This is the story of a 67 year old widow Geetanjali who battles her sorrow, her loneliness; the journey of her survival and of her finding a new meaning in life with the help of her grand daughter and a wonderful bunch of friends- the retired "Retro Royals," after her husband dies in a mishap 7 years ago.
The sun melted into the Beas, painting its, now sleepy currents, orange, red.
The river, seemed to slow down as she wound her way gracefully around the mountains, cutting them, eroding them, taking their soil to the plains. The chirpy mountain birds sang a lullaby to the maroon-purple skies that seemed tired and weary, as though, of the long day. The valley, soon to be drenched in twilight, was falling into a slumber.
Geetanjali, looked outside the window, feeling the chilly gusts of wind against her face. She wished time would stop. How she wished she could steal this moment right here and tuck it away some place safe. This moment was hers to keep. She would keep it safe in her heart and cherish it forever.
It all felt unreal. Like a dream. She drew her head inside, it was too cold now. She gazed a while to see the valley a little longer, till her eyes got tired and finally gave up.
Geetanjali lived in a small flat which she and her husband Arvind bought way back in 1968, in a shabby little colony in Mumbai. she was 19 then, newly wedded. Her father had thought that they waited too long for her marriage, as a result her wedding was done in a jiffy. She always felt as though for some reason her father wanted to get rid off her. She only hoped that her "to-be" husband would not be eager to get rid of her too. She sometimes looked at the college going girls today and wondered, how was she married "late". "I was just a kid," she thought.
Arvind was 26 then. Had a decent job, earned well, looked after her needs, was not bad look to look at either, except for that bushy moustache of his, which she thought was like that annoying herb bush in the garden that grew like crazy all over the place if it did not get its timely trimming.
She detested it really. But she thought that she didn’t have it in her to see him without one. She tried to push away every little thought of picturing Arvind without a moustache. It was eerie. How naked would his face look without one. Which sight was more bearable, Arvind without a moustache, or bits of food holding on to his moustache as he ate. She chose the latter. At least he could undo it instantly.
It had been 7 years, since she last saw Arvind. He had woken up one night to use the bathroom and had slipped and fell on the floor, suffering a huge blow to the side of his head.
"We tried our best, but we couldn’t stop the internal bleeding," said the doctors. And that was it. Her only companion of all these years was no longer a part of her life. Just like that, he left.
When you are used to someone for every single day of your life, and suddenly you just wake up one day and they are no longer there, You can't see them, Can't feel their touch…it breaks you. People learn to live away from each other, but not even being able to hear their voice, their laughter, the way their voice changes, with every word, every emotion, not having that in your life…that is what shatters you. There were nights when Geetanjali turned over to her side as she lay in her bed, expecting her hand to fall over his chest…but it only fell over to find his pillow, not him. There were evenings when she hurried into the kitchen to make tea, but then would realize that there wouldn't be a second person to drink it, by the time she had filled the 2nd cup halfway through.
Her life mostly now revolved around her own self. Her son too, happy in his life never really bothered to call or visit her. She would wake up, do her early morning puja and try to cook food which she was never able to finish, because she always ended up cooking more than she could eat. But as days passed she learnt to live by herself, just like she had brought herself to live with Arvind, she would learn to live with herself.
3 years passed. She grew 3 years older. Her hair thinned at the ends, the wrinkles went deeper, and her hair which she did not bother to dye black anymore, turned a pearly shade of white. The fragrance of her favorite Rose ittar was now replaced by those of pain relief balms, incense sticks and camphor. Her drawers were now stacked with packs of colorful pills, bandages & a couple of emergency numbers written on a piece of paper, now graced the wall by her telephone. The only good thing was that she did not need a stick to walk with.
"Not yet. Not yet," she often thought. She would smile to herself, proud of her little achievement. She had given away most of Arvind's stuff by now. The only things that remained were his big, square spectacles, which he welcomed on his 50th birthday…just after she had gotten hers. Both bespectacled, they had finally accepted that they were growing old; his old ink pen remained, and his old tool box which had no tools though, just some photographs of them together and a little diary, which Geetanjali started writing in after he passed away.
The house was nearly empty, hardly any furniture remained, just a sofa for occasional visitors, her diwan, a little table and a book shelf, which had some of her favorite books.
Out of the little furniture there was his rocking chair by the window, that remained.
In the evenings She often sat in it, looking at their old photographs, looking at the sunset till the moon came up, reminiscing their old memories.
The emptiness of her life started filling up after her 5 year-old grand daughter Sara came into her life. She and Arvind had a son named Neel. He had moved to London after his education, married a local English woman named Laura and had a daughter named Sara. Sara would come home during her winter vacations. The only time when Gitanjali felt a little less lonely. Neel had brought her to him home 2 years after Arvind passed away, and since then, every year Geetanjali would wait for Sara to come home for holidays.
Sara looked like a little restless bunny, hopping, running all over the house. Geetanjali's legs hurt, but she didn't mind. Sara made her forget all the grief, all the sorrow of her life. She somehow filled in the huge void that destiny left in her life. She would go out on walks with her, bring her sweets, dolls, watched her giggle, laugh, scream her heart out, every single day. She never left a chance to spoil her. But Sara got bored often, there was no t.v in her house, so Neel got one that year…it was better now. Her house during those few weeks would be full of baby powder, chocolates, sweets… dolls, cars, alphabet books, soft toys, and lots of cute little clothes now covered her empty home. Geetanjali would knit little sweaters and caps for Sara so that she could wear them in London. She knew it snowed there. "Ahhh! Snow!" she thought.
She often wondered what snowfall was like. How it felt like when flakes of snow landed gently on you…was it like rain, but only white, solid and cold.
How walking over freshly fallen snow felt like…Did the streets of London fill with waist deep snow when the weather turned bad, just like how Mumbai got flooded with water when it rained heavily…Neel would often speak about how cold London was, how beautiful and white everything looked blanketed in snow, he showed her pictures but She never really understood and she was always half satisfied…Someday i would know too…she would convince herself.
She watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s stone with Sara and gaped and marveled at every wintery scene that she saw. She tried asking Sara once, what was snowfall like.
The poor girl gave her a confused look. She couldn't understand the fact that dadi didn't know what snow was. She thought it snowed everywhere. But when her dadi kept asking her, she finally replied after a lot of deliberation that, snow fall was white and snowy and cold, and that fairies made snowflakes. She said that daddy could turn snow into a man which had a big fat snow stomach and a carrot nose. "daddy also gives him eyes and hands. Daddy knows magic like Harry Potter.”
Before Sara left for London, Geetanjali took her to a toy store, Sara pointed at a small snow globe and started jumping, "Fat snow man! Fat snow Man!
Dadi ! Dadi! Snow! Snow!" Geetanjali looked fascinated by the snow globe. She bought the snow globe for herself and kept it by the window. later that afternoon after Neel and Sara left, she sat by the window, as of the last sunrays hit the snow globe, it glowed in the soft evening light. She kept looking at it and shaking it so that glitter inside it kept falling on the miniature trees. She kept gazing at it and fell asleep right there in the rocking chair, the snow inside too stopped falling.
The next morning, Geetanjali went for a walk. She started going on early morning walks. Soon she made friends with the old retired folk like her who would go out on walks every morning. They were 4 and herself the 5th one- a couple- Vineet and Shraddha Muley both 67, a retired old lady Miss Rama Paranjpe 69, who was unmarried, and lived with her house-help and an old gentleman, also widowed Mr. Prasad Borkar, 68. they were all retired. Basically they had no agenda in life. They called themselves " the Retro Royals".
They would walk for around 45 minutes, talk for about 2 hours before they finally went home by 8.30 am to do their house chores before they met again in the afternoon to have lunch together. They would share their Dishes, chat, sometimes in the late afternoon they would drink tea and play cards. Geetanjali felt like a kid again. She would get up, spend time with her friends, and in the night although she slept a little less these days…she was happy, somehow, after all these years. She missed Arvind, She wished for him to be there so that he could enjoy too…She cried a little less. her memories made her smile more and cry less. Mr. Borkar was an avid reader, and a writer, "a writer never retires," he would often joke as he shared his new writings and poems with them. Mr and Mrs Muley whipped up new dishes for the group. Life was good again for all of them.
It was mid October. Diwali was two weeks away. And the coolest gang, the Retro Royals, had no special plans for Diwali. This was their first Diwali together.
They had to make it special. Lets go somewhere nice. "in this heat !" said Mrs Muley. "So what!," Snapped Mr Borkar. "lets go someplace cold. How about Manali?" Geetanjali's heart leaped…"yes!" she said at once. But the next minute suddenly she realised that it was too late and it was not possible for them now. "mmm…Is everyone in? If everyone is ready we will think of something." said Mr Muley.
"Yes! Yes!" They all agreed. "I think we do have contacts in Manali…don't we…remember the greenhouse project that you did in 2001 for that hotel guy.. I think he might let us stay in his guest house for a few days..you speak to him." said Vineet .
"Yes dear ! you are right…I will call him right away," said Shradhha. "But guys, we are not in our twenties anymore. Manali is too far away. Are our joints prepared to bear that kind of travel?" said Rama Paranjpe. " Rama, we will manage. We are still 60 not 70! We can sure take good care of our own selves and also of each other. And I have never been lucky enough to see snow! Never! Please let's go. We all will stock up on medicines, balms, sprays, hot water bags, all our pills…we would walk as little as possible and carry nice warm clothes….Please say yes.." whined Geetanjali like a little teenage girl. Everyone laughed…"Alright!" said Rama, "but if my hip slides off, you pay for the replacement!" Geetanjali hugged her ! "So all oldies in!" said Prasad Borkar…."YES"! they all cried at once "GO ROYALS! "
The next two weeks went in planning and making bookings, emptying their savings…but all of them knew one thing-they might as well enjoy before their locomotive skills worsen….who knows…this might be the last trip of their lives before they get bed ridden or wheel chair ridden. After a lot of searching, bargaining, they ended up making a plan for 6 days out of which 4 days would go in heavy travelling they would get 2 days to roam about and do sightseeing around Manali.
Two days before their train, Geetanjali went out for shopping. She bought herself a new saree to wear on Diwali, she brought a new muffler, a beautiful beige shawl, a pretty red sweater, Red was Arvind's favorite color.
On her way back, she stopped to eat a nice ice-cream, she took a little detour and went to the temple, offered her prayers and prayed that they may have a happy and a safe journey, that no one would break any bones…she asked God to bless their journey and thanked him for this second chance. The road back home, was filled with noise, not just of the passing vehicles but also of her past.
Memories of when she and Arvind went out for a holiday to Ooty, the only proper one that they could manage after their honeymoon, the excitement, the packing , the confusion of what to carry along and what to leave back.
The time when she went with her parents to her native place…all those memories flooded her mind. Teary eyed, she thought, So many years had passed, so many moments, so many relations, so many people came and so many of them left, so many ties left behind in time, and now only she remained. Waiting, to be a memory. on the verge of breaking down, her eyes met the shiny snow globe by the window.
"Am I being too childish?? Snow! how silly of me! I should be sitting right there in the temple and chanting prayers…not harboring some silly desires like these".
She sat down, sobbing. Why was this childish, she thought suddenly. Who says that we cannot dream of anything when we grow old. And wasn't it right. My life is about to end. I might die any minute…I have every right to complete every single remaining wish of mine, She thought. when was the last time she had done what she really wanted? All her life nobody asked her what her choice was, what she felt like. All her life she did not even know that she could have dreams of her own. She first bowed to her parents' wishes, and then to her husband's, because she didn't know any way else. That was what she was brought up for, To help make her husband's and her son's dreams come true.
But now, now she was on her own …she could do what she wanted. She had no ties, She was on her own, the realization that she could too make her dreams come true came to her this late…but it did come….she composed herself and got up…went to her bedroom and had a goodnight’s sleep. Tomorrow night, they would be in Manali.
They reached manali early morning after a super tiring bus travel. but they all thoroughly enjoyed it. Geetanjali was ecstatic….Her eyes opened to peaks blanketed with snow, when she woke up early in the bus. The river flowed lazily, while in some places it splashed against the rocks with all her might. the trees reached up to the heavens, the mountains stood there in all their glory and might. She still couldn’t believe she was passing right through them. At sunrise the sky blushed a pretty pink, and the river glistened a pristine blue with golden streaks. The sunrays hit the snow capped peaks, turning them pink, then orange and then finally golden. It was the most beautiful sight that she had ever seen in her life.
Their guesthouse was nestled right AT THE FOOT of those mighty mountains, that started with green meadows and ended in snowy peaks. The sky was a clear turquoise blue with a few lonely clouds floating …..Geetanjali felt as if she was in a dream.
They saw temples, monasteries, tasted the local food, did some shopping, joked, sang on their way. The hotel manager showed them around, made them try delicacies, showed them some lesser known places, some beautiful sights, Only if Arvind would have been there to see all this, Geetanjali wondered. They clicked pictures by the river, in Himachali outfits, with big fluffy bunnies. The sight of those bunnies reminded her of Sara. They came back finally in the evening, tired and jumped straight into bed, well, not literally. Geetanjali woke up in the middle of the night, wrapped herself in her warm shawl.
The room was filled with the smell of sweet incense stick, that Rama had bought from one of the shops. It was dead cold outside.
So she just stood by the window and looked out. The whole city was asleep. Some lights flickered here and there. She Gazed up to the sky filled with thousands of stars. "Are you somewhere up there Arvind? Are you looking over me?
I wish you were here. We couldn’t take such a long trip anywhere could we? All our life we just saved up for our son…for his dreams, for his education. I am not complaining. You gave me what you could. what was important was that we were together. I had never imagined that I would come somewhere without you this way. I am happy you know…I would have been happier if only you were here." The stars twinkled back to her like magic. The stars were alone that night, without their moon…just like she was without hers.
The next day they set out for Rohtang pass. They all looked funny in their snow coats…they were heavy and oversized. they kept driving higher and higher…
and their heads started to spin. Shraddha Muley was so afraid to look outside that she went to sleep. Everyone else was terrified too…the roads took deadly turns, they were literally driving along the edge of the road. One wrong turn and they would fall into hell…literally ! Finally when they reached the top….they caught their first glimpse of snow….they got out of the jeep and the cold stung their eyes, their skin…the wind was wild, too much to bear. They decided that they would wait there for half an hour, that's it.
Rama decided to stay back. Shraddha, Geetanjali, Prasad and Viineet came out and took their first steps in the snow.
It was cold, and walking in it was tough. They decided that they wouldn't go far. But the fun finally set in. They started throwing snowballs at each other.
Shraddha bent down with great difficulty and threw a big snow ball towards Vineet. But Vineet dodged it. Geetanjali stood there, completely awestruck with the sight. the clouds touched the peaks …the sky was a brilliant blue and the snow SPARKLED LIKE GLITTER. her glasses kept fogging up. She couldn't believe that she was finally here. That she was standing over something that she had only dreamt of. Something that she had seen only in the movies. She bent down, her slender hand felt heavy because of the enormous fur glove that she was wearing. She couldn't believe that she was holding snow in her hands.
She made a big glittery ball of snow. She laughed, giggled and threw it towards no one in particular. She wished only if she was a little younger…she could have ran about…throwing snowballs everywhere. She looked up….there was nothing else there now….just the endless blue sky…She was on the top of the world. But it was getting cold now. Her head started feeling heavy. She started going towards the car…all four of them helped each other through the snow…finally they all sat back in… and started their way back.
That day Geetanjali got the answer to how it felt like when dreams came true. As the jeep found its way down the bumpy roads, it dawned upon her and that life doesn't stop because you grow old. It made her realise that like the path up a mountain, you leave behind the meadows, you leave behind the green pastures, life becomes treacherous, lonely, but it still remains beautiful. Like some crystals poured from paradise, the snow remains beautiful and shines bright no matter how bitter it gets up there, because water learns to endure the tough, rugged mountain top.
Life keeps getting tough and lonely, but one needs to hold still like the mighty mountains standing the test of time and keep flowing like the tireless rivers. This, she understood that day.
The next day, they all sat into the mini bus and their journey back home begun, leaving the mountains and the valley behind..
They were all singing old 90's songs…they even managed to do some whacky steps despite all he body aches they had as a result of the snow ball fights.
They were talking about some hilarious moments that happened throughout the journey. How Prasad had slipped while trying to dodge Vineet's snow ball…and how Rama had got terrified when she sat on the back of a yak and it suddenly swayed its head. And how Geetanjaali got scared when the rabbit suddenly sneezed as she was holding it in her arms for a photo.
The sun melted into the Beas, painting its, now sleepy currents, orange, red.
The river, seemed to slow down as she wound her way gracefully around the mountains, cutting them, eroding them, taking their soil to the plains. The chirpy mountain birds sang a lullaby to the maroon-purple skies, tired and weary, of the long day. The valley, soon to be drenched in twilight, was falling into a slumber.
Geetanjali, looked outside the window, feeling the chilly gusts of wind against her face. She wished time would stop. how she wished she could steal this moment right here and tuck it away some place safe. this moment was hers to keep. she would keep it safe in her heart and cherish it forever.
It all felt unreal. Like a dream. She drew her head inside, it was too cold now. She gazed a while to see the valley a little longer, till her eyes finally got tired and finally gave up.