When children forget how to love and care for their elders, what does one do? By Vickram Sethi
A true story from the 1960s. Two friends, Arun and Jagat, lived in Delhi around Rajendra Nagar. Arun was a civil engineer attached to the central government, and his wife Shakuntala was a successful gynecologist. Jagat was a chemical engineer, and his wife Kamala was a homemaker.
Shakuntala had inherited a flourishing practice from her parents, who were doctors as well. Slowly her practice grew,and she became a gynaecologist in great demand around Patel Nagar and Rajendra Nagar areas. She kept herself abreast of the latest technology and helped couples in conception. As the practice grew, she had two assistant women doctors whom she trained and ran a small hospital with 10 rooms. Arun in the meantime, retired and helped in the administration of the hospital.
Arun had two sons. As life went by the boys grew up, and Arun bought two plots of land 600 sq yards each in the new upcoming colonies of New Delhi. With Jagat’s help, he built four-bedroom houses with a lawn for each of them. The boys got married and had children of their own. Jagat had three children, two boys, and a girl. Both his boys worked for the Indian railways, and his daughter was married at an appropriate time.
Shakuntala had decided that she would retire at sixty, and both husband and wife would go around the world on, as most Punjabis say it, a “world tour.” It wasn’t easy to shut down her hospital, but slowly, she reduced the number of patients and passed them on to her two assistants. Somewhere she fell ill and as a doctor she knew that something was not correct in her body. After various tests and X-rays, she discovered that she had cancer, and from that day, she shut her practice and moved to Mumbai (Bombay) to the Tata Hospital. One of Jagat’s sons was posted in Mumbai (Bombay) Arun and his wife stayed with him. Shakuntala realised that the cancer was not curable and the doctors gave her six months. She convinced Arun that whatever time was left for her, they would spend it in Delhi in their own home at Rajendra Nagar. It was a slow and painful end, but morphine eased the pain.
Once all the rituals of death were over, Arun decided to sell the Rajendra Nagar house and move in with his boys. Arun and his wife had spent a considerable part of their savings on constructing and furnishing the houses for the boys. He planned to transfer the sale proceeds to the boys so that after his death his children would not have to pay estate duty. Shakuntala had a large holding of gold from her parents. Arun received a central government pension which he reasoned was enough for him, his medicines and his club expenses. He held back the gold. Jagat was dead against this move and reasoned with Arun that after his death the estate duty payment should not bother him since it would come out from the sale proceeds of the house. Besides Arun had given his children enough and an estate duty payment would not be such a big deal. However, Arun felt this was a selfish view, and he would be happy living with both his boys six months at a time.
The boys welcomed him and were delighted that he was with them. Grandchildren and his daughter-in-laws doted on him, and Daddyji as he was called was a loved figure. Arun got into a routine of life going for a walk, reading his papers and listening to the news. At 4 o’clock in the evening he went to the club, played cards and returned home by 9 pm for dinner; an hour later he would be asleep. During winters, Arun spent the morning sitting in the sun, soaking in the heat. His spot was below the kitchen window. He ate a little bit of dry fruit and some jaggery sweets.
Years passed by and he was pretty much happy spending six months with each of his boys. Both of them lived within a mile of each other. One day he told his elder daughter-in-law that there were fresh green peas in the market and asked her to get some. A week went by, and he gently reminded her again about the green peas. Two weeks later there were still no green peas on the table. The third time he told her and asked her why she hadn’t brought them. That morning he was sitting outside the kitchen window, and the younger daughter-in-law came over to meet her elder sister-in-law, who was in the kitchen. The conversation which Arun heard pierced a spear into his heart. The elder daughter-in-law said, “Budhdhe ke muh me daant nahi hai par mataron ka swaad nahi gaya” – the old man has no teeth but can’t get the taste of peas out of his mouth. Stunned, he could hardly believe what he had heard. He got up and went to his room and cried, remembering Shakuntala. He asked for lunch to be served in his room, but the peas tasted like poison and Arun flushed them into the drain.
Jagat and his wife were in Mumbai (Bombay) and returned a week later. The next day after they were back, Arun went over to meet them and narrated the whole story. It was obvious that he had outlived his hospitality. Lots of conversation ensued between the men and Arun left with a heavy heart.
Jagat and his wife usually took a Kothi in Dehradun to get away from Delhi’s scorching heat. It was a normal thing that a lot of Delhi families did as the men hatched the plan.
Somewhere in the middle of April Arun got a letter. His grandson brought the letter to him, and Arun said, “Just read it for me, my eyes are giving me a little problem.” The letter was from Jagat, saying that the tenant of his Dehradun property was ready to vacate the house and wanted Rs 4 lakh whereas the church next to the house would buy the entire plot for Rs 8 lakh. Seemed like a good deal and Jagat enquired whether he would like to confirm this. Arun kept quiet and went about his daily routine without mentioning the letter. Sunday, his younger son came for lunch, and the topic of the Dehradun property was raised at the table. The elder son asked him, “Why didn’t you tell us about this?” Arun replied that he didn’t have Rs 4 lakh to pay the tenant. In an instant, both the boys said that they would contribute Rs 2 lakh each and Arun should write to Jagat confirming the deal. A week later Arun left for Dehradun… Both the men couldn’t stop laughing.
On his return, it was “Daddyji Daddyji” all over again. A couple of years later, Arun passed away and after the rituals of death were over Jagat invited both the boys and their wives to come for tea after which they could go out and resume their life. “I have his will and I would like only the four of you to come” said Jagat. The boys and their wives went, and Jagat gave them the will where everything had been left to various charities. Beyond the Rs 4 lakh there was another Rs 6 lakh from selling Shakuntala’s jewellery. They were in a state of shock and in the most polite manner, Jagat told the daughters-in-law the story of the green peas.
Have you any stories like this? Do share them with our readers. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org