The Empty Nest By Jayanta Kumar Mohanty
5. 30 am. The landline phone in Jai’s home kept on ringing until he woke up to receive the call. His elder sister was crying at the other end. Jai could sense that the inevitable had happened. Only the previous night, his nephew, Harish had informed that Jai’s mother had stopped responding to treatment. Harish and his wife were looking after Jai’s mother during her last days.
Jai immediately took out his laptop to book a flight ticket to Bhubaneswar. The earliest flight was at 7am which was impossible to board. The next flight at 11am would land in Bhubaneswar at 1.30pm. Jai booked the second flight. Hehad to reach in time to perform last rites. He called two taxi-wallahs— one to drop him at New Delhi airport, and another based at his native village in Balasore to come and pick him from Bhubaneswar airport. The journey from Jai’s village to Bhubaneswar airport was a three-and-half-hour drive.
On his way to New Delhi airport, Jai informed his boss of his bereavement, and the need to be at his native village for at least two weeks to complete the rituals after death. He also informed some of his team members and friends.
After check-in at the airport, Jai walked straight to the gate where his flight was supposed to take off. Then, he called his sister and a few other peoplein his native village to arrange for the funeral.
Realization Sinks In
10.50 am. Jai has boarded the flight, and settled down on his seat. His eyes were overflowing with tears. All the duties and sacrifices made by his mother to run the family and raise him started racing through his mind. And, so did his and family’s duties towards her— rather what they didn’t do for her.As often happens in families where the children move away from the ancestral home to build a career. In the twilight of her life, she was all alone! The glimpses of his childhood, the pain and anguish of his mother when he left the village to pursue higher studies, the tyranny of poverty —all crossed his mind.
Mother’s pride: He remembered the pride on his mother’s face when he got his ancestral kuchcha house (a house with mud walls and thatched roof) built into a pucca house (with brick walls and concrete roof). How comfortable she felt when a toilet and bathroom was constructed for her! Jai’s mother was living in an empty nest— the ancestral house — after her two daughters were married off, and the two sons decided to move to cities to pursue their ambitions.
Jai reminisced about the early days when he left the village, and moved to Balasore, and then to Bhubaneswar to pursue college studies. Though his mother was not happy to see him leave home for studies, she justified his actions by telling her neighbours, “If my son wants to have wings and fly farther, he must!” The strong-willed lady!
She lived alone after Jai left. The elder son had already left the house. And her husband had died a year before Jai left village for studies.
A few years later, she was elated when Jai was recruited as one of the Airmen in the Indian Air Force. He came to home during mid-term leave after six months of training at the Airmen Training Centre in Belgaum, Karnataka. The leave was for 28 days. During the leave period Jai arranged a family get-together attended by his two sisters and their families, brother and his two sons, and maternal grandparents. All were delighted to see someone in the family in a central government job, which has salary, pension, and the honour of serving the country. Above all, his mother was so happy to see everyone at her place —where she largely lived a lonely life.
Another memorable period in his mother’s life was when she set out on a pilgrimage, and had darshan of Hindu deities at holy places such as Puri, Haridwar, Vrindavan, Kurukshetra etc. She felt blessed to be able to visit so many holy places, and Jai felt proud as a son.
Jai realized that the flight had taken off, safety instructions were already given, and the plane had settled down horizontally in the sky — only when the attendant asked, “veg or non-veg?” Jai pressed his lips, and shook his head to say “nothing”. The attendant persisted, “Sir, you don’t want lunch?” Jai replied, “No, please give me some water.”
So Much Unaccomplished
Memories of innumerable incidents and cherished moments spent with his mother were flashing before his eyes. Jai felt the pain, and thought that he had not been able to discharge the duties of a son adequately. He wanted to take his mother to Puri for a second time, and to the other three of the Char Dham. However, his mother’s deteriorating health due to diabetes prevented it. Diabetes also led to multiple organ failure. The old lady put up a brave fight till her last breath.
She needed care at home, but Jai was here in Delhi after quitting Indian Air Force to pursue his career ambitions in advertising.
Jai’s thoughts hovered around his mother’s health and related complications. He and his siblings had great difficulty in convincing their mother to undergo uterus removal surgery. How difficult was it to convince a village lady to undergo surgery, as it was commonly believed that operation theatre is a ghost house, and the stretcher a death bed!
Fulfilling Mother’s Desire to Stay Rooted to Her Village
Jai felt fortunate to have two caring elder sisters who helped their mother in fulfilling her wish to breathe her last in the village she lived all her life. He was indebted to both of his sisters and elder sister’s son, Harish for having looked after his mother when she was unable to move, and perform daily chores. He remembered how difficult was it to convince everyone to take care of her, since she preferred to continue and breathe her last in village than to live with Jai in an alien city.
About six weeks before her death, she told Jai to come and see her. Though Jai knew she would not survive for long, he thought to be there at the ‘right time’. He had visited her few months ago when she was admitted to the district hospital for a week.
Barely three weeks before her death, Jai’s mother had fainted due to low blood pressure. Her teeth were locked. Everyone in family had advised Jai to come immediately as they felt the end was near. Jai reached the airport with his wife and children, but missed the flight. Fortunately, with care and advice from doctor, his mother’s condition improved. Now, Jai was thinking if he only could have gone and be by the side of his mother.
So many thoughts were pulsing through Jai’s mind. During her four visits to Delhi, Jai’s mother stayed at the rented house where Jai had lived for almost a decade. She could not visit and stay with him after he moved to his own 2-BHK flat. His mother would have been so proud to see that her son could also make another home far away from village.
Did the old lady enjoy her life as a grandma? Not much! She could not spend much of her time with the kids of her elder son. So Jai, the younger one, wanted her to be with his kids. She did spend time with Jai’s elder daughter, Nishi. She was here in Delhi to celebrate Nishi’s first and second birthdays. But, she stopped travelling for long hours in train from Balasore to Delhi after Jai’s second daughter, Soni was born. Jai could now only wish that his mother had lived longer, and spent enough time with his daughters.
During this period of introspection, Jai started blaming himself for a host of reasons — late marriage, delay in birth of daughters and, also the delay in sending mother on a pilgrimage.
The only consolation Jai had was withstanding the pressure from relatives about spending money on doctors and medicinesto treat diabetes. Jai’s sole contention was to reduce the pain and suffering of his mother, even though temporarily. He continued to send money to Harish who was taking care of his mother during that time.
Jai had wished to give his mother the pleasure of flying. He persuaded her many times to avoid long train journey, and come to Delhi on a flight. His mother had agreed at some point, but the pain and suffering deterred her to making any further trips. She wanted to be there in the village house for the remaining days of her life. She even stopped visiting her daughters.
Jai always felt that her mother could eat everything that she wished to. During village visits, he would buy the costliest big fishes in local haat, fried snacks, fruits etc., which the old village lady usually avoided buying, especially when she lived alone. There was neither pleasure in cooking at that age, nor any interest in cooking such things, and eating alone in a lonely house.
When Jai and his family used to visit her, Jai’s wife would make popcorn for her mother-in-law and pack it in a jar, so she could eat for next one or two months. The old lady had liked popcorn a lot when she had it while visiting them in Delhi.
What else should he have done for his mother? What else would she have liked to do in her lifetime? Oh yes, when Jai’s wife bought a saree for her, the old lady was overjoyed. She was happy that her daughter-in-law bought an expensive saree for her when many daughters-in-laws would not spend money on buying sarees for their old mother-in-laws. After a while, Jai’s mother forbade her daughter-in-law to buy sarees for the lack of enough occasions to wear them back in the village.
His mother used to tell him that all her wishes had been fulfilled. But, Jaifelt that there were many things he could have done for her. One of the regrets Jai had was about the place his marriage was held. Since he wanted to get married to an educated girl, an ad was placed in a leading daily’s matrimonial supplement. Jai wanted to marry an educated Odiya Kshatriya girl, and he wed an educated girl from his community. While the girl’s family hailed from Odisha, they had been living in Karnal for years. So, they preferred to conduct the marriage in Delhi-Karnal. Due to this, a lot of people from Jai’s native village could not come and attend marriage ceremony, something Jai’s mother would not have been happy about.
Jai did not have enough money to hold two receptions — one in Delhi, and another in Odisha. Also, Jai could not visit his native place with his bride immediately after the marriage. He could not fulfill the wishes of the villagers and the relatives who were not part of the wedding in Delhi. However, Jai’s mother was proud of the fact that Jai could find a girl and manage the marriage on his own. Since Jai had lost his father, his elder brother was not very keen to take the responsibility of his marriage.
Simply no cure: Jai had wanted to discharge another important duty as a son. He had wanted to consult the best doctors in Delhi for his mother. He was earning well, and could afford costly medical expenses in Delhi. But it was too late. Doctors in Odisha had advised that it would not make any sense to consult expensive specialists, simply because there was no cure. Moreover, his mother did not want to move out from her village, and endure the pain of travel.
Jai was lost in thoughts. “My mother was there with me when I was born and helpless. Why I was not there when she was dying and helpless? My mother did everything for me when I was a toddler, a child, and even when I was grown up. How many days did I spend with her when she was bedridden for a year? Did I do enough as a son to my mother? Did I pay back the loan or do I still owe? Should have I chosen mother over career and stayed back in village? Am I among those who extinguish their love towards their parents, and pursue their own interests? Did I neglect my mother, or did I take care of her to the best of my capacity? If so, what was my capacity? Did I limit my capacity to do more?”
After an intense round of introspection of what he had done, and what else he could have done for his mother —to make her happy before her death—Jai thought, “I should have started doing much more for her when she was physically strong and healthy. Why did I miss that time? Was I too focused on my career and growth, and allowed my plans for her to wait for some more years? I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. I wish I could have done so much when she could have enjoyed them more.”
She was no more! Jai was wondering if he would be born again as her son, and do everything that a child can possibly do for his mother.
About the Author
Jayanta Kumar Mohanty is a Delhi-based Business & Strategy Consultant who started his career in Indian Air Force. After a short stint in IAF, he moved to advertising as a copywriter and grew up in ranks to become the Creative Director of a Delhi based ad agency in just eight years. His last eight and half years was spent in an American company where he was leading a global eLearning and Skilling business, and a global team based out of US, UK, Philippines and India, as Director / President.