(Written sometime in 2018 as a letter to a dear friend)
This story is melancholy.
In the two and a half years I have spent in the rancid city of Chennai, I came across many, many instances of pure benevolence.
And then there is this incident that I felt like writing about.
I live in closed locality of sorts, with no high rises or big shops. Apparently, the builders did not consider it an area worth intruding. So, a lot of the houses belong to individuals and some of them are quite old, and closer to earth if you get what I mean.
On a weekend morning, one could easily hear the chirps and stirs of a happy family life, with children out and about playing on the street, and ladies still in the nighties, out buying vegetables and fish.
The gents would either be reading newspapers inside their gates or be huddles together in chairs, wearing white vesthi and half shirts, laughing and gossiping away the weather or politics or cricket.
It is a small packet of village in an otherwise merciless city of metro conundrums. I like living there so.
Mornings are broken by serenading hawkers selling idli and idiyappam, while evenings are peaceful with sweet conversations with neighbours around.
Coming to the point, there used to be an old lady who lived in a side room by one of the houses on the street. The main house was bigger and grand, however the tiny room felt old and must have existed before it, and somehow the new house had come up by its side, while still a part of it.
The house was light yellow coloured, while this dilapidated room was in blue. The distinct bias of time could not have been clearer.
I would see this old woman every morning at 6.30 am when I went to buy milk and at 7.30 am again when I left for office.
She was aged and wore a thick black frame of puzzling high power. She was so old her wrinkles had wrinkles.
She was confined to this one room that had a tap and an open drain in it too. There was a ramshackle bed very visible from the outside.
She would either be lying on the bed, barely moving or at the gate, waving at the passer by, saying something in a language I did not understand.
There was no window in the room. A perforated cemented installation instead. Two doors. One grilled that faced the road. One on the opposite wall that perhaps connected to rest of the bigger house.
For me it had become a routine as I saw her everyday . Once when I went to buy milk. Once while going office. Once on my way back home.
I would wonder when she might have been young.
They would have held a ceremony when she was born, and she would have been given a name and her parents would have looked at her as the most precious thing in the world.
She might have been naughty as a little girl and would have ran away from her school many a times, perhaps to eat fruits from the local tree, or maybe to go to the near by river to watch the fish.
She would have a bestie or siblings and might have had good fun times with them all. She would have had a favourite mirror, and perhaps liked dressing up too.
She might have had lovers and courted someone secretly. She would have been the happiest bride on the day of her marriage and would have gone on to become a proud mother.
And she would have had a favourite dish and her favourite movie, perhaps one from the 70s starring MGR.
Well, all of that.
And, yet, here she was. Time had knocked her down to this one solitary room. Old and lonely and left to suffer. She wore the same saree in all the time I saw her. The grill was always locked, and the room rarely cleaned. I never saw anyone else with her, but for plates that would be on the floor sometimes.
The room was always in the same state. So was she in it.
I once offered her bananas, but she refused and blabbered in raw Tamil I did not understand at all.
Well you might have noticed; I am using the past tense for the old lady. The obvious is true.
Today, when I went to buy milk, there were folks standing outside the room. Pitch white vestis and solemn expressions.
Today the grill gate was open. Finally.
Today she was no longer wearing the old filthy green saree that she had for two months. They dressed her in a brand new one. Finally.
Today there were people around her, finally.
Today, she was out of the room, finally.
Today she was free, finally.
The sight of dead bodies does not affect me. I have seen enough. But the apathy was gruesome.
Hope she finds her peace. The world was cruel to her. Hope she’s in a better place.
The old lady in the grilled room, you go on. Onwards and forwards.
Into the light.
-A random stranger from the street.