WARNING : This is a long and dull post... i do not want abusive comments from some of my particular...ahem...friends!!
I grumbled as the nurse helped me onto the wheelchair. It wasn’t an easy task after all. Come to think of it, it must have been a very unpleasant task for a twenty-year-old girl to pick up an eighty something lady against her wishes onto a chair that won’t keep still. But she did it without complaining.
The Asha Home for the elderly was full of grumpy old people like me. Most of them were ill, the pain making them difficult people to please. But some were just sad, sad because they felt that their family didn’t want them anymore, or sad because they didn’t have a family left.
The nurse wheeled me out into the sunlight for the afternoon. Even after my telling her repeatedly that I hated the sun, she never did seem to remember to leave me in the shade instead. As I closed my eyes to block out the sun’s glare, I felt something heavy being placed on my lap. I squinted at the untidily wrapped package the nurse had handed me, and as much as I hate to admit it, actually smiled at her. It was from my grandchildren.
I opened the pink envelope on top to find a card, which had a lopsided cake drawn on it, with as many candles as would fit on it. Just how old did they think I was? But that thought didn’t bother me much. What mattered was that they had remembered my birthday when I myself had almost forgotten! And for once, the “Happy 100th birthday!!” scrawled across the page by my ten-year-old grandson, Nikhil, just made me laugh.
I put aside the card, being careful that it was in plain view for everyone to see, and unwrapped the bulky package. It was a huge black book, it seemed old but vaguely familiar. I opened it onto the first page and read the note, which my son had written in his neat italic handwriting.
I have always adored you for your zest for life. And I often miss the dinnertime stories you used to tell me of my childhood, and even better, of your childhood. I must admit, I had forgotten how funny and delightful those sessions had been, and was recently reminded of them when I came across your old photograph album. So here it is, mom, I hope you enjoy it.
It had been a long time since my son had written to me. It isn’t like he had forgotten me, he visited me about once every month, that’s a lot more visits than what half my friends got, but when you’re my age, you don’t really have much to do but to count the hours, and even a month seems like a really long time.
I turned the page over and smiled, it was my first photograph ever taken. A bald baby who hadn’t even opened her eyes. As I kept on turning I couldn’t help but laugh. The girl staring back at me had the naughtiest gleam in her eyes I had ever seen, and a smile that never seemed to go away. I remember being thrown out of classes so often because I couldn’t help laughing at the tiniest things, may it be a silly joke cracked by the boy sitting behind me, or the expression on the teacher’s face when I burst out laughing in the middle of his class. Life was fun and every moment was to be enjoyed. The one time I laughed the most was when my father had taken me to the circus. The clowns, with their wide smiles (which I didn’t realize were painted on) and their funny antics had me laughing until my sides hurt. I found it weird that my father didn’t laugh, just smiled, and that too not at the clowns, but at me.
The next photograph contained me holding a pink bundle, and for the first time, I saw my mothers arm around it too, making sure I didn’t drop it. I found my baby sister extremely funny. After all, even my dolls didn’t have such small pudgy hands, and amazingly fat legs. I remember the look of horror on Mom’s face when I claimed that if I felt hungry at night, I could just nibble her ears.
As I turned the pages of the album, old pages of my memory also opened, things I hadn’t remembered for a long time. High school was fun until the last year, the year I turned seventeen. My father was killed in a car accident, and as the case usually is, by no fault of his own. I remember swearing never to drink in my entire life, one of the few promises I have stuck to. Till then, I had had no responsibilities on my shoulder. My mother’s health was affected poorly by the shock and suddenly I realized just how much depended on me. I had to study hard and get into a good college if I expected to get a decent job, something my family was in dire need of. Now that I looked at the photographs of that time, I noticed the major change that had come over me. The naughty smile was gone, to be replaced by a few lines on my forehead. Come to think of it, that was probably the year I laughed the least.
It is weird, how over the coming years things seemed to change, not just for me, but for everyone around me. The happy go lucky kids turned into duty bound cynics. There were no more whole hearted laughing sessions, for the man next to me in office definitely didn’t crack any jokes in the middle of a meeting, and I didn’t dare laugh at the expression on my boss’s face either. Every thing around us seemed to become fake, with strained friendships and forced laughter.
No, this story does not have a dark ending. After all, no human being can live his entire life without laughter and happiness. There is always a silver lining to everything. At the age of 26, I got married to one of my colleagues. But the time that a broad smile finally lit up my face was when I saw my son sitting quietly on the terrace for an entire hour because there was a butterfly sitting on his knee, and he didn’t want to scare it.
Outside the house, I was a hard-shelled workingwoman who was part of a rat race, and did not want to be left behind. In the breaks I may have taken I laughed at the foolish people who sat around wasting their lives, dreaming of a better tomorrow. Couldn’t they see that there was no such thing as a better tomorrow if they didn’t hurry up and join the race as well? How did they expect to support themselves and their families, and pay for their children’s education?
But at home I was the loving and doting mother I was supposed to be. My children helped me find the sense of humour I had long since lost. I laughed openly at the same jokes they told everyday, and I laughed in private with my husband while discussing the various tricks they had played on each other that day. But probably the time the entire family laughed together was at dinner on Sundays. It is amazing how tales from your childhood can amuse your kids a lot, and its even funnier to see the looks on their faces when they are told of their own antics. This was a tradition we followed for as long as I remembered, one we reverted to at family gatherings even after they were married.
Once up the hill, time seems to take you down the hill quite fast. I soon retired from my job and spent my time with my husband, watching television and bickering with each other. As much as we enjoyed each other’s company, the highlight of the month was when our now 40 something ‘kids’ visited us, with their own kids. The old tradition was still followed, but now the stories were about our grandchildren.
After my husband died, I reluctantly agreed to shift into a home for the elderly, after all, my health was deteriorating and nobody had the time to look after an elderly lady who needed constant attention. Like I mentioned before, the Asha home for the elderly was filled with grumpy old people, filled with sadness and pain. They had, after all, once had a life that was filled with gay laughter.
With wet eyes I closed the album, the last photograph being one I would cherish forever. It showed the entire family, complete with five grandchildren, all grinning at the camera. And I was pleased to notice that there was one common trait in almost all the faces. The naughtiest smiles I had ever seen.
I complained to the nurse all the way to the living room, after all, she had left me out in the sun again, even after my repeatedly telling her I like the shade better. Considering the fact that in old age, people started repeating things without realizing that they had said it before, it seemed I hadn’t said it enough times.
But I soon forgot about my inconsiderate nurse when I entered the living room, to find it decked with streamers and balloons, and a big cake on the center table. But what pleased me even more, was the sight of my children behind the cake, holding up their children who were gaily waving at me. The party that followed the cake was probably the best I ever got, this time with all my toothless friends. The room burst out laughing when 89-year-old Mr. Raman, got up and started dancing with Nikhil, waving his walking stick in all directions, knowing that he would be paying dearly the next day because of this vigorous exercise. Soon, most of the crowd had joined in, and squeals and snorts filled the air. Maybe, that was the day I laughed the most.
Once somebody asked me whether laughter dies away with age. I often wondered the same thing, but finally realized that it doesn’t. Of course there are times when we forget how to laugh, but we soon remember, thanks to small things. In my case, it was just a naughty smile.