A Shot Story - by Debleena Roy
They met everyday at the Park. They had their own bench in the middle of the park.
Away from the health conscious joggers who ran up and down the park in their striped sweats.
Away from the small children who chased multi-coloured balls behind the trees and their anxious mothers and ayahs who chased them in vain.Away from the happy, swinging swirl of arms, legs and smiles that gazed down from the swings with the innocent laughter of childhood.
Away from the young lovers looking for a moment of privacy amidst the mad bustle of the city.
And away from the old ladies of the neighbourhood who walked haltingly around the park complaining loudly about rheumatism and the maids who refused to clean properly these days. They met unfailingly every day at 5 p.m. – the five old men: Mr. Das, Mr. Gupta, Mr. Rastogi, Mr. Iyerand Mr. Sen.
They had all retired from well-paying jobs in the city. Their children had now grown up and were spread across the country and indeed the world. Between them, they covered US, Australia, UK, Dubai, Delhi and Bangalore.
The old men now lived in their old homes in Kolkata with their wives and their memories.
Retirement and loneliness had been difficult for them. When they were busy working, they had looked forward to the day they would retire and finally get to enjoy their life. Leisurely read the morning paper, have umpteen cups of tea and watch the world go by.
But when retirement actually started, they found it as tedious and monotonous as the years they had spent working tirelessly and planning for this day.
As the initial few days of novelty wore off and they realized they no longer needed to get ready by 9.00 a.m. and rush to reach office; they found the lack of routine disturbing and worrisome.
They found every tomorrow same as yesterday and wondered if this was what retirement was about? Finally bored within the confines of the four walls, one by one they discovered the park. And Mr. Das discovered them there.
Mr. Das - there never seemed a person more cheerful, more full of life or so full of plans than him.
He had retired a year earlier. He introduced them to Mr. Gupta who had retired earlier that year and had recently started his park visits. Mr. Iyer, Mr. Rastogi and Mr. Senwerethe latest to join the retirement gang. They had all lived close by but somehow never met each other earlier when they were all busy running the corporate race. They never had time before for a leisurely stroll down the park or a lazy conversation sitting on the benches in the park.
Well, time was all they now. But instead of feeling happy about it, Mr. Gupta, Mr. Iyer, Mr. Sen and Mr Rastogi found themselves feeling sad and unhappy.
Mr. Gupta was just recovering from a painful knee operation and was forever full of gloomy discussions about unsuccessful operations.
Mr. Iyer had worked in the financial services sector. He considered himself an expert on financial matters and constantly predicted the next financial collapse.
Mr. Rastogi was worried about his daughter. She had gone to Dubai with her husband two years back and he didn’t know why she didn’t want to come back home.
Mr. Sen never stopped thinking about his finances. He was always plagued with worries about whether he had invested properly, what if he needed more money suddenly.
But as all of them came to the park with their worries and their thoughts, they met the ever smiling and positive Mr. Das. He was like a child, full of dreams and ideas and plans.
Mr. Das refused to let them feel sorry for themselves. Over hot cups of tea from the corner tea shop, he shared his happiness and gradually all of them started smiling and laughing a little more.
One day he planned a potluck picnic at the park. That day they were all supposed to get some unhealthy goodies to eat; things their wives would never cook let alone allow them to eat at home. So while Mr. Gupta bought small chocolate cakes from the neighbourhood cake shop, Mr. Sen got samosas in a large bulging paper packet. Mr. Rastogi had got hot jalebis from his favourite shop and Mr. Iyer had brought banana chips for munching along. As for Mr. Das, he had discovered a love for cooking these days. And he had cooked ‘payesh’ for them himself.It was only towards the end of the potluck that they got to know it was his birthday that day. And as the sun went down and the glorious orange sky turned blue and then black, they enjoyed the simple birthday party with the forbidden snacks.
As time went, they became close friends. They cried with Mr. Gupta when his son got a painful divorce. They laughed with Mr. Rastogi when he showed them pictures of his naughty little grand daughter.
They marvelled at the intelligence of Mr. Sen’s daughter in law who he told them proudly had just completed her Ph.D and was now teaching at Harvard University in United States.
Mr. Iyer and his wife had planned a trip to Egypt later that year. They spent days and weeks planning the trip to the smallest detail possible, reliving ancient history and modern economics as they helped Mr. Iyer make his travel plans. And Mr. Das kept them in splits as he recounted how he had unsuccessfully tried to navigate the escalator on his recent visit to his daughter until his four year old grandson had to literally pull him up saying; ‘It’s so simple, Dadu’.
He dragged them all for a health check up one day and they spent many happy hours discussing the status of their blood pressure and diabetes and what medicines they could use for them. Another day, he urged them to join computer classes. None of them knew how to use computers very well but at Mr. Das’s urging they found themselves back as the oldest students in the neighbourhood computer class.
Soon they were able to exchange emails with the favourite grandchildren and see their pictures on webcams.Most days they had long sessions of ‘adda’ discussing all topics under the sun. They spoke at length about the political system, the lack of progress in education and health care. They propounded their theories about the unsolved crimes reported in the newspapers. They wondered at the ease with which their children changed cities and jobs. They discussed new cities they planned to visit and funny stories they had heard over time.
But their favourite topic remained their grandchildren. For retirement had brought out the doting grandfathers in them and they never got tired of telling stories about their escapades. Rain or sun could not keep them away from the park. The five old men with their animated chatter and their overflowing cups of tea and happiness were seen every day at the park.
Retirement started becoming an adventure full of surprises and happiness for them and Mr. Das, their accepted leader and guide. The two hours they spent in the Park each day turned into the most eagerly awaited two hours of the day before they retired back into the quiet corners of their silent homes at night. But they had no idea everything was about to change.
The summer was over quickly that year and the unpredictable rains had brought out umbrellas and raincoats, muddy roads and dirty shoes.
It was 5 p.m. when they met again that day. But not at the park. They were at Mr. Das’s house. They saw his wife with her white sari staring in front of her with unshed tears in her eyes.