All that happened is that the sky became overcast…
The most difficult Bye
This was absolutely the most difficult Bye for me to say during this trip. Sundori-di lived in our neighborhood when I was in middle school. She was not exactly our playmate since she was about twenty years older to us. She was differently abled ever since birth. We did know that she kept to herself most of the times other than in the evening when she would go for a walk and say Hi to anybody who greeted her. But what we knew her most was for the beautiful way she used to play sitar. We used to often stand outside her house to hear her play.
Over the years, I had heard that some of her physically difficulties had become worse. In fact, I was given to understand that she had completely lost her eyesight.
When I walked into her room, she was playing her sitar. She confirmed that she cannot even detect light if it is shone upon her eyes. Advanced glaucoma robbed her of her eyesight very fast. It was nerve wrackingly difficult for me to comprehend her condition (I am an early stage glaucoma patient myself).
Being blind at birth is one thing. You do not know any different. You learn your way around differently from others, but like I said, you have nothing else to compare with. The concept of color means nothing. The beauty of a sunrise, the shape of a face are just vague descriptions that you probably make up your own imaginations about in your mind.
But if you go blind, that has to be a very very different situation. Above everything, you know what you are missing. There is a helplessness and frustration you have to feel for something being taken away from you. And this is just when you are sitting by yourself and reminiscing on what a sunrise used to look like. Never mind the times when you stumble your feet into the table simply because the world is freshly dark to you and you have not grown the natural instinct and intuition of a person born blind.
I quietly sat beside her and decided instead of talking to her about her life ever since I saw her last, I would take a different route. Softly, I asked her to play the sitar for me. Which is what she did. I let her know that I will be taking a few pictures of her playing and share with my friends. She continued to play intently for quite sometime time.
I realized that her sitar and music must have become her most trusted refuge. I did not disturb her any more to talk to her. After my time was up. I told her that I would be taking leave.
I could sense that she wanted me to stay but was reconciled to me leaving. It was almost like her eyesight. She had reconnected with an old friend only to realize that it would be taken away from her.
Certainly, that is the way I personally felt about seeing Sundori-do after three decades… It was very very hard to fight back my tears as I walked back to my waiting car…
When you realize that wearing shorts can be your calling card…
Two months back, I got a text message from Joyjit sitting in a plane that his dad had passed away and he was headed back to Asansol. Barely a couple of weeks back, Joyjit, Baisakhi and myself were discussing the worrisome condition of both their dads.
After offering him any help he might need, we agreed to touch base after he would reach Asansol. For the next couple of days, I was texting him regularly in terms of anything I might be helpful with and also enquiring after his mom. He let me know that she was being very strong. Somewhat relieved, I let him know that I would visit his mom during my next trip to India.
Apparently this is how the discussion went between him and his mom later (as described to me by Joyjit himself).
“Ma, ekdin Atlanta-r ekta chhele aasbey tomar saathey dekha kortey. Matha shave kora aar ektu paagla type-er”.
(‘Mom, there is a friend of ours from Atlanta that will visit you sometime. He is a little of his rocker and is clean shaven in his head”)
Before, he could help her with any more details (as if a clean shaven head “paagla type-er” guy in Asansol needs any more definition to be singled out 🙂 ), I understand, his mom jumped in “Jaani Jaani – half pant porey ghurey beraay to?” (“I know, I know. He is the guy who goes around in shorts, right?”) 🙂 Turns out, she had seen me once in Atlanta – I believe it was the house warming ceremony of Joyjit and Baisakhi’s house.
As you can imagine, I needed no further introductions when I rang the bell at Mr. Mukherjee’s house after about a four hour car ride from my parents’ place.
I overstayed my self-allotted time but it was totally worth it. It was very very interesting for me to understand the big change in her life she was going thru. She lives by herself in a big house that she has been living for a long time. And now, there are a lot of questions to be thought thru for the future.
When I asked her “How are you doing?”, she went on to very analytically explain how she was trying to deal with changes. It was a pretty methodical analysis of how a sudden disruption to a 49 years marriage is something she had underestimated. She talked about so many things one takes for granted when you are wth somebody for that long and that you have to learn one step at a time on how to fly solo. There were some great moments of reflections – and certainly I learnt a lot.
I did get to know a lot about her background, her upbringing and the common journey with Mr. Mukherjee. Of course, we also spent quite some time talking about our two Sunday morning running group participants – her two young and very cute granddaughters.
I was not very keen to leave as the sun started setting in Asansol. I could have gone for a few more hours but there were miles to be driven and people to be met still…
One great parting point – she is applying for a US visa to stay with her son and family for a few months to recuperate herself. Which means, I will have a lot of time to get to hear the rest of story.
I will wait…
Meeting Mrs. Basak
Partha Basak was my class mate from 5th thru 10th grade. I do not think I have seen him after that at all. I was very close to his dad – who was my ophthalmologist. Every year, I used to visit Dr. Basak to get my eyes checked. He would spot me inside the waiting room and pull me in to jump the queue and sit me down for all the tests. In between, he would pepper me with all sorts of questions about our school, our studies and of course, if Partha was being too mischievous in class 🙂 I had gotten to like him so much that if we ever went to the hospital for whatever reason, I used to often stroll over to his side of the building and say Hi to him.
I had lost touch with Partha for many many years. And once I did get hold of him, the first sad news I heard was that my favorite Dr. Basak was no more. I really wanted to see him one more time – this time I would even truthfully answer all his questions about Partha’s mischievousness 🙂 In any case, as I kept talking to Partha, I found out that his mom lived by herself in Durgapur. You can do the rest of the math. Yes, I did write down in my notebook that I needed to meet her next time I was around.
As I rang the bell at the door of what I thought should be Dr. Basak’s house, I was wondering if Mrs. Basak would recognize me. She had seen me only once.
Soon Mrs. Basak came out and answered that question for me. She gave me the exact details of what had happened on that one day she had met me. Turns out myself and a couple of school friends had gone to Partha’s house to visit him since he was suffering from chicken pox. Now, I had already gone thru a bout of the same and I was told that you never get chicken pox twice. Apparently, I did not listen to Mrs. Basak’s warnings about getting infected and unlike my other friends (who had not had chicken pox yet), I went straight to Partha’s room and started chatting with him. We were separated by a mosquito net. Frankly, I was aware of the incident but I was blown away by her recollection of the details.
Then came the downright hilarious part. She started inquiring after our school friends. But she kept calling them by their nicknames that we had for them. And I would be the one scratching my head trying to do the mapping of the nickname to the real name before I could give the updates. I was impressed that she could go thru “Professor”, “Ding”, “Masi”, “Seeshu” and so on without missing a beat !!
The last part of our discussion was a little more serious about why there are so many cases of depression in India these days. Most of our analysis was structured around how the framework of family as a unit as we knew it is undergoing pretty large changes with sons and daughters getting great opportunities all over the world – with the unfortunate side effect that during the golden years, there is not much of support structure or the near and dear ones nearby for the parents to live with.
Oh! how I wish Dr. Basak was around. Maybe he would have opened my eyes one more time 🙂
New day. New adventure…
Old order doth not changeth…
Three years back almost to the day, I had written the following post. Today, I experienced it all over again. Coincidentally, it is 5:30 am today too!! Maybe – maybe sometimes we can bottle up the good times and relive it again…
Here’s to the future!!!
March 25, 2013:
Best part of every day while in India. It is 5:30 in the morning – dad and I are sitting outside. Completely drowned in what seems like a million birds tweeting. Beautiful mellifluous sounds – especially the cuckoos. The rude noises of the world waking up – the train’s horn in the distance, the launch’s hoot from the Ganges and the clanking of cars in great need of maintenance are yet to set in.
The pre-dawn light is barely glimmering thru what promises to be a foggy morning and the light wind from the river is gently wafting by.
Dad and I have been sitting here for over an hour sipping multiple cups of tea. Hardly any words are being spoken – yet volumes are being communicated.
If only these moments could be bottled up and replayed at will in life.
Checking in on Mr. and Mrs. Banerjee…
Towards the end of last year, when it was Sharmila’s turn to be in India, I had about ten open evenings (it was holiday time). For ten days, I took one set of Bengali couple out every evening for an hour or so for a couple of drinks just to have an annual catch up, so to speak. One of those couples was Rituparna (also known as Dola) and Debjyoti (also known as Raja).
During the drinks, somehow our discussions drifted to our parents back in India and Rituparna talked about how her mom had fallen down in the streets of Bally near Kolkata and broken her right arm in three places. I had made a mental note of attempting to see her parents one of the times that I would be in India. I had seen her parents once – a few years back. They had come over to our place on a summer day and we chatted for a long time sitting by the pool.
Yesterday, as the nephews and niece were taking a rest between long bouts of games, my brother and I quickly slipped out of the resort and made a dash for Bally. After about 45 minutes of easy highway driving and anything but easy navigating thru narrow streets with open drains in Bally, we managed to reach Rituparna’s house.
My brother and I spent some quality time with Mr. and Mrs. Banerjee – pretty much continuing from where we had left at my house. (I absolutely remembered the last discussion Mr. Banerjee and I had at our place).
The best part was the house – built by Rituparna’s grandfather – it was like an oasis in the middle of the city. With quite some property around, it is surrounded by a lot of fruit and flower trees that Mrs. Banerjee tends to, as I understand. Took the opportunity of time to learn about the life history of both Mr. and Mrs. Banerjee. Loved their stories…
The gift of time…
“Kaku, amaakey aapni chinben na. Amar naam Rajib”. “Sir, you don’t know me. My name is Rajib”…. said nobody in this world to make an elderly gentleman completely comfortable with a stranger. And yet, that is how I found myself stumbling for words when I met this gentleman this morning for the first time in my life.
The story goes back many months when Satyaki, Amitesh and I had gone out for a drink together in Atlanta and Satyaki had talked about having visited his dad recently in an old age home in India. Later, Amitesh and I had talked about visiting our friend’s dad sometime when we would be in India. Amitesh beat me to the punch and visited Satyaki’s dad completely unannounced a couple of months back when he was in India. I am sure he had a much better opening line than me when I pretty much repeated his act today.
It was a great environment and Mr. Lodh talked about various things – his background, his upbringing, his stay in the old age home etc. I talked about his grandkids and how his granddaughter and my own daughter were once roommates in a summer course at Duke University. Really, the initial awkwardness was gone in about a minute.
Before I knew anything, another gentleman had joined us and the three of us were discussing Bengali habits, local politics and Durgapuja in various parts of the world. And then one by one they started joining in. At one point, I realized I was surrounded by six more residents other than Mr. Lodh. By then, I was in full swing going thru my repertoire of much recycled jokes about my shaven head to the rapturous laughter of my captive audience.
Eventually I ran out of jokes and somebody asked me where I was from. When I mentioned America – many of them lit up. There was the lady who mentioned that her son lives in Houston, there was a gentleman who mentioned about his daughter who is now married and settled in New Jersey and so on. I recognized that, at the end of the day, many of them were dealing with health issues when I realized that they were struggling to remember their own kids’ names and had to be prompted by their caretaker. In any case, I now have three or four more names to hunt down in the USA 🙂
An half an hour meet had already rolled into and hour and a half. It was getting to be shower and lunch time for them. They insisted I have lunch with them. I told them that my parents were waiting for me. Being parents themselves, they immediately encouraged me not to keep my parents waiting for too long.
I suddenly remembered that I had become so engrossed in the impromptu party (the proper Bengali word would be “adda”), that I had forgotten to take pictures. I took some pictures of Mr. Lodh and then had one of the attendants take a picture of whatever party was left. Apologize for the picture quality – this was the first time the attendant had held a smart phone.
On the drive back home, I was a confused mess. What just happened? It was supposed to be a semi-informal meeting of two strangers separated by about three decades. It was more like a true adda of seven or eight old friends. I did not know them. I had nothing to offer.
Except my time.
And that is when I again realized how time is the only truly finite resource that we have. Gifting time has to be the most rewarding experience ever. It was for me today, for sure.