Note: This is the second and concluding part of the story. Do check out the story so far in Part 1 so you are up to date :)
I hear a tentative knock on the door. And then a question, softly: “Baba, are you asleep?”
I hear a tentative knock on the door. And then a question, softly: “Baba, are you asleep?”
“No. Come in,” I call out and my daughter walks in.
It is late in the night. Dinner is long over. And my daughter has come to see me.
My daughter, who is the most like me of my three children – the only one I had wanted to be there when I returned home today with the auto driver, but was not there because she was visiting a friend in a different city. My daughter, who is my only true source of happiness. My daughter – the only one who loves me for who I am, and not for the locked box I keep in the safe in my closet.
My daughter, who lives with us because she has never married. She has vitiligo, you see. Sometimes I feel, I have failed her there. Because even though she has always been beautiful to me, even with the white patches on her skin; I could never find her a groom who would accept her with her condition. Maybe I never really made a serious attempt to find the right boy for her because I secretly wished she never went away. Who is to say?
Because, you see, she is good for my ego. She is the one who loves me unconditionally. And that is why she is the one I will leave the locked box in the safe for. My daughter, Krishna, who has inherited my writing skills and is a published author in her own right.
“I heard what happened,” she says to me now, sitting on the edge of my bed so she can look straight at me sitting on the rocker near the window by the bed. There is no judgement in her voice. She just cares.
I smile at her.
“You got lost.” she says.
“Dada told me everything. He thinks you are getting on in age. He wishes you were more careful.”
I say nothing.
“Baba, you know we all worry about you,” she says finally.
“I know, I know. I will be more careful. And I will make sure to carry my Senior Citizen card with me at all times. That was thoughtful of you, to put it in my wallet in the morning before you left.” I say.
“It is not just thoughtful, it is practical Baba,” my girl says. “It is a necessity. There is a reason why these cards exist. Don’t ever go out without it Baba, okay?”
I agree with her. And then we chat for some more time, until she is satisfied that there is nothing wrong with me, that I am feeling perfectly fine and it was a one-off incident today that I got lost the way I did. Then she bids me good night, kissing me on the forehead – like I were some child who needed soothing, and not a seventy-seven year old man who is perfectly capable of going to bed without his daughter kissing him on the forehead. But I let her kiss me anyway. And then she is gone. As quietly as she had come. And I am alone in my room once again.
No. Not alone. That was wrong of me to say. I have my wife here with me. Some may say, having a picture of my wife hanging on the wall of my bedroom does not qualify as having her with me. But I know otherwise. I can feel her looking down at me from her perch on that wall. I know she knows everything that is going on here with me. I know tonight, she is longing to berate me for getting lost and causing so much worry to everyone at home. I can feel her presence here, in this room. And I can sense her disapproval.
Yes, always the disapproval. Although, it wasn’t there in the beginning. In the beginning we were young and in love and she looked up to me. That was the time I published many successful books. Young and old, everyone read and loved my work. She was proud of the fact that I was a popular author. When they decided to make a movie based on one of my books, she had visited the Tirupati Balaji Temple to thank the Lord! Yes, initially we were happy. Initially she wasn’t disappointed.
But then things changed. Being popular comes at a price. And we paid a heavy one. There was not much money in writing then. And despite several successful books, I still kept my day job with the government. That meant, that the only time I could write, was at night and early in the mornings before going in to work. As my popularity grew, I also started working on weekends and holidays. It was then, that she began to miss us. By now our children had come along and she was managing the house, the children and an eccentric me, all by herself. I believe that was when the resentment began to seep in.
When I retired, I thought I would now give more time to writing. But she wanted me to give more time to the family. I relented. Even though I felt it was too little too late. Our sons were grown by then, see; and we had even welcomed our elder daughter in law in our home. Krishna’s condition had been diagnosed and the family was finding it difficult to adjust.
Not me, though, never me. I loved Krishna the most, see? My little angel had come to us a bit late in life – and as a surprise! By the time Krishna began crawling, her brothers were well into high school; and what little time I had after work and after my writing, I would spend in her company, enjoying her toddlerhood – something I had missed with my boys.
And so it was, that when I retired, despite having the urge to continue writing, I felt I owed it to my wife to spend more time with her and the family. Money was not an issue, my sons were both working by then, and I earned a good pension. We also had some money saved up. And so I agreed to give in to the pleasures of a retired life. Sadly, that didn’t last long. My wife took ill and passed away soon after, of a seemingly minor ailment.
And that was when I was left truly alone. I barely knew my sons anymore, my wife had always been the one point of contact between us. My daughters in law barely knew me. Only my daughter was my one and only friend; and continues to be.
But of course, my wife is ever present here, in this room. She reprimands me when I make a mistake, or say something I shouldn’t. She sits with me by the window and we reminisce about the times past. It is good to have her here, with me, during the lonely hours of the night when I cannot sleep.
Now, as I sit by the window, she is unusually silent. I can sense her worry, though. Which makes me think of how worried my son must have been today, after he got that call from the auto driver.
Suddenly, a memory jumps at me, of an incident that occurred a few days back. We were all having tea on a Sunday afternoon and I had begun to tell my family some story from the past, when the children were young. And just like that, mid-sentence, I froze. I had forgotten what I was going to say. I had forgotten the words, the story altogether! They had all stared at me, initially waiting, and then realising that something was amiss. Krishna, bless her, though worried, had broken the sudden silence with her usual chatter. But the damage had been done, they had all seen what had happened.
That memory jogs another, when a distant relative had visited last month. He had spent the day with me, right from breakfast till dinner; and at night, we had placed him in the guest bedroom. The next morning, when I came down to tea, I had seen him and asked my daughter in law who he was! Krishna, of course, had thankfully come to my rescue. She had made it seem like I had been joking and no one had been the wiser.
But now, alone in my room, I think, are these situations related? No one has said anything to me, but, if my son suspects me of going senile, is he right? You see, there’s something else. I keep referring to him as my son because, for the life of me, I cannot remember his name! Yes, I can acknowledge this, to myself, alone in my own room, that I have trouble remembering my sons’ names. I never forget Krishna’s name, though; and I have always remembered the names of my daughters in law as Devi, the elder one and Maya, the younger one, although I hardly have an occasion to call them by their names.
Sitting here now, I realise that things are changing. My family is beginning to look at me as an old man who is losing his mind! I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. That I could make everyone see me as the respected, popular author I once was. But the seeds of doubt have already been planted. At least in my mind.
This scares me. And I am suddenly reminded of that thing I have in the safe. My sons and my daughters in law, they all know there is something in there, but not what it is and why I guard it so. And I have never told them. Because contrary to what they think, they do not know the value of what is in there.
You see, along with my wife’s old jewellery, there is a precious manuscript in my safe. An incomplete story that I have always thought of leaving to Krishna. So she can complete it, as I know she very capably will, and publish it.
But now, with all that I have been thinking tonight, I am afraid that this incident of me getting lost on my evening walk, is something I shouldn’t take lightly. I, one of the most popular authors of the country at one time, do not want to die a demented old man. No. I want to keep my sanity. I want to keep my dignity. And I know the only way to keep one’s brain working is to keep it busy…to exercise it…
I make a decision. I get up from my chair and walk to the closet. I take out the handwritten manuscript and place it on the table in my room. Tomorrow, I will start work on it. I will complete the story. And then, maybe another. Who knows? But I will keep myself busy. I will get back my self-respect.
I will not let them write me off, just yet.