Sneha surveyed the room in horror. How could they all sit there so calmly after such a great bolt had been dealt from the blue? She glanced at Sethu, her husband… and felt frustrated by that ‘Budhdha in meditation look’ he sported whenever he was home. Detached… and wanting no part of any say in any matter! How could one let things slip under his feet and maintain that façade of calm at the same time? She looked at Ragini, the second daughter in law of the family. She could see anger gleaming in her eyes and expected an explosion at any moment. She looked at Mahesh, Ragini’s husband with lip pursed and a nerve twitching just above the jaw. She glanced at the watchful expression on her eldest brother in law’s face and Mohanamanni’s expressionless face. Unable to resist, she turned towards her mother in law, who seemed to have adopted selective hearing and sat there looking indifferent in that tense atmosphere… As she expected, Maheshanna burst out in anger. “How can you make such a decision on your own?” he thundered. This is a family matter and you are not allowed to take any individual decisions. Amma, why do you abet such crime?” Aghalya glanced at her second son before looking away. “ I think we should resolve this legally,” burst out Ragini. She was the fiery one among the three of them. She looked at Sneha for endorsement. Sneha felt she must say something, but Sethu’s fingers pinched her waist making her gasp. He leveled his gaze at hers and imperceptibly shook his head. Sneha had to keep her counsel. “Mahesh, you don’t understand the situation,” interrupted Mohanamanni. “Nothing will affect any of your claim. It is a personal decision involving your brother, me and our kids. Even Amma has the right to stand by her own decisions. The fact is, we have constructed our own house, and are shifting there. Amma is quite welcome to come and live with us… But she will bring only her personal belongings there. I do not want anything from this house. Everything that belongs to this house will be left behind!” She looked at her husband Raghavan as though prompting him to speak. “She is right, Mahesh,” said Raghavananna. Not a piece of our ancestral property will be moved from here. We are moving out with only our clothes. We have furnished our new house top to bottom and do not intend to carry even a steel spoon from here.” “Then what will come of all these?” demanded Ragini looking avariciously at the ancestral home with all its antique furniture and memorabilia. “You can take it for all I care,” said Mohanamanni and Sneha was surprised at the vehemence in her tone. Somehow, she had never associated Periyamanni with such strong feelings. All these years, she seemed the docile daughter in law of the family, doing the bid of Appa and Amma and being the cook and caretaker of the house. Since Raghavananna had decided to settle down in the village taking care of the fields and orchards, the others were free to pursue their careers elsewhere. Sethu and Sneha were in Canada, each pursuing a blossoming career while Mahesh and Ragini were in the Middle East. There had been murmurs and occasional mutiny on board, but the dignified presence of Appa had always kept these subdued. Amma had run the house with an iron hand, brooking no nonsense from anyone. But the apple cart had been upset the previous year with the untimely demise of Appa. To break the tension that hung in the air, she quipped, ‘So… when are you taking us to see your new house?’ which immediately alleviated the tension and Mohana stood up in enthusiasm … Sneha looked at the sleeping form of her husband wondering how someone could show no overt emotions, neither anger nor despair at the impending loss of his home. She quietly got up from the bed and stepped out of her bedroom. As she climbed down the mahogany steps that led to the ground floor of that sprawling house, she looked at all those things which had become a part of her life since three years. The teak wood furniture, the sideboards with the silver plates and glasses the family dined on… the 80 year old Thanjavoor Veenai on its stand. It was her mother in law’s prized possession. It had belonged to her mother and, though Aghalya did not play the instrument, she patiently took care of it as a family heirloom. Wondering what Amma would do with that Sneha walked towards that puja-room and threw the doors open. Unlike other households, their puja room was not small, dark or dingy. It was a large room with a niche on one side where all the ‘Golu Bommais’ were packed and kept waiting to be taken out during Navarathri. Sneha knew that they were treasures… dolls and idols dating from the previous century lovingly maintained and exhibited… Some were very rare like the beautiful papier mache Banrutti idols of Alli and Arjuna… and of Mysore Maharaja and Maharani… Even the passage of time hadn’t dulled the vibrant blues and reds painted on the idols… The Marapachchis… the traditional wooden dolls decorated with jacquard and kancheevaram silk material…the Dasavataram set and the china clay artifacts, the minature bronze vessels and the Chettiar and wife dolls… Her heart ached when she thought of what would happen to all those… She turned away in pain and her eyes fell on the shrine of their puja room. The various idols that had been worshipped all these years …what would happen to them? She looked at the Salagramam, Appa’s father had got from the banks of Gantaki river in Nepal. The bronze idol of Krishna and small but divinely beautiful Rama, Sita and Anjaneya…The Vishnu and Lakshmi … the Annapoorani… Her eyes fell on the silver Ganapathi she had brought from home when she had entered her husband’s house after marriage. Her parents had been told prior to her marriage that she was expected to bring an addition to the puja room. She and her mother went ‘God hunting’ in all the jewellery shops. After inspecting dozens, she had selected that Ganapathi. She had felt very warm and happy when she took it in her hands that she had looked at her mother with shining eyes and said, ‘Amma, This is it!’ Now what will happen to all the idols? Troubled, she climbed back the stairs and lay awake the whole night while Sethu snored away by her side. She recalled the discussion among the brothers after they had returned from Raghavananna’s new house. After hours of argument and debate, they had reached a consensus… the house, with all its things, will be sold and the proceeds split into four… one part each for them and one for Amma. Ragini had wanted to buy the whole thing herself… but Mahesh had said he would not be able to rustle up enough cash at the moment. Sethu had, as usual, remained impassive, just nodding or murmuring whenever anyone looked at him. She could feel that the decision to sell the house had hurt him… But there was no way he could offer to buy it off… Not every Indian working abroad wallowed in money… they had mortgages to take care of…and other commitments… Disappointment and despair rushed over her again. The next morning, she asked Mohana about the puja room. Manni just shrugged that she was not planning to take anything not even her own Lakshmi idol. Amma, who just entered the kitchen had probably been hearing their exchange, said that she had asked Ghanapadigal, their family priest about it and he had advised them to immerse the whole thing in the temple pond… That was better than selling one’s family deities to some stranger… Looking at her mother in law’s face, Sneha was amazed by the change in her. Where had all that authoritativeness gone? Why was she allowing her very ancestry to slip away from her hands so easily? It continued to irk her and she felt restless and morose as days passed. Arrangements were being done about disposing the house and its belongings. Strangers started traversing through their home, peeking and peering… touching and assessing… A pall of gloom seemed to have settled on the house. Sneha could not bear it anymore. She decided to tackle her husband. “Aren’t you upset about all this?” she asked Sethu. “How can you keep calm when your very childhood is being wrenched away from you?” Sethu looked calmly at Sneha. “I have always known that it would all end like this. I have sensed irritation slowly welling up inside Periya- manni as years rolled by. I thought that with Chinnamanni’s arrival, things would come to a head….but Appa and Amma knew how to hold their fort and we went on pretending nothing would happen… Now that Appa is gone, it is but natural that things end up the way they have.” “And you don’t mind?” asked Sneha. “I have never talked back to my elder brothers… In fact, I daren’t even stand in front of them, let alone question them…You have to accept me the way I am…” Sneha’s eyes welled up. She said, “It breaks my heart to imagine the idols of the puja room being immersed in the temple pond… Please claim them. We’ll take care of them.” “ Are you crazy? We can’t take them with us to Canada. You know that the Salagramam needs to be worshipped with great care and devotion… with our kind of work- schedule, we’ll neglect it half the time…which is asking for God’s wrath… Leave things well alone,” he begged. But he saw her mutinous look and wondered if she would defy him… He was right. Defy him, she did. That night, as she spread the bed for her mother in law, she said, “Amma, I feel it is wrong to immerse our deities in the temple pond.” “ What else can we do? Raghavan has refused to take it. Mahesh can’t take it either… Ragini is not very interested in doing pujas and all that. You people will not return from Canada…” “ But…” Sneha said emotionally. “They are yours… part of our family… How can you leave them in a pond?” “ When your father in law passed away, I realized one thing… Nothing can change our fate…things happen when they have to happen…I realized that attachments to earthly things would lead to heartache … I don’t want anymore loss to upset me… So I have conditioned myself to be detached about everything.” “But I can not be like you, Amma, “said Sneha. “I don’t want to lose anything that hold dear memories for me and my husband… Please, can I have the idols and all the golu bommais? I shall take care of them…cherish them… worship them...” Aghalya looked at her youngest daughter in law. She sounded earnest. But she was not the one to take decisions any longer… She simply shrugged. The next day, when they sat for lunch, Sneha placed her cards on the table. “I am sorry for taking initiative and talking to the elders when, my husband keeps quiet. But this is something I feel strongly about and I want to clarify this. First of all I don’t approve of the family deities being immersed in the temple pond. It is sacrilegious. For generations we have been worshipping these deities and we owe all our comforts to the blessings we have got from them. They represent our faith, our values and I cannot let them be taken away from our own children and the future generations…So also the Navarathri dolls. They are valuable and I feel they ought to be cherished and not simply sold out to some stranger. I have a proposal. I hope my husband will not mind this. I want to forfeit our share of the proceeds from selling the house. Instead, I want the entire contents of the puja room to be legally transferred into our name. I know you are all wondering what I’ll do with it all… There would come a time when Sethu and I would return to our roots and at that time we shall resume the rites and rituals of daily puja ourselves… Till then, I shall request my parents to do the necessary… If any of you want to take any of those things for yourself, you can….now. Once I claim it all, they’re going to be my possessions and I shall not part with any of them. And I want all these to be recorded legally…” She glared at her husband daring him to defy her… Sethu’s gaze never wavered from hers. Then she saw it… a glimmer of a smile and an imperceptible nod. The storm in her heart started subsiding… she glanced at the puja room. Sometimes even Gods needed rescuing and it was up to her to do that now.