A Man without Love

April 6, 2024by Rajeev Hora0

 “One can live with the reality that no one is around but not with a feeling that no one cares. That is true loneliness.”

“Son, there are only two things you need to worry about in life. Poverty of food and poverty of companionship. And in fact, the latter more.” said old man Madhav.

To put the record straight, Madhav in his middling eighties, was not addressing his own son. He was just having a casual chat with Adhir, a sprightly young corporate lad nearing thirty. Adhir had come down to the old age home as part of his company’s CSR initiative. Out of the many options available, Adhir had chosen, ‘Spend half a day with Senior Citizens’.

 A five-member group with Adhir as the Lead, had landed up at the Home. It was a bit of a cross between an average nursing home and a two-star dilapidated hotel. “Forever Young” left a cynical taste in the mouth with its naming strategy on the website. It had close to forty inhabitants from all walks of life, the age spectrum ranging from sixty to ninety. Some had joined at their own expense while others had been sponsored by their wards staying abroad.

The Director had taken them around the reasonably well-maintained facilities. Adhir couldn’t help noticing the fresh flowers in the reception. Wondered whether they had been brought to impress the visitors. The smell of pine phenyl and that of sambhar intertwined as they came close to the community dining room. The group was invited to share a meal and break bread with the ‘inmates’, as the Director referred to them with a jailbird like tone.

After the meal, each group member was allowed to meet any resident that they felt like approaching. For some reason, Adhir was drawn towards Madhav who had parked himself on an easy chair in the garden for a post-lunch siesta.  Tanned wrinkles on his forehead told quite a story. The Home staff made the introductions and left them to be together.

Exchanging notes, Adhir brought him up to speed about where he was coming from. Post his intro, he asked, “How about you Sir?”

Madhav replied, “I lost my wife a decade back. Had really nowhere to go. My physical faculties deteriorating, I didn’t want to move to the US and preferred this Dwarka option. You will find it hard to believe that one of my classmates is also here. In fact, he convinced me to move.”

Sensitively taking the conversation forward, Adhir asked, “Do you miss her Sir?”

Madhav’s eyes glistened in nostalgic acquiescence, “Each and every moment son. She was my life, my backbone in every way you can imagine. God could not have created a better being” He continued with a pause, “But the reality of life is that one of us had to precede. The inevitability is always there but you can never prepare yourself for the rapidity. I am grateful to the Lord for sparing her this phase of life.”

Adhir realized he had touched a very raw nerve and changed the subject, “Do you have any regrets Sir”?

Madhav thought for a moment and responded, “The way I look at it is that a regret to which amends cannot be made is just a wasteful regret.”

“You see people at my age become rather philosophical. We often tend to reflect with a zoomed-out, birds eye view of our own past actions. Somehow the glories seem to fade away. Parallelly, some regrets just refuse to go away. At the deepest core level, it strikes that perhaps we could have or should have made different choices. A way of justifying to our own selves that we are actually better than the way we had been.”

“By the way, did you see the recent photograph of an erstwhile political doyen being conferred with a national award? No, I am not commenting about the raked-up controversy about who is sitting and who is not. I am talking about the rather forlorn look on his face. I am wondering as to what was going through his heart at that moment.”

Was it a sense of deja vu or is he wondering about ‘what he started for what’? Did everything play out as he visualized decades back? Was he really right in the highest sense of conscience? Do we all persist to justify our righteousness? Will this recognition have any meaning to anyone in a few years from now? Does he have any regrets? Or is it just plain bemusement?”

 “Well, only he knows, and He knows!”, smiled Madhav at his own wordplay. “Son, how wonderful would it be to meet Him without regrets. But is it even possible or it is just a feel-good, aspirational thought, what do you think?”

 Adhir a bit more inquisitive now, parried, “Please don’t mind my asking Sir, but how is it to be alone now?”

 “Son, I have fairly good company here. Good enough to prevent me from going crazy. Just keep in mind that here are only two things you need to worry about in life. Poverty of food and poverty of companionship. And in fact, the latter more. If you are ever at a crossroad, choose the less lonely option. As they say, दो बर्तन खटक भी गए तो क्या हुआ, ज़ालिम आवाज़ तो है! Meaning, so what if a few pots are banging, at least there is some sound!”

Madhav continued, “You see, one can survive with the reality that no one is around but not with a feeling that no one cares. That is true loneliness.”

“Ah! One more regret I forgot to mention. I really wish I could sing like my favourite singer, Englebert.” Not unexpectedly, Adhir had no clue who this ‘ancient’ crooner was. An enthusiastic Madhav coaxed him, “Englebert Humberdink, my vintage son. Come open YouTube on your phone. Let’s listen to him.”

Adhir obliged and both of them sat in studied silence as the hauntingly beautiful notes wafted in with remarkable coincidence:
Every day I wake up, then I start to break up
Every day I start out, then I cry my heart out
Lonely is a man without love

As the popular ballad neared its end, Adhir got up gently to take his leave but could not quite do that.

Madhav had already dozed off in a noontime slumber.

In a reflective daze as well,
Horax (Casper)

Postscript: Had  a long chat with Dr Anjali who regularly counsels old people for life and financial security.  It emerged that of all the concerns related to ageing (health, safety, security, finances etc), loneliness takes the pole position.

 First published at seekmediation.com on 06/04/24

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