Gaugin’s Chair by Van Gogh
Old people live with memories…at least that is what Baboo did at eighty.
He had a daughter in Bangkok, two wonderful grandchildren and a son-in- law. His wife, Shyama, had been dead for the last five years.
She went just like that…
Shyama had served him dinner and cleared up before retiring for the night. She herself had had her dinner earlier because a late dinner induced wheezing. She was asthmatic.
That night, they lay down in bed. Baboo fell asleep watching TV. Shyama was still reading when he woke up around 1 am. Sometimes, Shyama read late if she had mild wheezing and then when it stopped, she dosed off. At 1 am, Baboo had asked her if she needed an injection to breath normally.
Baboo was a celebrated surgeon and Shyama, an anesthetist… that is how she had survived into her seventies despite her severe asthama. Baboo could treat her, inject her whenever she got an attack and Shyama was quick to catch her own symptoms. This time Shyama responded to her husband’s query saying she was fine. At four in the morning, she went to the bathroom and Baboo woke up to a loud thud.
She had fallen in a crumpled heap on the floor.
She was dead, dead, dead…his companion of 49 years…
Baboo was lonely. He lived with his memories… his daughter was too far away. She had come for her mother’s funeral and for the first anniversary of her death. But, she preferred to have him over in her own home. Relatives and friends came intermittently, but it was not the same. His daughter encouraged him to have guests.
He just wanted his daughter to come. She would not and sent others instead.
When his daughter critiqued his choice of place for retirement, he was angry. To hurt her, he asked her not to come. Sometimes, he did not want to talk to his daughter, especially because she thought differently. She did not understand him. Despite that she would call him. She loved him and needed the reassurance he was well. Baboo knew that. He fought but he needed his child desperately.
Baboo’s housekeeper and her family kept him company. He did a free clinic three times a week and chaired committees in a mission but it was incredibly quiet and lonely.
Baboo had retired and moved from Bombay to this house near the hills. His wife and he were supposed to live out their old age, close to the hills, nearer to God and eternity. For eight years, they did have an idyllic retirement, at least from Baboo’s standpoint.
Occasionally, Shyama had complained of boredom to her daughter. She missed her life in Bombay, the gaiety of concerts and the glamour of city life.
Eventually, she reconciled. She liked the hills and did not mind the life Baboo immersed himself in. She seemed to mould herself to his needs, also this retirement gave her the advantage of living away from her in-laws. Shyama, like many daughters-in- law, could not stand her husband’s family.
Baboo and Shyama read religious books in the morning, held discussions through the day. Some days, of course, they had the free clinic. Then they went to the temple in the evenings, prayed and discussed the Vedantic way of life with a select few… for almost a decade.
And then came the blow. Baboo had thought he would go first because he was four years older. But his wife cheated on him. She died first…just went off… like that. She was and then she wasn’t!
Baboo found it difficult to move as he had a huge fibroid at the joint of his back and hips. He was bent double now.
Another place, another time…when he had been young, people compared him to Omar Sharif. He was a medical doctor with degrees from Scotland. He had a job offer when he finished his FRCS in Edinburgh. However, like a good, filial elder son, he had returned to India to care for his father who was retiring then. But his child did not return for him. He had only one… a single daughter. She continued living away… in another country.
She telephoned him every day. But who would clear out Shyama’s cupboards… not his housekeeper… it had to be his daughter. There were termites finally but his daughter could not come…
He needed to close his bank locker, pay his online bills… His son-in-law helped him pay the online bills from Bangkok. He needed them both to clear his out his bank locker. But they did not come.
His nephew and daughter spoke of a smart phone. That was impossible for him to handle. People spoke of what’s ap; but he was too old. He just wanted to meditate and pray…
Or, did he? His wife had died on him. It was an unfair trick!
He was supposed to be the first one to die. After all he had had a stroke, high blood pressure, fibroid and once his guts had spilt out…hernia. That time his wife had saved him. Shyama had called a doctor friend. Baboo did not like him… but still the much-critiqued doctor had saved his life.
Now, Baboo watched his blood pressure twice daily. He discussed it with his daughter on phone everyday. When he visited annually in Bangkok, his son-in-law tried to force an automatic blood pressure machine on him. But he did not want it. In India, he had taught his housekeeper to take his blood pressure. He did not want to become an invalid. He still wanted to do more. His physical inabilities made him feel helpless. That upset him and he wanted to die.
His neighbours told him, he was old. He must leave action to youngsters. He needed to pray, to attain moksha, freedom from the cycle of birth.
But his daughter asked (on the phone),
“Why do you want freedom from the cycle of birth? Life is so beautiful. The world is so wonderful, why do you want to leave it?”
Baboo saw suffering on television, in newspapers and around him. He himself was suffering life… and yet, she said: “Life is beautiful…” Would she do that at his age? At eighty?
There were so many deaths. And yet he lived…
His daughter never read the scriptures. She was immature at fifty. Old age had to be one of renunciation and drawing closer to God…. and waiting to die…
His wife had left for her heavenly abode. The first few years after she departed, he dreamt of her…
Now, he wanted a companion. It was so difficult not to have anybody to talk to when he wanted to discuss the scriptures… His daughter called up.
But she did not understand…
Moksha, old age, physical handicaps.
Why do people grow old?
Why can they not continue young and die at the age of hundred?