he could grow up just like any other kid, without any difficulties. Time flew away and Bablu was soon walking all over the house, leaving his befuddling muddy footsteps everywhere. “Bablu!” Sujata cried seeing all the mess. But deep within, a sense of satisfaction has set in her by seeing how swiftly her little Bablu was growing up. The compromises kept on increasing and Ashok had to struggle to make both ends meet. To add to all the hustle, Ashok was as honest as one could be, refusing anything lucrative given to him under the desk. However, ideals would not fill an empty stomach; Ashok would often receive curses from her wife.
The struggle continued and Bablu was growing up, to a point when calling him ‘Bablu’ in front of elated guests would often make him angry. “I have a name maa! Call me Jyoti if Jyotirmoy is too long for you.” he used to yell. Sujata would laugh and would not reply back. It was obvious his son was growing fast. And growing fast meant growing expenses too. Ashok and Sujata wanted their Bablu to have the best of education, so they got him admitted to a good school, and good schools always tend to take good money for admission.
At the interview board:
Teacher 1: Our school rules dictate that both the parents must be educated and can speak fluent English. Are you both capable?
Ashok (broken English): Yes madam! When I small, I go Bengali medium i-school, but in office, I learn some some English!
Teacher 2 (visibly perplexed): Are you sure you can make your son do all the homework we assign?
Sujata (taking charge): Yes maam! I am confident I can handle my entire son’s homework which will be assigned to him by the respected faculties of this school, provided my son gets the admission.
Bablu aka Jyotirmoy got admission in the school. But as he playfully kicked the stones off the pavement, his parents were busy calculating how to adjust the heavy school fees into their daily curriculum.
A couple of years later
“Are you sure you would cope there? I have heard their measures are much more stringent than the ones you’ve faced at school these years”, a worried Sujata inquired his only son. Ashok had no say in these matters. If his son chose to study in the expensive coaching, he would have to ‘break’ his neck and a few more fixed deposits in the bank. Jyotirmoy complied without even thinking for the second time. He said in affirmative about going to the expensive coaching. Life for all of them was going to be a bit harsher from now on as Ashok had deposited around a lakh and a half to the coaching center.
At the coaching center-
Neel (during classes, in hushed tones): Psst… Jyotirmoy, hey!
Jyotirmoy (disturbed): Whaaat? What do you want?
Neel: Let’s bunk the next class! Can you even understand shit?
Jyotirmoy: No I cannot! We’re all backbenchers you fool! But can we even bunk?
Neel (smirking): There’s a first time for everything.
Jyotirmoy was just like any other boy living next door, blissfully unaware of his family’s crisis, or even not wanting to understand what his parents were going through in the process of raising him. He spent his time gaily orchestrating how to bunk and then bunking the tuitions his father spent so much money on. In a short period of time, there were more like-minded individuals pairing up with the Neel-Jyoti duo, and soon enough they were on the verge of being caught.
One day, the tuition center decided to call Ashok and make him aware of his son’s recent activities. Jyoti was seated with his father and before them sat two faculties. Jyoti was increasingly becoming frenetic, looking here and there, avoiding eye contact with his faculties and his father as well-
Faculty 1: Your son seems to be the leader of the whole lot!
Ashok (in a shrill voice, almost choking): Did you bunk? Tell me they are saying lies!
Jyoti (hangs his head): I bunked…They are not lying.
Faculty 2(with his face almost contorted): Your son is the first to commit such atrocity! No one ever before attempted it before! No one even dared to…
Jyoti expected a tight slap from his father, but this was too much! Jyoti was never rebuked by his father but instead heard him sobbing. He vowed to become better. But, his vows were as short-lived as summer in Iceland!
Ashok (smiling forcefully): Well my son came first in something at least…
This made Jyotirmoy laugh and he pondered how his father could pass such jokes at a time like this, Ashok was totally devastated inside, though he did not like anybody else scolding and rebuking his son, the joke was the last option to silence them all.
Read part II here.
Image courtesy- https://www.facebook.com/SMIT-OLD-AGE-HOME-493646904034941/