Aching For a Foothold
through his spectacles he sees
a stranger’s face
With wrinkled forehead and piercing eyes, his unsteady gait more visible, he
comes closer to look at the young man standing at the entrance door. Then
suddenly, throwing his hands out, he exclaims with a great show of outward
Come in. Come in, Chintu.
I presume you have come to enquire about your great aunt’s death, thirteen
days ago? We cremated her with all the Hindu rites, performed as per our
It’s a strange feeling that after sixty-six years of togetherness, I am
single again. My family, as you know, was huge once when my five children
were small. Kids take off and slowly your great aunt and I just grew
accustomed to being by ourselves – much like the river Cauvery that swells
in the monsoons then becomes so thin it becomes a drawn line.
In India, it is an unwritten rule that the sons take care of their parents.
Yet I never took care of my parents – can I now expect my son to take care
of me? He is in London doing exceptionally well in investment banking. Money
is no yardstick to how successful you are, so they say, but that is all an
old theory now. Money talks, so it’s always been, young fellow. Even in
those days how high you reached in your office was given more importance or
weightage, as we’d say. Now, I don’t know if there is a word like that, but
we use this word “weightage” in my mother tongue, Tamizh. Actually one
shouldn’t go very deep into words - look what a stupid word “mother tongue”
is. God alone knows how it came into being!
Anyway, to go on with my story. I must stay on topic. You must put up with
my way of talking. Old people can’t tell a story straight – we have too many
things stored up in our heads that we ramble, but be patient. You will learn
a lot out of this. Now each one of my four daughters wants me to stay with
her for a time. Only for a time? Then where do I stay rest of the time?
I was 21 years old when I married your great aunt Ambika; I am now 88. At
this time in my life can I shuttle between my four daughters, each in
another corner of the world? Plus it won’t work for other reasons as well.
We men always say that no two women can live together, but take my word,
women bond together very well. Men have such inflated egos that we are the
ones who cannot adjust to each other. I won’t be able to adjust to being
with them even for a day.
on the window frame,
the chameleon changes its colors
My son and my daughter-in-law are here. They keep insisting that I will feel
miserable in London! I keep telling them that I am ready to go with them. My
daughter-in-law says, “But Papa, you have your temple, your friends here.
What will you do there? It’s a foreign country, Papa, try to understand.”
How can I tell her that I am frightened of living alone? Won’t my grand
children laugh at me?
In fact, a long time ago I told my wife we should go for the –
Ah! What a sweet wife she was, how pretty to look at, not the way
these beauty queens look today.
Tell me, young man – just whisper into my ear. Do you really like these
girls? So thin – they look like bamboo sticks! No shape and no curves. Why
do you smile? You think that beauty can be appreciated only by you young
fellows? Ha! During my college days, my favorite actress was Madhubala.
You know I had her picture in my diary till my wife, your great aunt,
discovered it one day.
What! She screamed, “You worm!”
I snatched the photo from her and tore it. Afterwards I went into the
bathroom and cried, because during my time at college I fantasized about
Madhubala. She became like a room mate. And now, she was no more with me.
Anyway, like I was telling you. Where was I? Do not interrupt me, young man.
. . I lose the thread of my thoughts, you see . . . ? Ho! That reminds me of
that poem by Rahim –
Do not cut the thread of love impulsively,
once broken it can not be mended,
and even if mended, the knot still remains
Closing his eyes, he says, what a beautiful thought. . .
Ha, yes. Coming back to my story, I told my wife that we should buy a flat
in one of those senior citizen housing schemes. Had we moved in there, I
would have made my own friends by now – people of my own age. And we could
all sit and discuss the younger generation, which is a “gone generation.”
For nothing at all they worry. For everything they fuss. If a child fails in
nursery – ho ho ho! How can a child fail in nursery? You tell me? Anyway, if
a child fails they have serious arguments about whose fault it is – and the
blame game starts and goes on and on. . Okay, let’s leave this topic,
because I see no end to it.
Now hear this, I read it long back somewhere, I forget –
Old age looks back. Youth looks forward. Middle age looks worried.
Laugh, young man! Where is your sense of humor? I say, laugh.
The biggest fault of mine was that I listened to my wife too much. I should
have put my foot down and booked that flat for seniors. Now, see my
predicament? My loving son wants me; my daughter-in-law does not want me.
Now look at the word daughter-in-law closely. Only by law she is my
daughter. Law means force. In force, there can be no love. What a beautiful
What? What did you say? Don’t whisper. Talk aloud, boy. My ears are old too.
I am contradicting myself? Oh! About words? Okay. I am sorry. You see, one
thing I’ve learned in life is to say sorry. It makes life easier, especially
married life. Just say it aloud, whether you mean it inside or not. There is
Shantham. Peace. That’s what matters.
Now tell me what course to take? I will take your advice. You tell me. What
is your profession you said? A lawyer. Very good. Tell me.
You have to go? Yes, I know I have taken a lot of your time. Yes. Thank you,
please come again. It was a pleasure discussing things with you.
I can tell you are a brilliant lawyer. You have my blessings for a bright
leaves on leaves –
thoughts on thoughts
the autumn mind
© Kala Ramesh
Loch Raven Review Spring 2006 Vol. II, No. 1
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