We had just sat down to have our supper when there was a knock at the door. Ma opened the door. She came back with our neighbour Mumtaz uncle’s wife and an old lady, who had worn an overly faded cotton saree that would have been white before getting exposed to coalfield air. Close to our colony of well-paid Coal India staff was a poor Muslim village, and the women there either assisted their husbands in stealing coal from mines (in very dangerous conditions) or used to work in our colony as maids. But this woman was too old to work as a maid!
Turned out she was not here to ask for work. Instead she stayed in our colony and was wife of a now deceased Coal India employee. So, how come she had fallen to this state?
Time for the woman’s story, who we later addressed as Dadi.
Abdul Sattar Khan had four wives. One divorced him and two died. Dadi was the second and the most favourite wife. However, it was the fourth wife who bore him a daughter before dying during childbirth. Care for the child, Shama, fell in Dadi’s hands, which she carried out as well as her real mother. In Shama’s sixteenth year, her father died one night. That fateful night, as he was returning home from the colliery, making a short stop at a country wine shop, he was hit by a speeding truck. The mother-daughter duo was still in mourning when they heard another bad news.
As Sattar Khan had died during office timings (officials decided to ignore for a pricehis detour to the wine shop), his job would go to someone in his family. Sattar Khan was survived by his wife and daughter. However, the job fell in the hands of another woman, Yashmin (again with the help from the officials). When the couple was childless, they had come to treat Yashmin, a relative’s daughter, as their own. Even when they had their own child, they continued to treat her in much the same way, also making all arrangements for her marriage. Yashmin paid for all the love in this manner. She had her reasons. Her husband was not doing very well in his carpenter’s job. She, along with some officials, managed to transfer the job to her. As Dadi was illiterate, she had unknowingly put her thumb impression at all the right places. So now the job that should lawfully been hers, was of another.
To get the job back, she wanted assistance from father. Papa was in the Personnel Department and Dadi had been assured that he would help.
Papa helped. After much paperwork, it was finally proved that Yashmin had unlawfully taken what was due to Dadi and her daughter. By the time, the order for return of job arrived, Shama had already become a major and there was no problem in her taking up the job.
But the story doesn’t end here. Unlike movies where the climax is generally happy or sad, life has a series of climaxes, alternating between happy and sad.
Shama joined Coal India as a guard. The mother-daughter duo started to live happily. There were more things to think now apart from how to arrange for the day’sfood. One of the most important things to do was to marry Shama.
“There will be many people who will want to marry your daughter just for her money”, father cautioned Dadi.
“She has struggled a lot to get you in the place that you are now. Always take care of your mother”, he advised Shama.
However, this daughter too was to pay back for Dadi’s love in much the same way as Yashmin. Shama got married, to an unemployed man. He used to work as a fitter, but he left that job after marriage. They bore three children – two boys and one girl. It was Dadi’s responsibility to take care of them, plus do all the house chores while Shama was at her job. She did it all. They were her daughter’s children – isn’t interest dearer than principal? Despite this, the attitude of Shama and her husband was not good towards her. He used to drink and beat them all, even Shama. But they made out soon. They relationship between husband and wife is such. But there is no place for a mother – only as a caretaker for children when they are away to make their careers. Now even Shama used to beat her.
Dadi died unusually late, at the age of seventy. People didn’t feel sorry for her death. They had wished for her death for long; at least she would be relieved of the suffering.
Only the children were by her side on the day of her death. Shama was working. Her husband was out playing card.