by Nuzhat Khan
The shrill call went unheard and the loud snoring continued to fill the hot room.
“You have slept again Bheem! Wake up!”
Deepak Bora adjusted his posture and mask hurriedly. It was his five-year old granddaughter who caught him dozing off but still the embarrassment crept down his nerves. He coughed a little to stabilize his voice.
“No no, I was not sleeping! I was busy thinking how to kill that monster.” Glibly he tried to cover up.
The little girl’s eyes shone victoriously and immediately she plunged her hand in to her pink doll-bag to fetch up something.
“Here, eat this laddoo quickly, it will give you power to fight.” She repeated Chutki’s words-one of the characters from their favorite cartoon series on TV.
He smiled freely behind the mask without any fear of getting reprimanded by his granddaughter for spoiling the game. Carefully, he grabbed the crumbled-paper ball and feigned to eat the energy-booster paper laddoo quickly.
“Papaji…Tia…come it’s time for lunch.” Ritu, his daughter-in-law called.
Reluctantly they both had to keep everything back in the toy’s cupboard and come back for the lunch. Ritu complained about the delay in meals due to their pretend games and how it lead to further delay in their entire day’s routine. And Deepak Bora did not take the complaining well. Ritu was a nice girl, managing everything carefully, right from his medicines to his favorite food. She was sincere and thoughtful. But that’s not what he wanted. He hated the fact that his daughter-in-law was taking care of him…he hated the fact that somebody else was taking care of him where it should have been his wife, his companion of thirty-three years.
How swiftly the plans changed?! They were supposed to finally live their life peacefully after the retirement. The responsibilities were over; the liabilities were taken care of, now there was nothing left which could force them to hold back their desires. They would move out or ask their son to find a place of his own whichever would happen more tactfully. He would take a long holiday before opting for re-employment for he hated the idea of sitting idle at home and not working.
“Just stay at home and see for yourself how occupying things are here.” His loving wife used to tease him with that. He would ignore her remark and smirk haughtily at her stressing on his desire to join again but he wanted to show her the world first, to make up for all her wishes he could not fulfill earlier. They would go on a long trip. To all the religious places, famous temples may be even abroad where his daughter was settled and they would take flights every time. His wife had expressed her desire to travel by plane for she had never been on one. He would do everything he could not do earlier to make her happy and fall in love with him again. Every morning would be a smiling treat and every evening would be a cozy bliss.
But who knew that all his plans would shatter one unfortunate morning. Now he had to talk to himself sitting idly in the balcony observing the hot afternoon-sun going deep orange. Sulking and complaining and brooding would not help. He had to choose a different course. The older plans would do nothing except haunting him for life.
So he gave up the idea of living alone. Nothing but excruciating loneliness would be totally undesirable. He had to come up with new options, new ways to spend his days peacefully.
Morning and evening walks in the nearby park could help. He could actually be amid the greenery he used to admire from a distance till now. An effort to merge in with the same-age men in the park could turn out to be beneficial too who had the ability to start a conversation about spirituality but then wisely lead it to the politics.
He even tried to find solace in the silly games too with his five year old granddaughter. Probably that’s the best for him to just vanish in to the world of fairy tales and princesses and monsters and he was thankful that at least in this world the monsters were not real, they would not gulp down the loved ones forever and leave you abysmal.
He put on Jaggu, the monkey’s mask this time and began scratching his arm pits frivolously leaving his granddaughter roll into peals of laughter. He loved this game with the masks because it helped him hiding his moist eye-lids well and he was relieved with the fact that in this world the endings were always happy.
But as soon as the games end, the loneliness would start
gnawing at his peace of mind. The son was busy and used to come late in the night. Though he tried his best to spend time with him but why did it always feel insufficient? The company of fellow senior citizens was okay but soon the ennui would sneak in the conversations. Spirituality and politics were okay but how could he stop the discussions digressing into the dark topics of reality.
He would stare at the photo of his wife for hours when the daughter-in-law and the granddaughter went for the afternoon siesta, sometimes lovingly, sometimes longingly but most of the times accusingly for leaving him alone in this mad unfriendly world. He missed his wife badly but missed the friend that he had in her the most.
No matter what he tried, the vacuum in his heart would not let him live happily. In the night, when the world went silent, he would stare at the ceiling, transforming it into a projector of his memories. That night too he replayed every happy moment in his head till the time a disinterested sleep took control of his thoughts.
He woke up by loud noises coming from the street. The bickering voices turned unpleasant. It took him a while to identify one of them as his daughter-in-law’s. He rushed outside to find out what was happening. His daughter-in-law was being crowded by annoying neighbors. The Mehtas must have picked up a fight with her over parking issues.
He went closer to step in the contention.
“How dare you speak about him like that? Do you know he is one of the oldest and most respectable residents of this colony? What do you know about him? He is always ready to help others. He even helped you carrying buckets full of water when your tank broke last summer but you are so thankless! What happened if he parked his car just a foot ahead in front of your gate? You could have asked politely. What is the reason for being so hostile? I am telling you, this should be the last time you addressed my father this way. I won’t tolerate it again.”
He jerked his feet to stop. His daughter-in-law was fighting the world for her father not father-in-law he noticed. He felt a strange emotion gushing through his veins. An annoying lump started forming in the middle of his throat. He tried to shrug off the discomfort but could not do so.
All this time he addressed her as his daughter-in-law, never even once he took her as “Daughter.”
Ritu turned to find him staring blankly at her. She composed herself and rushed toward him.
“It’s nothing Papaji. Let’s go from here. There is no point troubling ourselves over such heartless people.”
He turned obediently and started walking with her.
“I am sorry Papaji. You were sleeping; I thought why to disturb you and went to get milk and bread for the breakfast. But these Mehtas were waiting for me I think. They caught me as soon as they saw me and started saying disrespectful things about you. I could not control myself; I had to give them back.” She spoke hurriedly out of sheer nervousness.
“Where is Kuku?” Deepak Bora asked.
“He had to leave early today. Some important presentation is there in the office. Shall I get tea for you?”
“No!” He said sternly and observed his daughter stiffening at his word.
And then he let a roar of laughter out which startled her a little.
“I will make tea today. It will be your reward for being brave out there.”
Ritu protested but had to give up against an adamant Deepak Bora.
He made tea while she arranged the grocery and both of them talked over the warm cup of tea till the granddaughter woke up. How easily both of them talked he realized. Why did it not happen earlier? He could have many such nice chats while sharing her chores. Why did he seek happiness outside when it was present right here. Strangely the life felt easy. A new friend, an unexpected friend filled the life with warmth and love that once felt lost. Now there was no haunting loneliness, no more silent soliloquies and no complaints.
Ritu got up to attend to her daughter when Deepak Bora called.
“Don’t call me Papaji now.”
“What?” She asked with wide eyes reflecting a hint of fear.
“I said, don’t call me Papaji.”
“Then what should I call you Papaji?” Her toned softened as she observed a streak of happiness and excitement on Deepak Bora’s face.
“Friend would be nice but Papa is even nicer.”
And this time Deepak Bora did not attempt to hide his moist eyelids.***