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Those elusive dreams

Like all dreamers, I confuse disenchantment with truth.

- Jean Paul Sarte

In the 1950s, any person over the age of 50 was generally considered to be ‘old’, and the subject wouldn’t mind being labelled thus, either. He or she was respected, considered lucky to have survived the long years (life-expectancy then was less than what it is today). He would have grandchildren (given the trend of early marriages) and lead a life of leisure.

They invariably used walking sticks and wore thick glasses. The hair, if there was any, was white. Grey or white, it represented experience, worldly wisdom. They were not ashamed of it. Of course there was no dye in those days of simple, transparent living, with no need for masks. They aged gracefully and accepted life as it came.

Of the 60-odd houses in our agraharam, also known as the West Agraharam (there was one in the East), very few had an electricity connection. It was a luxury that only the really rich could afford.

Our neighbour, known only as ‘Retired Tahsildar’, had electricity in his house. He was living alone in a big house, with a man-servant in attendance. His age (should have been over 55: in those days that was the age of retirement) and his electrified house, were enough to make us look at him with awe and reverence. Adding to this his past position in government, a position of power and pelf, he was a demi-god for us, boys of eight and nine. After all, my father was a mere teacher.

We never saw this man come out of his house. For whatever reason, he always wore a thick, broad belt, bound over his dhoti. Otherwise he wore a thin cotton vest (banian). While my father and a few others of his age went for evening walks, this man was forever confined to his house. There was a walking stick (curved at one end as a handle), hanging on the back of easy chair, but I never saw him using it. A small table fan on a stool was running at a slow speed. Whenever I saw him he was in his chair, relaxed, eyes closed. He never spoke; silence reigned over the entire house. The servant was sitting at a distance, waiting for any signal from his master.

In those days there was a programme for young boys and girls broadcast by All India Radio Tiruchi, called ‘Mani Malar’. It was done by ‘Radio Anna’. It included storytelling, singing, quiz sessions and so on. It was broadcast at 8 a.m. on Sundays. Local clubs were encouraged to participate in the programme. We also had formed one ‘Siruvar Sangam’.

With fear and trepidation, we stood by the doors of the ‘Retired Tahsildar’ one Sunday to request him to switch on the radio. After a long wait his servant came; we told him about our desire. He got the permission and allowed us to sit near the inner door, a few feet away from the radio.

We did this on subsequent Sundays as well, and enjoyed the sessions. But I was distracted. More than the radio programme, what impressed me was the ‘easy chair’ he was lying on. Made of thick rose wood, polished bright and smooth, with extended planks to rest the outstretched calves and feet, it was pure art. I was enamoured by it all. It was elegant with fascinating curves. Later I had seen such chairs in the upper class waiting rooms in the larger railway stations; I tried lying down on some of them. But somehow I thought they were different; the one in the house was special, unique. It represented a state of mind, a life of leisure, an epitome of convenience, of a yoga, of equipoise, perfection, a fine balance where the needle was steady and still.

I envied the old gentleman. No cares, no school, no studies, no examination, a life of absolute ease and luxury; reclining all day long, with nobody to question; with no obligations. A simple, heavenly existence. For a boy of eight, the easy chair was pure magic; it could transform the mundane existence to a life of beauty and peace. It was the ultimate symbol of tranquility.

One day, the Retired Tahsildar died in his sleep, in his easy chair. After a month, the chair, along with other belongings, was carted away.

The picture of the old man in his easy chair haunted me for long. I wanted to live, retire and enjoy my life, in the cosy confines of a chair like that. To retire from a position of power and to rest like a king, was my goal in life. But life took me elsewhere and everywhere — and not to positions of power and wealth and not to a very happy retired life.

I purchased an easy chair when I joined the Railways in 1958, but not similar to the one I had wished for: it was very costly. This, a poor substitute, a steel one, had no handrests or extended arms to put your legs up. But this was foldable, to suit a small flat. I did not use it till I retired in 1995. I am using it since then, reluctantly. But I realised, rather belatedly, that the magic was not in the chair. I carry the burden of my old age and its worries, pains and concerns, within me; they weigh me down. I sink into the depths of the canvas. I close my eyes and try to relive my days of innocent dreams, the old man in the easy chair. I wanted ‘me’ to be ‘he’ (a crude expression, no doubt), a substitution, sort of transmigration. I failed.

I thought retirement was the end of all trauma and that I will live happily ever after. In fact, I was looking forward to the retirement for several years, hoping to enjoy the leisure and absolute freedom, without any constraints, “to sit and soak, to be passive”, in total abandonment.

But it was a mirage. The extra time I had earned was spent not on ‘living’, but in chasing dreams, running after trivialities, in day dreaming, in the old, rusting easy chair which had lost its charm, the beauty, the enigma. Battered and bruised, I return every day to the sanctuary of my easy chair. But it provides no comfort, to rest my aching hands and feet. They dangle loose and with no support. This is better than the straight backed wooden chair, but it cannot supplant the chair I thought that would help me relax, my body and mind. But all along, I was pushing a pull door.

sundaresansiva37@gmail.com


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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 7:10:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/those-elusive-dreams/article26967742.ece

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