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.