Perhaps life is best seen through the eyes of children and their unpolluted worldview; life is possibly best understood by the elderly with their not-so guiltless heart, and eyes that has seen rough facets of human existence.
Chachi we were taught to call her. A widow residing just opposite our house at the heart of Dhaka. Few can recollect where we now live, although it is at the centre of this metropolis. The heart of Dhaka has moved northward — the pomp and everything grand — leaving us stranded at the middle of nowhere. And amidst all this, Chachi is a modern day Indir Thakrun, straight from the pages of Pather Panchali.
It has been years since her husband breathed his last. The fact that they were childless is well known. Chacha was eccentric, and Chachi matched that with her own strangeness and unmatched temper.
As children, we tried our very best to avoid all ‘confrontations’ with Chachi. If we ever accidentally stumble on her, we did greet, and I cannot recall why, she at times seemed moved. But be that as it was, if the cricket ball was ever sent to her courtyard, it stayed there.
Years passed by. Chachi no longer lives in the dilapidated house her husband left. It was taken down years ago, and made way for a towering apartment complex. There was some talk that she will get her fair share bequeathed by her husband. It was all talk.
Chachi now moves from one home to another. No one knows why; I always wondered why. My mother, although a good decade younger, now finds common elements with people her age or above. All in all, it felt like a very good proposition. So, we invited her to stay in our house, despite being fully aware of her peculiarity. We felt, we will just have to make some adjustments.
Chachi loves life, and she is one who enjoys her meal — two eggs for breakfast; a cup of tea spiked with enough sugar to make one sleepless for days on.
She has hunger pangs at the dead end of the night, which meant more eggs. Her refusal to take her insulin shots only meant more frequent visits to the doctor and a fresh prescription, which almost always was followed by yet another episode of total disregard to her health.
Yet, all was still well. At least till the time she accused us of robbing her assets; bank balance; even the petty cash she allegedly carried in her purse. Bewildered, we contacted her next-of-kin.
Apparently, what we did not know was that this is the reality of Chachi. Her stays always start well, but things go haywire after a week, or inevitably by the end of a month…she is left with only one option — to seek a roof over her head elsewhere. I was not around to see her leave; I was staying with a friend; co-existence was impossible.
All this was years ago. I meet Chachi often; at times while I leave for work, or when I return home after an exhausting day. I know it’s yet another short stay at one of her well-wishers. She will soon create situations hostile for her own good — she will refuse psychiatric attention and disdainfully looks at therapy. She will soon start her acquisitions, and her firmness conviction of not moving until all assets are handed over to her.
But time has taught people one thing — the only thing that she really fears. The prospect of having her transferred to an old home.
My mother was widowed at a young age, as was her own mother — my maternal grandmother; as was her mother-in-law — my paternal grandmother.
It has been almost a decade since my mother retired from what would most term as an illustrious career. But time takes its toll, and she too is now plagued with ailments. She too has her own dietary indulgences, much against the advice of physicians and scornful look in our eyes.
Her eldest son lives a million miles away. Every day, she tries to talk with her grandchildren via Whatsapp, who can only manage a few broken sentences in Bengali. Yet, both sides keep trying.
My mother too has learned to co-exist with us; our modern world view. Our cat is her soul companion, often the sole companion, in one of her binge watch sessions of Uttam-Suchitra; Pather Panchali and Shet Pathorer Thala.
As I look into the family album, which is not too often, I see women of past and present, standing along with people they had/have learned to live without in their own lifetime. Although surrounded by generations of their progeny, all eyes speak of an unfathomable solitude — the one I see in my Chachi; what I now see in my mother.
Perhaps, life hasn’t changed for Indir Thakruns. And maybe this is my way of saying, “Sorry.”