Dollar Bahu, p.12Sudha Murty
Shamanna guessed what was going on in Vinuta’s mind. One day he called her to his room and said, ‘Vinu, I want to tell you a story.’
Vinuta was surprised, but then she thought that it was probably an incident from his younger days, many of which Shamanna had already narrated, and often.
‘Vinuta and Kadru were the two wives of Sage Kashyap,’ began Shamanna. ‘There was tough competition between them. The condition was such that the one who lost would become the other’s slave until her son brought back the holy nectar. Kadru cheated and won, and Vinuta became the slave. A hundred years later, however, Vinuta’s son Garuda brought in the nectar and rescued his mother from slavery.’
‘Why are you telling me this story, Appa?’
‘All due to my wife’s foolish behaviour, you will develop a complex and you will start hating our family the way a slave does. If the woman of the house is unhappy, a family can never live in peace. Vinuta, I do not want you to live with such a complex. In that story, the son comes after a good hundred years. I don’t want you to stay in this house for that long, in bondage. Please go away and make your own home.’
Vinuta was surprised by this sudden decision.
‘Is Girish aware of this?’
‘Yes. I have told him the same thing and have explained the situation. Chandru, being away from us, has become independent, assertive and confident. I want Girish also to become like that. He is always under the protection of his parents. In that sense, America has taught Chandru a good lesson.’
‘Appa, what type of country is America?’ Vinuta asked in wonder. America had been haunting her of late.
‘How do I know, Vinu? I have never been there. But based on common sense, I can only be grateful that many of our comforts were bought by the purchasing power of dollars. It has done a lot for us. We are now financially better off. Many lower-middle-class families have benefited from their children going to America. Many parents have been able to see some comforts in life because their children have settled there. They have been able to build houses, and marry off their dughters without too much trouble. Look at Gouri, her desires were mostly fulfilled because of Chandru. But she does not understand that money is not everything in life. There are other problems.’
‘What are the problems, Appa?’
‘Nothing comes for free, Vinu. And definitely not when it comes to financial help. This Dollar may have transformed the lifestyles of some families, taken them from poverty to wealth, but it has also broken up some families. It has created financial and social distinctions within families and destroyed peace of mind. Very few people have understood this. If Gouri had been more mature, she would not have been in awe of the Dollar and danced to its tune. Her greed burnt the peace and harmony in our family. Sometimes I get upset with her but when I think rationally, the poverty during her childhood, lack of education, the sudden surge of money, have obviously affected her. Gouri is not a bad human being, but she is misguided. I am sure she will realize that the enchanted forest is a mirage, but I am afraid it might be too late by then.’
‘Appa, what do you think? Is America better than India or is India better than America?’
Shamanna smiled. ‘There is no such thing, my child. For that matter, nothing is absolute in life. America has a set of advantages and disadvantages. Similarly, India has its own. You cannot have the best of both worlds. If you have a choice, choose a country and accept it with its pluses and minuses and live happily there. Staying in America and dreaming of an Indian way of life, or living in India and expecting an American way of life—both are roads to grief.’
Vinuta was silent for a long time, pondering over what Shamanna had said. Then coming back to the present, she said, ‘Appa, where can we go?’
‘I have told Girish to apply for a transfer to Dharwad. I have also sent him to the government education office with a request for your transfer. The person in charge was my student. I am sure that he will comply with my request. You have your own house there and you will love to live there as you did before. You need not send us any money. I plan to tell Chandru, too, to stop sending us dollars. With just the two of us, we can rent out the first floor. And I have my pension. We can lead a comfortable, peaceful life without being a burden on our children.’
Vinuta looked at her father-in-law. She felt sad that just when he was ageing, and when it was proper that his children should stay with him, they would be leaving him.
‘Appa, will you not come and stay with us?’
‘Of course we will. And you will visit us. But for the moment, do not wait until Gouri’s return. Go and set up your house. My blessings are always with you.’
The taxi stopped in front of their house and Shamanna opened the door with his keys.
‘Today is Sunday. How come Vinuta is not at home?’
‘She is not in Bangalore. She has shifted to Dharwad, on transfer.’
‘What? How can she leave Girish and go?’ Gouramma was upset.
‘He has also been transferred to Dharwad.’
‘How can they go without my permission?’
‘They are adults. They do not require our permission. As a matter of fact, it was I who sent them. Your fulsome praise of Jamuna was pushing Vinu into a depression; the symptoms were there to be seen. I do not want my healthy daughter-in-law to suffer for no fault of hers. It is better that she be away from such an atmosphere.’
Somewhere in the corner of her mind, Gouramma was reminded of Asha Patil.
‘Gouri, love and affection are more important than food and money. Vinuta is like our daughter and I do not want her to suffer. What I would have done for Surabhi, I did for Vinuta.’
Gouramma sat down helplessly. ‘Gouri, we raised our children according to our ideas and values,’ Shamanna continued quietly. ‘Now, allow Vinuta to do the same thing in her house. Never once did you mention Vinu or Harsha in any of your calls or letters. Don’t you think she felt it rather deeply?’
‘I have changed a lot,’ Gouramma said sadly. ‘America has opened my eyes and I shall never make that mistake again. Will Vinu and Harsha never come back to this house? Can I not see Harsha ever?’ Gouramma was now in tears.
Shamanna comforted his wife. ‘Don’t worry. There has been no fight. We can leave for Dharwad right now if you wish to see them and have a nice time together, provided you promise me one thing.’
‘What is that?’ Gouramma asked in surprise.
‘You should not keep talking about America, its wealth and your Dollar Bahu.’
‘Oh, don’t worry, I won’t,’ she said. ‘I won’t, ever. I promise.’
With a deep sigh, she opened her purse to retrieve the keys to open her suitcase—and a hundred dollar bill fell out. It was the bill that Chandru had given her at the airport. But at that moment, it did not hold any charm, any power or any magic.
The invincible Dollar had fallen . . .
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First published by EastWest Books (Madras) Pvt. Ltd 2005
Published by Penguin Books India 2007
Copyright © Sudha Murty 2005, 2007
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This digital edition published in 2013.
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Sudha Murty, Dollar Bahu
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