When the old gentleman suddenly fell sick, and needed the comforting presence of his family, everyone including his three daughters and two sons, and their offspring flocked to his bedside. He was taken to the hospital (named after his own father) run by his elder son, Dr. Lokesh. He was scanned and diagnosed partially paralyzed on the right side of the body. His acute diabetes blurred his vision, and a previous heart ailment had further weakened his body and mind of eighty-six summers. He was almost ‘sans everything’. A very reticent and reserved man, he spoke even less in his twilight years. His able and confident wife took command of the financial and family affairs. An empowered woman? Perhaps. Thank God that the lady of the house was doing the needful instead of some tom dick and harry handling their private matters.
“Mother! You and father better stay with me now that he is so sick” said Lokesh.
However much she wanted to go back to their own apartment that she and her husband had fondly selected, bought and shared for so many years, happy and sad, the elderly lady couldn’t refuse her son’s considered suggestion. Their son too required their company due to the fact that he had lost his wife to breast cancer, a year before, leaving two teenage kids behind. His father’s failing health provided another reason.
All the children took turns looking after their parents. Their soothing presence was what was needed, not just material help. Fortunately, Mr. Gangadhar was a wealthy man. He came into a lot of money when he agreed to hand over his house on the impossible- to- live- in- peace busy main street, to the developers. A house that was bought at rupees twenty-five thousand some thirty-five years ago had become a hot property, worth rupees three to four crores. (1crore equals 100 lakhs. 1 lakh equals 100 thousand)
In the builder’s hands it transformed into a mansion of five floors fetching immense rent. Sharing the complex with the builder, Mr. Gangadhar was left with his 50% asset value.
Money is also a subtle thief. It robs people of affections, values and drains peace of mind of those who gravitate around it and succumb to its lure. Once the initial shock of Mr. Gangadhar’s sickness, and the consequent concern had worn off, and it was more or less clear that the old gentleman was now assuredly on the last leg of his journey from this world, wheels started turning in the minds of those whose main concern was to know how much of their father’s property they would inherit.
On one afternoon, as he massaged his father’s weak leg, the second son, a marine engineer by profession asked him,
“Father, have you made any arrangement regarding property allocation?”
The question angered the father.
“Don’t interfere in my financial matters.” His sternness came through despite a weak voice. His son felt put off.
Both the sons did their best to get their father talk about his ‘will’. They knew that besides a large share of ‘Eswar Paradise’ with its long and large floors, their father also owned a spacious two-bed room flat in the heart of the town along with accessories, valuable shares in the stock market, and of course a lot of bank balance.
It is impossible to visualize before hand the way people change, when the head of the family is disabled, and no longer in control of people or life.
As Gangadhar’s aged wife was too frail to serve his needs and daily routine, they had to appoint one of the hospital attendants to assist him. How times change! A proud man, who was fiercely independent had no alternative to depending on others’ help. A man, who was diligent to a fault, had to go without shave for days on end because the barber wouldn’t turn up in time. A man, who looked after his personal affairs meticulously, was not able sign a single cheque. What a theatrical, life had become for a powerful man like Mr. Gangadhar!
But the wheels of time do not stop rolling for anybody. As a great writer observed “even the ugliest of sights doesn’t take away the eyesight.”
It was nearly three months since Mr. Gangadhar took to illness. Visitors were not encouraged. Neither was he interested in meeting any relatives. Obviously he was not a man craving for sympathy. The most disappointing thing for him, however, was his loss of eyesight. An avid reader, he loved reading books next to nothing. Whether people kept him company or not, he always looked forward to read, and get immense pleasure out of it. He used to quote Robert Southey’s famous lines on books,
“My never failing friends are they,
With whom I converse day by day.”
Once he lost sight, he lost interest in life, and the pleasures it offered. He lay in a vegetable state. One of his daughters read him the newspaper if he felt like it.
Three months later on a certain afternoon, he was led to the dining table and his wife fed him lunch. A while later, he got up to go back to bed (his endless weakness drove him to bed ever since he suffered the stroke) with the support of his walker. His went into kitchen to get some water. His son who also ate with him, turned to switch off the fan. He was left unattended for a moment. As if death was waiting in the wings for an appropriate minute to swoop down on him, Mr. Gangadhar, a tall man, lost his balance and fell backwards. His head hit the marble floor, and he lost consciousness almost immediately. He fell ill seriously and was hospitalized. Machines were attached to his frail body and his breathing became heavy, and he moaned continuously. A cloud of sadness descended on the family.
His daughters were inconsolable. It was inconceivable for them to imagine a life without their father. He was always there sitting on the porch or browsing through a new book, a gentle smiling person, whenever they went home to him. Despite being married for several years, for the girls, visiting their parents still meant going home. They couldn’t forget his love and encouragement in pursuing higher studies, their parents’ support in their marital life, and several other innumerable incidents that scanned their childhood and adulthood too. Especially heartening was the fact that he never raised his voice against them nor did he ever engage in gossip or slander. Such topics were worthless in his opinion. Could such a man of value ever instill thoughts of material possessions in his children? Mind is mysterious microcosm. None can foretell its working pattern.
He breathed his last, a day later.
They performed the last rites, and life mechanically moved on. The mother found no peace at any of the places she visited. The best part of her life, she felt, was over.
When she stayed for few days at Veena’s house she found some peace. Veena, her eldest daughter, an avid reader, kept a neat shelf of books. She gave her mother the first book of the Ramayana, which describes the childhood of Rama, the main character. The mother was engrossed in the descriptive details of the book. Even as a child, Rama was an ideal son.
“It has helped me divert my mind Veena dear!” she said, on the last day of her stay at her daughter’s house.
“Ma, you can keep the book if you like” Said Veena.
“No dear, books are safer with you. The children at your brother’s place mishandle them. I will send for them if I want to.” She replied.
She was equally happy at her younger daughter’s house in Hyderabad. Rani and her husband arranged for her cataract removal operation. As soon as the prescribed period of recuperation was over, she planned her return to her elder son’s house, which was more or less her home now.
Her second son received her at the airport and he took her to his house for few days’ stay with his family. In the meanwhile, her application claiming the continuation of her husband’s pension had come through. To facilitate the old lady, the pension office had agreed to send one of their personnel to get her children’s signatures in the no-objection- columns. When the transaction was over, everybody sat around and talked of this and that.
And then the bomb went off. Yes, it did amount to that, the way the second son suddenly broached the topic of property. Without a vestige of consideration for his mother who was still suffering the trauma of the loss of her husband, and weakness from her recent surgery, he insisted, she should tell them all about the ‘will’ of their father. Veena, being the eldest in the family, couldn’t stop admonishing,
“ What’s the big hurry? Let her be.”
“ You keep quiet. Don’t butt in unnecessarily.” He said rudely. His rudeness shocked her so deeply that she fell silent. It was during such occasions that the real man surfaces, and his thoughts good and bad, thought Veena pensively.
As tears coursed down the crevices of her lovely face, their mother in a weak, faltering voice replied
“ I already told your brother when he visited me in Hyderabad and like you, insisted on the same topic.”
The older brother was no less depraved when it came to property matters.
“ Tell them again Mother. I don’t remember what you have said either.”
Naturally he couldn’t remember in his drunken state the words of his mother, when he went to visit her, at his sister’s house in Hyderabad.
The mother, unable to contend with the pressure brought on by both sons, adult and grown tall, but obviously immature and full of cavil, revealed the details regarding the property division, as mentioned in the will that she and her husband carefully composed, got it registered, and secured.
A silence fell on the crowd around. After a while, all started talking at once, the voices of the two sons and that of the eldest grand daughter were at a high decibel.
“ It is not possible,” said a livid older son.
“I cannot support this will either. I belong to the old school,” said the second son, sullenly.
“You and grand father should have consulted the sons. When my father makes the will is he not going to consult me and my brother?” whined the granddaughter as if she was well experienced in such matters. Her undue remark further grieved her grandma.
“ Why do you feel this way? What’s wrong with your father’s will? After all it is his hard earned property. He is entitled to do as he wishes ” the mother wanted to know why there was such a furor about it.
“ Why should the daughters get equal share of father’s property Mother? All our friends’ parents dispensed with their daughters by giving them some money and that’s all,” said one of the sons.
“ Since you have the authority to change the ‘will’ you must do something about it,” said another son. “ If you don’t change it to the sons’ favor, then Mother, relations between us will not be good,’ warned the sons belligerently.
But their mother was a strong-minded lady.
“ Are you out of your senses? There is no question of disturbing the status quo of the will. A lot of care and consideration went into its composition.”
The brothers raged and ranted for a little while longer, and walked out in a huff. They knew that there was little use of using any method of coercion. Here was one case where the dead man’s wife was economically independent, unlike scores of widows who depended on the mercy of their offspring, for survival and peace.
The sisters kept quiet because they too were overwhelmed at their father’s last testament. They didn’t expect anything from him because they were married, and technically belonged to another family with a different surname.
This was exactly the reason for the storm that raged over Mr. Gangadhar’s ‘will’. He ‘willed’ that every asset including the big building was to be shared equally by all his children much to the chagrin of the supporters of the prejudiced past practice.
In many such cases, the sons of the family get the whole property without an iota for the daughters, despite the law. Here was one gentleman who never distinguished between daughters and sons.
But for such impartial people like Mr.Gangadhar, women would still be under wraps, and wouldn’t be allowed to get their due, even in these times of equality of sexes in every other field.
Third Place winner in Bard's Hall Contest