THE TENANT

It had all started about six  months back when Meenakshi had decided to rent out the upstairs portion of her house.  After her husband’s death a couple of years ago, she had found  the house  becoming too big to manage. Her daughter Anita was married and living in another town while  son Ajay was working  abroad. With the problems of getting domestic help and her own knees making it difficult for her to make that journey upstairs everyday, she had realized that the most practical thing to do would be to rent it out. The money would certainly come in handy. Besides, the downstairs had two bedrooms and a study, making it easy to accommodate any unexpected guests  who might decide to stay over.

Dr. Debashish Ghosh was recommended as a prospective tenant by Usha, Meenakshi’s friend from her music class. . He was a visiting surgeon in a local hospital and was usually in their town for about ten days in a month at a stretch. Usha’s family had consulted the doctor for many ailments and had a very good opinion of him.

Meenakshi met the doctor and found him to be very polite and soft spoken. He agreed readily to the rent proposed by her. He had moved in a week later with a few pieces of furniture  and ten  carton loads  of books!

It was a bit awkward in the initial days. Never having had to play the role of a land lady, Meenakshi did not really know how to interact with him. Should she maintain a distance or be friendly?  But Dr. Ghosh’s lifestyle made it easy for her to adjust. Most of the days when he was in town, he used to leave for work  early in the morning coming back often very late in the night. He usually parked his car in the small lane outside and came in quietly without making a noise opening or closing the gate.

They led separate lives in the same house until the day she sprained her ankle.  Meenakshi was trying to trim a low hanging branch  in the garden when her foot had slipped and she had fallen down spraining her ankle!. She was just wondering how she was going to lift herself up when she suddenly found a pair of strong hands helping her up. It was Dr. Ghosh. He had seen her fall from the balcony upstairs and had come down to help her up. Slowly,  he walked her to her house making her sit on a chair in her verandah before examining her foot.

“Not badly sprained. I will give you some pain killers and wrap a crepe bandage” he said moving around upstairs to get them. Meenakshi thanked him profusely!

Thus began the friendship between the two of them. He would look in every day whenever he was around and spend a few minutes chatting with her. Though it was initially about her health, the weather and other inane things, slowly they began speaking more about themselves. “Call me Deb” was the probably the first thing he said that marked the turning point in their relationship. Well.. if he was okay about her calling him Deb she was okay with him calling her Meena.  It was preferable to “Madam”

Strange -but she did not realize how quickly they had become  friends. Both of them were almost of the same age. He was a bachelor- “! There was a time when my mother used to keep pushing pictures of girls in front of me. I was not interested then because I was building my career. Now  she is gone, there is no one to do that. Anyway,, I am nearly fifty five and well past that stage now”!  he told her one day with a laugh. She in turn told him about how she was married at twenty and how busy life had kept her as a wife and mother until a couple of years back when Cheenu had left her for the other world.

She began to slowly arrange her daily routine around his coming and going. There were other changes too. Four extra idlis at breakfast or three more rotis at dinner. Initially it used to be a hot case that would be waiting for him to take up, later they dispensed with that and began having their meals together at her dining table downstairs.

Meals together lead to discussions. They found that their tastes were almost similar –whether it was in books, music or movies. Both of them loved Hindustani classical music. So it was but a matter of time when he invited her one day for a music recital by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. She was a bit hesitant to accept the request – she had never gone out anywhere with anyone other than her immediate family. But he persisted and she agreed. Somehow, she did not know why but it made her feel young!  The loneliness of middle age that had set in after Cheenu’s death slowly began to lift. She did not have to rely on that yoga class or the music class to fill her time.

She found herself taking more interest around the house and in her self. Probably, for the first time in two years she bought herself a new sari and spent money on a facial in the  beauty parlour nearby.

It was not long before her friends began noticing these changes in Meenakshi. First it was Radhika, who lived down the road. Then it was Usha who felt that Meenakshi’s singing had improved dramatically all of a sudden. “What is this change all about ?” they asked her.

“I cannot understand why this should bother them. Why, do they want me to remain melancholic and sad all the time thinking about what was …” she told Deb one day. He did not answer. But then that was something nice about him. He spoke only when he felt that speaking would make a difference. “He is not like Cheenu talking all the time giving me little opportunity to be heard!” she thought feeling guilty almost immediately for making that comparison.

Fragrance like happiness they say, cannot stay hidden..! But happiness unlike fragrance attracts envy. So it was only a matter of time before tongues began to wag and one fine day, she found her daughter Anita at her door step.

“Hi Anu, what is the reason for this sudden visit?” she asked welcoming her inside. Anita was very curt and short taking in her mother’s appearance and glancing towards the entrance to the upstairs portion once in a while. It was when Ajay joined Anita a couple of days later that Meena began to wonder if it was not something planned.

“Mom what is this that we are hearing about you” said her son almost hours after his arrival. “What have you heard? “ she asked defiantly.

“That you are having an affair with the tenant upstairs” said Anita bitterly “Don’t you care about what people may think?” she  continued. “ Mom, there is something called decent behaviour. I of all people do not have to tell you about it” said Ajay!

Meenakshi was shocked! She could not believe that these were her own children who were talking! They went on and on … this time casting aspersions on Deb’s character. Finally when she could bear it no longer Meenakshi screamed ”Stop”!

“Both of you listen to me!  I have given more than thirty years of my life to you and your father. In fact I had immersed myself so deep in your lives that I had forgotten my own identity. I lived as your mother and your father’s wife and derived my pleasure from that. But can you imagine what it does to a person when the person from whom you derive your identity suddenly leaves you? Anu, you got married and moved to Bombay, Ajay moved on to New Jersey. I lived those days for that one telephone call or letter from both of you. Did you have any time for your mother then? No obviously not. You were busy with your lives. I tried to make myself busy with mine. Between your father and me we had a routine that kept us occupied. But two years ago when your father died,  what was left behind? Nothing but a void!   I suddenly found myself devoid of a life. There was no Anu, Ajay or Cheenu to occupy my life or my time. Believe me when I say this, I did not know what to do with my life. I had been married at twenty to your father and become a mother at twenty one. I don’t know what it is that I want. I spent two years all alone in this house moving from one class to another to keep loneliness at bay. Did it ever strike you then that your mother may need some of your time to help cope with her loneliness? Now that I have found a friend you grudge me that happiness ?”

The rest of the day passed by in a succession of moody silences. Meenakshi was glad that Deb was not here today. She did not want him to see this selfish side to her children. Finally, it was time for them to leave- first Anu and then Ajay…!

Meenakshi was looking forward to some solitude.. She made  tea for herself and waited in the verandah for Deb to arrive. His flight was would have landed an hour ago.  He had asked her again this time before leaving for Kolkata…”Will you marry me”

While she had been unsure about what she should say when he was leaving, she had no such doubts now.

There was no way she was going to tie her life again with another person . She had done that and got nothing out of it except the loss of her identity. She was beginning to discover herself and she did not want to cut it short by becoming Mrs Ghosh.

At fifty four it was okay to be just Meenakshi!

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anilkumar Kurup
    Nov 19, 2011 @ 17:04:17

    Hmm the real life scenario sounds and looks familiar!
    Moral high ground and hypocrisy are the two social evils that we can see in societies in India.
    Much bother about the other,
    I liked the decision of Meenakshi to maintain her identity and not be tagged on to a man again.If that was an act of defiance towards the society she lives in, If that was what society thought about her so be it.
    What she is to Mr Ghosh and what Mr Ghosh is to her is their business and not of the rest of rumour mongers.

    Reply

  2. Meera
    Nov 19, 2011 @ 17:54:26

    Thanks Anil. You are right about Meenakshi’s decision. Point is rumour mongers are a part of our society and they are quick to point their fingers at women.

    Reply

  3. captureuniverse
    Nov 20, 2011 @ 13:40:15

    Your way of writing and joining the words in an excerpt is awesome. I love to read your posts. Keep it up! 🙂 Moreover they are thought provoking.

    Reply

  4. Lopa
    Nov 21, 2011 @ 21:39:27

    There goes another beautiful story. The ending was good. Own identity is what a person is left with at the end of the day. Loved it, as usual. 🙂

    Reply

  5. renu
    Nov 22, 2011 @ 10:18:58

    ending made this story so beautiful..

    Reply

  6. Krishnapriya
    Nov 24, 2011 @ 15:43:07

    Hi Meera,

    Lovely polt! wonderful and simple narration style.. the name of the story and the beggining para kind of intimidated me to think of it as a thriller.. 🙂 But it did the trick.. to make the reader grip to the tale! Loved every bit of it.. except the fact that, her decision, though looks independent (in the way you have put) seem to be tampered by the response of the kids..

    I would have been happy if she was bold enough to accept him.. and may be decide on marriage later on.. 🙂

    Reply

  7. Meera
    Nov 24, 2011 @ 18:27:05

    Thanks Krishna Priya for your kind words- as usual very encouraging. I see your point about the ending. It looks like a reaction to the children’s behavior. I thought about it too. But I think Meenakshi wants to experience the new freedom that her individual identity has given her- may be that should have come out stronger. May be it requires a part 2 🙂

    Reply

  8. BIkram
    Nov 25, 2011 @ 01:20:22

    hmmm liked the plot.. as always a beautiful story ..

    Reply

  9. Jack
    Nov 27, 2011 @ 22:15:03

    Meera,

    After visiting your other blogspace I thought let me check this out. Read from Journey onwards. Each has been classic in own standing. Jatayu and Tenant are in close tie for best. Journey and Once Again showed such emotions. Legacy and Goats show what goes on in this society. Bravo to Ladies Special. When do I get an autographed copy of ” Collection of Short Stories by Meera “?

    Take care

    Reply

  10. Rahul
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 15:28:35

    Meera, A very touching story and so well narrated! It is ironical that in the twilight years one goes through this and need for company becomes so overwhelmingly important!

    Reply

  11. rama ananth
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 18:17:00

    Hi, Meera,
    First time visit to this blog. It is good to know you have another blog, i was not very sure whether you were the same Meera, anyway now I am sure.
    BTW, this story is exactly like the story of my husband’s aunt, who almost went through the same experiences. She was 67 when she met a man maybe 2or 3 years younger than her, their friendship turned to love and she too got married to him, just 3 years back. Other than her two married children everyone else wanted her to get married to this man, there was no gossip. Our Aunt was a trend setter, and we all appreciate her guts. She has been living in Coimbatore all her life. Even now her two children are not very comfortable with her and her husband.
    I had even written a story about them about 3 years back., I will try and send you the link. Did you know my Aunt by any chance?

    Reply

  12. Gayu
    Feb 11, 2012 @ 11:18:51

    This story reminded me of all those single women…how they must be handling the loneliness….and yes this is what happens in Indian Society….gossip queens are there all over.

    The end was perfect…practical….not an emotional one…to get married and all that blah… blah…
    The way the story was penned reminded me of Sudha Murthy’s novel, “Gently Falls the Bakula”. It is an amazing book….do read it.

    Gayu

    Reply

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