It was an unusually hot day of summer in England. It had never been that hot and humid in years. I could relate it with hot weather when we all huddled around under a shade of a tree at school.
That is what I did. I sat down on the bench under a massive tree.
Right next to me sat an old lady whom I meet ever so often in the park. We became friends not too long ago.
‘How are you today?’, I inquired.
‘How will an old person be? Lonely and isolated’, she answered.
‘You told me you write about the positivity of life’. She asked.
‘I try to’, I hesitated.
‘Then write about negativity too, for that makes a complete picture, it is a reality, it exists but not many are brave enough to talk about it’. She said.
Seeing confusion on my face she continued, ‘ I will give you an example, write about old age, the loneliness when life partners and friends depart, retirement, or when we are in waiting list for a completely new unseen life’.
She stopped to look at me and check if I could absorb that much.
‘Do you watch tv or have a hobby’? I asked.
‘I used to read, knit and paint. My hand and eye coordination are now very poor. My eyesight is not too good. I only watch the news but they give me more heartache to see misery and pain all around’.
She stopped but did not look at me this time. She wanted to continue:
‘I travelled entire world with my husband, tried all cuisines, read books, prayed together, we grew old like friends. After him everything changed, lost colour and meaning’.
‘Leave me’, she said with a big sigh. ‘Tell me what did you do yesterday’. She inquired with a spark in her eyes.
I watched a movie of an eighty-one-year-old queen of England. It was a time when she was Empress of India before the partition. She had everything yet she felt very bored, exhausted, lonely and isolated’. I gave the entire synopsis.
‘She was my age then, you see by this age it is very natural to feel that way, we have down moments, but she was the queen. You know how we look up at queen all our lives, that they are most lucky beings on the face of this planet’. She exclaimed.
‘Luxuries and aristocracy have a burden of their own. I added. She found the food boring and her routine not very exciting’. I explained.
‘Same like me, I don’t enjoy the taste of any food, first it’s chewing that is a problem, then digestion, I neither feel hungry nor energetic, it’s strange…..sometimes I feel like eating a chocolate just like a child’, she chuckled.
‘Oh how I can relate to that queen too’, what happened next, do you mind telling me more?’ She got all involved.
‘Of course not!’ I added. ‘Abdul a young prison clerk was sent from India on Queen’s golden jubilee in 1887 to present her with mohar as appreciation’.
‘Mohar used to be a gold coin you know’, she interrupted in excitement, I almost felt she would clap on her right answer.
‘Yes, he was told to not look at the queen in respect and protocol, but he did. He looked at her in awe, amazement and respect’. I explained.
‘Of course, he must have travelled so far, you know how hard it was in old times, it used to take months on the ship. After-all, he had to tell everyone back home how she looked like?’, she laughed.
‘The queen found it a pleasant change’, I continued, ‘She made him her Munshi, learnt Urdu and Quran from him. The queen could not visit India for safety reasons. So he told her about spices of India, cumin, coriander and garam masala. About the spicy, mouth-watering dishes like dal and biryani and also about mango chutney.’
‘She was the empress, of course, she will know about everything’. She said.
‘She did not know about mango’, I added.
‘Who will not know about the queen of fruits: mango, the queen herself?’ She laughed.
‘When she got to know Abdul was married, she asked for his wife to join him, the lady and her mother came to England in their burqa’.
The old lady remarked, ‘that must be another shock for the queen, for not being able to see her face. Do you know in those days young boys used to follow girls by looking at their feet? As they were fully covered otherwise’, she recalled.
I could feel the mystery and the possibility of a false claim. Yet decided to overlook it.
‘He told her about the darbar’. I tried to stick to the topic religiously.
‘You know the darbars used to be lavish, with carved roofs, woven carpets, traditional jewelled pottery, silk cushions and mighty thrones’, she exclaimed, ‘I have taught a lot about it to my students in history.
‘You know so much’, I admired as she kept her head held high in confidence for the very first time.
‘The queen made a lot of changes, from spicy food to eating mango, having a darbar room, sitting on peacock throne and wearing Kohinoor, she felt a real empress’.
‘A change is all we need from time to time. See how you are telling me a story and I feel transformed, It feels a time travel in-fact’, she chuckled.
‘You know the part I enjoyed most was when the queen told him that she was sad and lonely after her husband. How she felt miserable when everyone died while she lived on and on’. To which Abdul replied, ‘It was for service’.
I hesitated before mustering up the strength to go on.
‘Don’t you think we all have our roles, we are serving one way or the other, be it as parents or grandparents, we have a duty, a legacy to pass on’. I asked yet continued after a pause.
‘I think we are all prone to have down moments. It is natural. We see the sun and the moon eclipse. We see the autumn and the trees disowning everything. As a human being too we feel we had enough, things are not fair and we are not getting the happiness back that we deserve’.
This time I didn’t look at her to see the reaction as I wanted to link a few things together to see the bigger picture.
‘It is only when we see the big connection, the reliance, the responsibility an ‘on duty’ ….’to serve call’ that we decide to carry on with a smile on our faces’.
With ‘I am available’ and ‘I am present’ call.
‘By not giving up, by staying disciplined and by carrying on….even under great pressure at times….. that keeps the harmony in the bigger picture, it balances the equation….what we cannot visualise with our limited sight’.
‘It takes two sides to give and take, but positivity is a door after negativity….when we get stuck, it feels difficult, but it’s important to keep going perhaps’…She added while nodding.
The old lady stood up, with the help of her crutches, started walking with baby steps as I sat there wondering if old age is a time of ‘upsetting the order of everything just like queen and Munshi’.
Where every queen needs a son, a friend, a munshi, to take her out of the perception, ‘I thought she was dying’ …. to…
‘you are an empress’.
It will only happen when we rebel against the socially accepted standards of selfishness and look straight into the eyes of our parents, hold their hand and treasure them.
That too, well in time, for everything is a game of time in the big picture.