“Appa is happy,” Lily said for the seventh time, or maybe eighth. Appa smiled at Simon. Lily’s Appa was Simon’s uncle. In other words, Lily and Simon were cousins.
Simon visited because Uncle had developed a medical problem all of a sudden. Old age had caught up with him finally. This man who would never sit at home was now confined to a wheelchair. A few nerves had become dysfunctional. From the time of his retirement, Uncle’s hobby was travelling and visiting relatives. Until the nerves ditched him at the age of 82, he went on his own to all the relatives whom he could reach by bus or on foot.
“Relationships are the only things that remain,” Uncle once told Simon when one of his perennial journeys brought him to Simon’s home. That was a couple of years back.
“I used to visit the old people in the houses on this road,” Uncle said pointing at the main road outside. “Big houses with only old people. The children are all abroad or in some big cities in the country. Working and earning money. Big houses with a lot of empty rooms. Once I overcome this disability I’ll continue my visits.”
“Appa is happy,” Lily said once more as she came with tea and snacks.
Uncle smiled at Simon rather wearily. “She came from Delhi when she heard about my hospitalisation. They will leave tomorrow leaving this house too with big empty rooms.” Lily’s children were playing with their mobile phones outside.
“Joe also came. They have gone to visit some relatives,” Uncle said. Joe was his son who lived in America.
“You must be experiencing a strange kind of loneliness,” Simon said gingerly.
Uncle smiled again. Lily was not around to repeat that Appa was happy.
“Anna is enough company,” Uncle said. Anna was his wife, Simon’s aunt. Then there was silence. Simon let the silence be. He was not a good conversationalist anyway. Moreover, he knew that Anna was the kind of a person who is contented with herself, her own notions about life, her own likes and dislikes. Such people don’t make good company.
“I have always loved her,” Uncle went on after the silence. “I have never checked whether she loved me. I like to believe she did, that she does. What really matters, however, is what we do, whether we love. What others do is immaterial.”
That time is gone, Simon wished to say. We now live in the age of bullets and bombs. And gau rakshaks and other custodians of morality, spirituality, culture and patriotism. What they do is affecting thousands of lives. But Simon did not say anything.
“Do you still read a lot?” Uncle asked. Books were Simon’s friends.
Uncle must have asked that intentionally. The only thing that could make Simon talk was books.
“I was reading today something about the need to give up hope,” said Simon. “A state of utter hopelessness, the realisation that there is nowhere to hide, is the beginning of a new beginning. Suffering begins to dissolve when we realise there is no escape from it.”
“In the depths of winter lies your invincible summer. Didn’t your favourite writer say that or something like that?” Uncle asked.
“Albert Camus, yes. But Camus never upheld hope as a virtue.”
“The last item in Pandora’s box!” Uncle exclaimed. Simon had told him that once.
“Things keep falling apart,” Simon ignored Pandora. “That’s how life is. Things come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and they fall apart. The healing is not in putting things together. The healing comes from letting there be room for all this to happen: room for grief and relief, misery and joy.”
Uncle called the home nurse. He had to go to the washroom. Relationships are the only things that remain. Simon remembered what Uncle had said a little while ago. Relationships had gone online.
As Simon took leave, Uncle said, “I’ll come again to visit you. Let me get well.” Lily smiled.
PS. The above story (or whatever it can be called) is partly a result of my reading a review of the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.