19 comments

Desi Fiction Contemporary

I know you are miffed with me right now, but you will thank me when I’m not around.

When I showed you the e-brochure of Saket Retirement Homes last week, you scoffed at the grey-haired, brightly clothed couple cornering a football on the lawn, and remarked, “As if they can kick it around without getting a cramp and their backs singing to them at night.” This ridicule, when I had carefully eliminated the ones that were named as senior homes, old age homes, and assisted living! I knew you would have never even considered taking a look at them. You believe we are not that old. I too believe in you. But guess what? it’s a brief life and at our stage, it can be pretty brittle too.

This cheerful young woman, about the same age as our granddaughter, who is taking us through the lift to a model living apartment, doesn’t know how much I had to coax you to even consider coming here. But you extend your warm smile to her. The same smile that makes my heart flutter, even now. That’s what I love the most about you… love, grace under fire.

The lift has grab bars, the same bars we will find at every corner, passage, and bathroom in this building. And it takes us to the second floor. Malini, our tour guide escorts us to dwelling unit number 203. Its door is east facing, as demanded by you. She unlocks the door by waving a card and smiles, “A keyless entry system to avoid fumbling with the keys.” You nod with a smile. But I know it’s not your best, you have a tightness in your jaws Malini is too busy to notice.

We enter a modest lobby, that is painted in pista green. Malini chirps that the entire apartment is painted in pastels, with burnt orange strips cutting through it, highlighting the switches, grab bars, and a panic button. She adds that the colours can be changed to our liking if we are going to lease the unit for a minimum period of two years. Darling, I know you have always loved the bright colours, but here we are, mellowed in our bones and in the wall colours waiting for us.

You take tentative steps towards the living room. Your eyes linger on the far-off tree lines across the small balcony. I know what you are thinking of- our villa surrounded by mango, jamun, gulmohar, and champa trees that you planted around the same time our firstborn stepped out into the garden. But you and I know, our firstborn, the one who followed him and their children are not coming back into that villa. Well, they may, during the holidays and festivals. But their one foot will always be hovering on the threshold, longing to rush back to their own homes. And I don’t resent it at all. We did our duty well, you and I. We made them their own persons and let them fly. Of course, you kept your Ma with you and I served her till the end. But frankly honey, I don’t think you wish it upon our children.

There is a kitchenette adjacent to the living room. The living room, dining area, and kitchenette form an L-shaped open space. We exchange a mischievous look. Malini is a bit embarrassed. Poor girl, she is too young to imagine old love. I don’t know what could be passing through your mind, but I’m hoping we continue to rustle up our favourite dishes, at times listening to the music of sitar, at times passing the bowls in silence, and at times stirring the sauces vigorously, in this kitchenette. Malini says, “you can always have your food at the community dining hall if you don’t feel like cooking.” Well, I don’t think that is happening anytime soon. Isn’t it, love?

We are ushered into the study that is painted light grey. “Everything is built and painted according to vaastu,” informs Malini. I believe her. What place on earth can add more value to a man’s life than his home? I can see that perturbed look in your eyes. You are trying to envision how best to fit your lifetime collection of books into the measly number of bare shelves that stand there. I don’t have such qualms. You know I switched to Kindle and laptop a long time ago. I may try to fit in a few portraits and family vacation photos in between your books. But only as many as I can dust and won’t make my eyes mist. I agree, I can only be marginally better at letting go.

We are left to explore the bedroom and the attached bath on our own. See! today’s youth is more sensitive and sensible than you give them credit for. There is a four-poster bed in the centre of the room, with a mosquito net attached to it. The brochure states you can also opt for a bed with detachable rails. For now, this should be okay for us. It takes me back to the days when I was a young bride and the mosquito repellents were not yet in vogue. I suspect you too are transported to that time as you give me a tight hug around my shoulders. I venture for the first time since we entered the apartment, “Not bad, what do you think?” You withdraw. You are still not convinced that this is a good move. I get that. I loiter for a little more time looking out of the window. You amble into the bathroom.

When I join you shortly, I catch you off guard staring into the full-length mirror that reflects the wrinkled form framed in grab bars fixed in multiple places. There is this blank look on your face that hits me hard. For a moment, I want to retrace the steps all the way back to our villa, stay rooted there, warm in your arms, and never leave. But I can’t brush aside the tentacles of the swab results I got a week ago. I am not sure whether it would turn out to be a passing menace or something that would unravel everything we have built together for so long. And most of all, I can’t let you be alone in trying to help me battle whatever that may bring. I know what you are thinking- life went by much too fast. And I agree with you.

It's a brief life. When lived well. And I wish us the briefest, love.

May 31, 2022 07:45

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19 comments

Michał Przywara
20:48 Jun 01, 2022

Another lovely story, Suma :) On the surface it's quite (bitter)sweet and pragmatic, but underneath, I think "life went by much too fast" sums it up. One thing that particularly appeals to me is the multiple threads of thought. There's the main thread – they're getting old, and they're arguing over downsizing – and then there are the personal threads. We get a lot of the wife's thoughts because she's narrating, but we only get the husband's thoughts indirectly. Specifically, "There is this blank look on your face that hits me hard" hits ...

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Suma Jayachandar
02:18 Jun 02, 2022

Thank you so much for your comments, Michal. As it's the norm with you they are kind and insightful. I wanted to explore the changes in lifestyle that comes with ageing and I'm glad I could convey it.

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06:05 Jun 01, 2022

This is so tender and meaningful, Suma. I love these kinds of stories where a spouse is talking to (or about) their loved one, and in this you can feel her affection for her husband in every sentence. It reflects the maturity but also the world-weariness of their stage in life. Through work I’ve met a lot of elderly couples in this exact situation (funnily it’s usually the stubborn husband who doesn’t want to go into care lol), and this story is congruent to what I’ve seen. Another emotionally resonant piece. Thank you for sharing. :)

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Suma Jayachandar
09:35 Jun 01, 2022

Ah, it's heartening to have my observations validated and appreciated. Thank you so much for your kind words, Shuvayon.

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Aeris Walker
18:46 May 31, 2022

AH. This was such a powerful story and so sad in a beautiful, honest way. I really loved these passages, and feel like you accurately captured the essence of the older generation grappling with the reality that their children are not THEM: "But their one foot will always be hovering on the threshold, longing to rush back to their own homes. And I don’t resent it at all. We did our duty well, you and I. We made them their own persons and let them fly. Of course, you kept your Ma with you and I served her till the end. But frankly honey, I do...

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Suma Jayachandar
03:49 Jun 01, 2022

Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I greatly appreciate it!

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Aeris Walker
09:21 Jun 01, 2022

😊😊

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Sachi B
14:03 Jun 07, 2022

This is such a warm, warm, lovely story. I feel for both of them. Moving away from a villa surrounded by mango, jamun, gulmohar and champa trees, one where they must have stayed since forever and created endless memories is obviously tough. At the same time, the change that she is trying to bring also seems necessary at this stage. It's really amazing how you've managed to weave in little details from their past and the habits that they have developed over time while staying together, without necessarily going into several fully-detailed fl...

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Suma Jayachandar
17:00 Jun 07, 2022

Thank you so much for your generous appreciation, Sachi. I truly value it.

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Riel Rosehill
20:52 Jun 06, 2022

Oh no, where did I put the tissues...? I teared up reading the end. This is so tragically beautiful: "It's a brief life. When lived well. And I wish us the briefest, love." That scene when he looked into the mirror and really saw his age was SO well written. And the wife, how she has a health problem, and yet, it's her husband she worries about - that is so wholesome and there is just so much pain in this... But that "old love" and the caring, their dedication to each other was really wholesome. I love the title, and how you make a referenec...

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Suma Jayachandar
03:31 Jun 07, 2022

Thank you so much, Riel. I truly appreciate your feedback ☺️

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Zack Powell
18:25 Jun 06, 2022

Suma! I'm so late on reading this one, but it was totally worth the wait. So touching, so beautiful, and so lovingly-written. I think this might be my favorite story of yours (or at the very least, it's in the top three). This is gorgeous. It's amazing how rich these "I" and "You" characters are, and they don't even have names. (I'm a big fan of stories with this POV, too - kinda first person, kinda epistolary with a strong second person presence.) You can seriously feel the wisdom and the nostalgia these characters have in the diction alon...

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Suma Jayachandar
03:38 Jun 07, 2022

Zack, you always leave a feedback that's so full of encouragement and support. You pick out the nuances so well, not surprising though, the kind of brilliant writer you are. As far as doing well in the contest goes I'll wait for the day you become a judge 🤣 . Write now I'm happy to get such wonderful comments.

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00:43 Jun 06, 2022

Suma this was beautiful and emotional! It truly makes me reflect on life and the brevity, but also how time passes almost without our realizing. So well done! ❤️

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Suma Jayachandar
03:44 Jun 06, 2022

Thank you so much for your appreciation, Hannah! I'm glad you loved it. It's a brief life indeed.

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Beth Jackson
00:46 Jun 04, 2022

Oh this was so beautiful, Suma! Gentle and sweet but also deeply moving. Thank you for sharing. 💕

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Suma Jayachandar
01:42 Jun 04, 2022

Thank you so much, Beth! You really made my day 😊

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Felice Noelle
01:17 Jun 02, 2022

Suma: I watched an elderly au[;nt and uncle go through all the stages you portrayed so personally and perfectly. You wrote sensitively, exposing the strengths and weaknesses of both parties in this marriage, battling through just another inevitable stage on their way towards life's ending. When I was young, before college, I worked in a nursing home and saw firsthand the loneliness of uncoupled elderly folks who were warehoused by their young families. So your story had a hopeful, inspirational aspect, although tinged with loss and sorr...

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Suma Jayachandar
02:30 Jun 02, 2022

Thank you, Maureen. This is a wonderful comment to receive. I'm glad this came across as real, sensitive and hopeful. Thank you so much😊

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