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I am 83, going on 84

rahul da cunhaIt wasn’t Alzheimers. It wasn’t Parkinsons. It was nothing debilitating or death enhancing. No sign of cancer, no clot in the brain, his cardiovascular situation was healthy. Even his Kalbadevi building stairs were more rickety than his knees. Sure there was the beginning of a cataract in his left eye. But glaucoma was par for the course at 84.

“You’re in tip-top shape, dikra,” Dr Banaji, his GP, reassured him (nice to be called ‘dikra’ by a 63-year-old) But he felt himself going down a mental ravine. An emotional precipice. Like a vintage car whose fabulous exterior hides a frayed interior.

He couldn’t explain quite what he was feeling.


Illustration/ Amit Bandre

His daughter asked annoyingly, “Dad, why are you so listless? Come on, snap out of it, ocupy yourself!” Damn, every detail from the 1930s was clear. Even the 1940s when the British left. The tryst with destiny speech. He remembered every single detail from both World Wars. Every girlfriend he’d ever had. Even the ones that got away. The good old days of black and white were technicolour vivid.

But he just couldn’t recall what he’d done yesterday. He shouted to his part-time maid, Mary, “Did someone come over last evening?”

“Arre, your grandson fom Oregon.”

His cochlea was sharp enough to pick up her sarcastic barb, “Forgetful old man.” He considered seeing a shrink, a psychiatrist, anyone to be a sounding board. Mumbai still didn’t accept mental illness. A troubling hamstring was fine but not a troubled mind.

“Nonsense,” his other daughter snapped. “There’s nothing wrong with you, we’re all around you, okay so maybe you miss Mom, but lots of people lose their spouses.”

It’s true. Widowers found it tougher to cope than widows, but it wasn’t loneliness that was his problem. The refrain in his head, the young just don’t seem to comprehend the not-so-young. The approach was to pity them, protect them overly, parcel them off to an old-age home, but to get to the heart of who they were and what they felt, was a non-option.

Every oldie in the building was experiencing the same slide.

Nigel Britto, flat 601, triple bypass patient, five years older than him, pacemaker, one foot in the grave but his hands coiled around a violin, that sounded like a cat on heat.

Suhas Talpade on the ground floor, penning his memoirs, “feel fit as a fiddle” he would say every morning, heading out for a walk in his white T-shirt, shorts and Carona shoes.

But these were men, not isolated in a mental asylum, but isolated mentally. He couldn’t decide which was crueller. Abandonment or asylums.

Every morning the panic attacks hit him. No logic to them. Just this dangerous sense of foreboding. Not death, or the devil beckoning, just desolate thoughts, dark clouds swirling in his head. He felt more and more that he had no place in this new city.

“What do you miss most?” his 90-year-old neighbour Naren Jadeja asked him one morning.

And then it hit him. “I miss being young. I miss being relevant. I miss being considered. I miss not being pitied. Yes, I miss my youth.”

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62 @gmail.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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