Just an old man crossing the road, shopping bags in hand, hesitating in front of the car,
Made my eyes fill up.
I wanted to walk with him while he crossed the road
He had to be more than 74.
Men more than 74 do live.
They shop, they walk.
They nag their children.
They call them all the time asking them to Google the new medicine they have been prescribed.
They trust their children more than the specialists.
Or they look for excuses to call them.
They call to ask if their married-and-mother-of-two daughter had got back home safely after her first drive on the highway.
They always have the answers.
They know what to do, when the steering wheel is jammed…
Once he called and mentioned some pain.
When he didn’t sound annoyed when I showed concern, I should have guessed.
But I never thought.
The calls reminded me to be more regular with the gym, not to inherit carelessness.
They force their daughters to get a paper and pen and write down the names of their great grandparents.
The ones who had to leave Kashmir in a hurry
Of a great grand mother who brought her baking skills and mouth watering recipes with her from there,
For a forever hungry grandson
Who years later, when he has restrictions on his diet,
Would describe to a non-foodie daughter
The huge oven in which she rolled arbi leaves
And stuffed them with …
I have forgotten what the stuffing was,
And now there is no one to tell me.
He had talked of how he had run after the tonga carrying his mother away, at the age of five…
All those December holidays when I had the first choice of New Year diaries and calendars
In exchange of copying all the addresses from the last year’s diaries
I continued to do this all my life;
Later I had to check his hotmail account,
And respond to his emails, response dictated over the phone
I did it out of habit,
I thought it was just a continuation of a chore I had done all my life…
I didn’t notice how I had never before checked his mail, only updated his address books.
I once chatted on MSN Messenger with my siblings pretending to be dad,
Who thought then why he had difficulty writing his own mail?
When he and his walking friend,
Like two little boys, tried making Grilled Fish in their never used microwave,
Me dictating the recipe over the phone
They made an absolute mess, finally eating a home delivered dinner of grilled fish and French fries 🙂
My vegetarian mom disapproved.
but I delighted in and defended his love for food.
He held ice cream eating competitions amongst the grand children.
How do you think of such a person as old?
When I locked the car keys inside the car,
On a hot summer afternoon, in a new city, feeling lost
He showed me how to open the lock with a 6″ scale, on the cell phone.
Once in South Extension a cow had come running, chased by someone.
And I screamed,
Dad came in between, as expected, as taken for granted that he would…
So wasn’t it natural that I never noticed he was aging?
Not even when I opened a Flickr account for him,
And loaded his collection from his young Photography Club days.
“You think you will keep me alive like this?“
And I laughed, “What a nautanki-party we are Papa!”
I was reassuring him, because it’s all a state of mind,
If you think you will live – you will live.
But we read about how we fool ourselves the fastest?
He wanted to talk about his younger years…
He wondered if the way we didn’t know of our great grandparents, maybe my grand children will never hear of him…
He was thinking of death.
And I told him some grandparents are never forgotten.
I told him what his grand children thought of him, how he was their hero..
I know I was always there,
There when he spoke so often of death.
Of friends no more.
When his sister died, he said she was younger.
He asked if it was going to be his turn next.
He was laughing I thought. I never thought he meant it.
I teased him about how many ice creams he would eat at my daughter’s wedding.
I wasn’t comforting, I believed that.
He called all the time,
He called when friends visited, while I shopped, drove, attended PTAs …
He knew what I cooked each day
And complained about how my mother won’t let him eat forbidden Butter Chicken or Gajar Halwa.
Or he’d call to say, like a naughty child,
How he ate salted, fried cashew nuts he wasn’t supposed to
Delighting in sincere concern!
He who was too proud to tolerate sympathy,
And he who had never any patience with advice,
Would discuss in detail my ideas of how to eat healthy but tasty sweets…
And yet I didn’t see the changes.
His talk of his childhood,
Of his regrets
And his pride,
And the things he gave up to raise us well…
His photography, rowing, athletics, horse riding, dramatics, reading and writing…
And I listed out which of his grandchildren had inherited which,
Especially the youngest who can eat without pause.
No regret there, I know I was always there,
And it was not out of any sense of duty.
So I heard his delighted laughter, at the mention of the youngest grandchild… while loading the washing machine.
I asked for advice while shopping for electronics
I called him when asked to pay a fine (He said throw the money on his face.)
I complained about Indian schools
And discussed Lalu’s Railway Budget and Cricket…
But I never got to say good bye.
Now that he is not there, I can see so much more of him,
In all that is missing.
I got a call from Reliance Communications, asking if I had some problem with the service.
I thought it was a sales call, but then she said,
“You’ve not been using the phone, ma’am.”
(This post started as a post about my mom, about how she was coping without dad, in response to Solilo’s beautiful post about senior citizens.)