Recently, at the death of an uncle of mine, the four of us – my brother, parents and I, made a trip to this small town near Asansol where my ancestral house is. As one of my uncles parked the car as we turned a corner, from where our house of yore used to be such a grand view, I thought, “What a disgrace! Somebody has built a house right in front of ours, spoiling the view completely!” Only, I was wrong – it was our house, but the structure was changed beyond all recognition. Just two weeks back my brother and I were telling our parents not to sell it because it had so many memories for us, but as my brother and I, after meeting the relatives, went out for a walk down our childhood haunts, we realized that what we had relished as a memory was now so altered that even if we went back there again, this was the last time we were coming to our childhood home. Revisiting the past is always a bad thing, my brother said sagely, as I felt something one might even call grief in the pit of my stomach.
As we walked around the house listlessly, I caught sight of myself in the mirror and with a shock wondered how my grandmother was staring back at me. And I realized my husband turned 50 this year, and can I be far behind? I did not want any old-timey ephemera. I was looking around for a pencil sketch of Venus my father drew which used to remain framed in the wall by the staircase and as that feeling in my stomach grew into something one might call despair, I realized even the staircase was now halved in some ugly property division of a house which was never meant to house separate families living separately. Family heirlooms, such as they are, and the tradition of preserving them, were not going to last long. I can’t imagine my son, citizen of the digital age, will keep the pictures of his great grandparents and relatives whose names have been forgotten. Not to mention the other crap I have acquired over the years.
I only hope my son has patience with us. Like we try to keep telling our parents about e-mail, that even if you are in different corners of the world, the email address remains the same, will my son have to say, “Ma, the chip embedded in your thumb won’t need reprogramming when you move!” Where will I be headed when such a time comes? With my lacklustre savings, maybe a room in a home in Varanasi. God knows I have the hairstyle to get direct entry there.
I don’t really believe in any kind of universal law other than Randomness Happens, but being an atheist on a budget can be difficult. I mean, in our old-age home (OK, maybe not Varanasi, but close), what will we do when the whole she-bang goes for some prayer ritual or the other? I had seen my grandparents, and how their life had compressed to the point that their relationships with their illnesses were primary. My mother looks more and more like my grandma now, – she has a lot of gusto yet, but I keep wondering how long she can carry on like this.
Very few things really stand the test of time. Nothing I do will be remembered for too long after I am dead. Only Tagore, Shakespeare, scientific inventions and Cadbury’s Gems have stood the test of time. And cockroaches. Even Godrej is failing at containing them, as I find out with alarming regularity. And besides, I suck at almost everything – it is an unexpected gift aging has given me. My center of gravity is all topsy-turvy now. As a younger person I was good at many things, and slowly that voice that sang, that hand which drew, are all receding to a point where it becomes difficult even for me to imagine I could once do them. My brother was an inveterate cheater at all board games – he still is. But when my son and my niece and brother play games like Connect Four, nothing connects in my brain. There is something wonderfully satisfying about acknowledging your mediocrity and still persevering, except with Statesman Crossword. I don’t get it. After a lifetime of trying I still cant. I can’t even look at it without getting a headache and so was very thrilled when my parents’ geriatrician said it does not actually ward off Alzheimer’s as we imagined, and that only socialization and turmeric did (there, that’s your take-away piece from this long rant). Hah! I cannot tell you the number of whole brain clusters I lost on those crosswords.
I have achieved nothing in my life. At various points in life I had hoped I would be the youngest to get the Booker, Pulitzer (without ever acknowledging the impossibility of that happening unless I wrote something), – I had set my sights low and did not venture to Stockholm even in my dreams -but the only thing I have for which I was the youngest is having old lady hands. Gnarled hands from when I was a teenager, that’s all I have to speak for myself. I have inherited the worst things from my parents. It’s right up there with Ashok Kumar’s face in oldness even in childhood.
I try to act young but I hate Twinkle Khanna, her early success, her columns, and I am still trying to reinvent myself professionally several times; reinvention being the last resort of someone who did jobs ranging from a copywriter in Calcutta to a salaries and wages clerk in UK and then to marginally better ones and finally now in a stable job. And that’s half the life and more already gone. I am now hoping the good hate for Twinkle Khanna is going will propel me into action.
I don’t even have a signature dish my son can remember me for. Even my mother, who started off life as a terrible cook (and we siblings have memories that prove it), even she already has a number of things which I never bothered to learn. Also, why did we have just the one child? Who will Neel be able to laugh about us when we are gone? Jesus, it means I need to create memories with his cousins at least. I need to keep current with the new-fangled things to be someone he will even notice. At 16 he only goes so far as the school gates with me and if I go to his school on some work, I have to disappear from sight, dissolve into ether if I can. Most of his friend’s mothers are way younger, because their priorities were not to first see Egypt, see all the museums of Europe, and then have a kid. I keep telling him I am on my way out of this life and he’s on his way in and he asks me if my bones are really so brittle because I am ancient.
My joints hurt but I am not sure if its arthritis or cancer or because I spent hours walking up and down the mall buying things I did not need. When I come home to my family, I get the most affection from the dog. Reality sucks. Tea, wine, chocolate – the anchors of my food pyramid, gets my reflux worse. Anger is bad for reflux, but that thought makes me even angrier. Internet passwords have the power to reduce me to a state of sheer madness. I have lost articles and whole chapters of those potential Booker winners and had to scrap the idea because I had, in my infinite wisdom, got them password protected. I have even gone paperless with my bank and other investment accounts, so if my memory diminishes even further – which it might, no will, – no one, including me or my family, who don’t even know where I even do my banking, will ever gain access to these accounts. God knows how many such accounts and passwords of mine are languishing in cyberspace. I try to remind myself to write them all down but I can’t remember to do that either. Middle age is turning me into a raving maniac.
OK, and since this is a whine fest anyway, here’s the last one. Why? If I am such a treasured friend to so many of my friends, why do they send me emails requiring me to foist unwanted emails on ten friends within thirty minutes? Emails that threaten retribution from one deity or another should I break the chain might one day revive our postal system. What kind of god is so micromanaging that he/she would count the number of times I forwarded something before granting me any kind of luck? What if some email ID has changed? Do I get good karma for my efforts? Is the internet god the same deity that is called upon to stop genocide etc or is there a someone whose purview is solely cyberspace?