Don't Write Me Off, Just Yet (Part 1)
Note: This is the beginning of the story. Do check out Part 2 for the conclusion.
It is all a blur. The roads, the trees, the shops that pass by, they are all familiar, and yet, unfamiliar to me. The bright lights that zoom past, are they streetlamps? Or lights from the shops? The buildings that pass, the bus stops dotting this tree-lined avenue, the playground in the distance where boys must be playing football in the fading light – it is all a blur. There must be people walking on the pavement, some waiting at the bus stops, some crossing the road – but to me, they are all a blur too.
I sit in an auto rickshaw and it zooms away, very fast, making me dizzy. I sit here, clutching the slim iron rod that separates the driver’s seat from the passengers’, and hope that the driver takes me home safely, in one piece. I know he intends to. That is where we are going, in fact – home. But the thing is, see, I had thought it was very close, just around the corner; turns out, it isn’t.
Well, the driver would know. He is the one who called my son – the emergency contact on my Senior Citizen Card – and asked for my address. I had, in fact, forgotten I was even carrying the card. But what do you know! It was there, in my wallet, as it was supposed to be.
It is ironic, you see, because when they had told me to keep the card with me at all times, I hadn’t been really keen on it. I was upset at being treated like an invalid. I know my way around this place, I had thought. I have lived here for over half a century. I have built my life here, from scratch, with only my wife by my side, my partner in everything good and bad. I have raised my children here, all three of them. I have walked these streets numerous times – sometimes alone, sometimes with family, many times with friends. What were they even thinking giving me that card with an emergency contact number and my age and my allergies and my illnesses listed? Did they think I couldn’t find my way home? Fools! Of course I could find my way around these streets! Or so I had thought.
Today, though, has changed all that.
The auto rickshaw stops at the gate. We have reached home. My son comes out in a hurry, the younger one. The elder one must be really upset to have sent him out instead of coming himself.
He thanks the auto driver for bringing me home safely. He pays the auto fare, offers tea and snacks to the driver; and eventually sends him off on his way. Then he turns to me. “Come Baba,” he says, “let’s go inside.” He makes to take my hand, but I refuse. He doesn’t say anything.
We enter the house and I see them all standing there – my elder son, my two daughters in law, and the maid – gawking at me.
“I would like some tea,” I say, to make them shut their gaping mouths and go about their work.
My younger daughter in law, Maya, rushes into the kitchen with the maid. I go and sit on the rocker near the window. My elder daughter in law, Devi, brings me water to drink. She smiles as she hands me the glass. “Are you alright, Baba?” she asks. I nod my head, YES.
“I am going to get dinner started,” she tells me, “do you need anything other than the tea? Shall I send some snacks?” She asks kindly, but it irritates me, to be treated like a child in my own home.
“No, no. It’s alright.” I say to her. “I will have an early dinner and go to bed.” She nods her understanding and heads for the kitchen.
I sit there on my rocker. The ceiling fan continues to squeak overhead, in its attempt at beating the stifling atmosphere in the living room, failing miserably. My elder son, standing at the other end of the room all this time, comes over. He stands by the window, his hands clasped behind him. His manner is very serious. He hasn’t said a word to me since I have been brought home so unceremoniously. I suddenly feel like a child playing truant, who has been caught by an elder.
“How are you feeling?” he asks, looking down at me.
“Okay,” I shrug.
“Why did you go to the lake?” he asks.
“I didn’t go to the lake,” I tell him. “I went to the park, as usual. And then I remembered the bazaar that is held near the park. I thought I would check that out. The next thing I remember, I was walking along a maze of roads. Didn’t think I could get lost in my own city. But what do you know! I did.”
“Baba,” he says in a gentle voice. Or what he thinks is a gentle voice. “You were nowhere near the park or the bazaar when the auto driver found you. You were in a completely different locality. Apparently, you had walked for over an hour in that neighbourhood. Do you not remember?”
I know I was lost, but it is only now that I understand how badly!
“I did think I was lost,” I tell him honestly. “But these things happen, right? It is a big city…” I stop as Maya, my younger daughter in law, brings me my tea.
She has also brought a few biscuits on a plate to go with it. I think I will have a biscuit, after all. But then I look at my son’s face and I lose what little appetite I had. Thankfully, when I take a sip from the steaming cup of tea, breathing in the strong essence of ginger, I immediately feel better.
“What?” I ask my son, who continues to stare at me with a frown.
“Baba, you are getting on in age. You don’t even remember where you were. I don’t think it is safe for you to go out alone,” he says.
I continue to sip my tea, avoiding his eye. But the brew has lost all its taste. He thinks I am going senile. My son, my own flesh and blood….this is what it has come to.
“Baba, are you listening?”
“Of course, I am listening.” I retort. “What, do you think I am deaf too, now?”
With that, I get up and leave the room. He stands there, properly rebuked. But his frown, his doubt follows me.