He paused. I knew there was something more.
“It is just that I can’t connect with them,” he said with a sigh.
Arijit is an old friend, older than me, who has kept in touch with me despite my itinerant life. We briefly worked in the same organization, a European multinational group, and I came to know him for a curious reason. He had a crush on my secretary, a charming young woman who relished the attention of dashing older men. I tried to help, mostly by leaving the scene whenever he appeared, but the relationship came to nought, for Arijit left for a better job in another city.
There he rose rapidly, married, had two daughters and headed the local management association. We met periodically, for I visited his city for work and we met a couple of times for dinner. He was a bright person, with a flair for conversation and friendship; I enjoyed myself every time we met. Apparently he too liked being in touch, for he called from time to time and occasionally sent brief notes.
When I went abroad, he took pains to remain in touch. I followed his successful professional life, but sometimes had the glimpse of a certain loneliness. His wife had developed Parkinson’s, and the symptoms, mildest tremors at the start, grew steadily worse. Their lives diverged. Arijit moved constantly, his wife, home-bound initially, turned bed-ridden.
We all presume that our children, who have lived years with us and have known that we have loved them, will remain close to us. They will share our joys and understand our pains. When we get older and begin to see the erosion of our strength, when perhaps we start losing friends and the advantages of our positions, they will be, by their very presence, our reassurance. At one time we took care of them and gave them our support; perhaps they can stand beside us now. Once we could advise and guide them; maybe now we can count on their counsel when we need it.
Arijit said that, when his wife lived, he had to depend a lot on his wife to look after the two daughters. He had to struggle to cope with his work, prove his mettle and win in a competitive struggle. Win he did, but his work days expanded steadily with his responsibilities and he frequently spent twelve to fourteen hours in the office. He made an effort, when his wife died, to take a bigger role in the children’s life. He spent more time with them, talked daily about their studies and their interests.
I asked about his daughters and learned that Shreya has done very well in the pharmaceutical company and Priya has had a good start in a technology startup.
“Of course, I know they belong to a different generation,” Arijit said, “their values and styles are different. Mine were different from my parents too. Still I believed I owed my father and mother an effort to connect with them – talk to them, understand them, care for them.
“My children seem to live in a different universe. I can’t touch them – not even digitally. When I call them or send them a message, I seem to sense that I am intruding on their time and I need to have a smaller footprint.”
Arijit had had a successful career and a busy social life with friends. It pained me to hear of the loneliness behind the façade of such success. That he had lifted his visor and shared his agony with a friend overseas also told me the depth of his pain. He never once begrudged his daughters their professional advance; it is likely that he helped the process in some way. But he longed for a closer How (not) to get a break. link with them, or at least the chance to develop it.
That longing clearly grew as some health issues arose; his thyroid gave him trouble, he could walk less and had to control his diet. He had maintained his large apartment, in the hope that his daughters would visit him sometimes. But they never did, and he started considering alternatives.
I knew this from our periodic exchanges. It was still a surprise to get his letter. It spoke of a radical move.
“It may surprise you,” it said, “but I took a quick decision to move to this tiny house in the foothills of the Himalayas. I rent two rooms from the elderly couple who own it, and they take care of my rooms as well as my food. My thyroid and other problems are unlikely to let me live beyond a year or two. I want to live that limited period peacefully, with no cares and few expectations.
“As long as I lived in the city in a large apartment, I could not help hoping that my daughters would visit me and perhaps pass a night. That has not happened in some years. I decided to face the reality that I will leave the way I came, by myself. Your messages have helped – and fortified me in my decision to make a clear break with the past. Thank you and best wishes.”