We went to meet her two weeks ago for the first time. It was a meeting borne out of obligation than genuine interest. She was a 79-year-old widow who lived with a maid in a house which was meant to accommodate triple the amount of people that it did. And I was a full-time working mother who did not bear kindly on casual visits on strangers on weekday evenings. One had too much of time and the other had too less of it.
We reached the neighbourhood by around seven in the evening. I looked outside the windows as the car wound its way towards her house. It was a nice neighbourhood. The houses were spacious with well-trimmed lawns with sleek cars parked outside. There was an air of prosperity and well-being.
She was already standing in the porch, as our car slowed down at the gates. She had left the gates open, a typical Indian hospitality gesture. My first glimpse of her had me a bit surprised. I had expected a half-senile, bent with age person. But she looked like someone in their late 60’s with an intelligent face and a gentle smile.
We got outside. Everybody exchanged polite smiles and nods. The baby had fallen asleep on the way and we carried him inside in his little car seat.
It was a beautiful house. Airy and spacious. It gave you the feeling that it had been well lived-in, that footsteps had sounded across the marble floors and laughter had echoed through the walls once upon a time. I noticed one wall in particular. It was at the far end of the room and was adorned with photographs. There was a TV in the living room which was switched on to a news channel.
After the initial introductions were through, we all settled down on the sofa, exchanging pleasantries punctuated by awkward silences. Luckily the baby woke up, offering himself as an ice-breaker.
Children have that blessed quality. To be themselves among strangers and friends alike. Where along the arduous journey to adulthood do we lose that quality? When do we start layering ourselves under the cloaks of fake smiles and secret thoughts?
The baby yawned a tiny yawn and smiled. She laughed delightedly and took him onto her lap. Where he spent the rest of the hour pleasantly looking up at her with wide, wondering eyes. She told me it had been a long time since she had carried a child so young. And I could see she was thinking about her grandchildren.
Soon after, the conversation began to flow easily as she talked about her early days in the country, her career as a teacher, her children and her grandkids. She was an interesting speaker and a good listener and I could talk to her as one would talk to a friend. No tremors, no repetitions and no uncompleted sentences.
Later she showed us around the house, pausing at the wall with the photographs. There were dozens of photographs. The memories of a lifetime printed out in colours and encased in frames. Faces smiling through the glass reminding the viewer of happier times. And she lovingly pointed out her late husband, her son and daughter, their families, her grandchildren.
Shortly, a maid appeared from the recesses of the kitchen carrying plates of chips and cakes. She offered me the plate with the cakes and said, “Take these brownies. I baked them”. I took one and bit into it. Obviously she had gotten the sugar measurement wrong. It was too sweet. But I graciously finished half a piece and discreetly passed the other half to A who took it without a word, clearly understanding the situation.
By the time we left, it was dark outside. She packed a bunch of bananas for us from her garden to take back home and jotted down our numbers asking us to drop in whenever we could. I promised her I would. And I had meant it.
I felt oddly guilty as I waved goodbye to her. She stood smiling on the porch waving patiently. As our car left the driveway I watched her turn and go back inside the house. Back to the emptiness inside. And back to the wall with the photographs.
Authors Note: This post is of an autobiographical nature. I did visit the protagonist two weeks ago. And something about her nature stirred me to write this post. She is an interesting and kind person and did not deserve to be alone. And I do hope I visit her again soon, just as I promised.
I have always been a fan of Ruskin Bond’s writing. And in this post, I did try to incorporate his style. I don’t know how successful this was, but your feedback is always welcome 🙂
15/07/2010 : I visited her again today. She greeted us warmly. We spent a good part of one hour chatting about everything from TV serials to World cups. The baby warmed to her too, which is rare these days 🙂