Gita V. Reddy is a multi-genre author who writes fiction for all ages. Her short stories have been published in two volumes: A Tapestry of Tears and The Vigil and Other Stories. Her other books include a historical fiction, seven books for middle graders, and eleven books for younger readers.
Known for her sensitive portrayal of characters and her culturally rich writing, Gita is always looking to create original work with distinct themes. She is a self-taught writer who is continuously trying to improve her craft. In an earlier life that she voluntarily quit in 2011, she was a bank manager. She lives in India with her husband and son.
Space and Time
by Gita V. Reddy
Pramila cleared away the board games, the toys, the footwear. She changed the cushion covers; the children were in the habit of scrambling up with their footwear on. Every afternoon after lunch, when Shweta had her afternoon nap and Pratap was home, he had the children with him in the bedroom. They spent the hour shrieking and screaming and bringing out one toy after another. Though Pratap asked her to join in, she never could. She would go to the living room to rest for a while but would end up straightening the room.
Pratap was happy that Shweta and Sundeep, or “Sandy” as he preferred to be called, had decided to come back to India and stay with them. He often said, “We’re fortunate that Sandy doesn’t mind living with his in-laws. Most men do. We’ve gained a son.” Shweta had always been Pratap’s favorite. They were alike. Loud and careless, they had always said she fussed too much.
Nikhil was like her. If only it would have been Nikhil, but he was in Australia with his American wife. Pramila worried how Nikhil was managing. He was so particular about everything. Was Carol looking after him? If only he hadn’t won a scholarship and left them to earn a doctorate! If only he’d married an Indian girl and lived with them! Living with a daughter-in-law would have been different. No daughter-in-law would have imposed like this.
Shweta had again become a child after coming to live with them. She did not feel the need to look after her children or her husband. She worked from home and spent most of the day in front of the computer. She slept late so she was not to be disturbed in the mornings. Sandy too had his consultancy in the spare room on the first floor. Shweta and Sandy used Shweta’s old room, the kids had Nikhil’s room, and the guest room was Sandy’s office.
The children were constantly messing up the living room and her bedroom.
Was she unnaturally hard? Selfish? She should be happy; unlike most people of their age who lived alone and were lonely, she had her daughter’s family with her. Instead she had begun to resent their presence in her house. Whatever natural affection she had for the grandchildren was buried under their unruly behavior, so unlike the orderly way she had made her children behave. The presence of Sandy inhibited her; she couldn’t discipline the children or scold Shweta like of old. He was formal, his face hidden behind his thick glasses and French beard. She could never know what he thought and was forever careful not to make him feel unwelcome.
Pratap always said it was big of Sandy to live with his in-laws. He would have enjoyed greater freedom and privacy had he set up a separate home. Pramila didn’t think so. It was she who had lost her freedom and privacy. With the parents busy, the children had become her responsibility. She had no privacy, no place she could lie down for a short time unmolested by the clutter and noise.
Many times she tried speaking to Pratap. He wouldn’t understand. He was happy to have the grandchildren around. But then what difference did it make to him? He was away from home almost the whole day, busy in the NGO activities. He was home only at mealtimes. Whenever she raised the topic he said, “Look, they have to first settle down. Once everything falls in a groove, Shweta’ll be able to help you. Working from home is a twenty-four hour job. It’s not like an office job.”
“Why doesn’t she take up an office job, put the kids in daycare, like I did.”
“She wants to work from home. She can have the kids around.”
“But the kids aren’t around her. She shuts herself up so that she isn’t disturbed. They aren’t around you either. Sundeep doesn’t want them because clients keep dropping in all through the day. They are around me and they don’t settle down to anything. I don’t know whether it is the American cereals Shweta insists on feeding them but they’re hyperactive. Do you realize I’m not getting any rest? I’m not able to even make a single phone call to a friend because I have to continuously baby watch.”
“Look, you always had the regret you couldn’t spend enough time with the children when they were younger. Now you have all the time.”
“That was different.”
“I can’t see the difference. They are your daughter’s children. Your grandchildren.”
“It’s no use. I can’t make you understand.”
“Yes, you can’t. Not only me. No one will understand your desire to stay alone.”
She was silent. She could not make him see that now when the children were grown up and married, and she had retired from a job she had never much liked after thirty-five years of doing it diligently only for the money it brought the family, she wanted a life of her own. He wouldn’t understand. It was too late for that. Perhaps, in the beginning, had she insisted on more help from him or had given up her job when she was bone weary looking after home and work, he would have seen she was a human being. Maybe it was too late to assert herself now.
But it had to be now before it got to be never. She was still active and healthy. God forbid, something happened to her, she wouldn’t ever be able to realize her dreams. She was tired of being the eternal provider. It was not merely physical tiredness. It was a fatigue of the heart and the emotions. She had exhausted all her resources in being the perfect homemaker along with her demanding duties as an employee. She had done it all. She had earned her retirement. Like Pratap, who post-retirement was involved in citizen rights, something he had always wanted to do, so too with her. She had planned to become computer literate after retirement, to paint, to grow roses, to spend time with her sister. Instead she had become a full time maid-cum-ayah. She had known there would be no retirement from the post of homemaker but with only Pratap and herself she had expected to find a lot of time for herself.
One evening, Shweta’s friend Juhi dropped in. She came along with her husband, her son, and mother-in-law. While Shweta and Juhi plunged into discussions about the various multinational corporations, their husbands got busy comparing notes about the stock market and the children watched a cartoon channel.
Juhi’s mother-in-law, Lalita and Pramila tried to make small talk for a while and then gave up. It was too noisy. After a while Pramila went into the kitchen to prepare tea. Lalita followed. Deftly, like Pramila, she handed out the tea and snacks.
The living room had filled with cigarette smoke and the shrill voices from the TV were a cacophony. It was not possible to sit out in the garden because of the mosquitoes. Pramila took Lalita into her bedroom. She shut out the noise. As usual there were the board games and toys strewn over the rumpled bed.
They had their tea and stayed in the room. They heard the children fighting. One child set up a wail. She wanted to get up but her limbs felt leaden with fatigue. Lalita said, “Let them be. Let their mothers mind them.” So she placed a cushion behind her aching back and sat back.
The door opened. It was her granddaughter and Juhi’s son. They were both tugging at a doll she had made years ago. Something hot and angry boiled within her. She had taken great pride in displaying the handmade dolls but now most of them were in tatters. She had never allowed Shweta or Nikhil to play with them because they were not toys. She often wondered how Shweta turned a blind eye to the doings of the children. She knew, even if Sundeep did not, that the dolls and the ceramic animals and the pottery were all precious to her.
At first she had remonstrated with the children. Shweta and Sandy had not liked it. They had let her know that denying the children what they wanted would affect their emotional growth. So Pramila watched the ruin of her treasures. She also watched that the tenet of giving the children what they wanted did not apply to Shweta’s things. Shweta’s cosmetics table and the numerous accessories and Sandy’s electronic gadgets were not to be handled by the children. Their rooms was also out of bounds for the children. They were “work areas” and the children were not to play in there.
Lalita said, “Parents only want their children to sing or dance or do something which is evidence of their going to an expensive school. Beyond that, they are free.”
That night at dinner, Pramila said, “Shweta, I liked Juhi’s mother-in-law very much. We got to know each other quite well.”
“I think she was a government officer or something. She’s retired now.”
“I know. She has a group of friends who’re planning to go to Vaishno Devi and other important holy places. They’re leaving within a fortnight. She wants me to join the group.”
“Ha! She doesn’t know you well,” said Pratap, “you’re not the type to visit temples.”
“Of course I am! I never get the time, that’s all. I wanted to go before Shweta came, but who would have looked after you? Now that Shweta’s here, I don’t have to worry. I’ve already accepted Lalita’s offer. At my age I should start taking an interest in spiritual things.”
There was silence. Even the children sensed there was something important going on. They too looked at her. She looked back at all of them with guileless eyes. Pratap begun, “I couldn’t let you go alone.” She assured him she would not be alone. The group would be accompanied by a paid professional who would take care of the travel requirements like bookings and would also be around for any emergency.
Shweta wailed, “I can’t manage.” Pramila assured her that working from home it wouldn’t be difficult.
Sandy said something about a waste of money. A family trip would be cheaper. Pramila laughed. “I will be spending my accumulated pension on something worthwhile.”
The objections gradually died down because of her one answer, “I want to visit these holy places while I can.”
She thanked Lalita again and again for having shown her the only dignified way out of a situation that was turning to be impossible. She decided that later, after returning from the month-long trip, she would join Lalita’s group. They often met for bhajans and discourses. She would visit the local Ramakrishna Mission. There was a computer center opposite it. She would find art classes somewhere too. She knew it wouldn’t be difficult. Once she was out of the house often enough, the others would learn to manage without her. She might even begin to enjoy her grandchildren!
Copyright 2017 by Gita V. Reddy