I was Luckier
4th November 2006, was a foggy winter morning. This day was when one of our closest Uncle had turned 100! The local newspapers covered him on the front page. It was such a delight to see him play the violin in the pictures.
Age or time had not stopped him from cherishing his interests and likings. Be it the violin or the sitar , he was the Jack of all trades. Undoubtedly it was a great idea to visit him today. Things like a grand party , mementoes and music came to my mind. I kept wondering how his children would specially have made it to India from the United States to celebrate this day. What more could an elderly man expect , a family with great grand-sons and great grand-daughters, all around him on this day. I think it wasn’t too much to expect. He didn’t want those expensive gifts, I was sure of that.
As the day proceeded it became warm , and the evening was gently sun-kissed. It seemed the right time to visit him. On reaching his place, I could see a huge bungalow with one window throwing light out on the road. I went like…huh?!.. No party and no music ?!..
Well, fine. He could be wanting a small peaceful family affair. Without saying a word, I entered with my family. We had a bouquet of flowers, the least we could do.
No one answered the bell to a door which was half open. We chose to walk in and check it out. A gallery with no light welcomed us. I wanted to go out and check if we were at the right place?! We called out for Uncle. He calmly responded from the door to our right. Ah! there he was.. a man , a ton old.
We wished him , hugged him and each one found a place to adjust in a room which
was in a serious mess. The house seemed to me quite.. uh.. dilapidated. No lights and no fresh air. What could be more depressing on a birthday?! Some relief came my way when the conversations started.
We asked him how his day was ? He replied , “ It was good”, smiling his way to the flowers. They were red roses. I hoped he liked them because the bouquet was my job. But I was still wondering except the house keeper who served us water, there wasn’t anyone home? Were they all out..? Somebody ask ?
“Nobody else is home..Uncle?”, my mum asked. After pausing she added, “ Your children..?” Ah! now that’s called telepathy. Thanks Ma.. I thought to myself , we all were thinking the same.
He looked up and replied ,”No.. they are not here. All are back there in the US. No one could make it .”
I was like.. ’Are you Kidding’ They didn’t come for their Dad’s 100th birthday? Have they all lost it ? They couldn’t make it to India or they didn’t want to ? They were those kinds, who didn’t mind leaving Uncle in an Old Age Home ? I just read about such people, it was harsh to know someone like that. And I was wondering of those grand parties? I felt so outrageous and astonished. It actually bruised my thought process. It was difficult to swallow that one sip of water. I don’t even genuinely dare to dream about my parents like that. It was certainly a sad affair.
With no delay my Mum added with a false laughter , ”That’s true. Everybody is busy these days. But am sure they wanted to come. It must have been the flight trouble like last time. So when did they call, Uncle ?”
Oh! So they had a flight trouble last time. Strange. With almost a flight from New York every fourth hour, they had a trouble finding a place. Or suddenly there were so many people who wanted to see the Taj Mahal, that tourist visas were a preference than those proud , arrogant “Green Card “ holders. I grinned and felt like shouting , “Liar , liar .. pants on fire.”
He replied,”I don’t remember exactly who all called.” His face drooped. Probably it was the age to be blamed. Not his fault if he can’t recall. The atmosphere suddenly became tensed and uneasy. I thought to myself, “ Can’t we take him with us for a dinner..Please.”
“ Uncle, forget all that. Please come with us to our place. We will celebrate things there. Please don’t say No.”, my Dad said. Ah! now that’s telepathy again.. Thanks Dad.
Uncle smiled. His teary eyes revealed it all. So what if he was 100 today, everybody wants their birthday to be like a special day. I still like surprise gifts. He said , “ Fine.”
I was excited. A nice homely dinner was ready. He didn’t want to go out for dinner. We bought a lovely pineapple cake, which had “May You Live Forever” written on it.
As he cut the cake, I almost cried. It was a turmoil of emotions that anchored me. My grandparents came to my mind quite instantly. They all seem the same. Few things that always remain with you , if not people. Memories.
We got loads of pictures clicked. It was somewhat historic. Think for yourself a person who had seen the world in 1926. He shared his experiences of the independence fury in 1947. Wow! It felt as if he was a living history book. He also remembered seeing the Halley’s Comet in 1972. It was really unique.
All the history-talkies, were followed by dinner. I thought he would avoid things that were difficult to chew. That’s what my Grandpa did. But he suffered from no such hassles. No joint pains , no dentures , no blood pressure and no medicines. He said he walked almost each day. No wonder he’s hundred today, I thought to myself. It was one of the most enchanting dinners I’ve had.
Every now and then, he quietly wiped tears from his eyes while talking. No one asked why. Obviously it was his family, both in the good way and the bad one.
He even asked us to sing and he himself played the beats on the table. Wow! I felt like asking, “Are you sure you are hundred?” It seemed to me he was having a good time. By the end of it, there were less teary eyes and more graceful smiles.
It was time to leave him back at his place. No one wanted him to leave. But we all hugged him, and wished him once again. And he left with my parents.
Before sleeping I thought to myself, ‘Wow! Hundred..?!’
Time passed by, the winter mornings turned into hot summer ones. It was a summer evening. My parents felt like visiting Uncle that day and so they did it. The same old bungalow on a long summer evening. The door was closed this time and they rung the bell. The same house keeper, came out to ask who it was. My parents asked for Uncle. And what came back was, “ Uncle..? He is no more. He passed away a month back.”
My parents were shattered. They kept staring at the house keeper with no more questions. He added,” No one lives here anymore .”
He said it with such ease as if it made no difference to anyone. His children did not inform anyone known to them. Not even an Obituary in the paper. Nobody knew if they even came. It had all ended in one single sentence.
A hundred year old life, ended this way ? It could have been more glorious , I thought silently. Why did that last birthday had to be with us ? Was it all pre-planned by nature ? What kind of children are they ? Did they still have flight problems ?
If this what blood relations were, why did God make them. They are no less than a torture. This time I had a bruised heart than a mere thought process. A father who must have tired his throat blessing his children each time with a long life; no one had the time to cherish his long life. Its true , I thought affirming myself, that history will repeat itself.
After crying it out, I had no grudges for anyone. Just that I was luckier. I had those most priced possessions that his children didn’t . Pictures of Uncle’s last birthday, his 100th birthday. Somebody ask them if they could get them complimentary with their “Green Cards”. Well it’s a waste talking to or about them. They are unlucky to miss out on such a father.
Few things that always remain with you , if not people. Memories.