On her way to the kitchen in the evening, Preetha had seen her mother-in-law showing something to her two friends on her iPhone while they were chatting in the sitting room. She wouldn’t have noticed had it not been for their sudden attempt to discontinue what they were doing when she entered the room.
‘So Monideepa, what plans for our picnic next week?’ one of the ladies quickly asked her mother-in-law. Preetha was intelligent enough to understand that her presence had marred their discussion and they were trying to divert it, like one would do with a child who had suddenly barged into adult talk. But Preetha wasn’t bothered. She was too tired after her day at the college. Travelling in the cramped and filthy local train from Sealdah station to Kalyani to deliver a lecture on Political Science was a daily battle. It became tougher when she had to embark on another battle to hold the attention of a group of utterly disinterested pupils, who were dying to fiddle with their phones at the slightest opportunity. Despite all that, she sometimes wished that she could travel on the weekends too, just to stay away from her mother-in-law! When she thought of her mother-in-law, she sometimes felt like holding the deadpan faces of her students with much love because they were the ones who allowed her to feel alive, to stay away from home, to deal with her grief.
Preetha would have forgotten all about the incident in the evening had she not seen her mother-in-law’s mobile phone lying on the dining table on a midnight trip to the bathroom. Individual privacy was something that Preetha had always believed in, but in her new home, privacy had been violated by Monideepa long time back.
After five years of their marriage, Monideepa still made some excuse to knock on their bedroom door during a Sunday siesta. Ultimately, Deep started keeping the door ajar before hitting the bed in the afternoons. Although they never talked about it, Preetha was glad he took the decision to do so. After an excruciatingly tiring week, an undisturbed afternoon nap was more precious than privacy. Since they started doing that, Preetha noticed her mother-in-law’s feet visible below the door curtains many a time. It was obvious that she used to stand by the door trying to catch possible signs of intimacy or maybe conversation that maligned her.
After what happened on their wedding night, Preetha was kind of prepared for the vagaries of her new life, but Monideepa never ceased to surprise her.
When Preetha and Deep got married, the focus was more on Monideepa than on the newlyweds, solely because her friends and relatives could not stop gushing about how sophisticated, educated and impeccably dressed her 65-year-old mother-in-law was. People talked about how, despite losing her husband to a heart attack three years back, she hadn’t lost the zest for life and had single-handedly organised a wonderful wedding for her son. Some even ventured so far as to say how lucky Preetha was to have such a mother-in-law. But reality dawned on the new bride when there was a knock on the door on their wedding night and Monideepa walked into their room with tear-laden eyes.
‘You have slept with me for the last three years, Deep. The emptiness in my bed is killing me,’ she told her 29-year-old son, who kept looking at her sheepishly not knowing what to say.
‘I will sleep with you tonight. Preetha is my daughter. I will sleep with both of you.’ Saying this, she plonked herself in the middle of the bed. The bride and the groom took positions next to her. Monideepa snored and Deep attempted conversing with Preetha through sign language for some time. Then, he also started snoring. Preetha lay awake.
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Preetha was sure this incident was a first in the history of Indian marriages, a first she could not share with anyone. That’s why, looking at her mother-in-law’s mobile now, there was no guilt about invading her privacy. Had it been Deep’s mobile, she wouldn’t have ever done that. Sometimes she wondered, how, despite the daily battering of their relationship by Monideepa, their marriage had survived for five years.
Preetha started going through the pictures on the phone. Most of the pictures were that of Monideepa and her friends while some were that of sarees and jewellery that she had surely clicked and sent to friends for approval before buying. There were also pictures of her recent trip to Sri Lanka. She didn’t see a single picture of Deep. She didn’t expect to spot one of her own either, because, the only time Monideepa had tenderly referred to her as her daughter had been on their wedding night. Otherwise, Preetha was the witch who had destroyed her home and poisoned her son’s mind.
Finding nothing worth her curiosity, Preetha was about to set aside the phone when her eyes fell on the picture. She froze. Was this the one that Monideepa had been showing her friends? Preetha felt nauseous.
She ran to the bathroom and vomited. Her head was reeling as she straightened and tottered towards the bathroom door, trying in vain to steady herself by holding the door handle. She needed the pills immediately; the ones that her psychiatrist had prescribed a few months back. But the picture stuck to her eyes like tar. She couldn’t shed it off her memory. She sank near the bathroom door and started sobbing. She didn’t know how long she sat there but realised that Deep was trying to pull her up. She was dead weight. Deep looked at her in anguish. Preetha mumbled in a whisper, ‘Get me the medicines.’
She didn’t move an inch from the bathroom floor.
Deep gave her the medicines and noticing the phone lying next to Preetha on the bathroom floor, he picked it up. He saw the picture on the screen and stumbled into the dining table chair with his face in his hands. ‘How could Ma do this?’
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The picture had been clicked in this same bathroom, when Preetha had lost a part of her heart. In the third month of her pregnancy, Preetha had felt something pushing out from her body while using the toilet. In horror, she had looked at the red lump in the commode water. It hadn’t occurred to her that her baby had come out six months before due date. It hadn’t dawned on her that she had miscarried.
Everything had been a blur after that. She had been hysterical and had to be given strong sedatives, which in the long-run led to the anti-depressants. She didn’t know that her mother-in-law had actually clicked pictures of her dead foetus after it had been scooped out by Deep. Back then, she hadn’t known that the eyes and mouth had formed. She saw that now in the photographs.
It ravaged her to think that her mother-in-law was going around showing pictures of her grief to her friends.
But repentance was not an emotion familiar to Monideepa.
Will Preetha ever be able to come to terms with the loss and betrayal? Will Deep be able to save his marriage? Read in Amrita Mukherjee’s latest book ‘Museum of Memories – A collection of 13 soulful stories’, published by Readomania. Grab a copy here: The Amazon page of Museum of Memories
About the Author:
Amrita Mukherjee has worked in publications like The Times of India, The Hindustan Times and The Asian Age in India and she has been the Features Editor with ITP publishing Group, Dubai’s largest magazine publishing house.
An advocate of alternative journalism, she is currently a freelance journalist writing for international publications and websites and also blogs at www.amritaspeaks.com
Amrita’s debut novel Exit Interview earned the tag “unputdownable” from reviewers and readers alike.