“Shall I make some breakfast for you Athai(MIL in tamil) or do you want to freshen up” inquired Priya from her mother in law Mrs. Pillai who had just arrived home from Chennai.
“No Priya, this tea is fine. We will have our breakfast with Shreya once she wakes up” [this conversation was in Tamil].
Mr. & Mrs. Pillai were visiting their son, daughter in law and granddaughter in Mumbai after 2 years. It was usually the family that would come down to Chennai to visit but this time their son insisted that they come over and visit them.
Mrs. Pillai got busy unpacking all the home made sweets and snacks that she got especially for her granddaughter Shreya who loved to savor them. Once Shreya woke up she was jumping with joy seeing her grandparents at home. She loved to be pampered by them.
Mrs. Pillai always hesitated to come to Mumbai. For one, she did not speak Hindi. Second, she studied in a Tamil medium school and had very minimal knowledge about English. And the people of Mumbai either spoke Hindi or English. It was very rare that she would find someone in the neighborhood who knew Tamil.
The society that her son stayed at had a huge garden area where kids would often be seen playing and many people would be walking or exercising during the evenings. Mr. & Mrs. Pillai would often go down there for an evening stroll.
One evening, Mrs. Pillai was casually sitting on one of the park benches and just watching the kids play. An elderly lady, almost as old as herself came and sat beside her. As courtesy, both of them smiled at each other and continued looking at the kids. Few moments later, the other lady’s phone began to ring. She answered the phone and started to speak in Tamil. Mrs. Pillai’s ears suddenly got alert. She tried to eavesdrop to make sure she was actually speaking in Tamil. “Yes, that was Tamil!” Mrs. Pillai excitedly thought to herself.
Once the lady completed her call, Mrs. Pillai did not wait even for a second to start a conversation with her. Starting off with casual introductions, they realized they lived nearby in Chennai. The conversation went on for a long time until it got dark. Mrs. Pillai and her new friend bid each other goodbye and promised to meet again the same time in the garden.
Mrs. Pillai was in a very happy mood when she reached back home. She couldn’t wait to tell all at home about her new friend. When she entered she couldn’t find anyone around so she casually went to the hall and switched the channel from an English channel to Vijaya TV. Her happy mood was short lived. Mr. Pillai came yelling into the hall area. “Who asked you to change the channel? Just because you don’t understand English that doesn’t mean you can change the channel when someone else is watching.” He began blabbering stuff to her and snatched the remote from her hand.
A hurt Mrs. Pillai did not say a word. She silently walked off to the kitchen where her daughter in law was preparing for dinner. Priya had overheard the fight from the hall, but she did not find it right to ask her Athai about it. She distracted her by asking about some cooking tip. Both the women conveniently avoided discussing about what just happened and continued with their routine.
The next day, Mrs. Pillai went to the garden area as usual. She completely forgot about her new friend that she had met the previous day. Once she completed her walk, Mrs. Pillai randomly sat on the grass area of the garden.
“There you are! I have been looking for you all over…” came a voice from behind. Mrs. Pillai turned around to look as the person had spoken in Tamil. Oh yes, it was her new friend from yesterday. They exchanged the usual greetings.
Mrs. Pillai still upset about the outburst from her husband the previous day, was in a very low mood. Her new friend Mrs. Murthy could sense something was wrong. After a little provocation, Mrs. Pillai finally let her heart out about what had happened the previous day. “This is not the first time. Mr. Pillai always does this even when we are back at home in Chennai. Just because I am not as educated as him that does not mean he can insult me that way” She couldn’t control the tears flowing from her eyes.
Mrs. Murthy listened to her like a dear friend and tried to console her. She calmed down in sometime. Suddenly, out of nowhere an idea struck Mrs. Murthy. She asked Mrs. Pillai “Are you willing to learn English now again?” Mrs. Pillai looked at her confused. “Are you ready to learn at this age?” she repeated.
Mrs. Pillai did not know how to respond to that question. But she was very interested in the idea. “Even if I wanted to learn where can I learn from? Who will teach me at this age? I cannot ask my son or daughter in law to teach me. It’s very embarrassing.” she said. “I will teach you.” responded Mrs. Murthy. “I am a retired teacher but I miss teaching a lot. If I start teaching you English, I will be able to pass my time too”
Mrs. Pillai got very excited at the idea. “I would love to learn then” she replied. The ladies discussed how to and when to start off the classes. Both the ladies were super excited.
In the coming days, Mrs. Pillai was a regular visitor at her new friends place. She would make the excuse of a long walk or going to the market to purchase veggies and go off for her English classes.
One fine day, Mrs. Pillai was so engrossed in her reading session with her new friend that she lost track of time. Lucky for her, it was hardly a 2minutes walk from Mrs. Murthy’s home to her own. Little did she know what was awaiting her at home!
Once she entered, she found Mr. Pillai frantically walking up and down the hall. She started to feel very scared. “Where were you all this while?” he questioned her. “I had gone for a walk. Looking at the kids I did not realize how time went by.” She lied. “Liar! I looked for you all around the garden. You were not there anywhere. Tell me the truth, where were you?” Mr. Pillai yelled back at her catching her unawares. Mrs. Pillai suddenly felt a sinking feeling in her chest. She was caught. She did not know how to respond. Her son and daughter in law were standing right there in the hall. No one uttered a word.
“I… I… “She began to stammer almost in tears at the same time. Mr. Pillai walked towards her rapidly. It looked like he was almost coming to hit her. Their son stopped him. Priya came quickly and stood by her mother in law. The son trying to calm down the father.
Priya softly whispered into Mrs.Pillai’s ears “What happened Athai? Are you ok? Did you get lost on the way home?” her daughter in law’s voice was almost soothing for her to hear over her own husband’s screaming.
She wiped her tears and mustered in all the courage she ever had and spoke, that too in English “I was at my new friend’s place. Her name is Mrs. Murthy. She lives in the same society. I lost track of time and hence got late while returning home”
Everyone in the room froze. Especially Mr.Pillai. Did he just hear his wife speak in English, that too so fluently!! Her son and daughter in law did not even blink. The shock was too much for any of them to absorb. She looked towards her husband and continued, “You never expected me to speak in English right? It is Mrs. Murthy who taught me. I met her few weeks back in the garden area. She offered to teach me English and I accepted it. I finally made a new friend in this new city and learnt a new language too after all these years! At least now you can show me some respect since I can speak English”
Mr. Pillai shuddered in disbelief. He had never realized how much he had been hurting his wife until now. How much he insulted her for not knowing English. It all came to him suddenly. At this old age, his wife had been a loyal partner to him throughout their married life, whereas he avoided his duties as husband to her. Rather he kept putting her down at every single chance he got.
The angry man, Mr. Pillai, suddenly turned very docile. He walked towards his wife and held her both arms and looked into her eyes. This time the tears were rolling out of his own eyes too. “I am extremely sorry! I never realized how much I was hurting you. Please forgive me.” Mrs. Pillai just hugged him without saying a word. Both the oldies began to cry.
Their son and daughter in law, just looked on and smiled.
In the coming days, Mrs. Murthy was a regular guest at the Pillai household. And now it was not Mrs Murthy, but Mr.Pillai who was Mrs. Pillai’s new English teacher!
Note from author: Sometimes it is not just love. Women deserve respect too. Whether a young teenager or an old grandmother, we all deserve mutual love and respect.