Nandini Sardesai: Growing old without a companion

On cricketer Dilip Sardesai's 10th death anniversary, wife and educationist Nandini Sardesai embraces her aloneness, wondering if she is an actor performing without a break

Sardesai recalls the days when Dilip (centre) would pick her up from St Xavier;s College where she taught
Sardesai recalls the days when Dilip (centre) would pick her up from St Xavier;s College where she taught

Is it really 10 years since my beloved Dilip left me? When he passed away, I wrote about our life together: the whirlwind romance with a cricketer, the caring and sharing, the maturing of a marital relationship with a best friend through the vicissitudes of time. I could not accept his sudden demise and described how I was coming to terms with it.

Alone, but not lonely, I felt his presence, because a lot of persons I interact with, knew him or know of him. Even students from the time I was teaching at St Xavier's College were acquainted with him since he would drop by to pick me up. Today, many of them like Cyrus Broacha and Vidya Balan, are celebrities, and they fondly remember “uncle”. I remain “ma'am” out of deference or due to my formidable exterior, I do not know.

Indeed, Dilip was jagatmitra, friendly and open. But that is in the past.

The last decade has seen a lot of changes but I continue to remain in denial. It seems we were together just the other day. I have begun to feel alone. Those who meet me think I am doing good, but I know it is a facade. I keep myself busy as visiting faculty and my students remain my lifeline. In the classroom, I am enriched with a fulfilling experience, interacting with young minds. I watch plays and films, and visit restaurants frequently. I have also become social media literate. I do not know whether it is a good thing but emails and WhatsApp keep me in touch, and help pass the time. I read a lot and plunge into domestic chores, almost obsessively. It gives me satisfaction and keeps me active, but it is all theatre. If the world is a stage, then I am an actor who is performing without a break.

I think that is the issue with growing old without a companion. By putting my thoughts on paper, I am articulating the yearning of many seniors. There is inscrutable anguish in loneliness, with only myriad memories keep us company as we look ahead uncertainly.

Some, as they age, plunge into ennui and regret, but that only ages you further. Others take up gardening, playing cards or join likeminded groups. Many turn spiritual. I do not wear religion on my sleeve and I am not ritualistic. Being God fearing, within my personal space, I pray each morning and night.

I have a home in Goa which Dilip and I lovingly readied for the family, and on alternate months, I get away for a couple of days. During Christmas, it hosts a family get together.

Each year, a memorial lecture by a prominent cricketer in Dilip's memory is arranged and it is an event cricket aficionados look forward to. In these 10 years, I have befriended new 'acquaintances'; people Dilip did not know. Their friendly gestures bring me solace.

With age, you turn oversensitive and when expectations are unfulfilled, brusque behaviour hurts. When I end up in a conflict, I miss Dilip's support. I sense a feeling of cynicism developing in my relationships. I have many acquaintances but few friends. Now, when I reach out to people, I don't expect reciprocity or commitment. I make a conscious effort not to be judgmental, which I am prone to being, and accept people for who they are. I am concerned about my near and dear ones, [including my house help, but I am learning to behave with equanimity.

I am grateful to have my children and grandchildren around to love but I realise they have their own priorities, so I must learn to let go. But this is more easily said than done. However, try I must, if I want to grow old gracefully, and be content with Dilip by my side in so many visible and invisible ways.

I console myself (borrowing from Gurudev Tagore) with: Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset days.

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