Prerna’s cellphone rang persistently, in the middle of dinner preparations. Her cantankerous mother-in-law, Susheela, yelled from the living room, “pick it up! I can barely watch the T.V. with that thing going off!” Prerna hurriedly picked up the call.
“Hello didi, this is Anurag. Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
“Yes of course. Is everything ok?”
“I have decided to move Ma to a nursing home in Mumbai.”
“Why?” Prerna asked shocked.
“Ma’s dementia is getting worse. She sometimes even loses control of her bladder. Kumud and I cannot manage anymore. I am figuring out the arrangements with a nursing home.”
Prerna couldn’t imagine her mother living alone, in an unfamiliar city, being cared for by strangers. However, Anurag, his wife Kumud, their two kids, and Ma lived in a small, two-room flat right above his stationery store in Nasik. She knew that Anurag didn’t have the money or space to arrange for in-home care for their mother.
“Is it ok if I come to Nasik for a few weeks, to spend time with Ma?”
“Of course didi. I am so sorry it came down to this. I really tried.”
“I know you did. This is a hard choice for you,” Prerna said consolingly. She could hear his sigh of relief at her acceptance.
When Vikram, Prerna’s husband, came home from work, he found Prerna crying in their bedroom.
“Prerna, what happened?”
Prerna sniffled and explained the situation about her mother. “Maybe we could bring her here to Pune?” Vikram suggested.
“My Ma is going to need a room and a full time nurse. We have only two bedrooms, one of which your mother and our kids use. She will be very angry and think we are asking her to leave, to make space for my mother.”
“I am thinking of going to Nasik for a few weeks,” Prerna said.
“Of course. We will manage here.”
A month later
The nursing home didn’t have a room available for two more months. Susheela’s complaints about Prerna being gone increased. Prerna herself missed her kids and Vikram. So, she headed back to Pune. Vikram picked her up from the bus station, in their car. “Welcome back! There’s a surprise for you in the garage.” He refused to say anything further, a smile playing on his lips.
She was dumbstruck when they pulled up in front of the house. The garage was under re-construction!
“Darling, I know it broke your heart that your mother has to move to a nursing home. It was my mother who came up with the idea of turning the garage into a room for your mother. She can stay with us then.”
Prerna ran to her mother-in-law, and hugged her.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“I had to ensure that you don’t go away again. Without you, this house falls to pieces,” Susheela said gruffly.
Prerna smiled through her tears. Underneath the tough exterior, the matriarch had a heart of gold.