Translation: Harish Mahuvakar
No sooner she began to take bath than there were knocks. Who can it be? She responded from the bathroom, ‘Wait. Just coming.’ But there were knocks again. ‘Told you just coming. Wait.’ Oh what a hurry? Is this the way? Before she gives way to her thoughts, again knocks were heard. Tell me won’t my voice raise? ‘Oh wait please. I’m taking bath.’ Who can it be? Why? Can’t any one wait? What the hell is this?
It’s not my age to be in the Old Age Home but I have come to stay here. Natural beauty and beautiful river bank attracted me. Far from the city, here is the pleasure to be in quiet and peaceful atmosphere. Just four days passed only.
Who can be the stranger over here? And even if somebody may be why so much hurry?
Her house in the city always welcomed guests. There would be guests. One or the other always visited. Many a time she won’t be able to go take bath. So she only took it when the husband and children are present in the home. This is bare reality. Otherwise it has happened that hardly has she gone for bathing and there would be knocks!
But let it go! Here is ample time and I’m enjoying taking bath freely, without any hurry. In the December cold there won’t be heart to go to the bathroom but once you’re in and hot shower’s on then there’s no heart to come out! Just enjoy the shower for half an hour. Your five kilometer early morning walk fatigue disappears and you are refreshed. But see, this is the fifth day and the joy’s gone! Three times knock in three minutes! The bathroom’s now filled with hot steam. Coming out of this means the paradise lost.
She entered the room and began to wrap her sari. The sari end covered her shoulder and before she does the sari folds the half closed door was pushed and somebody entered. She had closed the door without using the stopper, thinking that the children playing outside may come in any time. And yet she had to hurry….
Her back faced the door so she couldn’t get the person but she was on a roll. ‘Don’t you see I’m wearing sari? Still you came in?
‘Oh, so sorry.’ The lowered and disappointed tone came and with that sound of the retreating steps.
She did the sari and got somewhat comfortable. Now the voice was recognised. ‘Oh it was the Grandpa.’ Yesterday I leisurely passed three hours in the lawn with him. The formal talk then turned into an emotional relationship. He called me as his daughter. In his talks I too found my dead loving father in him. He’s ninety. His only sixty four year son is in the USA. He’s having grandchildren as well. I told him, ‘O Grandpa, you are lucky to see four generations!’
‘O yeah it is so. But everything in the photographs’. Then he let out a heavy breath.
He’s living in this Old Age Home. On listening to this name we generally have different image of it. But a complete contrast to your ideas. It’s more than a home. All facilities, love, warmth, respect, and add to it is natural beauty. There’s a beautiful river, garden, cleanliness, simplicity, and compassion. A totally different world.
For him there’s nothing to worry, he said it. He only awaits arrival of his son. If not at least his call. Longing to listen to his son. Each word would satiate him much. It would be nectar- each of its drop. Drop of his voice. And till the next call would cherish the talk. He put it, ‘No call since two months last. Eagerly waiting.’
The dialogues what they had yesterday surged up in me so suddenly now. The anger she had some time back melted. She felt her hurting to him. He must have something to say otherwise may not knock so often. It must be an emergency so he rushed in before anybody opens it.
I came out. His was the next room. I went in. ‘How are you Grandpa? Beg me pardon. I was in the bathroom. Was there anything special?’
‘Yeah. Wanted to tell you…’
Before he goes on my son entered like a whirlwind. ‘Mom give me shuttle and racket and swimming costume too. Going to the river.
‘You pick them up my son! I am talking to Grandpa. Won’t you, please?
‘Oh Mom, please.’ He said in the same tone of mine. ‘Better you hand over me, Mom. If I do then you will complain to Dad that Priyank is untidy and careless.’
‘Not like that my son. You have to keep them in order.
‘No. I won’t do. If you wish to, give me otherwise see them in a heap.’
She surrendered to his threat. He almost dragged her into the room. The Grandpa talk had to wait for next fifteen minutes. Meanwhile he came to our room and returned more than a couple of times.
Pure curiosity and eagerness to let out his heart reflected in his deep sunken eyes and on the wrinkled face. I sent Priyank out and when I returned he was still standing at the threshold. Well I can talk to him now. ‘Yes. Grandpa, what’s it you want to tell me?’
‘It was his call. My son’s call it was. Just now. You are the first one to share my happiness.’ His face glowed with happiness.
‘Ah to tell such a thing….’ She wanted to say something but something struck her mind and on the next moment she smiled and said, ‘Well, it’s wonderful. You were waiting and it happened. All’s well there?’
‘All fine. Heal and hearty. Said he’s coming in January. Also said he would see me first and pick me up. Wished to stay in the bungalow at Vadodara. We all will stay together.
‘Oh that makes you happy, isn’t it? You talked a lot with him.’ On his palms- shaking with happiness and age, I placed mine and pressed them.
‘Only three minutes I talk. All the way from Washington the call was. Costs very much I know. And how far is January?
‘Grandpa me too happy. Your son’s returning and it gives joy to me as well. And there’s something more. Should I tell you why I’m so mush pleased?’
‘Why should you ask me? Say it quickly.’
‘Yes. Me happy, very happy. Why? Yeah, yeah it is… because I am the first person that you shared the news. This is the reason. I am the first person you chose me to share your news. Since five years last you have been staying here. You must have known ones and friends as well. Only last a couple of days have I passed here and you chose me first to disclose the news.’ My voice vibrated and the throat choked up. I wanted to say many things, but couldn’t express my emotions in words.
’Are you a strange? You are my daughter.’
‘Me going now, Grandpa.’ I turned to go back. Hardly had I taken a few steps than I heard him. ‘My son called me. From Washington he rang me up. He’s coming in January.’ I looked back and found him telling the news to an old who met him on the way. I stood there and watched him. He didn’t spare anybody. Any of his age – man or woman, a maid who cooked or a cleaner. Everybody heard the same story. Even though he moved away from my view, his voice came up.
At night I couldn’t sleep for long. The thoughts enveloped me. The morning episode had possessed me completely. Tried hard to get sleep but it remained far away. I also tried to divert my mind to other matters but…. All the time the words resounded. ‘My son called me. From Washington he rang me up. He’s coming in January.’ I left the bed ultimately and began to move. The sleep remained far and far. Again I tried to sleep. Put my head on the pillow and faced the ceiling. But it didn’t suit me. Only it comforted me when I slipped a hand under the pillow, and head on it and bent the left leg. Now I’ll have sleep. This is the habit of mine since childhood. Because of my disc slip the doctor had advised me to sleep facing the ceiling. But it doesn’t suit me. Only my habitual position brings sleep.
This is my father’s habit that came into me. Pappa used to sleep like this. Even my elder brother had also the same habit.
And my elder brother….Ah! The brother and Pappa’s memories ached me. Now on their coming to my mind means there would be no sleep at all. The brother and Pappa… Pappa and the brother……Again the Grandpa’s words resounded: ‘My son called me. From Washington he rang me up. He’s coming in January.’ And there it was. A letter from Paresh. From Morvi. Coming tomorrow. O ji do you listen to? We need to send snacks for him. It’s his letter… such were the words of my Daddy. The words leapt into the mind and heart.
I remained struck. And instead of dhoti-worn Grandpa, My Daddy in coat and pent, tall and graceful stood before me. Hardly I realised this.
Look, he’s there. There in the balcony. He’s standing awaiting his son’s return.
Pareshbhai was elder among us and was darling to all. Because of constant transfers of Daddy he was sent to a far away hostel and that way he carried on his study. Pareshbhai himself was bright and sensible.
During those days there was no telephone facility. His letters or messages turned the home in a celebration mood. And in vacations when he came, the house was filled with fun and happiness.
Only a train came to Ranavav in those days. The station was very far from the house. From the balcony the train can’t be seen but the train smoke going up can definitely be seen. After this smoke the horse-cart took exactly one hour to bring Pareshbhai at home. But we all stood at the balcony window to see the smoke. The Father too enjoyed the black curling smoke as it was of the train that was bringing home his son!
I was very young then and could reach up to the window but had a deep curiosity. Often the Father lifted me up and showed the smoke. Often it would be long to see it but as noticed boundless joy spread. ‘The train’s arrived… and Paresh has come. Your elder brother has arrived.’ And Daddy would hug me tightly.
Here no train whistle is heard. Only black curling smoke is seen. Oh…but why? Why it is lowering instead of going up? Ah…it gives pain to my eyes. The smoke goes into my nose and throat…it coughs me… the throat too feels burning sensation. Oh this restlessness!
I opened my eyes that pain had closed. Surprisingly peace is everywhere. Everywhere is quiet and still! And somewhere is heard the suppressed noise of someone’s crying… leaping flames are also seen. Oh…it burns me. I can’t control myself and hug to Father.
Yes, Daddy. My Daddy. He’s just returned from the crematorium after the last samskara. Yes my Daddy. I had found him staring at the dead body of his darling son. He stood there as if he were a statue.
The Father who waited his returning every day, he himself handed today his son to the fire. Was he waiting for this?
There’s unbound flow of tears. I hug to my Dad. I shake him but what’s this? He’s mute and motionless. My lamentation doesn’t end. It grows louder and louder. He caresses me, consoles me. My little hand begins to move on his face. I wipe his tears but they don’t stop at all. I try and try but my hand remains wet with his tears. These are my fingers. Moving on his rough beard. But why this…no rough beard? Something soft…yea something soft. Oh it’s nothing but my pillow. It’s not only wet but soaked.
Yes, the words have stopped resounding but tears have begun to flow!
Ah! Finally reached! After the end of December often thought to come but no chance came. Today it’s April 1997. Exactly after fifteen months I could come. As soon as Priyank’s examinations were over, I left.
I wish to see first of all the Grandpa. Left the luggage in the room and soon went to him. Many a time he had knocked my mind and I made my friends hear them. When I entered his room he was sitting on the cot and reading the Bhagvat Geeta. ‘Hello Grandpa, how are you?’
‘Me fine and you my daughter?’
‘I ‘m okay but you don’t seem to be happy. I had called you twice or thrice but you were hospitalised. Couldn’t talk to you. You must have read my letter. How’s your health now?’
‘Oh it’s up and down. Goes on. But when did you reach?’
‘Just now. Believe me I have come only for you. Want to talk to you at will. Freely. Got enough time. Tell me everything. You have passed happy time with your son. After seven years you met him, no?’
‘What’s your son doing? Has he come with you?’ He carefully closed the Bhagvat Geeta, touched it to his head and put it aside.
‘Yes, he’s with me. But went to the river immediately after we arrived. But first of all you talk to me about your son. I want to be part of your happiness that you had at you Vadodara bungalow. What things he brought from America? My share in them, right? With little bit more affection I told him.
‘There’s everything… Pick up whatever you want. What things I require now!’
‘I opened the cupboard. There were many things – some new clothes, woolen clothes, shawl, medicines and many others. My eyes moved up and down, right and left and everywhere but there was no any single trace of a foreign thing, or say wasn’t anything of my choice.
‘Grandpa, there’s nothing here…’ said I and looked at him.
He lowered his eyes.
I demanded things because he lovingly called me as his daughter. That’s why all this play. But this is all just a play nothing else. I don’t want anything. Lest he believe I need them!
Or is it that his son bring nothing? Bare hands for the Father?
Or is that unknowingly I hurt him? Something painful came out?
I changed the topic. ‘Grandpa, I’m joking only. It’s the truth. I want nothing but you’ll have to say everything. Tell me, didn’t January pass happily?
He bent down his head. Did I hear a sigh?
I went near to him. Sat before him. Laid my hands on his shoulder and looked into his eyes but he couldn’t face mine. Only and only pain was seen there.
Something I understood and something I didn’t…..Whatever I understood was not enough. My mind wasn’t ready to accept that. I lay in confusion. Again I said, ‘Grandpa…say something…’
Pain painted his wrinkled and teeth-less face. The lips moved a little. Barely I could hear something that came from the depths of his heart. ‘January? Which January you are talking to?’
Again it was so. The words resounded: ‘January?…. Which January are you talking to?’
Harish Mahuvakar, ’Ame’, 3/A, 1929, Near Nandalay Haveli, Sardarnagar, Bhavnagar 364002, Gujarat, India. +91 9426 22 35 22 / email: firstname.lastname@example.org