I loved pouring over your letter that came in a little late. Never mind, it was worth the wait for those five pages of your still undecipherable handwriting. Dad, you really are getting old. :), and your slants are getting slightly shaky.
You know how busy life is here Pops that I had to postpone this letter by a week. It is ironic that the topic that I choose to write today is about the lives of people who are at the other extreme of those we discussed in the last letter. Yes dad, I am indeed referring to my visit to the old age home, on my birthday. While I marvel at what my son teaches me through his ways, all that was left of me after that visit was silence and a vacuum.
Many of them, Dad - a sea of faces. They were about thirty couples at Karunalaya, each and every one of them, unique. Mr.Prakasam, the one who was so particular about his fitness was the first one that we met. Clad in his starched white kurta and dhoti, he was taking his morning walk in the garden. Full of warmth, that’s how he was. Mr.Prakasam shook hands with Akash, placed his palm on my head and then on Aryan’s and mumbled a blessing. Welcome, he said, we are all expecting you. We could only smile back, gratefully.
The woman behind my success, he introduced us to his wife, who had just emerged from the puja room. Come beti, she invited me, and then it was ‘ey chotu’ to a visibly nervous Aryan. She indeed looked divine in a simple chungudi saree. How could her children leave her here? How could they do away with such sweet parents?
Dad, each of them had stories to say; some happy, some sad, some heart-wrenching, some really brave. The Subramanians have shared sixty four years of marriage between them. And the love hasn’t diminished one bit, Dad. Mrs. Subramanian could hardly hear and said a different thing while her husband spoke something else. But her better half was patient, always smiling and trying to raise his already feeble voice to as high a decibel as possible, to convey the intent. We are old, he said, and our sons are away in a foreign land. We speak to them once in six months when they call up after sending us some money, he explained, while his wife just brooded and nodded. And suddenly, she looked up and smiled, as if there was no trouble in her world. Is that the slow insanity that old age breeds into one?
Seethamma was different. She was loud, frank and full of disbelief. Her husband was timid, unobtrusive and deep into the day’s newspapers. Seethamma seethed in anger. All you children, you don’t care about your parents. Why have you come here today? You distribute sweets or serve us lunch and go away. Does our misery change after that? She glared at me. The man, lifted his head up, threw a glance our way and then a feeble smile. Commotion, it seemed, was a parcel of his life. But dad, her question fascinated me, quite.
What are we to them, other than being people merely sharing a day’s joy with them (ironically, we hardly know whether what’s happiness for us, is happiness for them as well.) and doing the disappearing act after that? But Dad, I think the solace and the answer is that, we attempt, genuinely at that, to try and bring a smile on to their faces at least for a day; to make them believe that there are people in the world who still care; to massage out the numbness of a lack of love that has clung on to their souls.
Mrs. Parvati insisted she would sit next to Aryan. He reminded her of her grandson, she said. She insisted she would feed him. I let her do it. Aryan didn’t understand, Dad. Confusion was written large on his face. His eyes brimmed with fear. That night, he was quiet and finally asked me, Mama, who are those old people? I told him. I told him, they were like his grandparents, but they stayed there because their children could not take care of them. Why, he asked me, that’s really bad. I nodded and patted his head. Mama, I will take care of you and Papa, when you grow old, he said. I cried silently. After all that claim of ‘we will stay independent in our old age’ that I and Akash so often reiterate to each other, I still seek reassurances. And damn that, from my three year old son, who is yet to see the world, in all its beauty and devilishness.
And what’s with this Indian tradition, Pa? Parents would stay with their sons, but never with their daughters. Isn’t it unjust of the society to have moulded such a strange ideology? We grow old, and children are channels through which we remain assured. At twenty nine, I am already seeking it. I wonder how it would be for you. Don’t you wish you could stay with us, but you still deny yourself the pleasure, just because we all live the Indian way?
Papa, I am serious. I really wish you and mom would consider staying with us, for some days at least. I know how it feels Dad, to be old and staying away. Mrs. Srinivasan words still ring in my ears. She is old, frail and dying. When I turned to leave that day, she held my hands and asked me when I would come back again. Do keep coming, she said, it’s not for the sweets or the food, our tongues have long last that desire to taste. It’s only love and company that we yearn for. I look beyond the gates, everyday, seeing as far as my poor vision can let me see. I imagine I see my son and his family. But they never come.
Love to you and mom,
P.S: Keep writing.