Seethamma‘s cellphone was ringing for quite some time, calling for her immediate attention. As soon as she picked up, Lakshmi came on line and enquired whether she was there for tomorrow’s recitation of hymns and mass prayer at Kapali Temple. Seethamma expressed her inability, as she had already agreed to attend another engagement, more important than this. She would be staying with a lady patient for the night at the hospital. In the general ward of that hospital, outsiders were not permitted. But in special ward, one family member was allowed, rather required. The patient was in special ward. For female patients, only ladies had to be there. The patient Lalitha, did not have any other lady member at home. Hence, Seethamma came forward. She had enrolled herself as volunteer in the Bank’s Pensioner’ Club. So, often and again, she was required to do such services for the pensioners community. She believed, ‘Service was better than prayers.’
Shortly, there was another call. It was Raaji calling. Raaji wanted Seethamma’s help in filing Income Tax Return for the year. Seethamma said, “Anyway, from 10th onwards, I am attending to that work and yours too, will be taken care then’. By the time she could get ready and leave for hospital, there was one more call and now it was from Anjali. She wanted to confirm her availability next month, for being a scribe to the blind students.
Everyday, there were spate of calls from near and dear ones and sometime even unknown -- demanding her attention or assistance in something or other. Today, Seethamma appears to be very busy and indispensable. But just two years ago, she was a very different person. She was behaving, as though possessed by some spirits. Moreover, she was a cry booby, weeping and sobbing. At the slightest pretext, she would start weeping. Consequently, the people talking to her would obviously feel sorry, shaky and nervous. ‘What to do with this old lady’. All this tragic transformation, only after she bore the brunt of a rude shock of life. Her husband, Ramachandran passed away suddenly. He was not suffering from any chronic illness, nor had any serious health problem. For that matter, he had not even seen a hospital since long. But, all-of-a-sudden, one day, he complained of chest pain, collapsed then and then and that was the fatal end. His death was a big jolt for her… a bolt from the blue. Till the day before, she was confined to a highly protective atmosphere and was never exposed to the outer world. Now she felt, as though she was thrown into an ocean of wilderness. She was sobbing uncontrollably. Somehow, she gathered guts and called her neighbour for help. That itself was an enormous job for her. Primarily, she was not a sociable person. All she knew was, her domestic chores and her husband’s needs. Her neighbour, Raja, not familiar with this family, extended help on humanitarian grounds. He was initially in doldrums… ‘who are the relatives to be told, where is the money, what next…’ But he sprang into action immediately. With great difficulty, he could get a doctor to certify the death, then he inserted the news under obituary in newspapers, told the bank from where Ramachandran was drawing pension, also applied for death certificate. All he did on his own. Because, Seethamma was far from communicating. Anything asked, she at once, bursted into tears and kept sobbing. For cremation, some relatives and one pensioner came. Raja asked him to take care of getting Seethamma’s family pension at the earliest as his amount was blocked up considerably in dealing with death related expenses.
The couple, Ramachandran and Seethamma had no children. They were happy as they were living for each other. But now? Seethamma had no siblings. Her parents passed away long ago. Ramachandran’s relatives who attended the funeral, maintained distance, as they were worried about the responsibility of Seethamma befalling on them. If she had a child of her own, such a problem would not arise for them. Ramachandran once said to his wife, “You are a beautiful woman and I admit I am ugly. Though beautiful, you are dull-head and dunce, whereas, though sensible, I am grotesque. If the child is born to us with your beauty and my brain, then double ok. On the contrary, think of what will happen if child is born with your brain and my beauty. Mother Nature is so benevolent that it spared us of such a calamity.” Such anecdotes ran through her mind vividly and brought fresh bouts of tears.
Ramachandran’s colleague cum friend came to offer condolences and to help her in getting family pension from the bank. The weeping lady could not offer much. He got so frustrated and had to do with only a signed application. The grief-stricken lady was quite upset with her husband for keeping her in total darkness. Transfer of knowledge never took place and she was in jitters now. Even after months, she behaved as though she was haunted by his thoughts. Neither she could shirk off, nor attempted to come out of cocoon. Her daily routines had shrunk to lamenting, mourning and grieving. Ramachandran was such a powerful person that he occupied her body soul and thoughts. It was in no way possible, to come out of his memories… all the time driven by him, haunted by him and resting on imagination of him, by her side. The few people who knew her, thought her to be mentally imbalanced. It hardly mattered to her. She continued to be in her hibernation.
Everyone knows that all human beings born on this earth, have-to die, sooner or later, no choice. When and where only mattered. But the impact created by the departed soul on near and dear ones left behind, differs from person to person. They say, ‘Time is the best healer’. For Seethamma, time flew. But she was yet to eschew her grief and come out. The lacuna created her husband in her life remained dodging her.
One day, she received a letter from Income Tax department calling for explanations from her husband for non-payment of tax and not filing IT Returns in time. She sought for help from the banker friend who in turn, guided her to a Chartered Accountant. That man apart from hefty fees to him, demanded a few things like bank passbook, details of investment, last three years’ Income Tax Returns and so on. Nothing she understood. Except the passbook, everything else was overboard. She went with passbook, but even that was not the right one. It was not pertaining to the financial year under query. The auditor said that her husband had invested a lot, in a mixed basket, which meant under various categories like fixed deposits, mutual funds, debentures bonds etc. In order to classify taxable items and out of which, the corresponding taxable portion, it was necessary to study item by item in the basket. Next day when she met him and gave him, all that she brought, he was simply taken aback. She gave old passbooks and three vegetable baskets of different sizes and shapes. That was all her knowledge. He mistook her stupidity and howled at her. Seethamma as usual, was in uncontrollable tears. He was shocked to see a lady in her sixties, sitting in front of him and crying bitterly. He never had a lady client, that too an old woman and on top, a cry booby. He was moved. He tried to comfort her, but in vain. He had to spend a lot of time, not in hours but in days… in explaining what is, what. Unless she helped him with details, he would not be able to handle the case properly. He said, ‘That is why, the adage. Help us to serve you better’. Finally, when required inputs were given, he completed the task. He did explain to her that the actual tax if paid in time, was less, but due to delay in payment and non-payment of advance tax and penalty under various sections…. It was too much. All put together she was required to shell out huge amount.
Because of frequent visits to the auditor and his patient approach in explaining things to her dull head, she gained a bit of confidence. She, in order to avoid recurrence of such errors, wanted to know, the steps to be taken by her, for future guidance. This time, she instead of merely listening to his advices, jotted down the points. That was and that was the turning point in her life. She felt her inner voice telling her that this was what her husband wanted from her -- adaptability. Not only that, she must extend such type of help to others, in need. ‘Transfer of technology’ was the point. Her not being able to cope up with understanding the techniques, had landed her to be branded as ‘DULL HEAD’ and resort to shedding tears on her incapability. Now that she understood where the problem was, she was transformed into a totally new person. She thanked the auditor. That was not just for his tax filing. In fact, she owed him a lot for opening her eyes. In order to prove herself, even though there was no summon from Income Tax Office, she did the same exercise in the same manner for the next year also and got it approved by the auditor. The auditor promptly told her such exercises were required to be done only till the taxpayer was alive. He also advised her to take care of his investments in different portfolios, by transferring them to her name. His strong advice was, ‘Keep a watch on income. Pay tax in time. File the Return even if it was NIL.’ She took it as a gospel. He also assured of his help, in case of need.
She diligently started working on his advice. While trying to transfer her husband’s investments into her name, she had understood half of, what was it all about. She had a grip on his money dealings. She wanted to share her newly acquired knowledge for the benefit of other pensioners and or their spouses. She went to the Bank’s Pension Office and told the in-charge. Now that she learnt the nuances of tax filing, she wanted to start with it. He was very happy that somebody was coming forward to tackle a ticklish issue. But not one member, the one, who had earlier encountered with her in her initial days. He had his apprehension. She told him that in those days, she was a ‘haunted person’ and now free from that. She pleaded her ignorance of yore, but now was an enlightened one. Through word of mouth and WhatsApp group, there was a good response for the call. She had to run the session for few days. She in the meantime, placed a notebook in the Pension Office. On one page, she wrote the title as, HELP AND ASSISTANCE REQUIRED. On next page alongside was the title, WILLING TO OFFER. Initially there was no one to write anything in the notebook. She thought the concept was not clear. So, she explained to those who came for tax filing on that notebook. Yes, soon the pages got filled up… someone asking for companionship to kill boredom, somebody needing storybooks of sorts, someone else looking for a group entertainment and another one for pilgrimage, trekking for an adventurous gang, etc. Certainly, this was not what Seethamma had in her mind.
Just then one pensioner Subbaiah, called on the Office Secretary and said his wife was not well and had to be admitted. He wanted a female support to take care of her at the hospital – particularly at night. As a reflex action, the Secretary turned to her. She too readily obliged. That was how her network of voluntary services grew. It was then that she suggested about Bank’s Pensioners Club of volunteers. Shortly, another pensioner, rather his daughter, having heard about the Club, came and wrote about her requirements… scribe for blind students and tutors for reading and recording lessons for them. Seethamma suggested the lady to approach Transgenders’ Welfare Association and make an appeal there also. Since the blind students could not see, it simply did not matter who read out or who wrote for them. It was double okay. On the one side, the blind students benefitted and on the other, the transgenders too could feel highly elated in rendering such a noble service. Why should they be left out from the mainstream of society?
Not withstanding all these, the number of volunteers mostly ladies, also grew and the need for their services too. Needless to say in times of calamities and natural disasters, the services rendered by the helping hands were tremendous. Of late, absolutely, there was no time for Seethamma to look back. While her hands were full, with work, her fingertips were also ready with data and details on handling ticklish and sticky issues – be it death related or life saving remedies. On problems where she did not have any solution, she had least hesitation in approaching knowledgeable persons and gather information.
Everyday at night she would stand before her husband’s photo and ask, “Am I a dull head or dunce even now?” One day she heard his voice say very clearly to her. He said, “I always told you, you are beautiful. Beautiful as a butterfly. As-long-as this butterfly does not go back to its cocoon, you are not a dull head or dunce.” Seethamma knew that butterfly having come out of its cocoon, does not go back to it. She too will not.