Haunted by memories

A mother is inconsolable even a year after her son’s death as her daughter-in-law starts a new life

(Patriot’s series on manual scavenging continues with a visit to yet another family bereaved by this barbaric practice)

First, Chandrakanta’s youngest son Mohan, 25, died while on a manual scavenging assignment. A few months later, her husband died, probably due to shock. As if this were not bad enough, there was another traumatic event lined up for her by fate — an event that she sees as a betrayal — her daughter-in-law’s remarriage.

She recalls that Mohan’s wife Preeti Kumari, who was just 21 when he died, was in a terrible state. “I was worried about what will happen to her and her kids. But I realised that I have to be strong, now that I’m the only one left to take care of her,” says Chandrakanta.

The compensation money, Rs 10 lakh, was not hard to get. But Chandrakanta wanted more to be done for her daughter-in-law and her grandchildren — a boy and a girl.

She went to Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s residence thrice to ask for a job for her daughter-in-law. When Kumari got a job in civil defence in September last year, she told Chandrakanta that all of them would live in a new rented place. “I told her that I will live with her and support her in whatever way possible,” she says.

Despite her father-in-law’s deteriorating health, Kumari was adamant about her plan of shifting to a new accommodation. By December, she moved in to a small rented house in Block 17 of Kalyanpuri, quite close to Block 21, her in-laws’ home.

Chandrakanta decided that she would go and live with her daughter-in-law. But on her way to the new house, she saw a wedding procession. Upon asking the onlookers, she found out that her daughter-in-law was getting married!

She couldn’t understand why this was done with such urgency and without her knowledge. After the wedding, she went to visit Kumari, but she sensed a change in her attitude. “I just went to wish her and see my grandchildren. But they refused and fought with me. They tried to push me out of their home,” she adds. The fight turned so ugly that the police were called.

Although she has three other sons, they live in different corners of the city. They often visit her, and she gets to see her other grandchildren but she is inconsolable.

“I just want Mohan back. He was the closest to me. You can’t even imagine what a mother goes through when she loses her son,” says the grieving mother weeping by now. As she takes out the album of Mohan’s funeral, she says, “It’s his last memory so I keep it next to my pillow.”

Mohan, according to his mother, “was very hardworking and focused,” ever since he took up this profession at the age of 19. Last August 6, Mohan left for work which he had got through a contractor. He was expected to be back by evening, as usual.

Little did she know that something unfortunate would happen that would change their lives forever. Mohan, along with two other men, died while cleaning a septic tank in Lajpat Nagar.

Chandrakanta sees her son almost every night in her dreams, which is her only escape from reality. “I don’t know what to do. I feel so helpless,” she says.

Chandrakanta’s husband, Pant Singh, probably died of shock. He had fallen ill as he had not been eating properly after his son’s death. “He stopped going out and did not even talk much. I knew that he no longer had the will to live,” says Chandrakanta.

After Kumari left, she rented out the room on the first floor, for which she gets Rs 1,500. Today, she lives in a crammed room with a kitchen in the narrow verandah and spends the entire day watching shows of religious gurus on television. Out of her pension of Rs 1,000 a month, she spends around Rs 600 on medication for diabetes. She’s on the lookout for a job, “So that I can pass some of my time”.

There are still days when she wakes up crying, thinking about her grandchildren and what Kumari did to her. She talks about her memories with Mohan — the times when she used to fight with him over something and he would lift her up in his arms to calm her down.

Yet to reconcile with her new situation, she has one recurring regret. “I should have persuaded him to quit cleaning tanks. I knew they have toxic gases,” says Chandrakanta.

However, Mohan never listened to her. He would avoid the topic whenever she or Kumari brought it up. “He used to get a meagre sum of Rs 300 per tank for doing that job. A life is not worth that,” concludes Chandrakanta.

Other reports in this can be read on our website:

+ posts