Mrs.Iyer heaved a sigh. The room was bare but still looked small. ‘But enough for me’, she thought,, ‘After all what else does an old woman want’. There was a small bedroom where she had put her cot, a wardrobe and a small mirror on the wall. The drawing room was entirely bare. ’Hmm I will put a mattress in this corner with some bright cushions and a spread it will look cosy’, she thought.
She had quit her son’s home or rather her husband’s home and come to this one hall bedroom kitchen housing board house. It had been a 25th wedding anniversary gift from her husband. Maybe he had the foresight to know that she would have to leave her son’s family and live on her own, she thought. Why was life so difficult she thought? You raise kids with so much difficulty only to be dumped by them in old age. One daughter away in the Gulf, a son too busy fulfilling his wife’s wishes. And what can a widow do except pack her bags and live on her own, she thought.
Her thoughts moved to her daughter in law. No privacy, she says, interference, huh. In our days, we rarely spoke to our husband’s. All decisions our mother in law took and privacy? What privacy in a joint family with growing kids. And if I told something In their midst, it was for their betterment, what wrong did I do if I said that what they were doing was not right. No, no she thought I shouldn’t be so negative, let me go and inspect the park, everyone says it’s pretty.
So she changed from her worn cotton saree into a starched ironed one and left. This became her daily habit. Until 5 days later she met a group of oldies who came forward and introduce themselves. ‘Hello, I am Krishna’, an old man in his 70’s came forward and said, ‘it seems you have come newly here, why don’t you join us in our evening stroll?’, he said. An d so it started, Mrs Iyer rediscovered the joys of talking and sharing with close friends. After years of looking after a family, she found it very enjoyable to be with her own peer group.
A fortnight later she found her group to be in an animated discussion. It seemed that they had a club-the Golden Age Club, where they would have a meeting every fortnight, play some housie, have some snacks and chat and it was scheduled the next day. She too got excited and joined the discussion.
However,the next day was a complete dampener to her expectations. Housie was ok, the snacks were good but the only talk around was of henpecked sons, unsuitable daughter in laws , tyrant sons-in law and suffering daughters. Disgruntled she got up to leave. ‘What happened’, Mrs. Desai asked. ‘Nothing much, Mrs. Desai. I came here to have a good time and not to hear complaints about family. I believe in constructive use of time and such conversations in my opinion are a waste of both time and energy’, she said and left. All the people in the room were shocked. They had not expected such outburst from her and each knew that what she said was right.
Mrs Iyer in her new avatar of ‘single woman’ had taken up to dress in starched cotton sarees at home too, manicured hands and plaited hair. Her house was kepi neat and fresh flowers adorned her drawing room. A pan of tomato ketchup was bubbling on the stove ( a gift for her grandchildren)when there was a knock. When she opened she found it to be Mr. Krishna. “Do come in Mr. Krishna. I am afraid you will have to seat yourself on this floor divan of mine. So if you have arthritis I am indeed sorry for the trouble.’ Mr.Krishna was again struck by her direct manner but found it amiable. Mrs. Iyer, what you said yesterday was right. We are indeed killing time. What do you suggest we do in our club?’
‘Hmm. We can do a lot actually. We can do community service. Of course we being retired will have less cash for donations etc but whatever physically we can do. We must…’
‘Like what?’, he asked.
‘Hmm like we can look after kids. No not like crèche but you know when parents have to go for some function or shopping or to the hospital and find it difficult with demanding kids. We can take care of them. We can collect used clothes and give it to the needy or make quilts and mats out of worn out clothes. There are so many things we can do.’
And that’s how the Golden Age Club (GAC) became proactive. The members were cheerful and busy and their ‘busy’ ness took their minds out of the routine matters of home. Mr.Krishna and Mrs.Iyer spearheaded their projects.
One Sunday morning found Mrs.Iyers daughter in law at her doorsteps. Soumya was pleasantly surprised upon seeing her well groomed mother in law. ‘Hello Soumya do come in’, said Mrs.Iyer and her confidence surprised Soumya more.
After general enquiries and chit chat got over, Soumya divulged on the reason she had come. ‘I do miss you a lot you know. I have realized what I termed as interferences were actually good advices. I have also realized that you had been my confidante and guide and…..’
‘Soumya I too have realized what you meant. Rather than meddling now and then in your affairs I should have allowed you to make your mistakes and grow. After all if something untoward happened I could have guided you. I never realized what you meant by privacy until I came here and found out. You know I never fully understood your father in law because we never could spend time alone. And when the time came to really share and spend time together- in our old age, he left….’
‘But I shouldn’t have been so vocal, and’, said Soumya.
‘And I shouldn’t have been so meddlesome’, cut in Mrs.Iyer and both giggled like schoolgirls and thus began a new chapter in their lives-that of being friends.
‘Your tomato ketchup was yummy. My colleagues just loved it when I took some to office with cutlets. And when I told them that you were the GAC’s manager, their eyes just popped out. Your GAC has become so famous. They were actually saying that if you started selling ketchup they would stand in queus to buy it.’
‘Is it? That gives me a new idea’, said Mrs. Iyer and thus GAC diversified into the food section with ketchups, jams and pickles.
That’s how Mrs.Iyer made a new beginning and GAC a makeover. Mrs.Iyer and Mr.Krishna became very close friends and what happened of their friendship will be another story by itself.