The old aunt

(This is a poor translation of "Boodhi Kaki", a story by Munshi Premchand. The objective is merely to exhort readers to read the original story or a better translation if available. This is a touching tale of an old woman, and the travails of the elderly. Kaki's husband and sons have died, and she has no one in the world to take care of her other than a nephew. The nephew and his wife behaved very well with the aunt initially, and the trusting old woman bequeathed her property to them. But the behaviour of the nephew and his wife towards the aunt changed after acquiring her property - they now looked upon her as a burden, and neglected her. Old age, it is said, is return of the childhood. Just as children are helpless and dependent upon their parents, old people too feel helpless and need to be taken care of by their relatives. Physical frailty, loss of hearing, poor eyesight, walking difficulty; these are some of the problems which elderly people have to cope with. Deprived of the joys of life, old people start craving for certain things just like children. In the case of Kaki, she craved for food. The nephew and his wife did not provide a full meal to the old woman although they enjoyed her property! A feast has been hosted for the pre-wedding ceremony of the nephew's eldest son. Sumpuous food is being cooked for the guests. The rich aroma is so tempting that the aunt dares to take a peek into the kitchen. She is insulted by the nephew's wife. The aunt goes back to her room, but gnawing hunger draws her back to the kitchen after a while. This time, the nephew insults her and even treats her cruelly. The aunt is forgotten. The guests have departed after the meals, the family members have eaten their food, but the aunt is ignored and goes without food. There is someone who feels sorry for the old woman; it is Ladli, the nephew's daughter. Ladli has removed a portion of her own food for the old woman. It is past midnight, and everyone is sleeping. Ladli creeps out of the bed and carries the food to the aunt. But the little food that Ladli had saved for the old woman could hardly satiate the aunt's hunger. She asks Ladli to guide her to the spot where the guests had disposed their plates. Ladli cannot understand the meaning behind this strange request and she guides the woman to the spot. The old woman's hunger is so intense that she starts eating the leftover food! In the meanwhile, the nephew's wife wakes up and witnesses this poignant scene. The nephew's wife, a god-fearing woman, is stunned at the sight of the old woman scavenging for food! For the first time she realises how cruel they have been on the aunt despite enjoying her property)

Old age is often the reappearance of the childhood. Except for her sense of taste, the aged aunt had lost the use of all her other senses. Her eyesight and limbs had called it a day. She had no means other than to weep to attract attention to her sufferings. If the members of the family did something which was not to her liking, or if it was past meal time and food had not been served, or if something nice had been brought from the market but she was forgotten to be given her share; then the old aunt expressed her anguish by weeping. And her weeping was no ordinary weeping; she wailed at the top of her voice!

Her husband had departed this world long ago. The sons too had passed away. Now she had nobody other than a nephew. She had bequeathed all her property to him. The nephew had made tall promises when she willed the property in his name, but those promises were like the empty promises made by brokers at the porters' depot. Although the annual returns from the property yielded a sufficient amount, the old aunt hardly ever enjoyed a full meal. It cannot be decisively stated as to who was more responsible for the aunt's neglect - the nephew, Pandit Buddhiram; or his wife, Rupa. Buddhiram, by nature, was a gentleman but only so long as his finances were not threatened. Rupa, it is true, had a sharp tongue but she was a god-fearing woman; the old aunt could bear Rupa's sharp tongue more than she could bear Buddhiram's gentleness.

Buddhiram, occasionally, repented his behavior toward the aunt. It is for the property that I am acting a gentleman, he admitted to himself. He would have had no objections if Kaki's life could have been improved through mere assurances and dry sympathies. But the worries of extra expenses incurred on her kept his good intentions in check. He would get angry if the aunt chose to wail just when there were guests in the house; he would scold her severely then. Boys have a natural dislike for the old, and when they observed their parents' behavior towards the aunt they did not feel it wrong to harass the old woman by sometimes pinching her, and sometimes sprinkling water over her; the aunt protested by wailing. But it had come to be assumed that the old woman wailed only when she was hungry; so no one took notice of her. If the aunt in her rage dared to reprimand the boys with harsh words, Rupa would instantly arrive to defend her children. The aunt, scared of Rupa's rebukes, therefore rarely employed her tongue as a weapon.

The aunt was fond of only one person in the family - Buddhiram's little daughter, Ladli. The girl, scared of her two brothers, preferred to partake of her share of sweets in the old woman's room - this was the perfect hideout for her. However, the protection would prove somewhat costly owing to the old woman's longing for food and sweets, and she had to be given a share. But, then, this was the only place which offered Ladli safety from her brothers. This symbiotic relationship had ripened into an affectionate bond between the two.

It was late in the evening. Musicians were playing "shehnai" at Buddhiram's home, and a large group of wide-eyed children from the village were enjoying the music. Guests relaxed on cots while barbers massaged their bodies. A village minstrel stood singing paeans in praise of the family; from time to time some of the guests showed their appreciation for the family by uttering encouraging words like "Wah! Wah!!" which made the poet feel very proud of himself as though he were the real claimant of all the admiration. There were two or three youths who had received education in English; they stood aside, feeling it below their dignity to mix with these rustics.

It was the pre-wedding ceremony of Buddhiram's eldest son, Mukhram, and the celebration was organized for that reason. Women were singing inside the house while Rupa was busy preparing a feast. There were huge vessels on the stoves and a delectable fare was getting cooked for the guests; a tantalizing aroma pervaded the house.

The old aunt was sitting dejectedly in her room and the aroma reaching her nostrils made her restless. She was troubled by all kinds of gloomy thoughts: "It isn't likely they will serve me food, it's so late yet no one has come with the food; it seems everyone has finished their meals and nothing is left for me." These gloomy thoughts made the aunt miserable and she wanted to wail but she held back her tears in the fear of desecrating such a pious event.

The aroma continued to tease her and prompted her to cry, but she remained silent fearing a tongue-lashing from Rupa. The old woman could not reveal her sufferings to anyone; today, Ladli, too, had not come to her room. The two boys, who otherwise were always to be seen nearby, were nowhere to be seen today. She could have at least asked them what was cooking.


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