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Hearth in a Home
Rebecca D’Sa, nudging 80, as graceful and beautiful as ever, was quietly sipping her morning tea, sitting in the veranda of her elegant, but modest bungalow of decades, nestled in a quiet by lane of Bandra, aptly carrying the sobriquet, the Queen of the Suburb. She was wistfully looking at the well preserved family albums, containing hundreds of pics of her growing up days, her parents and grandparents and brother and cousins, various occasions and functions and ceremonies, vistas of the old Bandra with beautiful villas surrounding her home and the ineffable charm of the old, now giving way to reckless redevelopment. In place of coconut and palm trees that were gently swaying all around her in the long past, all she could espy today and assault her senses were tall buildings abutting her bungalow. All the neighbouring families had given up their bungalows due to economic constraints and challenges of maintaining large houses.
Rebecca hailed from a well-to-do family and had the best of upbringing and education. Her parents had sent her and her brother to the best of the schools and colleges and post graduate doctoral programs in London School of Economics. They had a rock solid foundation and it reflected in their demeanour, both personally and professionally. While her brother chose to continue his professional pursuits in London and later migrated to the US permanently, Rebecca chose to return to India and make her career. The tug of her parents and Bandra was too strong to resist, as she always said to her friends. She joined a well-known global consultancy firm based in Mumbai and eventually rose to head their India operations and the Asia Pacific region. She had a successful stint from a rookie to a ranker at the firm and had superannuated when she turned 60.
She prepared herself well, physically and psychologically, for her sunset years. She found joy in travelling frequently to interiors and reserve forests of India, around the world, visiting her brother and his family in Washington and visiting all significant religious places dotted all over her ancient country. She was agnostic more than atheistic in her beliefs and found equal joy in visiting all the shrines, be it a church or a temple or a masjid or a synagogue or a gurudwara and India certainly had all of these in plenitude amid the plains and peaks. Regular exercises and jogs, meeting friends were all a part of her routine and these kept her busy and kept at bay the feeling of loneliness. She had lost her parents a few years before her retirement and sorely missed them. Save for occasional visits of her brother to India and a few cousins based in Mumbai, hers was a life of solitude and the company of books and music, which she inveterately relished. A love relationship in her late twenties had gone sour and she never had the good fortune of any alluring companionship finding its way into her life. She was stoic about it, given her innate resilience to accept life as it comes.
A decade ago, Rebecca had been detected with failing kidneys which over time took a turn for the worst, enforcing frequent dialysis and leading to other endocrine and cardiovascular complications. Mercifully, well-heeled and single that she was, money was not a problem and she was able to handle the rigours of treatments. More than the money, she had an unwavering support and company of Ritika, who was a qualified nurse.
Ritika’s parents had been serving the D’Sa household for decades, since their teens, and had been well looked after and respected. Rebecca herself had been brought up with love and care by Ritika’s parents and for all practical purposes, they were like her own parents. Rebecca always considered herself and her parents lucky that they had Ritika’s parents in their lives. Ritika used to be in and out of the D’Sa bungalow during her childhood days and play around in the huge lawns of the bungalow. It was a welcome relief for her since her own parents lived in a small room in one of the semi-legal tenements in the vicinity, with barely any space for fun and frolic and play which children so desire and need. Very often, Rebecca used to take impromptu tuitions for Ritika during her spare time and this went a long way in making Ritika apt and ready for her paramedic courses, which saw her becoming a qualified nurse.
Ritika had married a para-medic, working in a municipal hospital, after she qualified as a nurse. They were blessed with a baby girl, who unfortunately was diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy, a developmental disorder, when she was three. Between her husband’s meagre salary and her own, they somehow managed to give reasonable care to their daughter, aided by frequent help from the D’Sa family, though her parents had ceased working long ago at their home, due to advancing age. Nature has its quirks and can deliver brutal shocks, as it did to Ritika. Six years into her marriage, Ritika lost her husband in a freak train accident. Strong minded that she was, Ritika accepted her lot and soon quit her low paying municipal job and tied up with a med-care outsourcing platform to get regular nursing assignments at high daily rates. This enabled her to take care of her spastic child to good extent.
A few years later, Rebecca, given her failing health, had reached out to Ritika and convinced her to come over to her place regularly to tend to her needs. Ritika could not say no to her, given their long standing relationship, but was hesitant to talk about the charges for the nursing care. After all, she was dependent on a decent source of income to take care of her own dependent daughter. Rebecca sensed this and assured Ritika that she will be well compensated and need not worry.
A failing health, the constant dependency and curtailment of activities soon took its toll on Rebecca’s fortitude and courage to face life on her terms. Every day was a challenge for Rebecca and she was increasingly finding it difficult to cope with the constant pain and discomfort of her ailment. It was this situation that Rebecca was ruing as she sat sipping her morning tea. The warm sunrise rays buoyed her spirits and she was ever thankful that Ritika has been so lovingly and compassionately taking care of her these past few years. It was a redux of what Ritika’s parents had done for her own parents during their last phase of life. Here was Ritika, a person of meagre means, but a heart so generous and a will so redoubtable. Rebecca’s brother, though living in the US for decades, was very aware of Ritika’s parents and her own service and contribution to the D’Sa family, his parents and Rebecca, over the years and the strong bond and mutual respect that developed as a result.
As another day passed, at 8 pm, as was customary, Ritika bade goodbye to Rebecca for the night and left the bungalow along with her daughter. Rebecca called her brother in Washington, as she would often and had an unusually longish and sentimental chat with him, talking about everything connecting them, past and present. Her brother’s annual visit to Mumbai was just about a few months later to coincide with her 80th birthday on Christmas. Yes, she always felt good that she had birthed on the same day as the Lord. She then spoke to her chartered accountant and lawyer to discuss her estate and holdings and her will. Rebecca had always been methodical in these aspects. Since she has been ailing for long and lived alone, Rebecca had put in place an auto-recording system as well as a CCTV so that all her conversations and movements can be recorded and tracked. Rebecca then called it a day and retired to her bedroom for the night.
The next day, Ritika came to the bungalow at 8 am as usual. She noticed that the newspaper and the milk pouch were still lying out. A bit puzzled, she rang the doorbell. Normally, Rebecca would open the door within two or three rings, to let her in. Thinking that Rebecca might have overslept, Ritika opened the door using the spare key that she always had, but rarely used. After all, there is nothing to beat being greeted by Rebecca’s warm smile. Ritika headed straight to Rebecca’s room. She seemed in bliss and at peace, as streaks of the warm sun rays sprayed on her lovely visage. Ritika patted Rebecca slightly on her cheeks to wake her up, only to feel it very cold. Shocked, Ritika bent closer to her nose only to notice that there was no breath nor any pulse. Rebecca had made the final exit from her home and hearts that she so warmly occupied for 80 years. The half empty sleeping pills bottle had been kind to her. The note on the side table had an emotive story to tell.
Rebecca had left 50% of her estate to Ritika, 40% to her brother and 10% to charity. Ritika was more than a family to Rebecca; she was hearth in a home.