They were two identical chairs …identical barring a few small differences in the colour of the canvas that were strategically placed in the portico of two neigbouring houses numbered 29 and 31 in one of the salubrious by lane of Saharkarnagar in Bangalore. The hustle bustle of the Bellary Road hardly permeated the sleepy neighbourhood and barring a few roads in the area all others managed to maintain its old world charm though it was a fairly new locality. Rajagopalan owned 29 and Murthy owned 31 and both were retired Government officials. One of them had retired from the office of the Audit General and the other from the BSNL both of them got the plot in the outskirts of then Bangalore at quite a low price. Now the same area was one of the most prestigious localities of Bangalore. But then, I am digressing. For this is not a story of the real estate boom that happened in Bangalore as in other cities. No, it is the story of the easy chair that occupied the prime position in the household.
The two neighbours did not know each other prior to their becoming neighbours. Rajagopalan had built the house first and some of his ideas were ‘borrowed’ by the latter particularly the portico and the easy chair. The former’s father had lived with them and he had spent the better part of his mornings and the evenings relaxing in the very same chair and this was one of the reasons, Murthy built the portico and had got himself a chair in anticipation of his retirement in not so distant future. His father and father-in-law too were happy with the arrangement till their demise. Rajagopalan too must have planned his retirement with the thought of spending his leisure time relaxing on the easy chair in his portico. Alas! It was not to be.
Rajagopalan had a daughter, Nitya and a son, Nitin. He believed in equality of both genders like most household and educated them on the similar lines. The only difference being that Nitin left for US of A to complete his MS and was well settled there in California, the golden state. His daughter after completing her B.Tech was employed in Cognizant India and got married immediately after to go to US of A and joined her husband who also was educated there in Pennsylvania. She did her masters too. All things were fine and Rajagopalan’s wife made a couple of trips to US to help both her daughter and daughter-in-law at the time of delivery and even Rajagopalan went to US though he returned within a couple of months. Seven years into her marriage, Rajagopalan’s daughter and son-in-law decided to come back to India due to various reasons and also for the fact that they got a very good offer in India. After much toying they decided to take up a flat close to her parent’s house. It was to be a mutually beneficial move. They went ahead to have their second child, another granddaughter as the first one was five. At around this time, Rajagoplan retired.
All through his working days, the easy chair in his portico beckoned him and he kept saying to himself that it wouldn’t be too long for him to utilize it fully, but suddenly he found himself busier than what he had been before his retirement. No sooner the morning chores and prayers were done, his daughter or son-in-law on their way to work would drop off the baby and then the days were packed. It is always a mystery how a little mite could add to so much of work in the household. His wife and he hardly had time for themselves as the baby needed much attention. They were both enamoured and exhausted with taking care of the baby. They did try a couple of care takers but it never was good enough for these two elderly. It always seemed that there was much neglect in the way they took care of their little grandchild. The chaos doubled as soon as the first returned from school. Squealing, squabbling, scampering and screaming were the order of the day at the Rajagolpans. On the other hand, the Murthy’s household was as quiet as a mediation hall much to the envy of his neighbour. The Murthy’s indulged in quiet walks, even quieter sojourn in his easy chair with his wife seated in another semi-recliner. Yes, Rajagopalan envied his neighbour to a great extent and often grumbled about the same to his wife.
“Sarala, why can’t Nitya’s in-laws take care of their grandchildren?”
The ever patient lady answered serenely, “Because they also have their aged mother still alive and living with them.”
“Ask Nitya to leave her job and take care of her children. What kind of life is this, a mother coming home at all odd hours leaving her child to fend for themselves?” He continued as he helped his wife fold the diapers. Both the grandparents were against the modern day ‘use and throw’ diapers and preferred the cloth ones. “Why half the time she spends going on tours too and her husband also does not seem to be helping her!”
“When you, the father, insisted on equality between the genders, it is a moot point you are making. Moreover, with so much riding on her it would be professional suicide. We are here to help her and what would we do otherwise; it would be too boring. By the way, Nitya’s husband makes the breakfast and packs Ritika’s lunch too. Unlike some people I know, he knows that every household has a room called a kitchen and also knows to use the same!” She joked gently.
Rajagopalan reddened. It was a standing joke in their family that he was all thumbs when it comes to trying out anything in the kitchen and avoided the kitchen like plague.
“Okay, okay….I am tired. I am going to sleep in that easy chair.” But on his way to the portico, his eyes fell on the unkempt centre table and he sighed on his way to bring some order to the same. The days were full and the evenings fuller and this went on for one whole year. His daughter and son-in-law bless them were suitably grateful to the grandparents and they tried to display the same with a few outings and booking them on for holiday packages. But the easy chair continued to be underutilized.
Very soon, the young Rhea started crawling and scampering. She too was enamoured by the easy chair and very rarely if at all allowed her grandfather to relax in it. Whenever, he found time to relax, she was there to cry leaving behind her toys till her grandfather got off the same and gave in to her tantrum. It was always a source of mystery to him that a child who is actually engrossed with her toys realizes the moment he plans to occupy the chair for her to stake claim for the same! It was sometimes easier to give in rather than ignore and lose the peace of mind. She wanted the newspaper he read, the spectacles he used and the glass he drank from. She loved him to such an extent that he found himself all the time having his little granddaughter tagging along much to his wife’s amusement. It was a humbling experience to have someone who just adored him. When his own children were young, he wasn’t always there for them as he too had been busy and often went on tours for days at stretch. Now, he felt the time flying and he always felt cheated that he still could not do what he actually wanted to do. All through the time, Murthy’s easy chair and the semi – recliner was well used except for short duration when they went to visit their children.
The months flew by and one day… Rajagopalan quietly went towards the easy chair to lie down a bit only to laugh at the sight of his little granddaughter ensconced in the same giving her grandfather her very famous toothless grin. It was the first time; she had climbed on to it on her own and this tickled the grandfather no end. He nuzzled the baby’s tummy as she gurgled and so it went on for the next few minutes.
The long suffering Sarala watched on not saying much. For she knew, her husband’s bark was stronger than his bite. All his grumbling and mumbling was for her ears only and as soon as her daughter even moots the topic of any difficulty, his volte face was a sight to behold!
“What difficulty do we have taking care of our own grandchildren? Yes, it is tough now, more so for your mother! Once Rhea starts her school, things would be easier.”
All too soon, it was time for Rhea to join a playschool. Yes, Saturdays and Sundays were heaven but they seem to be getting shorter and shorter with so many chores left to do during their absence that the lie in on the easy chair was for fairly short duration and not at all what Rajagopalan envisaged. If their son-in-law went on his trips, it became more hectic with the daughter too moving in with them. Yes, the price of education and occupation seem to be taking its toll on the older generation more than the younger ones. At the same time, it seemed irrational on their part to begrudge taking care of their own flesh and blood.
As for Murthy his afternoon nap was always interrupted by the familiar voice of the grandfather, granddaughter duo as they returned from the play school…the myriad questions the little mite posed to her grandfather…
“Thatha, why is that butterfly of different colour?’
“Thatha, why can’t we bring that dog home?”
“Thatha, can I have water?”
He also heard the impatience seep into the grandfather’s reply and Murthy immediately felt sorry for the little girl. If given a chance he would enjoy every minute of his time with his grandchildren he thought as he reclined in his easy chair with his wife sitting next to him on a semi-recliner. There were days when Rajagopalan had to carry his cranky granddaughter all the way home from the school but most days she was happy skipping and hopping beside her grandfather talking nineteen to dozen. This was one of those days. The ten minute walk back from school took almost double the time as she stopped to inspect, comment and laugh and both Murthy and his wife watched the two each lost in their own thoughts till her words, “We too would not be spending our days and nights caught in this unending loneliness and watching the world go by from this easy chairs of ours, if only our children or at least one child stayed close to us. How I envy the Rajagopalans!”