By Rakhi Dalal
“Dada!! You are completely drenched in the rain! Hurry up inside or you’ll catch pneumonia!”
I turned abruptly and saw a rickety Chatterjee swaying from the columns of the porch. A sudden pang of cold seeped through my bones and I realised I was completely drenched. A torrent of rain was pouring over me. How did it happen? I remember seeing a peacock crossing over the hedge and landing in the front lawn while I was out for a stroll, but I can’t remember anything after that.
“Hurry up dada (elder brother)! Why are you still standing there??” Chatterjee shouted again.
I rushed in and was taken hold by Chatterjee who was himself sopping wet. He made me sit on a chair in the porch and brought a towel for me.
“Ki (why) dada, I was out calling you for so long, you didn’t even listen. What were you thinking standing in the rain?” he asked. I handed the towel to him and asked him to dry himself.
“When I was out for my evening walk, I saw a peacock flying into the lawn. Out of curiosity, I moved nearer and saw it had spread its wings to dance. The view was so mesmerising that I stood enchanted. But after that I don’t remember anything. I don’t know when the rain started.” I said.
“Ki? ek (one) peacock dada, eh!” fretted Chatterjee.
“When your boudi (elder sister-in-law) was alive, we would always take out time for an evening stroll in the garden near our home. Sometimes we would come across the birds. Whenever the weather was pleasant, we would wait in anticipation. She loved watching peacocks dance.”
He stopped rubbing his hair, looked at me and then hurriedly said, “Oiee dada!! Are you going to sit in this chair forever? Go and change your clothes. I’ll go and change too.”
When I reached the stairs to my room, I heard him again “And come back as soon as possible. I am going to make a good cup of ginger tea for us.”
Climbing the stairs, I wondered if Chatterjee was not around with me at this old age home, what it might have been like to spend my days here.
After I changed my clothes, I went downstairs and sat in a chair in the lobby. The lobby is the most ventilated place in the entire home. It has three doors and two large windows. The front door opens to the porch, the door to the right opens to the lawn-facing road and the door to the left opens to the kitchen garden where Chatterjee mostly could be found tending the vegetable garden.
I like to sit near the door, which opens to the porch. The porch extends to the portion of the lawn between the main gate and kitchen garden. It is very pleasant to sit here and have a cup of tea.
When Chatterjee appeared with ginger tea, I was engaged with the newspaper, trying to read the words, which had started to appear blurred day after day, even with my glasses on.
“Tumi cha khao (You drink tea), I will read it for you. Here, give me the paper,” said Chatterjee.
He snatched the paper from my hands and started reading.
“A man lynched by a mob in a village in Tamil Nadu on the suspicion of being a child trafficker. It is speculated that……”
“Stop, please stop. Read something else.”
“A priest accused for raping a woman in a temple in…….”
“Thamo, thamo (stop, stop). Isn’t there something good to read?”
Chatterjee put the paper aside and said, “My friend, do we really need to fret about the world at our age? Let’s have our tea in peace.”
I smiled. There was no use arguing with him. It would be better to see the doctor and get the lenses changed or I could just forget about reading the newspaper ever again.
“Didn’t Paarthiv call yesterday? I guess I heard you talking to him. When is he coming?”
“He wanted to visit this Sunday but I have asked him not to come.” I said.
“Ki! Keno,dada (Why brother)? What did you do that for?”
“I do not want to trouble him.”
“But he is your son! At least let him see you even if you do not want to ask for any help.”
“Tumi bujhte parchho na (You cannot understand). You do not understand. I can’t see him miserable.”
However, Chatterjee kept fussing over what he assumed was a mistake on my part. He said that in our final years of life it was very important to be closer to our near ones, to spend as much time as we could with them and most importantly to help them understand the value of familial ties, to leave a legacy of love and devotion. He, who never once told me his own reasons to live away from his home, kept trying to persuade me.
I sat listening to him, moving my head back and forth in agreement and occasionally uttering “hmmm” or “yes”, all the while trying to steer the conversation in some other direction.
“Who is the new occupant of room no. 3 on the first floor, Chatterjee? I saw her while coming downstairs for tea.” I said when his fuss became unbearable.
The question was more than enough to divert his attention, for his eyes sparkled in response while his lips curved mischievously.
“She is Ms. Rita Bhattacharjee. She had been living with her daughter till now but since she has married recently, Ms. Rita decided to become a resident of Anand Ashram.”
There was a reason why Chatterjee was elected the in-charge of the place by Ashram’s management. He was interested in the affairs of almost every resident of the home but still, there was hardly anyone who was not on good terms with him. Because of his easygoing nature and cheerful disposition, he was especially popular among the ladies.
“And she is a single-parent, she never married.” added Chatterjee.
This unwarranted information made me smile and I found him looking at the stairs. For a moment, he seemed adrift, as if a thought had overpowered him. In that fleeting silence, his face seemed to transition through different emotions but soon he spoke and his voice did not even betray his words.
“Dada, let’s have begoon bhaja (brinjal fry) for dinner tonight! Haven’t had it since last week! I will just go to the kitchen and ask the maharaj (cook) to make some for tonight. I’ll also have to check whether we have enough for everyone or whether we need to buy some more!” he said, rushing to the kitchen.
As always, Chatterjee had excused himself before I could ask something. Even eight months after I had come to live here, I only knew one thing about him and it was that that he was once a reputed chartered accountant in the city. I had no idea whether he was married or had children or any other relative and neither did any of the residents of the home. He never discussed anything about his life and would always avert scenarios where he might have to say something. But when it came to others, he would always make it a point to discuss their concerns. Many a time he had asked me to accept my son’s proposal of letting him take care of me, but I had always refused to consider the matter again.
On my part, I did try to explain what I dreaded but he just wouldn’t listen. How could I possibly recount the incident which had completely shattered me? Or describe the utter helplessness I had felt when I had decided to stay away from my family? It is strange that I still vividly remember the morning of that fateful day which would change my life entirely.
“Dadu, Dadu (grandfather, grandfather) I am ready for school. Where are you?” my four-year-old grandson, Robin, had called out from the gate while I was tying my shoelaces. From the day he’d been admitted to Kindergarten, I had taken the sole duty of taking him to school and then picking him up after school hours. That way I could get to spend more time with him even on his school days.
On the way to school he asked “Dadu, where is my Dadi (grandmother)?”
I was thrown off guard because the question had come unexpectedly. Radha had died when he was just two and we never thought of telling him about someone he could neither see or remembered.
“She has gone to live in God’s house.” I uttered the response that seemed standard to such questions.
“When will she come back and come to my school with you? Ayaan’s Dadi always come to school with him”, he said in somewhat grim manner.
I didn’t know how to tell him that she was dead and will never come back. “She will stay there forever because God needs her more than we do.” I tried sounding jovial.
After I left him at school, I felt perplexed. I went to Town Park, took a stroll and then sat down on a bench. In what appeared only a little while, I heard my name being called and found myself being shaken vigorously by someone sitting next to me.
“Sudipto, heya Sudipto what are you doing here?” With some efforts, I recognised it was my friend Amitabh who was shaking me. I looked around myself. The day appeared dim. I looked at my wristwatch. It showed six. How could it possibly be 6, it was 8 30 a while back! I asked Amitabh what time it was. 6 pm, he said.
What??? I screamed and ran towards my grandson’s school. I had to pick him up at 12 in the noon! How could time pass so fast? I had just came and sat down only a little while back! How could it happen? I ran wildly, screaming all the while. Amitabh ran after me, calling my name and asking me to stop.
It was he who took me to a hospital following my collapse just outside the park after I had run. He also called Paarthiv, who had been running around the city, searching for me. It was not until the next day that I regained consciousness. The first thing I asked was where Robin was. My son told me that when I did not reach back after dropping Robin, my daughter-in-law reached school, brought Robin home and informed Paarthiv. But it was not until I saw Robin’s face that I felt relieved. That one hour that I had to wait to see him after gaining consciousness was traumatising for me. Although I wasn’t at fault but the incident had left me devastated.
After all the tests were done, the doctors told me that I suffered from Alzheimer’s. The first symptoms had appeared early in the September a year before. Initially, it was just little everyday things that I had missed but it was that terrible incident which had changed the course of my life.
When the doctor told me about the illness in detail, I decided to be on my own. My pension was enough to take care of the medical bills and a caretaker when needed. It took me some time to find out a good old age home where I could avail medical facilities and help in future. When I told my son about my decision to stay at Anand Ashram, he was not only reluctant but also angry at my stubbornness, though in the end he relented. So some eight months back I became a resident of Anand Ashram.
I do not regret my decision. The only thing that I regret is not spending time with my grandson.
O how I miss playing with him! How I miss our crazy evening adventures to the garden near our home!
I miss being at home, staying with all of them. It is unbearable, but what is more unbearable is the thought of ever forgetting my grandson’s face or the thought that one day he might find a stranger in me. The thought of not ever recognising my son haunts me the most. But I cannot let him keep worrying about me every time he steps out of the house.
This ashram is a good place to live in. All the residents are nice to each other. There are different kinds of emergency facilities that one can avail. Then there is Chatterjee too. In these eight months, he has really taken good care of me. He has never left my side and has always helped me come out of situations, which could otherwise have been terrible. Though my condition has not worsened yet but the frequency of incidents has increased.
“Dada! Look what I got from the market for you.” I heard Chatterjee saying. I looked at my wristwatch. It was 8 in the evening.
When did Chatterjee go to the market? How long have I been sitting here? I thought.
Just then, I heard the ruffle of clothes. I looked up and saw a pack of sandesh (sweets) in his hands. He handed it to me and then stepped aside cheerfully.
I saw Paarthiv standing behind him near the front door.
Tugging at his trousers, there stood in the corner my darling little grandson. He looked at me, perplexed, still tugging his father. When Paarthiv asked him to step forward and meet me, he gave out a loud cry. And then with a sudden jerk, he leapt forward and put his little arms around my neck and began crying. I hugged him tightly and cried too.
Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ . She lives with her husband and a teenage son, who being sports lovers themselves are yet, after all these years, left surprised each time a book finds its way to their home.
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