The new neighbours had moved in and this created a stir in the colony. Both the husband and wife were doctors and an elderly woman, presumably the man’s mother, lived with them. The old woman looked as if she were a relic from the past when unimaginable horrors were inflicted on widows and Sati was commonplace. The reason was quite obvious. It was her physical appearance. Dressed in stark white cotton, she sported a tonsured head like the widows of an era long forgotten. She seldom spoke to the neighbours as they curiously watched her plucking flowers and chanting mantras for her morning puja.
There was nothing ancient about her. I forgot her white sari and tonsured head as she talked on world politics and the Bhagavadgita with equal ease. As I listened to her, my fascination grew. She told me that she had been married off early and that her father was the landlord of the village. She talked of her grand marriage and her husband, who was different from the authoritarian males of those times. She told me of her father’s parting gift to her — a thick long chain of gold that reached down to her foot. That took me by surprise and I sought the reason for the unusual length. She explained that married women seldom visited their parents’ home and pieces from such chains catered to their financial needs. She called me one day and happily introduced me to her niece Khushi, about whom she had often spoken. No one could have missed the intense love and respect that Khushi bore for her. I noted with surprise that Khushi addressed the old woman as ‘Ma’. My respect for the old woman grew when the reason was revealed.
Khushi’s mother had passed away at childbirth. The old woman, then young, began to bring up the little girl as her own. The playmates repeated to the child what they had heard from their parents — that her own mother had died and the mother whom she knew as her own was in fact her aunt. Disbelieving, the child would run home for the truth and would return happily at the answer — her mother was her own. But as she grew up the niggling doubt grew too. Unable to bear it any longer, Khushi decided to put her suspicions to rest. She walked with her mother to the temple and asked the question again. The devout woman placed her palms on the feet of the deity, looked deep into the innocent eyes of the child and whispered the words, “I am your mother.”
Little Khushi grew up as a normal child. It was when she was mature that she learnt the truth. For her, the woman who had lied to her in the temple to prevent her world from falling apart is a living deity on earth.