A few years later, Mataji was about eighty-three years old andhad lived anactive, disease-free life.Except for somepain during wintersdueto thewrist fracturesshehad suffered some years back, she had healed well enough. Life was going pretty well, but Meera had been noticing of late that Mataji was withdrawing into a shell. She spoke only when spoken to and remained in her room for most of the time, even though Meera and her husband Manohar tried to get her involved in everyday activities. Even during her evening walk with their maid, she appeared lost in herself. After just one round, she would sit on a bench, gaze at the horizon with unseeing eyes and spoke not a word, whereas previously, she had enjoyed interacting with people.
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Matters came to a head one night when Meera was entertaining her husband’s business associates for dinner. It was midnight by the time she finished washing, drying and replacing the expensive crockery that she would not trust with the maid while her husband snored peacefully in bed, but she did not mind. In fact,she was pleased that her undemonstrative spouse had praised her culinary skills and thanked her for the effort she had put in at such short notice because it was an important business dinner. Finally, she wiped her wet hand with the kitchen towel, removed her apron and, as was her habit, peeped into Mataji’s door. She did this daily before going to bed, as she used to do with the children when her daughters were young. To her horror, she realized that the room of this tidy old woman was in disarray and Mataji was nowhere to be found!
Not in the bathroom, not in the puja room, nor anywhere else. The front door was slightly ajar, as was the gate, but wide enough to allow Mataji’s frail figure to pass through! Hurriedly, she woke up her husband, and the two set out to look for her. They found a dazed Mataji near the colony gate, clutching a small bag to her bosom! She was being escorted home by the guard, who knew her from her mandir days when she would give him some prasad on the way back. The bewildered old woman had not a clue as to where she was. Back home, addressing her son Manohar by his pet name, she said, ‘Manu beta, mainu bus stand chhad de. Meerutjaana hai, terinani chal basi.Papa nu phone kar ke das de, daftar toh chutti lai kar siddhe bas adde aa jaan (Manu,dear, drop me to the bus terminal. I have to go to Meerut for your grandmother has passed away. Ring up Papa and tell him to take leave from office and come straight to the bust terminal).’ Manohar could only stare at her in amazement. His father had expired forty years back and his maternal grandmother ten years before him! Silent tears coursed down his cheeks. What had become of his gentle mother?
In her bag, Meera found a change of clothes, a towel, a toothbrush and a comb that the poor woman had put in for her impending journey. Poor thing! Grief washed over Manohar afresh. He hugged his lost and found, yet utterly lost, mother and began to sob uncontrollably. Her own eyes wet with tears, Mataji patted his back and consoled him, ‘I know Nani loved you best of all, but Manu, she was suffering so much. she is finally at peace, free from the intolerable pain.’ Then pulling him away, she asked severely, ‘Have you rung up your father?’
‘I’m sorry, I forgot, I’ll just call him up.’
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The helpless couple sat with the distraught woman waiting for the morning,apparently to takeMataji to ‘the bus terminal when the bus service started. They had pacified her with this lie while they waited to take her to the hospital. As her speech and her hands and feet movements were normal,it was not stroke or paralysis,of that they were sure; only her mind was muddled.
‘Sathiyagayihai’, as people said in crude vernacular of the old who had lost their minds. As theywaitedthus, Meerarelatedan incident that had occurred a few days back.After breakfast, Matajiusually retired to her room to read the Bhagwat Gita. That day, she reappeared after an hour and mildly admonished Meera:‘ Aj nashta dena bhul gayi(you have forgotten to give me breakfast today)?’‘I looked at her quizzically but said nothing. When I put another plate of poha in front of her, she ate it all. Though I thought it odd, I did not tell you lest you think I was grudging your mother some extra food,’ concluded Meera.
‘Have you such a poor opinion of me?’ asked her husband. ‘Though I do not thank you enough, it isn’t as if I don’t see how well you treat her and with such good grace.’ Meera smiled. He usually never praised her, and this was the second time in the day! unaware of the effect his words were having on his wife, Manohar continued, ‘Mine is indeed is a happy home, with none of the saas-bahu quarrels one sees in most households. I only hope things remain happy.’ But it was not to be. As he learned later from the doctor, his mother was in an advanced state of senile dementia. From now onwards, it would be a long, losing battle against the disease till the end because there was no cure.
Extracted with permission from Live Your Best Life: Understanding Menopause for a Wiser, Happier and Healthier You by Dr Amrinder Bajaj, published by Penguin Random House