Continued from here.
And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, meet me, your narrator. My name is Nagamani Subramanian. I am 62 years old, a widow, and I live alone in a 3 bedroom flat in Alwarpet, Madras. My husband passed away, completely unexpectedly, two years ago, after a massive heart attack. For the first time in many years, almost my entire family gathered together in my home: my two sons and my daughter, my daughters-in-law, my son-in-law, my two brothers. Only the grandchildren, scattered in countries around the world, busy with college and work, could not make it.
My family camped out in my home for 2 weeks, until all the funeral ceremonies were carried out. Looking back, I don’t know how I survived those days. It was terrible enough that my Subbu, who seemed so full of life and good health, left me so suddenly, plunging me into such a loneliness that I could never have imagined possible, leaving so many of our plans and dreams to wither away and die before they had a chance to blossom. That was awful, but my family made it worse by interfering in every aspect of my life while they were here. Oh, they were well-meaning, of course, but often they treated me as some sort of an idiot child, incapable of making decisions for myself, of understanding basic financial management. They would sit in a huddle around the dining table, all of them, and talk in hushed tones about what was to be done about me, as if I were too fragile to be a part of their conversation, that only they knew what was best for me. Occasionally their voices rose sharply and then they would turn quickly, guiltily, and look at me, the grieving widow, sitting silently and alone on a chair a few feet away, see that I had survived the surge of emotion and volume, and then resume their private discussion.
They came up with a plan for me. I was to divide my time between India, rotating between my brothers and son, and the United States with my other son and daughter. My Alwarpet flat would be sold and the money invested in a savings scheme in my name. Family heirlooms would be parceled out, or put up for auction.
They presented this to me, as if gift-wrapped and with a shiny bow, as a fait accompli I should be grateful for and thrilled by.
I put my foot down and told them quietly, but firmly, that I was going nowhere, that I would continue to stay in this flat, my home, that I was fully capable of looking after myself. After some bristling and sputtered protests, they realized that I meant what I said. And so I continued to live in my large 3 bedroom flat, alone, and I am proud to say that I managed my affairs rather well. My family stopped pestering me to stay with them. I kept myself busy with this and that, but I missed Subbu terribly, and I did feel quite lonely. And so one day, when I was thumbing idly through the Sunday classifieds, I sat up when I saw this advertisement:
Paying Guest Accommodation sought
For a young woman, an undergraduate student in a top university in America
Excellent family, well-mannered and polite, no bad habits.
Looking for a good family who can offer her room and board in their home
For three months only, from early June until August end
The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. It would be nice to have a young person at home, for company and conversation and a burst of fresh air and vitality. I responded to the contact e-mail address given in the advertisement with a detailed letter about my family, and a little bit about myself. I have to confess that I went a bit heavy with the Ivy League credentials of my family, knocking off a generation or degree of separation here and there if the connection seemed too tenuous. I described my apartment complex, situated in a quiet residential street, but just a stone’s throw away from every urban convenience Madras has to offer, with its round-the-clock watchman and uninterrupted power and water supply thanks to back-up generators and borewells and proximity to the homes of several prominent government officials. I provided the names of half a dozen friends, several of whose husbands had held prominent positions in government or private sector jobs, as references. I gave details of every means of contacting me: email, telephone numbers, mailing address.
And I sat back and waited eagerly, checking my email compulsively every few minutes and accosting the postman when I saw him on his rounds to ask him if there was a foreign letter for me. I made sure my cell phone was always within earshot.
The days went by and there was no response. Nothing.
To be continued.