“Come I’ll show you my Taj Mahal!”
Dhadi (grandma in Hindi) extended her right arm around me and excitedly pulled me by the waist as we hurried along the empty corridor of the female dormitory of this old folk’s home.
Her hands were frail and gnarled like that of an aged oak tree yet when her left hand entwined with mine, they were impossibly soft.
“All the other residents are watching TV, let’s say goodbye to them first.”
We walked towards the TV room. The atmosphere there was different. Everyone was sitting there with their eyes fixed on the small screen. It was quiet. Too quiet in fact. No one commented on the show, no one engaged in small talks. The room was in utter silence. Their attention was not spared for anything but the television as if watching the dull square required intense concentration.
“Could it be that it’s not the screen they’re focusing on?” I thought to myself.
Maybe, their vision had freed themselves from their eyeballs. They were there, but only physically. Maybe as they place their arms inside the pockets of their sweaters, their skin recalls the warmth of their living room at home. Maybe, their ears heard not silence but familiar voices of their husband and children. And maybe, just maybe, what they are seeing, is not what they are visualising. it’s not the story on the television that they’re watching, rather the story of their life.
“She’s going back now,” Dadhi broke the silence.
All eyes shifted on us with empty glances. I smiled and waved goodbye. Only then some started smiling, and they waved back. We closed the door.
Beaming with joy, Dadhi continued, “It maybe very small, but everytime I want to be happy, I’ll look at it. It’s my very own Taj Mahal.”
“There it is!” Her finger pointed towards the end of the corridor.
“Where?” I replied, clueless of what I’ve missed. Is it a replica of Taj Mahal? Is it a marble wall? All I can see was a plain white door at the last dorm.
“Come I’ll show you!” She sped towards her dorm.
Her excitement diffused into me. I followed her pace hastily, eager to witness what’s waiting behind that door as she pushed it open.
“Come on in!”
I entered her dorm. Beside the third bed, the one nearest to the bathroom, she stopped and delightfully stared towards me.
“Here it is! Come and have a sit.” She pulled a red plastic chair for me and sat on the bed.
I made myself comfortable as I received her warm welcome.
Now here I am. Sitting between a tiny locker by the wall and a single bed covered by a gleeful orange bedsheets with matching pillowcase. There’s a half filled pail beneath the bed and a small suitcase hidden beside the locker.
“2017 is now leaving, I wanted to buy a new one but we haven’t had any outing,” she pointed to the 2017 calendar hanging on the wall.
“I just wanted to count the days. I’ll be going home soon.”
Her eyes shimmers. It was as if the Indian Ocean was cocooned into a sparkling glass marble. And soon, salty drops of the ocean leaked.
I knew. And I looked away. Because from our very first hello hitherto, we both had learnt an imposing fact:
This is Taj Mahal, and this is her permanent home.
And that’s all there is.