Saturday, June 1, 2013

Who really died?

It had been almost a month since I had visited Babu’s ashram for the elderly. It had kind of become a weekly ritual to carry food for the elderly who stayed there. Or rather had been forced to stay there. My association with the ashram began about a year ago.


Mr. and Mrs. Iyer lived in the house across our apartment. Iyer Uncle, as we called him, was very fond of the flower beds he had planted himself on the entire periphery of his house. It had become customary to exchange pleasantries as we went for our morning walk every day. Uncle would be watering his plants and listening to his booming voice would mark the beginning of our day.

A year ago his wife passed away leaving uncle all alone in their sprawling house. As long as she had been there, we would see them sitting on the veranda, sharing biscuits over a cup of coffee every evening. She had been a perfectionist, taking caring of all his needs. But with her no longer around, their three married children had been quite reluctant to look after their aging father and decided the next best thing would be to put him in an old age home. When we heard the news, we went to meet uncle. We saw him sitting on his rocking chair, eyes closed, and cheeks awash with tears. “Will you water my plants for me when I am gone?” he asked. “I don’t want them to be orphaned like me.”

That was all he was thinking of now? His plants? It brought a lump to my throat and I nodded, unable to speak. And then he wept like a child, his booming voice echoing through the house. It was heart wrenching to see a 75 year old weep like that before you.

That’s how uncle was unceremoniously bundled of to the ashram by three well-to-do children whom he had brought up so lovingly. To watch a movie on this theme or read about it in the papers is different and to see it actually happening is quite another. No words can describe what it is to see ungrateful children treating a parent with so much disrespect.

 And that’s how our association with the ashram began. At first it had been to just visit uncle and keep him company. Later we decide to prepare something every Sunday for all the 35 inmates. We would always be greeted at the gate by Gopi uncle and his flag. He would salute us and then run around the whole place waving his flag. Most inmates looked senile and it worried us if Iyer uncle had been put in the right place. The warden told us that most of them had been fine when they came there but over a period of time, loneliness and depression at having been forsaken by their own families had caused senility to set in. We wondered if Iyer uncle would meet the same fate.

We saw his health deteriorate over the next few months so we shifted some of his plants and his rocking chair to make him feel at home. But no amount of cheering seemed to help him. I was going out of town and I told him that I will see him after a month.


I had been readying to go to the ashram after a month of vacation when I met my neighbor at the gate.

“Going to the ashram?” she asked.

“Yes, I haven’t been there in more than a month now,” I told her.

“Iyer uncle passed away when you weren’t here” she told me.

I couldn’t believe what she said. I wanted to know more. She told me how sometime last month, Iyer uncle had run away from the ashram, and was found by an auto rickshaw driver while trying to jump off a lake. He had calmed uncle and brought him home. His children were informed and instead of comforting their father they had screamed at him for running away like that. He had passed away a couple of days later in sleep, not having eaten anything for the past two days. We wondered whether he died from hunger of food or love.

I took one last long look at uncle’s house, his plants all dried out and the house resounding with the emptiness that he had been carrying for such a long time in his heart. It made me think who really died? And no, it was not just a person.

May he rest in peace.


(Coming after my previous post, it would have been surprising to read two similar stories....but this had been weighing on my heart for quite some time and I think 100 words haven't been sufficient for me to express my anguish. Hence this post.)

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