Thursday, March 5, 2009

THE SOLITARY COMPANIONS

Author's Note: Friends, HOLI the festival of Colours is nearing (10-11 March). I wish all my readers A COLOURFUL TIME WITH HAPPINESS OF ALL HUES.
This is a story of an old couple living a secluded life, a situation now becoming common even in the oriental societies. Hope you like the story. I look forward to more followers and comments.

It was the month of November but the weather had suddenly become cold for Delhi. It was a gloomy morning because of cloudy sky. Sudha had just recovered from a bout of fever but the old age ailments persisted along with perennial arthritis. A day earlier, she had taken out her woolens. For Delhi, it was rather unusual but she felt she as well as her husband needed them.
She asked Vijay Mohan her husband, a retired government servant who was still cozying in side a quilt if he wanted another cup of tea.
“Coffee,” he said not taking his eyes off from the newspaper. Reading paper in the morning was his favorite past time, rather the only past time after retirement.
Yes, passing time after retirement from a government job needs great deal of adjustment. Thirty five years with government leaves you indolent and inert. It is like an ox, suddenly set free from his burden. Suddenly, there is nothing to hurry about, no urgency and no one asking for you or shuttling around you.

It is difficult to grade how successful a government servant has been. Promotions come with years; good placements and postings by appeasement and recognition by pretences – seldom by substance. Vijay Mohan had a share of all. A middle path addict, one who always played safe - no overdrive, generally that is what most government servants come to be.
For his wife Sudha, Vijay Mohan has always been a lazy person, which was now a blessing in disguise- it helped in easy transition to the new life with fewer activities.

“Some time, I wonder how you would have lived without me. You always needed coaxing, someone to goad you. Basically, you have been a lazy man,” she had told him the previous evening.
“Not in all matters,” he had replied with a broad grin.
“You are incorrigible.”
Vijay Mohan reflected and then told her, “Tell me, didn’t you, somewhere from deep inside you, want me to be lazy? To be dependent on you, to be always running around you.”
“That is grossly unfair”
“I know it was out of love in days gone by and empathetic affection now.”
“You always like to win.”
“Of course, I do.”
She waited for a few moments and then said in a somber tone, “I never tried; in fact, I never wanted to win over you for I knew it would hurt you.”

The remark had touched him to the quick. Suddenly, it was a revelation coming to him after thirty-five years of marriage. He was shaken. He always thought her to be a simple, dedicated wife, seconded to him, heart, mind and soul with no opinion of her own. If what she said was true then he had lived under an illusion. The thought perturbed him.
Sipping coffee, he became pensive. Yes, now he remembered. Whenever there were arguments between them, she conceded. And if his judgment went wrong, she never reproached him.
“Never mind, things could have happened either way. Let’s forget about it,” she would tell him on such occasions.
“How easy it has been to fool myself and na├»ve of me to have continued with it for perpetuity,” he now pondered.

“Sudha, you make good coffee,” he said trying to get over his ugly mood.
“If that is a compliment, you repeat it too often,” Sudha tried to humour him.
“My dear, I was never parsimonious in complimenting. I have a vast reservoir of compliments not utilized to its full potential. It is like an un-utilized, idle capital,” he said with a sardonic smile.
Sudha ignored the remark.
“Now, get up you lazy bum. You have to go to the bank today.”
“Yes, I remember but give me another cup of coffee before I move out”
“No more coffee for you.”
“Half, no?”
“God, you are impossible.”
“Sudha, if that is a compliment, you repeat it too often,” he said with a broad grin.

That was the life Sudha and Vijay Mohan lived, spread over a narrow canvass. After Vijay Mohan’s retirement they were living in a small flat in South Delhi. Their daughter, Anita, and son Arun, were both married and settled. Arun had in fact, shifted to Bangalore a couple of years ago on transfer though Vijay Mohan and Sudha always suspected that Arun had managed it on the bidding of his wife to stay away from them.
Vijay Mohan had laboured hard in grooming Arun during his school days and spent his entire savings to get him an MBA seat in a reputed private institution. Sudha and Vijay Mohan were elated when Arun had qualified and was offered a position in a renowned multi national company.

Arun was now an awfully busy and ambitious like all middle level business executives. After hectic office hours, he generally had busy evenings. He liked developing contacts and partying with an eye on furtherance of his business prospects. Arun’s contact with his parents was mostly over phone or during a snap business visit to Delhi.

Their daughter, Anita lived nearby, at a walking distance. She was a teacher in a public school and her husband was an army officer who was posted most of the time on border. Vijay Mohan and Sudha took care of Anita and her son. They would often take their grandchildren to the nearby park in the evening and watch them playing. Those were the blissful moments in their life.
Anita was busier when her husband came on leave. During those days, she would leave her son with her parents. It used to be a big melee in Sudha’s place on such occasions. The children would run around, jump and shriek in the small flat, which at times irritated Arun though he never expressed his discomfiture.

Years rolled by. Arun and Anita were busy in their family matters and their children had grown up with their own circle of friends and they had no time or empathy for their grandparents. In fact, it was a painful realization for Sudha and Vijay Mohan that their grandchildren often avoided them.

A few years later Anita’s husband took voluntary retirement from the army and started a travel agency. He was not good at it and soon his entire investment was eroded. Besides, his flare for socialization left him short of money. The only option left was to wind up his business, which required clearing the outstanding liabilities. He pressurized Anita to ask for some financial help from her Anita knew that her parents had some savings in the form of term deposits. She was reluctant initially but he pressure from her husband mounted every day. She broached the subject with her mother. Vijay Mohan felt it was an outrageous suggestion but finally yielded and gave most of his savings to Anita.

It was the month of January. For a lonely old couple, days in winter are short and evenings are long and gloomy. Sudha was down with viral fever and virtually bed ridden. They could not come out for over a week.
Vijay Mohan had always been a bad attendant. He could never locate any article for he never remembered its normal place nor did he ever place a thing back at its original place, which made re-locating it a difficult and long drawn process.
“This house is in a mess,” he would shout but grin when Sudha found the item he was looking for.
“How did you manage in your office?” She once asked him.
“I had efficient people around me to take care of everything.”
“You are a thoroughly spoiled, un-redeemable gone case. But, to be honest, I am to be blamed for this.”
“Are you taking credit for looking after my needs?”
“No, I take blame for spoiling you.”
“Hope its not self complimenting?”
“No, it is rather a confession,” she said and smiled.

The doctor, attending Sudha told her to avoid exposure to cold. “Keep you woolens on. It helps in arthritis. The change in weather makes it worse,” the doctor had advised.
Vijay Mohan was nervous as was his wont. He always got perturbed by trifle issues. Of late, this tendency had increased. If laundry man did not turn up on the fixed day and the hour of the week, he would worry to no end. If Sudha didn’t return from market at the expected hour, he would get panicky with ominous thoughts haunting him.
Sudha on the other hand seldom lost her cool. She would take care of the house, the guests and all house-hold chores. Vijay on the other hand would lose his nerve if he found too many people in the house.

Vijay Mohan remembered the by-gone days as he handed over the tablets and a glass of water to Sudha. Yes, there used to be children and guests in the house, and Sudha handled matters deftly. In fact, she made things go smooth and problems overcome un-noticed. When required, she would give medicine at scheduled hour, prepare tea and snacks for the visitors and attend to rest of the house-hold without any hassle. Vijay Mohan admired his wife tacitly for these qualities.

Sudha knew Vijay Mohan’s predicament. “Why don’t you ring Anita? She can come and give you a helping hand.”
This infuriated Vijay Mohan. “You are laid down with fever for over a week now. Couldn’t she ring or send some one to find out whether we are alive or not?”
Sudha said nothing.
“It is a bloody selfish generation. I remember how you cared, days and nights for their comfort and look, today they don’t even think of us; have not even a minute for us.”
“That is the way of life. We looked after them as our children and they are doing the same for their children.”
“You mean children need not reciprocate?”
“Please give me a pain killer,” Sudha said trying to divert his thoughts.
“You spoiled them,” he said with a gruff.
“Yes, I spoiled all of you, I own it,” Sudha said managing a thin smile despite acute pain.
“There is milk in the refrigerator and there is bread and there are eggs. Make an omelet for your self,” she said trying to soften his ruffled feathers.
“What about you?”
“Give me corn-flakes with hot milk and try your skill in making coffee.”
Vijay Mohan gave her a stern look and moved to the kitchen. Sudha smiled again briefly.

Arun rang from Bombay and told him to take care when Vijay Mohan informed him of Sudha’s indisposition. It sounded a casual suggestion. Vijay Mohan was enraged. He took out a magazine and sat beside Sudha.
Then the door bell rang.
It was Anita’s son.
“Why are you sitting in the dark?” The young lad said switching on the lights. “And why didn’t you come to us?” He said looking at his grandparents and then noticing that his grandmother was lying on his bed, he continued.
“What is wrong with you, grandma?’
“Age, son, it is age.”
“Don’t talk riddles. You have not been coming to us and do you remember; you had promised to buy me a cricket bat. Next week is our school match and I must have the feel of the new bat.”
“Oh, I am sorry. You see I have been bedridden for the whole week. But I promise, I will get you one soon.”
“But I have to practice with it. Why don’t you give me the money? I will buy one my self.”
Vijay Mohan was incensed by the suggestion. Sudha cool as ever asked Vijay Mohan to give five hundred rupees from her purse to the young lad.
“Do well in the match,” she said briefly.
“I will and thank you grandma,” he said, picked up an apple from the fruit basket and ran away with the money.
Late in the evening, Anita rang up. “You should have given me a ring,” she told her father.
Vijay Mohan growled and handed the instrument to Sudha.
“Why shouldn’t it occur to them? They want others to do everything for them. Shouldn’t it worry them if they don’t hear from their old parents?”
“Vijay, take it easy. And now that she is coming to us in the evening, please stay cool.”


It was Sunday and Sudha’s birth day. Vijay Mohan always took great deal of interest in celebrating Sudha’s birth day. In the olden days, it used to be a hectic day for the family. There were phone calls and in the evening they would go out for dinner and make merry. Life then was full of mirth and joy.
That day they waited all morning, sitting close to the telephone, expecting their children to call. There was none, not even from their grandchildren. Sudha didn’t expect her son Arun to ring her for he had been often forgetting their birthday. It was always a belated greeting from him.
Sudha was sad and Vijay Mohan was anguished within but he didn’t want to spoil her day. There was whole day ahead of them and they did not know what to do.
Suddenly Vijay Mohan said, “Get ready, we will go out. We will drive to Sohna Lake.”
“You can not drive that long”
“We will hire a car. It is less than two hours drive and I remember you like the place. Let it be an exclusive picnic, birth day gift from me.”

Sun was mild and the breeze was pleasant. Vijay Mohan took a room in the motel and ordered lunch. They took the table overlooking the lake and had a quiet lunch. In the evening they came out and went to the lake and hired a boat. Sudha had brought coffee in a thermos and couple of cups.
“Additional cup of coffee, a yearly bonus for you,” she said handing him the cup.”
Vijay Mohan was moved.
“Sudha, I am very lucky to have you as my life partner. Today, I concede, life would have been terrible without you. Thank you darling for everything you did for me,” he said, overcome by emotion.
Sudha looked at him. She knew that he had been sincere to her all his life and that the words had come from his heart.
Tears welled in her eyes. She took his hands in hers and pressed them softly.

Vijay Mohan was then critical of his children.
“All our life, we strived for their happiness, tried to give them comfort even at our own cost. Shouldn’t they think of us? It is Sunday today. Anita could have come over or at least given you a ring. It is merely a sense of belonging that we look forward to.
“Vijay, you are over sensitive and that is your problem. You want everyone to be an idealist, which is a utopian situation.”
Vijay Mohan smiled. It was his typical cynical wry smile.
Sudha understood his feelings.
“You know I am often reminded of a saying –the cool far-end of a log doesn’t realize that the fire will reach it sooner or later - it is only a matter of time. What they are doing to us today, a day will come when their children will do the same to them.”
Vijay Mohan was dazed by her words. “I understand what you mean but it pains me that our children don’t realize that they have a duty towards us.”
“Look, let’s not bother. What matters is that we understand each other and make a perfect company.”

They walked along the lakeshore, hand in hand. The sun was going down, its golden arch making the lake surface aglow. The cool breeze was making fine ripples and there were little beautiful birds chirping around the green bushes.

1 comment:

Mukund Thapliyal said...
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