When Mamta Goswami, a retired school principal, passed away due to renal failure and other complications at age 82, Simi felt as if a weight had lifted. Simi ( not her real name) had been Mamta’s (not her real name) only daughter-in-law, a ‘privilege’ which should have made her proud. But instead of regarding being married to an only son as a privilege, Simi thought it was a great misfortune. As the sole daughter-in-law, she was always under attack, she maintained, from her disciplinarian mother-in- law who insisted on giving her marks for everything she did. On a scale of ten, Mamta almost always declared Simi had failed, giving her, for example, four out of ten for cooking, two out of ten for being talented, one out of ten for behaviour and so on.
It came as little surprise to those in the know when not too long after becoming a daughter-in-law, there came a time when Simi rebelled against her mother-in-law’s judgemental scale hanging permanently over her. “ She thinks I’m bad and I’ll always be bad so let me be bad. Let her give me a permanent zero”, she said and declared that she would not cook for her mom-in-law, serve her or do her bidding in any way or anything for her, would not even speak to her and if all this led to a divorce, so be it.
On his part, Vijay ( not his real name), Simi’s husband had made it clear at the very outset when he saw the tensions between his mother and wife that he would not take sides and they should sort out their relationship and issues between them on their own. He always heard whatever they had to say to him and never walked away when they were complaining but never ever uttered a word one way or another. The situation at home made him unhappy, he told friends, but distancing himself from it and remaining uninvolved was the best way to prevent things that were almost at boiling point from tipping to boiling over too often. He was invariably respectful to both his mother and wife and if his mom took off on a loud, berating spree of Simi, would slip out of the house and go for a walk in the neighbouring park or drop in at a friendly neighbour’s.
Mamta, to drive home the point to Simi that her decisions or actions didn’t matter at all and were in fact counter productive set up her own kitchen, depriving Simi of the use of a store room. She hired her own cook and a maid and washerwoman too, which meant frequent skirmishes with Simi’s maid who had to wait to do her chores till the others finished and soon left to look for employment where there would be no spats and which would at least be more peaceful.
When they grew up, the two children tried to bring a rapprochement between maa and ‘dadi’ (grandmom) but it was futile. The dislike between the mom-in-law and the daughter-in-law was too deeply embedded. Time moved on and Mamta retired as a school principal. Several years later, Simi too retired from her job as a nurse in a leading Government hospital. But the hostility between them remained frozen in time. Even when age began to take its toll on Mamta and her health began failing and she required constant medication and an occasional injection, Simi refused to relent.
When it came to her mon-in-law emergencies did not melt Simi’s heart which she candidly admitted had become like ice over the years. Vijay would have to rush to seek assistance and this is what happened shortly before she died. Failing kidneys required dialysis and she was shifted to a hospital. Soon, other organs too began getting affected and doctors indicated there was little hope. She passed away after a couple of days on life support. Throughout, Simi had refused to visit her in hospital. She had to be persuaded and coaxed by relatives and friends even to go for her mom-in-law’s cremation.
But alas, Simi’s new found sense of freedom and happiness was shortlived. Soon after her death, Mamta began by appearing in Simi’s dream one night. “You can’t escape from me”, she told her. “I’m still here in this world and now that I’m free from that ailing physical body which was holding me back, in my disembodied state I’ll make your life miserable.” Simi dismissed it as just a dream but she was quickly and rudely disillusioned.
Fresh vegetables kept in the refrigerator began disaappearing mysteriously, necessitating a trip to the market and there was a steady add-on of annoying incidents. The geyser wouldn’t work when required and an electrician would have to be called in. The television would get switched on and off, on and off. There would be infuriating laughs. Ironed and folded clothes kept in cupboards would be messed up and needed to be sent again for re-ironing. Chairs began to be dragged around at night, waking up everybody. If it wasn’t the chairs, it would be the doorbell ringing or a window banging, or something falling with a loud thud, disturbing everyone’s sleep. At times, Simi’s hair would be pulled. Before long, relatives and friends stopped visiting the haunted home.
This time, Vijay and the children, who were now working, refused to remain neutral or take Simi’s side. “You’ve brought this upon yourself and us too, mom. Now please find a way out”, the children told Simi. At her wits end, she turned to me, and I referred her to a baba (a wandering fakir) who has considerable knowledge of the other world. After studying the situation, he opined that both a Chakrayvuh ( a complicated formation) and a kalachakra ( wheel or cycle of time) were in motion and it may be best at this juncture not to interfere.
“Who was right and who was wrong is not for us to judge. They both sowed the seeds for the current situation” the baba said, “and they are now reaping the harvest. Mamta’s soul is unable to find the moksha (release) that is so important in an onward journey. And haunted by a spirit bent on wreaking vengeance Simi and her home are now bereft of peace. Matters will level out once both of them reach a certain stage in paying for their actions.” Till then, Mamta’s soul will remain mired in this world and Simi will have to bear the consequences of her actions in the form of being haunted by a vengeful spirit.