A long short story exploring the differing viewpoints and journeys of The Silent Generation (born between 1925 – 1945) and Gen Y (born between 1980 – 1995).
“Namaste Lataji. So good of you to call.”
“It has been quite some time since we last spoke isn’t it?”
“Yes, I think almost two weeks now. Something or the other is always going on. Sometimes I really don’t think life is worth it.” Kanika’s voice broke.
“What’s the matter?” Lata was concerned. “You sound low? Is your health troubling you?”
“Old age is a curse Lataji.”
“What is it Kanika? Did someone say something? Your daughter-in-law…”
“Malati’s antics I am used to and I don’t expect much from her either. After all she is not of my blood. But when your own…” she broke down.
“Kanika! What happened? I am so sorry my friend. Don’t cry my dear. Keep faith. The Almighty will make everything right.”
“To tell the truth Lataji, I have lost faith in the Almighty. I don’t know why He is punishing me. What have I ever done to deserve this? Why doesn’t He call me? Like He did my husband?” Kanika’s sobs grew louder.
“Control yourself Kanika. Tell me what happened? Don’t keep it bottled up. Talking will help. And perhaps it’s not as bad as you are thinking?”
“What can I say Lataji? When your own family stabs you in the back nothing can take away the pain.”
“You are scaring me Kanika. Did someone hit you? Not…not your son?”
“I wish they had killed me. At least I would have been spared this grief.”
“What grief Kanika?”
“I feel ashamed to say it Lataji. No I cannot say it….”
“Is…is it about money?” Lata asked in hushed tones.
“Yes! Money is missing again from my account. They think I am old, I won’t notice but I am nobody’s fool. I ran the house, handled accounts everything for more than 50 years. I know when money is missing from my bank account. Not just one or two rupees but Rs 5000. ”
“Rs 5000! From your bank account?” Lata was shocked but she tried to soothe matters, “I am sure there must be some explanation, just enquire at the bank. Nobody can just walk into a bank and take out money from your account without your permission.”
“That’s the trouble Lataji. My son handles all bank work. And now I have an ATM card…”
“Oh! ATM? Sunil has the password I suppose?”
“Yes, he does. But it’s not him. I trust him. He has been handling my accounts for so many years now. Even when his Father was alive. Not one paisa unaccounted for.”
“So whom do you suspect?”
“Rishi.” Kanika choked.
“Your grandson?!” Lata was shocked. “Surely not? He is such a good boy.”
“Money can turn the head of anyone Lataji. And this is the new generation – no patience, no scruples, just instant gratification by hook or by crook.”
Lata sighed. “That’s true Kanika. I really wonder where these youngsters are going. They are so materialistic and self-centered. They cannot see anything beyond their own desires and needs.”
“You know I adore Rishi – If only he had asked me. He knows I would never refuse him anything. To steal…” she trailed off and took a shuddering breath. She heaved a big sigh. “I don’t know how to handle this delicate matter. Should I ignore it or should I talk to Sunil? Or confront Rishi?”
“Yes,” said Lata, “it is a very tricky issue. You can’t ignore it. Sunil needs to be told so that he can take corrective action before things go out of hand. Rishi is still young. Perhaps he has a valid reason…”
“What valid reason could he have to steal? He has a good job, and these days they pay so well that the money goes to their head. Ultimately nothing is enough. They just want more – a new phone, a new laptop, branded shoes, bike…”
“I think you should talk it over with Sunil. Your son is a good steady man, he will sort it out with Rishi…”
“I am sure Sunil will not mind but Malati will throw a fit if I dare to point a finger to her beloved son. She will make it impossible for me to stay in this house…”
“But you can’t ignore the matter can you? Was the money withdrawn via the ATM or by check?”
“I am not sure. I think by check.”
“Why don’t you enquire at the bank?”
“Yes but then I might be opening Pandora’s box…”
“Find out from the bank. Then we can take a decision what to do. Let’s meet at the temple on Tuesday.”
“That will be nice.” Kanika cheered up. “It was good talking to you Lataji.”
“Same here Kanika. Now, promise me you will go to the bank?”
“You’re right, I should get to the bottom of the matter. I will go to the bank right away.”
Girl! That never failed to make Kanika laugh. Lata joined her.
Revived after the chat with her long time friend and neighbor, Kanika dressed swiftly and collected her bank papers. But instead of the bank, she landed up in the hospital – with a broken leg. In her rush to leave, she was unmindful of her step and the floor was wet.
“Hello Dadi.” Rishi dumped his bag on the chair at the hospital. “How are you?”
“Hello. Humph. How would I be with a broken leg lying in a hospital bed at the mercy of all you people? Waiting for somebody to come and spare a few moments for the old witch who doesn’t have the good sense to die?”
“Oh please Dadi give me a break will you? I don’t have time for all this…”
“What do you have time for? Partying? Gaming? Drugs? That you have time for don’t you? But time to sit by the side of your grandmother who is on her way out…”
“Just a sec Dadi,” Rishi turned away as his phone beeped, “Hello? Hi…”
Kanika fumed at the interruption. “Hello. Hi. What is this world coming to? No respect for tradition and culture. Busy with their superficial lives, drowning in materialism no time for the finer things in life.” She raised her eyes heavenwards. “Hey Gopal, why do you insist upon torturing me like this? Why this bias? Why this pain? At least tell me my faults so that I can repent for them? Call me to you. Please. I have had enough of this selfish lonely world. Call me to you my lord Gopal.” A tear slipped down her corner of her eye. With a weary sigh she put a hand over her eyes.
Rishi wandered back inside. He was still on the phone. “No. The client told me… okay, but he specifically told me to…but that’s not my fault!” There was a long pause and Kanika peeped out from under her hand. Rishi’s face was black with rage. She sat up and held her breath. He was going to throw one of his infamous tantrums.
“Rishi…” Kanika held out a hand as if to physically stop him from blowing his top.
“Yes Nitin. Sorry Nitin. Yes I will take care of it.” He said in an even tone.
Rishi disconnected the phone and paced the hospital room, clenching and unclenching his fists, muttering under his breath. He kicked a chair in his path and overturned it. Straightening it he went and stood in front of the AC.
“You’ll catch a chill Rishi.” Kanika cautioned but he ignored her.
Kanika wondered what had happened and who was that on the phone. His boss? But wouldn’t he have called him Sir? Or didn’t they do that any more? But she was impressed with the restraint Rishi had shown while dealing with Nitin. The way he behaved at home, she didn’t think he had it in him to meekly accept his culpability especially when it appeared it wasn’t his fault.
Rishi fumbled with his phone for a while and then dialed. “Hello Mr Verma. Rishi here. I am really sorry about…” he walked out of the hospital room.
“Did he come here to talk on the phone or what?” grumbled Kanika. She couldn’t help feeling concerned – Rishi apologizing! She sat staring at the door until he returned, still on the phone.
“Yes one cheese n chicken pizza and one coke. Dadi do you want anything?”
“Four o’clock! Is this anytime to eat?” Kanika countered.
“Dadi do you want anything?” He insisted.
“No.” She pressed her lips but the urge was too strong and she had been lecturing for too long. “This new generation has gone to the dogs. The way they throw money around is downright criminal. No wonder they have to resort to illegal means to supplement their income.” She said pointedly but it didn’t seem to register with Rishi. “That is why is country is steeped in corruption. Materialism. No strength of character to tolerate the slightest bit of inconvenience.”
“Dadi please!” Rishi continued to tap on his laptop.
“Humph.” She turned her head and resolutely looked away.
“Dadi would you like to have some pizza?” He offered when the order arrived.
“Sacrilege! Don’t you have any sense but to offer me non-vegetarian food?!” Kanika turned all possible shades of blue and purple.
“Sorry Dadi. Have some Coke. I know you like that.” He poured out some for her and offered it to her. She turned her head away. Rishi kept it on the table by her bed.Rishi put his phone on charging and settled down to eat.
“Eat slowly son!” Kanika couldn’t help cautioning. “Nobody is going to take it away from you.”
“The phone rang. “Yes Ma?” he put in on speaker.
“Where are you?”
“With Dadi. On speaker phone.” He warned casting a glance at his grandmother.
“Why didn’t you inform me that you had reached? I have been so worried.”
“I was busy.”
“You are always busy. Are you eating?”
“What are you eating?”
“Why pizza? What happened to the lunch I packed you?”
“It’s lying in office. I have been out in the field since morning.”
“You haven’t eaten anything since 7 am?”
“Where’s the time or the scope? When are you coming Mom?”
“I don’t know. Let me see, perhaps around 7 pm? That way I can get dinner for your Dadi as well and save on a trip.”
“I don’t want to have dinner at 7 pm! Is that any time for dinner?” Kanika interrupted.
“Dadi you can have it later…”
“It will get cold.” Kanika pursed her lips.
Rishi sighed. “But Ma, I have to leave by 7 pm. Can you tell Father to come straight to the hospital from work? Then you can come with the dinner later?”
“No!” Dadi interrupted, “Sunil has a lot on his plate. After office he has to go to the railway booking counter and cancel my train ticket…”
“I already did that Dadi,” Rishi held up his phone.
“Oh!” Kanika was silenced.
“Please Ma.” Rishi insisted.
“Thanks Ma.” He disconnected the phone.
“What’s so important at 8 pm that you have to inconvenience everyone?” Kanika asked.
“I have a party.”
“Party! That’s right of course. Your Granny is in the hospital and you have to go partying.”
“Enough.” Dadi raised her hand. “That’s all the new generation thinks of – partying, drinking and blowing up money. And getting hooked up with unsuitable girls. Learn something from your father. He worked hard and came straight back home. In fact, he still does. While you,” she shook her head, “have no sense of responsibility or priority. Instead of helping out while your poor granny is ill and hospitalized…” Kanika trailed off.
Rishi had walked out of the room.
Kanika felt awful. Tears rolled down her cheek. How could her dearest little Rishi, her joy, her pride, her raison d’etre do this – steal from his granny? If only you had asked son, if only, she cried silently.
“Namaste Dadiji.” Muniya, their daily help, stood there wringing her hands. “Forgive me Dadiji. It’s entirely my fault Dadiji that you broke your leg. Bhabhi has told me so many times to make sure the floor is dry but…” she sniffed.
“Don’t cry Muniya.” Kanika consoled her. “It was meant to be. It is the will of Gopalji to punish me. I must have done something wrong sometime. You are but a tool in His plans.”
Muniya sniffed and wiped her face on the edge of her sari. “What do you need to be punished for? You have never done an unkind act in your life. You have been so kind to me. If you hadn’t loaned me the money for my son’s treatment…”
“Loaned you money?” Kanika frowned.
“Yes Dadiji. Don’t you remember? Last month Pappu fell ill and I needed money, you gave me a check of Rs 5000 for his tests and medicines?”
“Oh!” A load rolled of Kanika’s heart. She could have danced but for her broken leg. Perhaps even on one leg. She was so happy. Her darling Rishi was blameless! He wasn’t a thief. You did right to punish me Gopal, she sent up a prayer of thanks, and for sending Muniya to set my suspicious senile mind right.
Kanika reached out to sip at the Coke.
“Rishi beta sit down and talk to your Dadi,” she coaxed wishing she could hold him in her arms and mutter apologies. How could she have suspected her beloved grandson?
“Later Dadi. I have a lot of work.” Rishi didn’t even look up.
“What work? Just playing on your phone!” Eager to make amends, Kanika lashed out at being thwarted. “Either listening to music, seeing movies or chatting with your friends. No time for your old granny, who knows how much time I have left on this earth?”
“Oh please Dadi,” Rishi’s eyes were glued to his phone as his fingers moved effortlessly over it. “You have been saying that since my childhood.”
“Nonsense! What do you remember of your childhood?”
“Many things. Some are clear vivid images – like me begging you to switch off the TV and tell me a story. And you batting me away eyes glued to the TV.”
“Are you taking revenge for that?”
Rishi laughed and shrugged. “Perhaps. Who knows?” He got up and switched on the TV. He put the remote by her side. “Are you okay?”
“Any pain? Discomfort?”
She shrugged. “Nothing I can’t bear. Pain and discomfort have been a part of my life as far as I can remember.”
“Oh Dadi!” Exasperated Rishi rolled his eyes. “Why does everything have to be epic tragedy?”
“Humph.” She grunted.
He settled her comfortably. “Okay?”
“As okay as is possible…” she began.
“Oh Dadi, you are impossible!” He laughed.
“You won’t understand now. You’ll understand when you are my age…”
“And Dadi, you don’t know how it is…”
“Yes, yes, I don’t know anything. My hair turned grey by just sitting in the sun. Only you know everything!”
“Uff Dadi please.” Rishi buried himself in his laptop.
Kanika was left alone with her thoughts, until Sunil came.
“Son! I am so glad you have come.” Kanika cheered up. “This boy of yours is impossible.” She vented. “Just because he wants to party you didn’t get any chance to go home, take some rest before coming. It’s all his mother’s fault for not bringing him up properly.”
“Oh great!” Rishi threw up his hands. “Have fun Father. I am off.” He began stuffing his bag.”
“Wait Rishi. Where are you going? What is this party? Is that more important than your family?”
“It’s part of my job profile Father.”
“Job? Which job demands partying and drinking?” Sunil retorted.
“You want to know about my party?” Rishi snapped. “You think I want to go to this party? That I am going to there to eat, drink, and be merry? You are wrong. I have to first go home. Freshen up and change. Take the train back to the party venue to join my boss and his wife. They want to drink. But they are too stingy to hire a cab or a driver. So I will have to drive them back home after they get drunk. Which means I cannot drink. If I am lucky I will be offered dinner and catch the last train. If not, there’s no saying what transportation will be available at that time or when I will reach home. This is my party. Not drugs drinks and girls like Dadi imagines.”
“Mind your tone Rishi!” Sunil tried to regain the upper hand.
“Let it be Sunil,” Kanika restrained her son, “He is right. I have forgotten how it is to be his age. Worse, I have little or no understanding of the changed dynamics and pressures of the modern world.” She held out her arms. “I am sorry Rishi.”
Thank you for reading, look forward to your comments and constructive criticisms – was it too long (yes it was!) boring (do tell), confusing, anything I should have done or not done?