Brijesh Kalappa, an advocate in the Supreme Court, is the Additional Advocate General, Haryana. A former journalist, he has a wide range of interests including reading and travelling. He has worked with several legal luminaries on subjects of importance in civil, criminal, water and electoral laws and has individually represented governments, eminent individuals and major industrial houses. Gifted with the prowess for distinctive sharp-edged analysis, he has been working closely with several leaders of the Indian National Congress.
It was the day of her superannuation and Anasuya was quite thrilled. Everyone at the bank spoke to her in endearing terms and asked after her wellbeing - it was a day unlike any other. As she cheerfully walked home a few blocks away, she was carrying a load of goodbye presents and cards. Her son Sandesh, who had married a girl of his choice a few months ago, opened the door for her and enquired eagerly, "Have you retired officially? Have all your dues been cleared?" Anasuya held a pay-slip triumphantly, and said "Yes! Come on, where's Supriya? I've got some samosa and tea!" The two shared their snack in silence and Anasuya went away to finish her work for the day. Sandesh informed her that her daughter-in-law was sleeping with a migraine condition. Supriya was the local tailor's daughter and had been aiding Sandesh's attempts at finding a job when cupid struck.
Anasuya had lost her alcoholic husband in a car accident when their only child was 14. He had worked in the same bank which had offered her a job in his place. Her father was a struggling musician who had married her off when she was well into her thirties. She knitted in her spare time and sang usually when she was alone. Retirement would afford her plenty of time to pursue her hobbies.
As it was time to sleep, Sandesh told her of a fascinating money multiplier scheme which would fetch her 5 per cent of monthly interest on her deposits. The scheme had apparently come to a close but a friend had promised him that he could be accommodated in that scheme. Anasuya wrote him a cheque for her entire savings - Rs 32 lakh. That was the last she saw of her only son or her daughter-in-law. They all went to sleep immediately thereafter but the two had left very early in the morning. His wife had obviously been packing all night. His friends had no idea whatsoever about his whereabouts. She went to the bank where she discovered all her money had disappeared too. As a last resort, she went to the police station, providing them with all the details but Sandesh had seemingly disappeared into thin air. "Like father, like son - they both disappeared when I needed them most," she thought wryly.
Anasuya never thought, even for a fleeting moment, that she deserved such a fate and that it was on account of her own failings that her boy had decided to desert his own mother.
A son in India serves as an insurance policy for the parent. She had provided him a relatively expensive and wholesome education and tried to provide the best perspectives on life, too good, obviously, for her own good! Anasuya had simply planned for no eventuality. She was left with a bank balance of a few thousands, the house was rented and she had few belongings- her life was to begin anew, like a new bride entering the home of a vagrant pauper. Suicide was certainly an option but not serious enough to be considered.
Anasuya first tried to sell her knitting skills for which there were no takers since everybody wanted branded woolens. A graduate, she had no special skills which were of use to anybody. She cooked fairly well and a concerned neighbour suggested that she ought to get a job in some household as a cook. Even as she contemplated life as a cook, her eyes fell on an advertisement offering the job of governess for a nine-year-old special child. The address was at Malcha Marg, Delhi's costliest residential locality.
She reached after an hour's ride by the metro and was ushered into the presence of an icy but regal looking woman. The child was from the first marriage of an ageing man, who had a child after 20 years. He married again when his son was 7, following his first wife's death. The interview took long, needlessly long. First by the boy's father and then by an aunt, the child's step-mom was obviously being overlooked. Anasuya was chosen for the position. Her salary? Exactly ten thousand rupees more than her last earned pay at the bank.
Anasuya and Tinku hit it off rather well. He wasn't a special child at all- just uncared for, unspoken to and generally unfed. Her duties began early in the day. A car was sent to fetch her each morning, she woke him up, supervised his bath and got him to have his breakfast. A teacher that arrived at 10 usually stayed till lunch-time. Tinku had a nap and played some games. Anasuya's work ended with him going to bed.
Anasuya was entitled to take a day off, She didn't. She was not expected to cook for him but she did. She wasn't meant to mother him but she did. This child wasn't her insurance policy, she enjoyed bringing him up without the ghosts of her past haranguing her present.
Three months into her job, a challenge was presented to her. There was to be a hush-hush film shoot in the bungalow she worked at. Tinku's parents were to remain in Kasauli for a week. So could she move into the outhouse to care for Tinku who would also stay in a larger room at the same location? She could move in permanently if she liked. Accordingly, she packed her things, thanked the neighbours, paid off her landlord and walked into the nicest neighbourhood she had ever lived in, all for free.
It was a day like any other. Tinku had had a hot shower, a glass of milk, some cookies but still couldn't sleep. Anasuya sang him a lullaby and then two more till he had soundly slept. She had a shower and slept till dawn. She woke up the next morning and hurried to answer the incessant ringing of the door bell. It was the assistant director meant to carry messages from the film crew to the members of the household. He informed that the director of the Hollywood production would like to see her. Since the man-in-charge was yet to arrive, Anasuya walked to the main porch to see the internationally acclaimed director standing there. He simply said, "Madam, I happened to pass by your window late last night and heard you sing. Can I request you to sing just one song for me and this friend?!" Anasuya hesitantly nodded her head and was escorted to the sitting room.
These film people were crazy, Anasuya hadn't even washed her mouth, and they expected her to sing a lullaby! She did her best to cover her mouth with the pallu and sang a bhajan composed by Mira for Lord Krishna. As she finished, they requested her to sing another song and she did, all the time looking downwards. When she was done, the three of them clapped, on cue she raised her eyes and noticed that both the director and the other gentleman had tears in their eyes even while smiling. Without understanding anything (in any event, she was far too late in waking the child up)- she proceeded to the outhouse and tended to Tinku for the day.
So, it was all out by that evening that Jack Landall, the movie director with 5 Oscars under his belt, had discovered a singing sensation while on his evening walk. "Her voice is a voice from heaven- my belief in the divine has been restored with her discovery"- he said while describing Anasuya's voice to the Press who had assembled to meet him. Olivier Rhinestone, the man with the largest number of Grammy Awards, said "I was visiting Jack's set and heard her too- we both had tears in ours eyes when we first listened to Anasuya."
Soon enough, she had found a new governess for Tinku, the adorable child. In the next one year, she had travelled the globe and met the most prominent people in places as varied as London, Los Angeles and Lusaka. It was for a few days that she had come to New Delhi when her telephone in the presidential suite of the Maurya Sheraton rang. Anasuya's aide Ganesh, a former neighbour's son, picked up the phone. After a brief conversation, he turned to her and said that it was Sandesh on the line, her son who had bolted with her fortune, in a time gone by.
Ganesh heard her say "Haan Sandesh! how are you?.... Oh! ....You have a son- good! ...Good! Take care of him!.... What?!.. You want to come to visit me?.. No Beta! I'm really afraid that I'll be afflicted by my old streak of bad luck... things became so much better the moment you went away," before she disconnected the line.
(I earnestly hope that all abandoned geriatrics have a dream run like Anasuya. Meanwhile, the UPA has put in place the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, Indira Gandhi Widow Pension Scheme and the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007 to protect the rights of the elderly)