When You Are Old…

 A summer afternoon long ago. From far away echoed the tumbling laughter of a class having it recess.  

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep; 

Sunlight pattered in through the old and dusty windows of the Year 7 class, making undecipherable patterns on the black cuddapah tiles. Old,wooden benches stood embellished with the stains of ink, tired notebooks bore doodles in the margins of the foolscap pages and the scribbling sound of notes being made filled the air as the words of WB Yeats were read out aloud by Ms S. The charm of childhood and perhaps teenage to some extent is that you do not fully comprehend the intricacies and the complexities of the journey that lies ahead. Eternity isn’t a reality when you are a child; it is a mere concept of a time far away, a place beyond the safe fences of your imagination. You do not appreciate the convolution of love anymore than you understand the realities of old age. You do not understand that there is a love that remains when age has staked its claim and that this love is quite different from the love of shy glances and stolen kisses and hastily scribbled notes.

Ms S was a person I adored unconditionally. She had a soft but firm voice with a gentle lilt to her dulcet tones. She was a strong personality with a face that asked you to maintain your distance if you were not sure of yourself. She was a tall, well built woman too, who strode down the school corridors leaving a trail of discipline and an aura of awe in her wake. You prayed that you wouldn’t be summoned to her office because while she never raised her voice, she used her words carefully and often acerbically. I adored her because I looked up to her, because her tough exterior made me feel safe and made me feel that she was in charge which she always was. Mostly I loved her because she taught English and because she always had time for my ramblings and essays, because she took the time to make me look up the dictionary if I dared use a word without understanding its meaning and because she knew just how much the English classes meant to me.

But this is not about Ms S, not really anyway, for when you are a child, and when you look up to an adult, you don’t see the adult for what they are but rather for what you want them to be. And so it was that when Ms S took me along to an Inter School Dinner, I tagged along eager and honoured. We chatted like acquaintances for a while and when a tall, handsome man with greying hair came up to chat to us, I felt annoyed that my little party was being intruded upon. This was my day with her and I didn’t want him stealing the limelight.

“Will you alright by yourself for a few minutes?” she asked me even as she got up to go away, “The Colonel and I would like to catch up since I haven’t seen him for long”. So he was a Colonel and so she knew him. Was he a friend, I wondered idly? She had been a spinster for as long as everyone knew and the Colonel didn’t exactly look very young. I stayed inside the hall by myself for about 20 minutes and then I decided I wanted to see where she was because I was sure it was time to go home. The air was redolent with the smell of jasmine and the ground smelled of the first bounty of rain as I stepped out into the night.

It took me less than 5 minutes to find them, they were under a jasmine laden rotunda and he had his arms around her, her head on his shoulders. I stood there for eternity staring at the woman that I had always thought was incredibly strong and yet the vulnerable look on her face, taught me my first lesson about the truth that lurks behind facades. I should have looked away but I watched dumbfounded as he whispered sweet nothings in her ear and she blushed. And again before my eyes, the woman who could silence you with a mere raised eyebrow stepped away into the shadows and in her place I saw a woman whose features had been softened by the evening. She saw me then and broke free from his embrace. The magic of the moment receded into thin air as she walked towards me as in control as ever and took my hand. “Shall we leave?” she asked, “Shall we get something to eat first?”

I don’t remember my answers but I shall always remember the feeling of the air going dull and heavy around us as if the last traces of life had been sucked away from the evening. If she was upset that I had intruded upon a special and rare moment, she didn’t show it. It was as if she switched roles and my peek into her world ended as she closed the windows. She took my hand and led me inside, turning around to acknowledge him only once, as we opened the doors to the hall and merged with the milieu inside. I saw the look on her face then, and learnt that hope and love and heartbreak are a  family. That time always manages to have the last word no matter how much is at stake.

When I mentioned this encounter at home, I was told that the Colonel was a much married man with a family of his own in the next town. Nothing more was ever said on the topic and I didn’t tell anyone though it was the kind of thing that a 12 year old on the cusp of teenage would have loved to share with friends and giggle over, in the comforting recesses of her room. I didn’t tell anyone not because I thought I would get her into trouble by mentioning this daring display of affection in an era of supposedly gentle sensibilities but because that brief encounter opened my eyes up to the love that the moment exuded. I would understand it many years hence but suddenly I knew that love even when it is at its messiest and fragile best, rises above the confusion and the shackles that bind it, and anoints itself as the one magnificent force that has the power to change lives and fates. And in that romantic interlude between Ms S and the handsome Colonel, this power of belief impressed itself upon me more than their sad situation and the frailties that both of them had to contend with.

I saw her again, years later, the ravages of time had peppered her hair with white strands and crows feet and the first appearance of wrinkles had changed her face with firm reminders of how the years had treated her. Her voice was the same; the unmistakable lilt was the same. “How are you?” she asked me with the same warmth that had graced me all these years. I could not take my eyes away from the small ‘mangalsutra’ that adorned her now. “The Colonel and I got married”, she said, as I got up an hour later to say goodbye. It is almost like she owed me this explanation for the evening many, many years earlier. A plethora of questions rushed to my aide but she answered all of them with a mere “He couldn’t leave his life and start anew – so we lead our lives as before. We do meet every now and then when he is in town”.  There were no more questions after this, because I knew that she didn’t have any more answers.

But yet, I pretended I hadn’t heard the resigned sigh in her voice, I pretended that the strands of white hair were not due to a fate that took victims of those that dared gamble with life. I wondered if she lived with her memories of the future as she once dreamt it, I wondered if his was the face that made her smile as she taught us Yeats years ago. Did she believe in eternal love? Does one ever stop believing in eternal love? When the future arrives and it is not the sepia spool of your dreams, do you dream again or do you sift through what once was?

I saw her getting ready for a class and I muttered a goodbye. My eyes roved to the lesson she was teaching for the day, the same words of Yeats she taught me many summers ago, came back to stand between us, this time though, they were real and solid and full of painful truths.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars. 

It may not have lasted and the love may have vamoosed in a crowd of stars. But I know that love visited her doorstep however briefly. How do you ever force a gypsy to stay? Don’t you merely gather a slice of the night and a dying ember of the fire and wait for the gypsy to pass your way again?

Linked to a Tag..

One of my new year resolutions was to post once a week,  you have to believe me on this one, people. Anyhoo I will go back to my trademark dialogue that life has been getting into the way of living too often and therefore I have been busy doing other things. Thanks are in order to the lovely Altoid who tagged me and poked me out of my self imposed dormancy. Scarlett loves tags (hint, hint to all those that have been checking on me and have been questioning me about my disappearance) and Scarlett can be bribed with tags. Most times, anyways 🙂

Without further ado, here is the tag that Altoid wants me to take up.  So the rules go thus :
Post 5 links to 5 of your previously written posts. The posts have to relate to the 5 key words given : family, friend, yourself, your love, anything you like. Tag 5 other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least 2 new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better.

Family– Hmmmm. As someone that uses the term family, very loosely, to refer to my extended family and friends and all those wonderful people that have made a difference in my life, a quick walk down memory lane (this blog) indicates that the usually loquacious Scarlett has been rather reticent in this instance. But there are two people that stand out when I mention the word family. My aunt who filled my life with hues and colours that every child needs while growing up and who never once made me realize that I hadn’t received the love of grandparents, is someone who I define family by. I wish I had told her just how much love she sent my way. Why is it that sometimes the most important things are always said during a goodbye? Why did I have to wait till an obituary to express my love for her?

Then there was my adopted grandfather – a fine and gentle reminder that a family is held together by bonds of love.And that these bonds of love are not always with people of our own flesh and blood. A tribute to the old man who loved me like his own granddaughter and left me a legacy of an eternal spring even when he was in the autumn of his life. 

Friends– There are those that stayed when others left. There are those that are a phone call away, an email away and those that I haven’t seen in ages. There are sepia memories and  stolen fragments of time of a life and a time far away and yet there are friendships that are a part of who I am and who make me what I am. They are friends separated by time and distance and yet all I have to do to reach them is to take a walk down memory lane.

Love – Scarlett is a romantic. Enough said. Somewhere along the way, I learnt that the season of red roses gives way to the cycles of nature and fate and human frailities but sometimes, just sometimes, you find a love that stays for all times and all seasons. So I have loved and I have been loved but I am a believer and an optimist enough to believe that there is mad, irrational and overpowering love for those that choose to recieve it. And that keeps me going and keeps me a romantic.

Yourself – Really, this is a bad, bad idea. Anyone who knows me would vouch for the fact that Scarlett does not need any more prodding with this particular topic. But since you asked so nicely dear Altoid, I shall be my usual humble self and merely point to this tag that the lovely Asuph passed on to me at some stage. There are not many other posts on myself (yes, it is hard to describe myself in words) but this pretty much sums my philosophy in life.

Anything – I scrolled through all my posts but then I decided to settle on a personal favourite, just because in my mind’s eye, the whiff of a summer afternoon soothes and heals me like no other. And when we talk of afternoons and seasons and the whole cycle of giving and receiving and loving and leaving love behind, I decided to end with the feeling of relief that comes from knowing one’s role in the grand scheme.

Phew that took time but it was fun. Thanks Altoid, m’lady. Scarlett is honoured that you asked.

So who do I tag [insert evil grin here]?? Asuph, IW, Priya, Ano and Aria, please, please take up the tag because I would love to hear your take on things. IW please note that since you turn my tags down all the time, I need you to convince me that you are indeed my dear brother, dysfunctional family not withstanding.

Have fun, people. Scarlett would love to hear from you.