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This story has been inspired by true life events.
“SILLY OLD HAG”, Jaavi mumbled to herself, but loud enough for her father-in-law to hear. She rolled her eyes with frustration looking at the deep brown stain on the new silk carpet, where he had just dropped his ‘chai’. “I am very sorry beta, the cup somehow slipped from my hands”, he said softly, his voice quivering. She gave him a disgusted look, banged the main door shut, and left for her kitty-party. She was fed up and had clearly not signed up for this nonsense of taking care of an old man!! It was so unfair of her hubby Adi to put this “additional stress” on her. She had enough to do in her life handling her part-time job, kids, friends and home! Hopefully by the time she returned from her lunch her good-for-nothing father-in-law would have cleaned up his own mess! Or else she would have to do it! Ugghhhh! So damn annoying…..she did not need this ‘burden’!
A tear fell from his eye, but he quickly brushed it aside. He slowly went down on his fours with a brush dipped in soap water and started to scrub vigorously. He knew Jaavi would be very upset if the stain remained. After all they had just bought this expensive beige rug from their recent summer holiday to Kashmir. That was the time they had left him all alone for two weeks. Obviously he couldn’t travel with them, as his pace of walking would slow them down everywhere. Also he would not be able to digest heavy greasy hotel food for so many days. Hmmmm….secretly he longed to dig into the succulent tandoori chicken or delicious Hyderabadi mutton biryani, he once used to devour. Now all he ate was simple home cooked daal-rice and vegetables. He did not want to become an inconvenience, or rather a ‘nuisance’ to his family on their vacation, so he had to stay behind. But he had felt very lonely in an empty house then, as there was no one to talk to except his old friend Mr. Mehra, who visited him once in a while to chat over chai and khari biscuits. And of course there was Ramu who would come everyday to cook and clean. But he was no company. Infact he was rude and arrogant towards him, and always behaved as if he was doing a favour. Like he was ‘extra work’!!
Just a few years ago things were so different. He was stronger physically and did not spill things so easily. He could even play tennis and go for a swim at the Delhi Gymkhana Club. But now his joints ached, and he invariably caught a cold whenever he tried swimming. He sometimes went for a stroll in the park close by. That was only when the car was free to drop him there. Which was rare. There he would sit on a bench under the Champa tree and remember his good-old-days. That was his only outing nowadays apart from his birthday when the full family would take him to the Club for dinner. He looked forward to that the entire year. The stain on the carpet was stubborn. He tried with all his energy to remove it, but it only got slightly lighter. He gulped, a lump forming in his throat. He was so worried, that it made him shiver.The anxiety was also making his heart beat faster. He wiped the sweat from his brow and went to his bedroom to rest for a while. Oh God! Why was he shaking? Was he scared of the reaction by his daughter in law and son? Or maybe it was his own guilt. He didn’t know. Earlier he had better control over his emotions. Every little thing did not frazzle his nerves like it did now. Why had he become so sensitive? Why had everyone gradually lost respect for him? And why were they losing patience with him? “Because NOW you are a SILLY OLD HAG, Colonel Amar Prakash”, he whispered to himself, and another tear fell down his wrinkled cheek, as he closed his eyes to take a nap.
He dreamt of his small ancestral bungalow in McLeod Ganj, nestled in the peaceful and cool mountains of Himachal Pradesh. His desire was to retire there with his effervescent and beautiful wife Khushi. She could talk non-stop, and laugh innocently from her heart like a child! Her radiant face and her black long plait, with a rose embedded in it. One that she would pick from their little garden every morning. Her voice…..it had been five years, since he last heard it. But he still missed her every moment. Khushi was gone. And so was the pretty house in McLeod Ganj. It had been sold by his beloved children. His son Aditya and his daughter Parul. They felt it would be better as it was too far away, to go often. Anyway during vacations they preferred travelling to hotels in new destinations. Also who would maintain it once their father was no more? They had discussed this it in front of him. Like he already did not exist. Besides they could use the money. Times were tough, and expenses were hitting the roof. Including the medical bills they had to pay for him. Youngsters these days did not think from the heart. So what if it was an ancestral home, with many nostalgic memories? They were being practical. They sold the house and divided the amount between themselves. He did not say a word. He just wanted them to be happy.There was only one thing that he looked forward to and the only thing that was keeping him alive. His precious four grandchildren Rudra and Rishi, (his son Aditya’s twin boys), and Avani and Dhruv(his daughter Parul’s children). When they were young he would tell them stories of his life, as a ‘Colonel’, when he was part of the Indian Army. They would listen wide-eyed to how he fought bravely in wars, and won them! And how he stayed apart from their ‘dadi’ Khushi for months together, when he was on duty at the border. How her eyes would light up when he would come home in his dusty uniform! Though she could have lived closer to him, he bought a small house in Delhi, and settled them there, so that his children could get a good education. He also received some money every month from his small plantation in Mcleod Gang. He took his family there during holidays and enjoyed seeing Aditya and Parul running about in the corn fields. Oh, they were so cute! Every penny he had went towards their upbringing. His aim was to see them grow into successful and independent adults. And that’s exactly what happened. Aditya was now doing well as a Chartered Accountant, and Parul was a dentist. He was so proud of them.
Years ago his little grandchildren would eagerly ask questions while they were transported to a bygone era. “Dada did you have a Gun?”, Rishi would ask. “Dada where did you first meet dadi?”, Avani would tease! But now he only longed to hear the word ‘dada’, as they were always too busy. He cherished the moments when they would spare some time to come and sit with him. But not once did he blame them. Their lifestyle was so hectic, with school or college, tutions, hobbies and friends!! Sometimes he would get hurt if they laughed when he didn’t understand their new lingo. I mean what was the big deal about ‘Facebook’, or the other thing that sounded like a bird…..’chirp’! “It’s called ‘tweet’ dada, cause the app is twitter!! Not chirp”, they would laugh! They were on their gadgets constantly. He felt like it would hamper their experience of a ‘real’ life. He rarely ever saw them reading a classic or painting a landscape or playing hopscotch! Once he told Avani that and she looked at him like he was an alien from outer space! “Play hopscotch? What’s that?? Dada, you are so outdated! I rather play ‘Candy Crush’ on my mobile! We love our virtual life, so please chill!” After that he didn’t say anything to them. But even the feeling of them near him, the warmth of their presence, as they sat engrossed on their tablets, was enough for him. He loved them dearly.
His eyes opened when he suddenly heard Jaavi shouting outside. What had happened? Oh no, he must have overslept, as he could see from his window that the evening sky had turned a melancholy orange. He was not feeling very well so he decided to lie down for just a few more moments, before stepping out into the hall. “Our gorgeous Kashmiri carpet is bloody ruined!Twenty thousand rupees down the f***ing drain! And it’s all because of Papaji!!”, she screamed. “Damn it J! For God’s sake calm down, he will wake up and hear you! I will tell him to be more careful!”, Adi replied, completely fed up with her constant nagging when it came to his father. “I cannot ‘calm down’ Adi. I love this f***ing rug! Trust me, Papaji will be better off in an old age home, where there is nothing around that he can destroy!!”, she yelled. “J….You know that I tried finding out about old age homes, but they are bloody expensive! What the hell do you want me to do?”, Adi replied, exasperated. “Why can’t he go live with your sister? We have done more than enough! She should share the responsibility right? Or rather liability!”, Jaavi was fuming. “Don’t be stupid! What the hell will people say……You know how society talks!”, Adi yelled back. “You can choose between society and me then!”, Jaavi shot back, before going into her room and banging her door shut. As he overheard their bitter conversation,tears flowed from his eyes and he could feel a dull pain in his heart. He hated it when they fought because of him, which was often. A few minutes later Adi entered his room. “Papaji how many times have I told you to be more careful. Now look what you have gone and done! Spoiled the new carpet! Jaavi is crying. Are you happy now? God, you don’t get it! We just want peace. Please give us some!”, he said sternly and walked out. He shut his eyes tight. He could feel the pain in his heart getting stronger. It was tugging and pulling and pounding inside of him. What was going on? But all he could think of was the brown chai stain on the silk carpet. He let out a deep sigh. He was so sorry……
The next morning, Adi, Jaavi and all the family members sat near his body that was covered with a white sheet and red rose petals. They couldn’t believe what had happened! Just in a minute. Just like that. With no warning, he just slept. Forever. Their Papaji had given them the ‘peace’ they wanted. Now what? Were they happy? NO. His grandchildren felt bad for not spending enough time with him anymore, and also for mocking him at times. His daughter Parul wished she had invited him over to stay in her house for a while, so she could care for him. Just like he did when she was his little girl. Adi felt miserable and was inconsolable. How could he say those things to his own papa? Obviously it was impossible for him to have the same level of endurance and capability that he did earlier. What was he expecting? And why had he taken him for granted all these years? Did he think he was going to be there forever? And not get hurt. Maybe he did. But now there was no bringing him back. Jaavi felt guilty from each cell in her body. She felt like skum, low and pathetic. He was always warm and loving towards her. Then why did she think it was fine to disrespect him? She was ashamed that she had made such a big deal about the stain on the carpet? Was it worth it? She wanted to take back her all her rude words. “I’m so sorry Papaji….you are not a SILLY OLD HAG”, she cried, hoping he would hear her somewhere.
Our parents are getting older. We all know that. Then why do we live in denial about this fact, and become intolerant at times? Let’s give them the unconditional love, patience and respect they deserve. TODAY. Because tomorrow it will be too late.