“Shanti. Shanti. O, Shanti, give me my new pajama kurta,” Shastri called his wife Shanti in agitation. “I’ve repaired your kurta. Wear it for the time being,” Shanti replied sternly from the kitchen. His sullen mood complained silently about his repaired kurta when he sat on the mat for dinner. Plain white rice, two thin slices of cucumber and a small bowl of yellow watery lentil soup in a shiny thali aggravated his anger. Shanti said before her husband complained, “Simple food is good for you, it is still tasty.” Shastri wanted to disagree but Shanti had anticipated his reply. “I have an orange for you too.” And that satisfied him. A fiction story by Nusrat Jabeen. (LIFESTYLE, #NusratJabeen, @NusratJabeen, #Siliconeer, @Siliconeer, #Fiction)
Shastri and Shanti were blessed with three sons and a daughter. Their three sons had settled in the States after completing their education and their only daughter Padma was happily married to a nobleman. Shastri and Shanti bowed to their Bhagavan every day for being blessed, Ajay, Shanker and Arvind sent them money every month from the States and Shastri got his small pension as well. They were happy and contended.
It had become Shanti’s annual ritual to cut down the budget two or three months prior to their three sons’ visit to India. Shanti wanted to serve her children the best of everything never compromising on food or comfort. She took new clothes for her and Shastri and new bed linen for her children. She replenished the fridge with fruit, vegetables, ice cream and jars on the kitchen were filled with homemade snacks for their grandchildren. She tried relentlessly to show her sons and her daughters in law that they had a surplus of everything. She often told Shastri, “If they know we are frugally living they will be heartbroken and cut down from their children’s needs to giving us more and that I cannot tolerate at any cost.”
The last vacation their sons arranged for a maid and part time driver too. “Mata Ji, you’ve worked endlessly all your life and this is the time for you to enjoy and take some rest.” That one sentence had made them the proudest parents of the world.
But that was a different story. As soon they left Shanti paid off the maid and the driver and told them politely that she would call them when she needed them.
Since their sons had gone to the States, everything had become more expensive, but the amount their sons sent remained the same. Shastri wanted to ask his sons to increase the amount but Shanti always rejected that option.
“What about us? What about our expenses? We’re old and need medicines and … and look at the prices of everything, ten times more than they started earning and sending us,” Shastri ’s irritation did not bother Shanti at all. She smiled, “Shastri… We have everything we need. Let our children enjoy their lives.”
Once again it was time for Shanti to reschedule her home budget. All her three sons and their families were arriving and she had two months to arrange everything…everything that could be a proof of their dignified living. But for that Shastri and she had to scarify some of their basic necessities.
“Shanti …. My vitamins and calcium tablets ….?” Shastri shouted entering the room holding the empty bottles in his hand. Shanti threw a glance and said softly, “You can survive very well without these supplements for a month.”
That reminded him the arrival of his sons next month. Shastri felt his wife’s worries to his heart and he also knew her determination to provide the best of everything for her children and their families. He wanted to help but found him helpless.
Finally, the day came. Ajay, Shanker, and Arvind were happy to see their parents after a year. Their wives, however, envied the glowing faces of Shastri and Shanti. Everybody enjoyed the traditional meal with hot chapatis served by the maid. Shanti and Shastri were bustling with joy to see all of their family sitting together on the dining table.
Shanti had called the maid and the driver temporarily but were told to give the impression of being permanent servants. However, Shastri was not happy with all false arrangements.
Shastri took his sons for a walk and said humbly, “You see, sons, everything is very expensive…. it is very difficult to carry on these days with the amount you send us.”
“Yes, Pita Ji,” all said together but their looks were incredulous. “We’ll see, what could be done,” Arvind said and the other two nodded.
Arvind, Ajay, Shanker and their wives were discussing what gift would be suitable for Padma, their nand.
“Every year we give so many gifts to Padma and that’s not fair,” Padmini said.
“One sari and one-kilo sweets and they are enough?”Arvind’s wife decided finally.
“Shanti,” asked Shastri, “Do they have gifts for Padma?”
Shanti smiled as usual and put several packets on the bed, six of them.
Shanti explained, “I’ve collected all these for Padma, so you need not worry.”
“This is just a formality,” Shastri had sensed the unrest on his sons and their wives’ faces.
“But Mata Ji, all this must be very expensive,” the middle bahu couldn’t resist.
“No, no,” Shanti laughed and said with a little embarrassment, “Actually, I didn’t buy anything. I got them all from different relatives on different occasions,” Shanti cleared the doubts of her daughters-in-law in the most humble way. Shastri was appreciating his wife’s crafty intelligence silently.
It was midnight. All six of them were sitting and discussing something seriously. Their faces were dismal.
“It’s clear that we’re giving them more than they need,” said Padmini.
“Look at the extravagant lifestyle, wahoo… !” The other one interrupted, “Scrumptious meals and full-time servants. Wah.. What a royal lifestyle!”
Kamini sighed, “We all work like mules and still cannot afford a maid. And all our saving is spent on this trip.” The three ladies watched the reaction on the three obedient sons.
The meeting prolonged for two hours. Finally, by two in the morning they reached unanimously to the final verdict.
It was time for them to leave. They all touched the feet of their parents in sheer respect. Shanti and Shastri gave their asheerwad with moist eyes.
“Pita, we want to say something if you forgive us,’ Arvind said politely.
“Yes, why not, Arvind,” Shastri said cheerfully, thinking about an increase in remittance.
Rest of them were waiting anxiously for him to blurt the verdict of last night’s resolution.
Arvind cleared his throat, “Mata and Pita Ji, you know we all are in debts. We have a home mortgage, car installments and need to save for our children’s education.”
Everyone was listening silently.
“I know, I know,” Shastri was getting worried anticipating something inauspicious to happen.
Shanker said, “We’ve decided to reduce your monthly remittance. We know you understand. You see…..”
Shastri was about to raise his voice in protest but Shanti pressed his hand to remain quiet.
Once again they touched their parents’ feet and left.
“Why didn’t you let me tell them that we’re already hand-to-mouth. What will we do now?” Shastri was seething in furry.
Shanti smiled but her eyes welled up instantly, “Shastri Ji, you count every day for their next vacation. If they stop visiting us how will we survive?”
Shastri was deep in thoughts, “But Shanti, how will you manage the household now?”
“We’ll rent out one room, a paying guest,” Shanti smiled. Shastri was over whelmed and turned his face to hide his tears.