by Roopa Shroff
It’s been twenty long years since we were in touch last. Sufficient time for memory to go into hiding. Nearly two years ago I spotted you surfacing on my mail hangout. How can I tell you now that my hands were tied then, so totally tied even psychologically, walking with my terminally ill spouse. I am aware that you were my brother’s closest confidante then. I’ve seen your foster parents. I knew then that you were an adopted child. You had no qualms about being one. I’ve had times in my life thinking whether you have had disquieting, restless questions wanting to know your origins. I liked your name -Bhola, meaning simple, which reflected your personality. Do you agree that there is a world of freedom associated with simplicity?
I lost my spouse a year and a half ago following his illness. Being married for thirty years made it all the more difficult to let go of him when the time came. My new love for writing saved me from becoming a wreck. Of the two and a half years from when he was diagnosed to the time he passed on, all through his treatment he tried conveying to me in so many different ways all the nuances of handling finance. I pushed it away belittling it. Thinking back, I now wonder if it was denial of losing him that kept my mind so totally closed to learning from him all that he tried teaching me. To me it also meant akin to letting him know that his time was round the corner.
He too put on a brave front not wanting to let himself down in front of me. I guess that was his way of making sure that I would be brave to march on after he left. He found me drifting from him and commented about it once to my sister. Did he know that I was angry at him, at life force in general for pushing me and my children towards a sea change? Even as I was aware that I couldn’t blame the very man who was suffering in pain and yet putting on a mask of a brave front, I couldn’t have cared less from what I appeared to be. After all I was doing my best too in helping him accept his illness gracefully. I still choke at one of his expressions telling me that he had to walk the last leg of his journey alone. But I tell you, he did it so very gracefully in all dignity. By far the greatest legacy he has left behind was in his living life the way he did. I must confess that for a period after his demise, I sure got that feeling of being empowered with learning to handle every new thing I learnt, be it people or finance. Every little victory was mine to take. Of late after having experimented in what I call as my ways, I’m back to toeing his ways. In short, he was a wise all-rounder.
Being close to two years, it was a decision I took one day that I will no more wallow myself in self-pity. Having pulled myself up I’ve learnt to convert my deep rooted loneliness to solitude. In my new found freedom I’ve started opening up to newer relationships driven to the kind defined as genderless, those with whom I can blabber and not be squinted. I’ve gone a full circle learning to strengthen my boundaries. Often saying No has been my toughest learning. When I did learn, my masks started falling, making me increasingly comfortable in my own skin. Kudos to me and to this great learning that a little beauty overspills through the crack of a mask. Chicks do crack shells right?
I have certainly come a long way since I stuck my red bindi on my mirror in my bedroom, hanging on to it, trying to protect it as if it was the last relic of my just then demised husband until it faced it’s natural fall one day. There were times when I cringed feeling uneasy when the arshna kumkuma was passed around at functions until I became used to being a silent observer smiling within myself that widowhood could befall unannounced to anyone around me. And oftentimes there sure were those tight friends who sat me down and offered kumkuma with that characteristic bear hug.
There is a calmness, a closure I’ve experienced with my husband, opportunities so many by being dutifully able to dispose. For example, the exact detour of massage on his back, not too hard, not too soft, just firm. Day in and day out, in return bringing a satisfied soft smile on my otherwise then wornout face. That was my way of showing my love towards him. Even as I write this to you, my spouse’s peaceful image surges in front of me.
How can I forget the times when I’ve swung open my red car forgetting to pull the driver’s seat door only to be hit by the standing garbage cart at the swerve of my car or the front of my car bursting the sitting sand load in my office parking lot? Clearly I couldn’t handle my daily lot.
Now in all its fullness, life is doling out its lessons through situations and people, a large part of it through my children. In short I have more things to learn from my children than perhaps anyone else. While one of my child is busy trying to master life skills, the other wants to master at preaching it. So much for them. I know for sure that life won’t let go of me until I learn all of life’s rules, page by page, sentence by sentence. That’s how life is having its infinite fun I guess.
As I write this I’m going to put this out on gmail hangout and may be one or two other electronic sites hoping we can connect. Years ago, I vibed well with you and I’m often known to take off well even with those whom I had disconnected for years. You are a friend I am likely to feel safe with, having strengthened and grown with what life has thrown at me. I feel so free as I write this simple yet open letter.
Now it’s your turn to tell me about yourself.
It was by an act of serendipity that I chanced upon your open letter to me.
Indeed 20 years is a long time and of course a lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. You are right, your spouse was one of my dearest buddies and he lovingly addressed me as Bhol. We were a bunch of friends hanging around together roaming around in Bangalore.
I know that he got busy once he married you and I had the privilege of knowing you both before you were married. I understand the travails of your journey with him during his last year and half or so and I know that you were with him in toto.
Reading your letter, my early day memories spent with him came gushing back and let me tell you those are pleasant ones filled with fun and frolic.
Memories of staying together, memories of spending evenings with friends, of playing retro music. All those memories reverberate and strike a pleasant chord in me. The one song that specially enchanted me was the Carpenter’s song “Yesterday once more”. I do long for those yesterdays’ once more and your open letter brought me those yesterdays’ back home. Thank you.
What impressed me was his smiling demeanour in the worst of times. That quality of his endeared many a friends. Being an orphan myself I was penniless, yet his chivalry never ever let me feel like one even for a moment.
I must acknowledge that he liked me for my positive attitude towards life even when I had no money or status. He appreciated me for my not comparing myself to others. That apart he was more than graceful in acknowledging me when I did well financially and in life. This I discern is a rare quality he possessed as opposed to the normal human tendency to talk about friends when they are not doing well financially or otherwise.
He not only had money to spend but had the camaraderie to share it with friends. Friends meant the world to him and he was popular amongst us.
I must share this anecdote that he was the only one who had a Standard Two door car and that was our royal carriage for all friends to travel to MG Road, Brigade Road and Drive in theatre and name it, we would use that car to drive.
We had a gentlemen’s agreement to share the petrol money to drive the car around. That said, that being an old car, my memory of pushing the car along with friends is vivid in my memory, it stopped working more often than not. So, more than riding in the same we pushed it most of the time! It was hilarious yet we wouldn’t give up driving in it around. It was perhaps our moments of pride driving that car regardless of whether we pushed it more or drove it more!
Apart from these adventures, he was doing his CA and most of the friends who hung around were also pursuing CA. These guys would prepare for their CA exam and had a ritual which I particularly liked – the pre-tension exam party and post exam tension party. Whether the exam was approaching or the exams were over parties happened in the name of sacred ‘tension reliever’ parties.
He had his idiosyncrasies: he was meticulous even to the extent of his pen, pencils and books to be placed in a particular order and he wouldn’t like that to be disturbed even a bit. This habit of his continued in life that made him a disciplined person.
When I heard about his illness I visited him in the hospital he was undergoing chemotherapy. Despite his weakness, he was cheerful meeting me and we laughed cracking a few jokes. I told him in that mood that we should be sitting in a pub instead of in the hospital and sure enough I goaded him to get out of the hospital as soon as possible so that we could do that.
True to his grit and determination he continued to work while being treated and for me that quality of him stands out as an inspiration to many suffering from illnesses. Believe me, I was very confident that he would tide over his crisis and be back his normal self. Well, that was not to be.
One of the times I visited him, I asked him as to how long it would be before we would catch up at the pub and he in his nonchalant casual attitude said “soon” and added “abhi picture baki hai mere dost” (the movie is not over yet).
Sunita, I believe his words are true, the movie is not over yet. It’s you and your children and friends like me who have to take the movie forward and complete it.