Perceiving Reality In Old Age

While going back, he announced in the car that he did not enjoy himself. Sneh tried to cover up; she had years of practice in this field of damage control. The young couple tried to hide their disappointment.


Throughout our life we all grapple with questions like why am I here, who placed me here, where will I go? Anxiety regarding life, the meaning of life, our choices, absurdity, fears, death, and any fixed design in the existence, haunts us at times intensely and at times bubbling on some back burner of our minds. Sneh was no exception.

Now Sneh was convinced that neither religion nor science has all the answers. She had lived through six and a half decades out of which nearly four and a half she had lived with her husband, Som. At this stage of life, she tended towards metaphysics which concerns existence and the nature of things that exist. Under its influence, she had come to believe that universe is basically psychological.

The law of Correspondence, according to Metaphysics states that your outer world reflects your inner world like a mirror. Our inner selves are of course shaped by family, temperament, and experiences. Your inner self is giving connotations to whatever you are perceiving in the world around you. That is why two people tend to interpret the same events and circumstances in very different ways.

Supposing A and B have gone on a jungle safari to be one with nature, away from their hectic urban life and the polluted air of their city. ‘A’ will admire the trees, flowers, greenery, lack of traffic noise, and silence surrounding them, and wonder at the creatures big and small with which we humans share the planet. Or, how dramatic the clouds and sky can be instead of the smoky greyish blue which always greets him in the cities. ‘B’ on the other hand may complain about the heat or cold, the silence may unnerve her, the biting insects irritate her, and the rustling of the leaves make her anxious that snakes or spiders are going to fall on them. The panoramic view fails to enchant her. Som would identify with ‘A’ and Sneh would identify with ‘B’.

Their empty nest had long become familiar to Sneh and Som. They had adjusted well. Their daughter was settled in America with her husband and kids. The occasional visits to their son’s home in Calcutta were looked forward to by them.

The young have a very different view of entertainment and spending leisure time. Their son and daughter-in-law whom they were visiting, wanted to give them a unique experience. Som is very fond of sports – be it cricket, hockey, football, kabaddi, or lawn tennis. He even sets an alarm on his mobile to wake him up during the night when the game is being played in a different time zone. So, they offered to take them to watch live a T20 cricket match being held in the city.

Sneh does not even know the basics of the game and has never been interested in it, and in her younger days when people carried transistors to hear the commentary and the office work used to crawl like a snail, she used to think of the game as national wastage – wasting of so many working hours. She did not want to go as she was not interested in the game. As a mother, she wanted to acknowledge the effort of the youngsters they were trying to do something special for their old parents. And she argued with herself, “Why not? Why not have a new experience because they are trying to give me that? Yes! I want to read and have a quiet evening – they should go and watch the match, but then I have always spent my evenings walking or reading. Just this once let me make them happy.” And her voice agreeing to go to watch the game had even startled her.

To everyone’s surprise, Som refused to go to the grounds. He wanted to watch the match at home sprawled on the sofa in front of the TV. She coaxed, cajoled him that for the sake of their children they should go – maybe they would enjoy it. She pretended that she wanted to see Eden Gardens, secretly thinking “Four tickets wasted! Not if I can help.” His lordship deigned to go because you see, he was pleasing his family; he liked to think of himself as a very obliging person after all.

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Her DIL Sangeeta sensed her doubts. She wanted her to be happy. She tried to cheer her up, “Aunty, let’s wear blue today!” A digression here – Sneh is an aunty MIL because when the couple was in the process of becoming a couple and she had met Sangeeta, then ‘aunty’ had seemed the right casual prevalent address. Sneh has a friend Mrs. Lakhe, who is likewise a Kaku MIL. These Aunty and Kaku MILs think that this is as it should be. The DIL has her own mother. Period. And if over the years all goes well and they develop affection and feel close then the word mummy may be considered. Aunty is definitely better than Mummyjee where the suffix jee makes this address almost accusatory.

Now back to Sangeeta. “Aunty, watching the match on the grounds is an experience. You don’t have to watch the game. The noise, music, crowds, and funny things people do to catch the attention of telecasters are very entertaining. You will enjoy it.” Indeed, it turned out to be an experience worth having.

They had to walk a long way because the vehicles were not allowed anywhere near the entrance. The queue was more than a kilometer long and it took them nearly forty minutes to get inside. It was madly crowded. The ground was uneven. Sangeeta held her arm all the time telling her to look at the ground and watch her step. Rohan was holding his father’s arm. People were wearing blue T-shirts. T-shirt sellers were also there. Some of the people were getting their faces painted in the tricolor. The mood was festive. There was excitement, expectation, and high spirits all around. Sangeeta requested a policeman to allow her old parents to cross easily through a sideway. The helpful policeman escorted them, while Rohan and Sangeeta joined the queue at the designated gate. They were still outside when the first time the crowd roared because the Indian team had won the toss. Sneh was stunned by the noise. By the time they reached the stands the game had started. Every time the Indian batsman scored a four or six the crowd roared, clapped, stood up, waved flags and drums reached a crescendo. Before an inexperienced person could understand the head or tail of what was happening more than half of the spectators would stand up to cheer and wave the flags. Sneh tried to make a video of what she was watching for her grandsons living abroad. But every time she tried, she could only catch the backs of the T-shirts which spectators in the row in front of them were wearing.

There was no voice of the commentator describing the game to tell her what was happening. It came as a surprise to her that bowling is done from both ends. The loud music, the DJ playing songs, people going ga-ga over their favorite players, and the ever-changing multicolored lights making different designs were mesmerizing. Sneh stopped watching the game and watched people only. The harried father who had to take their younger son to the loo while the mum all decked up sat watching the game was funny. For once patriarchy is at the receiving end! Another gentleman had brought his whole family and all the time he was getting them popcorn, pizza, and cold drinks instead of watching the match. Each to his/her own – the experience of happiness – thought Sneh.  Som wanted to visit the washroom, senior citizens cannot stay without this facility for long. Rohan accompanied his father – must have stood outside – ‘Role reversal,’ Sneh mused and smiled.

And the cheer, the commotion that the crowd made when the big screen showed Ganguly sitting in the gallery was beyond her understanding. But Sangita explained that Ganguly is their God here. The madness with a fervor of nationalism was delightful – but on second thoughts rude too. To her surprise, nobody cheered when New Zealanders scored a four or a six. She felt that that was unfair. The crowds only cheered when some player was declared out.

“Let’s cheer them when they score.”

“Sure, aunty. But this is Eden Gardens. Be prepared for what might happen,” laughed Sangeeta.

Rohan decided to avoid the rush. They would only watch five overs of the second half and get out of the grounds before the crowds started to move. And they would be back home to watch the last few overs on TV.

Som had never been good at understanding social cues. Rather he is almost proud of what he calls his straightforwardness, his habit of not beating about the bush. He had been muttering, grumbling all the time under his breath. While going back, he announced in the car that he did not enjoy himself. Sneh tried to cover up; she had years of practice in this field of damage control. The young couple tried to hide their disappointment. They reached home making a desultory conversation and watched the last over at home. India won the match and at the dining table, the atmosphere became normal.

In the bedroom Sneh tried to reason with Som, “You enjoy cricket. What happened today? Didn’t you see you upset the children?”

“I never asked them to take me. I was happy to watch it at home on TV.” He unleashed his irritation, “Don’t know why people turn up at the ground – they don’t even understand the game. They just want to shout and be noisy. Of the father and daughter duo sitting in front of me – the daughter was a nuisance. She was in her twenties. The batsman would take a shot and before you could see what was happening, she would stand up and shout. Then sit down and ask her father to explain what had happened. Two sons and their father were sitting in the back row – the father did not know the game and seemed hard of hearing. The sons kept on explaining to him in Bengali in a loud voice. Then there was that ridiculous jackass sitting with the Indian flag draped on his shoulders. Every time a four or six was struck he would run to and fro waving the flag. He wasn’t even in a group – he looked so stupid.

And Rohan kept on holding my arm while we were walking. When we were young and saw the old men in such places, we used to ridicule them “Bahut aag hai, why cannot they sit at home where they belong.” I felt insulted.’

Sneh was dumb stuck. Because Sneh had thought exactly the opposite. Sangeeta while holding her arm had shared that last month she had gone home and taken her mother out shopping. And her mother had stumbled and fallen – there was no obstruction and yet she had suffered a loss of balance. “It made me cry. I am so worried. She is growing old. You don’t want your parents to grow old,” she sighed. Sneh had tried to turn the conversation into another direction with a gentle “It happens sometimes. Don’t worry.” And Sneh had sensed the protectiveness, the care in Sangeeta’s touch, and Som had not felt it in his own blood and flesh’s touch. Why? The Pride mentality was at work? The old lion resisting the young lion etc. Or, despite his repeated declarations that he has accepted old age, he has been unable to accept the accompanying feebleness and it hurts his self-esteem because unlike the Pride there was no power struggle here.

His focusing on one tree had made him lose the beauty of the jungle. And if you only have a hammer, everything can look like a nail.

Sneh’s fascination for metaphysical laws increased manifold. She is convinced what we choose to focus on becomes our reality – whether good or bad.

Image source: a still from the film Bhai Vyakti Ka Valli

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