Mother-in-Law

The wedding was a success in more ways than one. It lightened the mood in Savithri’s and Rangan’s households and helped rebuild severed bonds. Although Rangan was initially cool towards Mary and her husband, he began to at least acknowledge their genuine warmth and desire to build relationships. He would never fully accept Mary and George as relatives or even as the parents of his son-in-law but he would manage a smile and chat with them when he met them again. He would learn to accept his daughter Lalitha’s marriage and learn not to feel antagonistic towards what he still saw as her treachery. He would even accept Saras’ desire to visit her daughter when Savithri went, especially when Lalitha had baby Elisa, named after Eliamma, George’s mother. He himself would wait to gently pat Elisa’s mess of dark curls and awkwardly tickle her chubby chin, wet with baby drool, till she came to visit him and Saras in their home. 


Many years later, when Rangan had passed on and Savithri was in her seventies, she would smile contemplatively at the bundle of contradictions that had been her brother, who had loved her more like a daughter, and whom she had adored all her life. He was gentle and caring towards his loved ones, broad-minded and all-encompassing towards colleagues and friends but completely conservative and traditional when it came to the way he lived his life. “You are a hypocrite,” she had spat during one of the arguments soon after Lalitha’s marriage. “You act like you have become a part of this society when you are outside the home but in reality, you are still that stupid, village boy from Chandrashekarapuram,” she had cried angrily when he had accused her of stealthily arranging his daughter’s marriage to Dharmishton. 


Saras had looked on, shocked by the rancor but not by the message. She had known all along that her husband wore his broad-minded and accepting self the same way he wore his western clothes, just for the outside world. The minute he stepped inside his home, he changed into his dhoti just as he had in Chandrashekarapuram and switched to his conservative mindset, not unlike someone who still lived in that remote village. But both Saras and Savithri knew that that was the only part of Rangan which was difficult to like. His staff loved him, colleagues respected him and friends could depend on him for any kind of help or assistance, as long as they didn’t intrude into his traditions and philosophies. Perhaps it was a strange attempt to cling to his past in his own way. His sister and wife understood him but his children obviously didn’t and therefore always shared strained relationships with him. Strangely, Dharmishton, the son-in-law that Rangan could never accept wholeheartedly, understood him better than his children. 


In the months after the wedding, slowly but surely some semblance of the old Savithri emerged, but just a semblance. She talked a lot more and showed some interest in the goings on at home but still, she did not have the energy that she once had. There was also another reason why she did not get involved very much in the running of the household. She did not quite get along with her new daughter-in-law. Radha was generally a nice girl but she was an only child and used to having her way. She did not care for what she perceived as interference from Savithri, especially in matters pertaining to her husband, Natarajan, by whom she was completely smitten from the minute she had set eyes on him. 
Before her marriage, her cousins and friends had teased her about her size and how she would never find a husband if she did not do something about it. So when Natarajan came along, she simply could not believe her good fortune. When he had first come to see her, she had prayed feverishly that he would miraculously like her, although she had been convinced that he would be put off by her somewhat large size. She had cried for days when her family had not heard from Natarajan’s family. And then, when they had received a positive response, Radha had felt like she had been granted a boon. 


But when her father-in-law to be had suddenly died, there had been whispers among relatives and friends that it was her bad luck that had caused him to die. “The girl’s horoscope must have swallowed her father-in-law even before she stepped into his household. Poor Savithri! God knows what other disaster this girl is going to cause!” were the snide remarks that were exchanged. Luckily for Radha, Savithri had not as much as given it a thought. It could have been that she had not believed in the gossip but it could have also been that she had not heard much gossip since she had not stepped out much and had not received many visitors. Whatever the reason, it had worked to Radha’s advantage. 


However, Radha was not one to feel grateful to Savithri. In fact, she had entered the household as a bride telling herself that she had to protect her position, as Natarajan was an only child and much loved by his mother. “Be careful of his mother,” her mother had warned her. “Your husband is an only child. I am sure she is very possessive, especially now that her husband is dead,” her mother had said just before the wedding. So right from the beginning, Radha had made it clear that there were some areas in which she did not care for advice or interference and one of them was the kitchen since meals were largely prepared with Natarajan’s tastes in mind. Sensing Radha’s insecurity, Savithri had gracefully retreated, offering her advice or suggestions only when asked.


But Savithri’s inactivity, her lack of companionship, her loneliness and sorrow were mounting within her. Some days she found it difficult to get out of bed, and her brother, who was doing his best to get his old sister back, watched helplessly. Both Saras and Rangan also knew that Savithri’s relationship with her daughter-in-law was not exactly growing. “She is not such a nice girl. Maybe we were hasty,” complained Saras. “She is not even good-looking but she seems to be so haughty.” Rangan quietly agreed with his wife but refused to get drawn into discussing his nephew’s wife’s personality. The situation seemed to have no solution and Saras and Rangan feared that Savithri would just fade away if something was not done. 


They talked and worried about it incessantly. They particularly worried about Meena as the child was entering womanhood, a little confused and befuddled by the situation. It seemed like she had lost both her parents with Swamy’s demise. One fine morning, however, a solution arrived by mail, in a letter from their daughter Lalitha. “Come and stay with us for a while. Dharmishton has found a job as a teacher in Kuala Lumpur and we are moving. Still renting but there will be more room. Bring Aunty with you. The baby will help to take her mind off things,” read the letter. Hesitant initially, because he was still not completely accepting of his son-in-law, Rangan agreed for the sake of his sister. “Hopefully, Savithri will come out of her shell and we will get her back the way she was,” he said to Saras who agreed. Rangan spoke with Natarajan who reluctantly agreed. Natarajan was aware of the tension between his new bride and his mother but was helpless. He loved his mother immensely but he already felt a certain amount of loyalty to his wife. Perplexed and frustrated by his inability to do much, he preferred to hope that the problem would somehow find its own solution. 


And, thankfully it did. Savithri and Meena left with Saras to stay with Lalitha. Meena, who had just finished her Senior Cambridge Examinations, would not even hear of staying on in Singapore without Savithri. Over the years, Meena had grown into a pretty, young woman, whose silent world had revolved around Swamy and Savithri, and then just Savithri. The girl was devoted to Savithri and stayed with her till the end, like a faithful shadow. Try as Savithri did, to get her married and move on to a life of her own, Meena refused, claiming that she had no interest in marriage. The girl would stay with Savithri for as long as she lived and go with her wherever she went, and then after Savithri’s passing, she would stay with Elisa and finally spend her last years with Savithri’s grandchild. Perhaps Rangan was right about her. Maybe their mother, Meenakshi had found her way back into her daughter’s life to ensure that she was alright, having been forced to marry a man much older than her.

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