Grandma's house was at least a hundred years older than she was. This is why wherever she would be in the house, out of respect she would keep her head and forehead covered with a veil. She lived by herself in the house. It had been eons since Grandpa died. The next time death visited the house, it did not even knock at the door but barged straight in and carried away her only son, Dhani Ram. Two years after this, her daughter-in-law followed him into death. Her grandson, Ram Chand, used to live with her, but a few years ago when he got government quarters, he moved there along with his wife and children. Grandma dug in her heels, saying that she wouldn't go anywhere and leave the house by itself.
"Why would we abandon the house, Grandma? We will put it up for rent."
"Very good, Ram Chanda. When the elders are no longer of any use, put them up for rent to earn money." Grandma straightened her bent back and looked him in the eye. "I will not even set my foot out of the house. Why don't you put me up for rent along with the house?"
There were a total of nine rooms in Grandma's house. In three of the rooms the roof had caved in. The third room might have remained standing except that some thief—expecting to steal goodness knows what from Grandma's house—tried scaling the outer wall. The old house coughed several times to shoo him away, but when he did not go, the wall risked its life by suddenly collapsing on him, which brought down the entire section of the roof covering the room. Groaning in pain, the thief barely managed to escape.
Grandma was by herself, but she was so much with only herself that when she moved from one inner room to the next, she would find herself already there, waiting for herself.
"Grandma, you are still busy peeling the vegetables?" the waiting Grandma would ask.
"What can I do, Grandma? I can hardly hold the eggplant. It slips out of my hands."
"Here, give it to me. You are good for nothing now."
"If you want to take it, why are you extending your hand in that direction? The eggplant is over here."
"My eyes are no longer what they used to be, Grandma." [End Page 132]
"So what? How many more years do you have to keep on seeing?"
"No, I want to be able to see till the time I stop breathing."
By the time the two Grandmas would get up and take the diced vegetables to the kitchen, another Grandma would already be there, trying to light the stove.
"Come on, Grandma, move away and let me have the blower to light the fire!"
No, it was not as if Grandma was alone, exactly. . . or enough to get lonely. Taking care of so many household tasks was never the work of a single person. Even when she would get bone tired and walk out into the courtyard to take a break, she would find herself already lying down, stretching out on the string bed. She would get annoyed on seeing herself lying there.
"Grandma, hey Grandma! Have you gotten so old that you are tired all the time and keep dozing off? I say, get up and let me lie down."
But then she would feel sorry for the other Grandma—what else should the poor soul do? While she had breath in her body, she would keep running around in all directions with one chore or another. Now, things had finally come to such a pass that she would be able to do her work only if she could get up.
Grandma would seat herself at the feet of the string bed and absentmindedly start massaging her aching feet. In the meantime, the Grandma sleeping on the string bed would awaken and get up to sit right next to her. "Are you tired, Grandma? Here, let me press your feet."
Grandma was over ninety years old...