‘So, what was he showing you?”, I asked my husband as we drove out of the parking lot. It was almost 10 at night and the air was still warm after a hot summer’s day. I was smiling after spending a beautiful evening with our friends. Earlier that evening, we had walked into my good friend Priya’s house. Priya’s father-in-law was visiting Dubai after many years and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet him.
There is something magical about meeting the elderly. They talk about old times, old habits and their younger selves. Some of which, we can relate to and many of which, we simply can’t. Trying to picture them with jet black hair and with wrinkle-free skin is like watching a movie in sepia — except that, this would be about real happenings and real people. And, that evening was no different.
Priya’s father-in-law sat on the brown couch wearing a pale white cotton T-shirt. He was waiting just to meet us before retiring for the day.
He greeted us with a smile and nodded as he continued to sit. He seemed very quiet at first but, very soon, he eased into conversations. He spoke about “those days”, “his youth” and of course, the unavoidable comparison of the changing times.
As we listened, at one point, he got up from the couch to get his tab. After tapping on the screen for a couple of seconds, he showed it to my husband. I watched them from where I sat. I caught bits of their chatter and I figured they could be looking at some pictures. ‘Perhaps pictures of his extended family’, I thought. A couple of minutes later, he got up for the second time from his couch. This time, he reached for a neat pouch that lay on the centre table. He rummaged it, pulled out something and, plugged them into his ears. “I can now hear the faintest of sound”, he laughed pointing to his hearing aid and we all laughed with him.
Lingering strange feeling
By now, the old man was completely at ease. He laughed, and was actively talking about his life when the conversation slowly drifted towards recipes and cooking. “Do you know how it is made?”, he began, and he gave a step by step method of a particular sweet dish with renewed energy and passion. After giving us all the details, he added thoughtfully, “she made it well”. Something about that remark touched my heart and I smiled.
In the car, I couldn’t shake off the strange feeling that lingered inside. That was when, I remembered that moment, when my husband and the old-man, had sat up, swiping at the screen.
“They were pictures”, my husband said.
“Ha? Whose pictures?”, I asked, curious.
“Of his late wife”, my husband said smiling thoughtfully, “He really loves her a lot and I am sure, he misses her every single moment”.
The strangest ways, people express their love for their dear ones!
“For a man belonging to that generation, to keep pictures handy and show them to people is very new”, I nodded in surprise.
“Didn’t you see, how he spoke about her?”, My husband shook his head, “So pure”.
And, that’s when it occurred to me, “When we walked in and said hello, I asked him how he was doing and he just said ‘life goes on. It has been a year and half now’ and I didn’t quite get it then!”
“It has been that long since his wife died”, my husband whispered.
“This is true love”, I told my husband.
“And, we are thinking of giving each other stupid gifts like hearing aid and reading glasses”, he chuckled.
“Well, that is basically your idea of love”, I teased and we both laughed as I wondered if I will ever leave such an impression on any one at all.
I guess, we all are going to outlive someone we love. The question is, are we telling them how much we love them, when we have the time together? I don’t know if the old man did. People of his generation never expressed how they felt. But, I do hope, I will carry some pictures with me and I hope to be in many pictures that others have.
Sudha Subramanian is an author and freelance writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @sudhasubraman.