Sunday, 9 October 2016


I shall now get into the realm of ‘tackling loneliness.’


Among other meanings, loneliness simply means the state of being alone. Some synonyms of this word are isolation, solitariness, forlornness, desolation, aloneness, lonesomeness, friendlessness, and reclusiveness.

Each is more depressing than the previous, isn’t it?

How, why, and when does one become lonely?


Loneliness in old age is a punishment, a curse, be it a man or woman. It depresses and leads to other problems. Let me take you through the labyrinthine issue as I see and experience it.


Almost five decades ago, I came across the following … ah … humorous (= cynical?) quote (author unknown) in Reader’s Digest. It goes thus, to the best of my memory.

“Keep your company to yourself. If you cannot tolerate it, why inflict it on others?”

I feel it is a cynical view of the issue. A question springs to my mind immediately.

Is it for me to judge my company, its effect, its quality, and its worth?


‘Company’ is the state when two or more people are together. When I am on my own, there is no ‘company’.

I may harbour a low opinion of myself, an inferiority complex, sort of. Nevertheless, contrary to my opinion, others may find my company acceptable, pleasurable, knowledgeable, etc. We are often plagued by our own daemons, which others may not concur with.

However, I draw an entirely different meaning from the quote, a meaning that goes a long way in supporting my arguments on the issue. The key words are ‘tolerate’ and ‘inflict’. These words must inspire us to make our company tolerable where others may not feel it inflicted upon them.

The quality of one’s company can be judged by its effect on others in the company (oneself, in case one is alone). The effect could be the pleasure derived, the entertainment distributed, the knowledge or information disseminated. However, if one were all by oneself, all these would be incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial (as Perry mason would have put it); then enters the all-important factor of time.

How does one spend time when one is alone?


They say that, in the West, lonely people go to psychiatrists when they feel the urge to talk to someone!

Does it mean that one needs company only when one wants to talk to someone?

No, that is the sad part of it. Simply put, one needs company to interact with, to belong to, and to seek comfort from.

All these vanish when one retires or when one loses one’s spouse or some other circumstances. One is by oneself, often not knowing what to do with all the time in the world. This is where the quality of ‘company’ springs up. When one is destined with few friends then one is destined to spend time by oneself, period.

How does one spend ‘all the time in the world’?

Obviously, one cannot stare at a wall throughout the waking hours. Daily chores and obligatory visits to grocers and doctors, and entertainment (whatever entertains one) would take a small portion of one’s waking hours. What about the rest?

The importance of multifarious activities, avocations, and hobbies shows itself at this point. These could include reading, writing, drawing, music, gardening, meditation and yoga, movies and theatre, photography, cooking, and a horde of others.

Another fulfilling activity is involvement in social service. This may be at homes for physically and mentally challenged children, orphanages, old-age homes, or voluntary services in hospitals.

Such activities help one keep busy and spend one’s time creatively and constructively. Incidental to this is the satisfaction of giving something back to the society that has given one so much.

If one does not involve oneself in some such activity or activities one has a huge problem on one’s hand. One does not acquire these ‘skills’ suddenly after retirement. One needs to acquire them. One needs to train oneself. One needs to prepare oneself before hand for one’s future, for one does not know what is in store in the future.


During my over-six-decade long sojourn on this beautiful planet, I have observed numerous educated, talented, and creative people suffer silently and wither away unable to tackle their sad solitude.

I conclude that it has nothing to do with the qualities I have listed; it is despite them. A taxi driver, a maidservant, or a vegetable vendor may cope with it better than a ‘qualified’ person may.

Another revelation for me is that women cope with it better than men do.

What is special about them?

It is their resilience. For them, work is life and life is work. There is no ‘retirement’ per se for them, unless they are incapacitated. They are physically busy and hence, have less or no time for brooding.

However, to assume that they are not susceptible to solitude would be inhumanly erroneous. In a scenario where they lose their spouses or soul mates for some reason, they, too, are affected, but their work, their responsibilities, and physical activity gives them less time to brood.

Nevertheless, even in their case, it will be a different scenario altogether when it comes to emotional loneliness.


Thus far, I travelled through the problem of physical and cerebral loneliness. One can deal with these, with some preparation. There is another kind of loneliness, which is impossible to resolve by anyone.

It is the emotional loneliness.

This is caused and sustained by the loss of one’s beloved spouse, soul mate, or partner. The physical and cerebral void can be filled by all the above-mentioned activities.

How does one fill the emotional void?

The affected person must accept it as the inevitable cosmic truth and move on with life.

More often than not, such a catastrophe shatters and devastates a person. One does not know what to do or where to look for solace to the ravaged soul. All the knowledge and all the avocations will not bring even a semblance of solace.

Here, there is no substitute for company of the near and dear, helping the affected person through the crushing crisis in the short run, and ease the person into a livable routine in the long partner-bereft run. Let us agree that LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME for the shattered person. However, the person’s life, what is left of it, can be made livable by the near and dear.

This is where the company of one’s family members becomes important and essential. Under such calamity, one will understandably seek the company and compassion of one’s family. With compassionate and kind words and deeds, they can guide the person through the devastation.

Everyone is aware that the dead cannot be brought back and that fond memories of a happy past are the only treasure left. The family, or what is left, must rejoice in the company of one another drawing from this treasure.

The company must caress with a soothing hand and bring a modicum of comfort to the devastated elderly soul.

Is this the end of the topic? Certainly not.

This is a timeless topic. The issue will continue among others whose shattered souls need solace.


In conclusion, I shall add my favourite quote on ‘work’.


He is nothing, he can do nothing, he can achieve nothing, fulfill nothing, without working. If you are poor – work. If you are rich – continue working. If you are burdened with seemingly unfair responsibilities – work. If you are happy – keep working. Idleness gives room for doubt and fears. If disappointments come – work. If your health is threatened – work. When faith falters – work. When dreams are shattered and hope seems dead – work. Work as if your life were in peril. It really is. No matter what ails you – work. Work faithfully. Work with faith. Work is the greatest remedy available for mental and physical afflictions.


An ocean it may be, but it all starts with a droplet, right?


Wednesday, 5 October 2016


The old man rings the doorbell and waits for a few seconds – by the force of habit of four decades. He sighs, reaches into his trouser pocket, produces a latchkey, and opens the main door.

Silent solitude salutes him, instantly.

He steps inside, shuts the door behind him, and walks into the stunning, palpable loneliness.


At sixty, the retirement age of Indian Central Government Services, he is old, and just retired; it is his last working day. He is yearning to talk to someone. He must unburden the chaos of mixed emotions wreaked by the solemn and life-altering moment. He cannot talk to his soul mate since she passed away some time ago.

He sits in front of the TV with a cup of instant coffee – filter-brewed decoction is a thing of the past, gone with his soul mate.

Finishing his cup of coffee, he contemplates calling his son in London. Missing his ever-attentive wife and yearning to speak to someone about the profound moment of his life, he dials his son’s number. He lets the phone ring twice and replaces the handset on the base…

…and waits for his son to call him.


The landline rings gently.

He picks up and says, “Hello.”

“Dad, you called?”

It is his son in London. The matter-of-factness of the tone and the greeting are upsetting.

No, ‘Hi, dad,’ or ‘How are you, dad?’

“I have retired, today, son. Had your mom been here…”

“Oh, congrats, dad, you can now put up your feet and enjoy life.”

“Your mom…”

“Dad…dad…I’m going home; can’t talk while driving; will try and call in the night. Bye.”

“Bye,” but the call is already terminated.

He sighs.


“Hello, dad.”

It is his daughter in Mumbai.

“Yeah. Listen …”

“Make it quick, dad. I’ve got guests coming for dinner; I’m in the middle of cooking now; I am tensed …”

“I am ‘tense’ not ‘tensed’ …”

“Oh God, dad, now, of all times!”

“Today was my last working day; I’ve retired. Had your mom been here …”

“Congrats, dad. Now you can enjoy your life; don’t have to run anywhere …”

“I need to talk to someone…”

“Call, bhayya, dad. I’ll call in the night. Okay? Bye, I love you, dad.”

Tears well in his eyes as the line goes dead.


This is the typical scenario of a typical old retiree. He is retired. He has lost his soul mate. He is lonely. He seeks the solace of a few kind words from his family, what is left of it.

Life has changed. The essence of the term ‘family’ has changed, almost unrecognisably, from the ‘undivided family’ or ‘joint family’ of yore. It has gone ‘nuclear’ now.

Life was easy; living was easy in a joint family, both for the old and young. Not just monetary and material resources, responsibilities and emotions were shared, too, a sort of ’all for one and one for all’ scenario.

Sons with their spouses lived with parents, grandparents, and other elders. The children and grandchildren would never run out of emotional security and support of the elders, the gentle imparting of familial and cultural values by grandparents, the knowledge-building efforts by the uncles and aunts.

The elderly were in caring company of their children and grandchildren. There would always be someone seeking their advice, drawing from the wealth of their experience, wanting to talk to them. They were never alone, in happiness or sorrow.

Simply, if one had a problem, one was not alone.

All this seems to be a thing of the past. The joint family concept is gone, forever, except for a few pockets in our country.

Nonetheless, must it become an excuse for insouciant indifference? I have strong feelings on this issue.

Indelibly etched on my heart and soul are the struggle my mother, widowed in the 1950s, underwent in bringing up my younger brother (who has since died) and me. Personally devastated, emotionally shattered, and financially precarious, she still found courage from the inner most recesses of her persona to guide us through the toughest phase of our lives. That being the case, it was binding upon me to care for her in every possible way when I ‘settled’ in my life and I did.


Every generation runs a relay race called ‘life’, receiving the baton of responsibility from the previous generation and, later, handing the baton to the next.

What do our elders need - wealth, property, automobiles, or trinkets?


Attention. Caring words. Compassion. Understanding. Wee bit time.

Same needs as those of their offspring, which they selflessly fulfilled attentively, caringly, compassionately, and understandingly.

Same security as what they provided to their offspring.

Lack of understanding of this sensitive aspect wreaks havoc with lives of the elderly leaving them to feel unwanted and uncared for.

Elders of the family, just like the children, need to be reassured that their children and grandchildren need them, want them, that they are not yesterday’s newspapers, that they play an important role in family affairs.

This must be done in all sincerity, not sham.

Children must realise the importance of elders. Parents and grandparents are needed not just when things go wrong. Their role is not that of babysitters or housekeepers. They render all these succours willingly and, in return, expect nothing but a kind word, a wee bit of attention. They are still entities with feelings, sensitivities, mood swings, in fact, the whole gamut of emotions.

They are the entities who moulded their children’s lives. They selflessly sacrificed so that their children could have a life. They ungrudgingly gave up on sleep to comfort a crying newborn. They unconditionally tended their offspring oblivious to their own frail health.

It is an emotive issue and one needs to handle it with utmost sensitivity.

There is something profound, pregnant, and poignant about it.

There is something Indian about it!

Let’s cherish it.

One needs to give happiness in order to find happiness oneself.


(To be continued in OLD AGE and LONELINESS – II)

Monday, 3 October 2016


दिल को जिस का डर था वह पल-ए-हक़ीक़त आगया।
ता ज़िन्दगी जिस से भागते थे वह पल-ए-फैसला आगया।

विटामिन खाते थे, वर्ज़िश करते थे, पूजा में फूलों के हार चढाते थे।
उस पल-ए-बेरहम को दूर धकेलने क्या क्या हथखंडे नहीं करते थे।

कुछ अधूरे फ़र्ज़ निभाने हैं। कुछ दिली सपने मुकम्मल करने हैं।
कुछ प्यार-ओ-मोहब्बत बाक़ी है। कुछ लाड़-ओ-दुलार बाक़ी है।


बेरहम वक़्त रुका कब था? ईमानदार तक़दीर झुका कब था?
मिन्नतों के बावजूद, वह पल-ए-अंजाम-ओ-हिसाब आगया।