~– Winning Entry in Tata Tea Jaago Re’s ‘Too Busy To Care’ Contest –~
The son had turned into a money monster. He had a number of specializations tucked in his backpack – a PhD in skin treatments, a British course in acne removal, a Chinese one on liposuction. He was the doctor who did aggressive marketing: there were boards all over his house-cum-clinic and full-page advertisements in several leading newspapers.
We would meet the father in the market place sometimes. He would usually be buying fruits, occasionally a chocolate.
“How are things Mr. Rao? You are not around much lately.” we would ask.
“Just old age…” he would nod. The following words would be lost sometimes in the noise of a fleeting car and at other times, in his raspy cough.
“Heed that cough Mr. Rao. Get your sonny the-doctor to prescribe some super medicine.” we would smile as we walked past.
A few weeks down the line, Mr. Rao stopped going out entirely. “He stays cooped up in his upstairs room, a newspaper on his lap.” Our maid would announce at times, her demeanour enlivened with the fascinating news piece.
We would ask her if he was doing well. “Oh I don’t clean that part of the house.” she would brush us aside. “Doctor Saab doesn’t like me being away from the clinic-cleaning chores.”
On sunlit winter afternoons that year, we would sit nibbling oranges, when an armchair would sometimes rock on the Rao terrace. A photograph of Mrs. Rao, which had hung there – suspended from a hook – ever since her death a few years ago, would lie shattered on the floor.
The son would never show up in the terrace nor, presumably, in his father’s room near the attic. We wondered if Mr. Rao was getting enough to eat. And then, usually, the oranges would run out and we would climb down the stairs.
“There are speakers being set up Didi!” the maid sounded excited that morning. “And long rows of carpets and chairs have arrived on a truck!”
Catching on her infectious excitement, we came out to look.
The son was supervising the installation of a large white tent and several loudspeakers in every corner. Centre stage, on a raised platform, sat a life-size photograph of the father.
We wonder now, could we have done some good had we gone to visit Mr. Rao once?
Could we have spoken to the son about his ailing father and how he was the one who needed his medical degrees the most?
Could we have been better neighbours and not prioritized Mr. Rao’s physical and mental depression based on the longevity of our oranges?
It saddens me when I realize there are many more Mr. Raos in the world. Plenty of ignored fathers, plenty of feeble mothers. Plenty of people who would be better off in old age homes where paid help at least ensures healthy last days. We need to learn to be better neighbours, to be more considerate and compassionate towards older people, to be simply put, better human beings.
Mr. Rao doesn’t rock that armchair any more. But his demise did wake me up to a stark reality: you can never be Too Busy To Care. And if at all, you find yourself going on such lines, there will probably be several people who will one day be too busy to care for you.