I hated Mrs. Shetty, who always found reasons to visit our residence. On a festival or a usual day, she was present with her annoying five-year-old kid who feasted on my share of candies. All thanks to the common hometown we shared. My mother, on the other hand, loved to host guests, especially those who belonged to Kundapura. She was least bothered by the losses she incurred searching for a company she craved to have in a distant neighbourhood in Mumbai.
‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ which meant Guests are equivalent to God in Sanskrit, never applied to Mrs. Shetty because she only knew to beg. She borrowed mediocre things like dish wash bars and didn’t spare us when it came to food and money. Her husband worked as a server in a bar, and they rented a flat in our building. I was not against charity, but I felt this woman taking advantage of my mother’s benevolence, which further boiled my blood. Partially, I felt annoyed that I never got the same love and attention like Amma gave to Mrs. Shetty and her son.
We were not well-off either. Ours was a one-room kitchen pagdi flat in Mumbai that hardly gave me any privacy to study. She was not even kind enough to leave, always lingering in our kitchen that piled up my growing resentment.
I was so fed up that I ended up losing my patience and cussed her in front of my father. That day Appa had raised his hand on me for the first time. But she didn’t cease to visit the house.
One sunny afternoon while I was lost in a deep slumber, someone banged on the iron gate of the long narrow balcony in the entrance of our flat. A courier person handed over an envelope with some address scribbled on a bright pink label stuck on it; my mother told me this later. The next she knew, it was removing her gold mangalsutra and handing it to the man as if caught in a trance. Just then, Mrs. Shetty was arriving and witnessed the scene. She bravely snatched the mangalsutra and caught the man by his collar, who was hypnotizing my mother. Alarming the whole neighbourhood, she gave him hard blows. Unfortunately, he freed himself from her clutches and ran away.
Amma fell unconscious after that, and Mrs. Shetty had saved my family from getting robbed. The chaos had already woken me up.
I saw Mrs. Shetty stroking my mother’s head as if she were her own. She also assured me not to worry and handed over the mangalsutra.
Had it not been her daily visits to our house, Appa’s hard-earned money would have gone for a toss that day. A realization hit like a plummeting meteor, my rancour now subdued, and my heart began to consider Hema akka’s visits serendipitous. She had paid us back more than we had offered.
Pagdi: A form of tenancy
Mangalsutra: Nuptial chain
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