I strolled out of my room as I heard a couple of girls twittering merrily downstairs, girls in their late sixties. My mother was sitting in the drawing room along with her elder sister, recalling one among the countless memories they’ve garnered over the length and breadth of seven decades. My Khala Ammi, in spite of her weak eye sight and chronic arthritis, still manages to handle her household chores on her own, constantly refraining from seeking help from others for her personal tasks. She was reclining on the sofa, intently trying to peer through her glasses to make a slip knot, so that she could embark upon her favourite pastime – knitting.
Both, my mother as well as my Khala Ammi have spent their lives struggling against the vicissitudes of life, toiling hard, day in and day out, making it through the blahs of winter and the fragrance of spring, to eventually settle down in the arms of senescence.
At the present juncture of their lives, the sexagenarian siblings have little to care for and hence they can afford to spend their time on their petty indulgences, reliving the sweet recollections of their life and dispensing off their hard earned wisdom to the younger proteges. I am looking at both of them, standing outside the room. They seem to be discussing a past event. Someone’s wedding? Maybe.
I am amazed at the flow of their conversation, the manner in which both of them seem to recall even the subtlest details of an event that may have transpired almost couple of decades ago, or even more. They chat leisurely, hardly looking at each other. Neither of them is in a rush. Neither of them has a worried father to answer to about their whereabouts or a sweet husband, anxiously waiting for them to return back home. Most importantly, neither of them is bored.
As a kid I was really fond of my maternal grandmother’s home. In fact, I am still very much attached to it. I recall the manner in which my late grandfather would single out the ripe mangoes out of the pile stock, so that I could feast upon them sumptuously after I’d return back home in the evening, enervated by the sprinting and jostling I’d engaged myself in, during the whole day. I was really fond of litchis. In fact, fond would be an understatement. I could share anything with my siblings- toys, clothes, books, anything, but not my share of litchis. Grandpa would willingly oblige to all my tantrums and buy an extra bunch of litchis to ensure that I peacefully devoured my share of litchis, without pinching the share of my siblings. Whenever it was time to bid adieu to my grandparents, my grandpa would step forward and place a 100 rupee note in my pocket.
Strangely enough, I do not recollect much of my grandpa’s death. I just remember that I’d stepped down into the grave, to help lower his corpse in it. Tears welled up in my eyes, as I picked up a handful of soil in my hand and turned it over into his grave. In accordance with Islamic traditions, I repeated my action thrice declaring the words “In the name of God, the great!” Though, I remember one more thing. Perhaps, for the first time in my life I’d cried for a dead person. I wished that he’d return back. “Grandpa, please come back. I promise, I’ll be a good child. I’ll study diligently. I won’t play outside in the afternoon. I won’t steal jaggery from the closet…
Of course, I was just a child. Until that moment, I had never surmised the possibility of my grandpa’s death. I thought that life would carry on in its usual rhythm. I’ll grow up, to be a successful person. When I start earning well enough, I’d gift grandpa a whole bunch of his favorite Rothmans cigarettes. He’d be there at my marriage, gracing us with his blessings. Occasionally I’d crack a joke about his decrepit hearing faculties and how we’d say Nai (barber) and he’d hear Chai (tea). The plan was perfect, except that I had not envisioned for the possibility of his untimely death in my scheme of equations.
Our elders do not wish to entangle us in the cobwebs of their beliefs and rituals. They feel disconsolate over the iconoclastic attitude of the younger generation, spewing volleys of abuses at the traditions,they’ve followed since eternity. We might not agree with their opinion, their beliefs, their rituals but we have no right to defile their reverential values.
I wonder what they really need from us. I’ve realized that more than anything, they crave for our time and attention. They long for a person who’d invest his time for them, lend an ear to their myriad of stories, ascertain their opinion on the current political scenario, drive them to recount anecdotes from someone’s personal life, seek their wisdom over critical matters and most importantly, reassure them that even at this age they’d offer stiff competition to the boys in matters pertaining to charm and elegance. At the end of it, they’ll place their hand on your head and grace you with their blessings. In an age where brothers slit each other’s throats over selfish pursuits, these blessings are truly worth their weight in gold. Lower your wings of affection for them, for when they’ll be gone, you’ll realize that your existence has been deprived of an invaluable asset. In moments of turbulence and turmoil, you’ll have no one to turn to and your home, in spite of all its riches and grandeur, would always seem hollow and incomplete.
At least, be mindful of one thing- As the spokes of time gather momentum, a time will come when the blemishes on your face as well as on your intellect will grow prominent, forcing you to subside to a rather reclusive lifestyle. Remember, the old adage is- As you sow, so shall you reap.I look at both of them. They are completely at peace with themselves. I don’t know what they looked like, in their youth. To me, both of them looked much more beautiful now, experience being their greatest jewel.
I enter the room and offer help, creating a loop by taking the long end of the yarn and winding it over the top of the shorter end. I kiss both of them on their foreheads and leave the room.
Our elders are a lot more precious, than we think.
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