1'Yippie the old witch is dead' cooed Manisha the minute she opened the door to Jai.
Jai eyed her with a dumb-founded expression on his face.
Anyone would....given such a hectic day at office then being suddenly presented with the news of someone's death by his ecstatic wife.
'I'm talking about Mrs Gupta.' Manisha rolled her eyes.
'Oh HER.....' Jai slumped on the nearby couch looking immensely relieved.
For one agonizing moment he had thought his better half was talking about her mother-in-law.
'No more early morning bhakti sangeet or 60's hindi music or shrill shouting....ahhh' Manisha exclaimed while literally ballet-dancing her way to the kitchen.
'I can finally enjoy a life of peace and calm.....'
'Well what happened?' he asked fighting hard to keep a straight face.
'Apparently she had a stroke or something ....last night.They found her in the morning...'
'....As if that matters..I am just happy to know she is gone.Whew...' Manisha hummed to herself.
To any outsider Manisha's apparent euphoria over someone's death might have come as a shocker.But Jai was quite familiar with their eccentric(and now deceased) neighbor's obnoxiousness.So he didn't quite blame his wife.
They had shifted into this house 3 years back with the hope of getting away from all the noise and pollution in the heart of the city.
Manisha was a nature lover through and through,being a lass of the mountains.So it was difficult for her to adjust to her new life in the middle of a city bustling with activity.
But finally Jai had saved up enough money to be able to afford a decent-sized two-storied apartment in the greater part of the city.True his workplace was quite a distance away but he could make do with this little inconvenience.
'Anything to see her smile' he had thought at the moment.
But alas destiny had other plans!
2Mrs Gupta was a 70 year-old widow who lived by herself in what could be called 'almost a mansion'.She was thin and shrivelled up like most old people are but her voice had surprising volume and strength.And she never hesitated to put it to use-be it for shouting at the paper-boy for being 10 minutes late or her domestic help if she spotted so much as a smudge on one of the dinner plates.
There probably wasn't a single soul in the neighborhood with whom she hadn't argued about something.
Vegetable vendors,the grocer,the night-guard-everyone had been at the receiving end of her wrath.
To put it in a word-she was notorious.
In the beginning when Manisha had been blissfully ignorant she had once made the mistake of ringing Mrs Gupta's doorbell with a bowlful of freshly made gajar ka halwa and a smile on her lips.
'I don't accept food from non-vegetarians.' she had said flatly and closed the door on Manisha's face.
The WAR began shortly after that.And Manisha was a fighter.
Unfortunately so was Mrs Gupta.
Initially Jai had thought that Manisha would calm down and let it go after a few days but he was proven wrong.
Their daily verbal battles went from bad to worse.
It began with-
Manisha:You are a horrible specimen of humanity.That is NO WAY to speak to anyone.
Mrs Gupta:Oh so now I'm supposed to learn manners from someone who is half my age?
Manisha:I'm younger than that.
or something along the lines of-
Manisha(poking her head out of the living room window):ARGH will you care to lower the volume?I DON'T WANNA LISTEN TO YOUR DAMNED BHAKTI SANGEET this early in the morning.....
Mrs Gupta(feigning ignorance):What did you say?I can't hear you....
Manisha(looking murderous):How do you listen to your stereo if you are so goddamn DEAF?
......and so on.
Sometimes Jai had the nagging suspicion that Mrs Gupta was thoroughly enjoying herself.
'I'm making Butter Chicken for dinner....are you okay with that?' Manisha shouted from the kitchen interrupting Jai's long chain of thoughts.
'Yeah....sure' he answered back.
There was no doubt about it.Manisha was in a viciously good mood.
3Over the next week Manisha would often spot people coming to and from the Gupta Residence.....no doubt to pay their respects to the dead.She wondered whether Mrs Gupta's children were among them.
It was rumored that most of them were settled abroad and cared little about their paranoid mother.
'Oh well..whatever' she thought every time.
She was getting quite used to the lack of verbal death matches in her life however sometimes she ended up missing the old lady...or maybe the excitement that she brought into her otherwise dull life.
But she welcomed the peace and quiet nonetheless.
Life was back to being uneventful again...that is,it remained uneventful till the Sunday two weeks after Mrs Gupta's death.
Now Sundays meant that both Jai and Manisha slept in till atleast 8:30 in the morning...
So both of them were taken by surprise when their doorbell rang a little before 9 on this particular day.
Manisha gaped at the person who stood outside their door and seemed to be dressed in what seemed like formal attire-
'Ah sorry to disturb you this early in the morning.....but is this the Banerjee residence?' he asked with a smile.
'Yea it is......' Manisha said still unable to fathom his identity.
'Ah good...and I assume you are Manisha Banerjee?...' he said with the same unchanging expression.
'Yes that's correct.' she replied warily.
'Well nice to meet you....I'm Rakshit Chatterjee..the deceased Naina Gupta's attorney.'
Manisha tried to suppress a gasp. 'Could she have sued her right before her death or something???'
'Please come inside...'she somehow managed.
'Ah no that's okay...I've urgent business to attend to and this won't take long.'
He paused for a while and continued.
'I'll make this short...Mrs Gupta had submitted a hand-written testament to me about 6 months ago with clear instructions that it was supposed to be her will and I was to be the executioner....although I was well aware of it's contents all this time I was instructed to reveal them only after her death.....' he paused a little and smiled at the confused expression on Manisha's face.
'Well well Mrs Banerjee...seems like you were her favorite neighbor...Mrs Gupta has left the ownership of her house to you.'
Manisha was rendered incapable of speech.
'Um I think there has been a mistake....there's just no way...' she said recovering after a good many seconds.
'...She has clearly mentioned your name along with your home address and other details....there's no mistake Mrs Banerjee... it IS you' he cut across.
By this time even Jai,who had been eavesdropping on their conversation all this time,wore the same shocked expression as Manisha's.
'Well that's all..there will be a meeting a few days later where I will officially disclose the contents of the will to all parties concerned...you will no doubt be informed of the date,time and venue..'
'So then....I must take my leave now..thank you for your time' he smiled again.
He was almost at their gate when he seemed to remember something and returned where Manisha stood frozen like an ice-sculpture at the open door.
'Well one last thing...Mrs Gupta asked me to deliver a message to you...'
'W..what is it?' Manisha somehow managed despite the tears that were threatening to break her composure.
'Tell her it's a thank you gift-that's what she said.' Mr Chatterjee smiled one last time.
Side notes for Non-Indian readers:
bhakti sangeet is a form of devotional music
gajar ka halwa is a popular North-Indian sweet dish made of carrots,sweetened milk and ghee
Authors note:This piece of fiction is purely conceived from my imagination.The incidents described may or may not happen given a real life situation.I had written this solely with the intention of driving home the fact that appearances are often deceptive.It's not fair to form an opinion without having sufficient information.More often than not we end up misjudging old people-like our grandfathers/grandmothers,in-laws or parents.No doubt they keep their set of outdated beliefs,prejudices and superstitions intact-but that's not reason enough to hate them or ignore their existence.That's outright cruel.