Monu was almost a nurse. She was tucking my father into bed when I saw her for the first time. She wore a faded cotton saree that covered her rounded figure. My sister had hired her to nurse my ailing father. Well into her late thirties, she moved about her patient with ease and confidence. Then she turned around to look at me with her huge dark eyes with black hair pulled into a tight bun.
‘You must be the elder daughter’. I nodded in silence.
‘Do you think my father will be able to walk again?’ I asked with hope.
‘Of course, he should be. I’ve nursed back men who were much older’. She made my father sound much younger than his eighty seven years. I was relieved.
She sat down on the carpeted floor to begin telling me her story. Though I wasn’t ready to listen she pulled me into her life. My father was asleep anyway and so I had no other choice than to spend the afternoon listening to a real life story, sipping tea.
She was married off at fourteen resulting in the birth to two girls. Her husband died of a heart attack leaving her with two young children along with herself to fend for. I looked at her, she was quite a small woman not taller than four feet seven.
‘After my husband died, I continued living with the rest of the members of the joint family. Being harassed and verbally abused, I saw no reason to live there anymore. So I went with my little belongings and my two girls to live with my younger brother. He was single and took me in happily. Then someone said to him that he shouldn’t take the burden of looking after the three of them as he would be responsible for the marriage of the girls when they came of age’.
On hearing this, she went off with her little entourage to live with her sister in the city.
‘Please sister, I need to learn something. I’ll do anything to be independent, to be able to feed my girls’.
She knew what hunger and poverty meant in this patriarchal society where men were revered. The constant reminder in the form of gossips that she had to undergo without a husband was like rubbing salt to the wound. She knew they blamed her for the condition that she was in now. She also knew of her neighbor who was asked by his family to remarry when his wife died. The man needed someone to look after his home and hearth, they said.
Her sister took her to a nursing home where she was taught to assist midwives. Her sheer hard work made her independent, the girls educated, got them married off to boys from good families and even saved enough to build a little home of her own.
‘Now I am happy and pleased with my life’, she said with a big smile.
Her eyes twinkled like the rays of the sun. She had emerged victorious. Her hunger for survival for herself and the kids had paid off.
‘I need to have rice thrice a day with veggies and green chillies – that’s a must’, she confessed seriously.
‘But, don’t you think eating so much rice will make you fat?’
‘I don’t have time to make anything else. I will need to eat well in order to be able to work hard.’
I understood her explanation for wanting of carbs in her diet – the energy she needed.
‘Now it’s time for lunch and I’ve brought my own tiffin too’.
I followed her into the kitchen and opened the fridge to drink some cold water. Monu sat in the corner of the kitchen floor as she opened her lunch box. There was certainly a huge basket of white rice, egg plants and potatoes. She took out two green chillies and began eating her food with her right hand.
‘Why don’t you sit on a chair?’ I asked.
‘Don’t you worry about me’. There was comfort in the heavy meals. It must be providing her with energy to fight off the loneliness. We returned to my father after the meal. She began talking to him and cleaning him up. He was in good hands.