I sit in front of the computer tonight to ask a question. This is a question that does not have an easy answer: the right answer may be considered as wrong and the wrong as right. This is also a question that cannot be satisfactorily settled by law. This is a question that can only lead to more questions and torment you. But logically, shouldn't every question have one correct answer which is not clouded by different points of view? I hope it has, and that's what I am seeking.
To ask you the question, I need to tell you a story. It is about someone I know, rather knew, for he is no longer in this world. It is the story of AK, my dear friend.
AK was a small-town boy who had a way with words ever since he was in school and after a couple of years of struggle in Delhi, landed the job of a creative writer with an ad agency. Sincerity and talent saw him climb the ladder fast, and soon he had women falling all over him. AK, being a small-town guy at heart, relished their attention but was not up to entertaining a woman he did not intend to marry. He directed all this energies at wooing a girl in the office next-door, whom he was so crazy about that he would have even jumped off the twelfth floor in order to prove his love for her. The girl indulged him initially, but finding him excessively possessive, fled from the relationship and found a new boyfriend. AK was shattered.
Next thing I saw was AK's wedding invitation. He was marrying one of the girls in his office. A year later, they had a child. He steadily rose up the ladder, bought two cars and a house. His salary was a matter of envy among his friends, but he would shrug off remarks that he was doing so well and would settle down for a drink with us, saying, "Achchha chhodo woh sab yaar, kuchh Kishore chalao (now leave all that aside, play some Kishore Kumar songs)."
Soon I moved to Chennai and our weekly sittings were reduced to once-in-two months phone calls or text messaging. I learnt, not from him though, that he had bought another house. When I heard this piece of news, I wished I had joined advertising instead of journalism. But I was happy for AK. He was an emotional fool who deserved good things in life.
One day, four years ago, news came that AK had died. He had contracted a strange fever, and even before the doctors could diagnose it, he had slipped into coma and died. I was too shocked to shed a tear for him. I only thought of his young wife and child: how must they have taken it? I didn't know the wife too well, but had met her enough number of times to imagine what she must be going through. Somehow, I did not think of AK's parents, the elderly couple living in a small town in Uttar Pradesh. Their lifestyle had in no way changed because of AK's zooming career, but they, like other parents, felt rich in the fact their son was doing well.
I am telling you the story of AK because today, out of the blue, I ran into his sister. I had last seen her many years ago, during a party at AK's place, and now I was face to face with her again. We both recognised each other instantly, and several moments of awkward silence followed. I did not know what to say. I began by enquiring about AK's wife, rather widow. "I hope she has taken it in her stride," I mumbled. "Yes, she is doing well," the sister replied, "she has married again, though I don't know where she is these days." A restaurant was close by and I took her there and ordered coffee.
"You know, my father has been in and out of the mental hospital ever since. He is now like a vegetable. Imagine, he had to cremate his own son. My mother is a strong woman, but she can't take it anymore," the sister said, trying to stiffen her lips to fight tears. She then told me things which I don't think I can ever get over, considering that AK was such a dear friend.
AK's father's only desire, after he lit his son's funeral pyre, was to keep him alive by wearing his clothes. By the time he gathered his senses to ask his daughter-in-law to pack his departed son's clothes, the young widow replied, "But I have already given them to the maid. I would have kept them if I knew you wanted them."
I don't know if the old man protested, but the world had no time for the elderly couple who had given birth to AK and had raised him. It was showering sympathies and money on the wife, who AK had met only a few years ago and had married only on rebound. Being the emotional fool that he was, he had not only bought the two houses in his wife's name but also had had the two home loans insured. His death turned out to be a windfall for her. Am saying windfall because she remarried within four months. She couldn't have found a groom in just four months unless she knew someone from long ago: it was as if she was waiting for AK to die. Anyway, that's her life and it does not bother me. What bothers me is why, when a man dies, the world heaps sympathies on the wife alone and not his aged parents whose pain is manifold.
Now, imagine a man who has just had an arranged marriage. He hardly knows his wife, and his wife hardly knows him, except that they have slept on the same bed for a few nights and made love and had a baby. One day, soon after the marriage, the man dies. Who should be the beneficiary of the sympathy and the funds? The wife, who is still a stranger to the home; or the aging parents, who will find the loss irreplaceable?
One can understand the wife being the beneficiary in the traditional, joint family system, where the husband and his extended family, including his parents, have the upper hand and the wife is more or less a glorified maidservant whose sole role is to keep the elders happy. A woman who has just lost her husband has nothing but a blank future to stare at. She is torn by the personal loss and the responsibility to raise the kids single-handed.
But roles have reversed in the nuclear-family era, especially with women also working. Today, it is the aged parents play glorified servants when they visit their well-to-do son and his newly-acquired wife in a big city. The wife not only comes from a well-to-do family but also earns as much as -- if not more than -- the son. In such cases, why should all the money and sympathy go to a woman who is emotionally and financially equipped to tide over the tragedy, and not to the parents who invested their youth in bringing up the child and spent their savings educating him? The answer, anyone?
Parents obviously don't want compensation, for no amount of money is going to bring back their son. But shouldn't someone be considerate enough to give them a hug and say, "I know what it means to lose a child"? But the world would rather score brownie points with a young widow. Such is the world. May AK, now that he is up there, use his supernatural powers to look after his devastated parents.