‘We Found Solace In Each Other’s Grief’: A Conversation With A Stranger I Will Never Forget

Posted on September 1, 2015 in My Story

By Nazia Dhanju

He sat at the edge of the chair, with a walking stick in his hand. He sat there every evening, his head hung low, every evening of every day of every week for three consecutive weeks. He just sat there. Lush white beard flowing freely, a navy blue turban and a stark white kurta-pajama. He looked like a retired soldier, retired from his job, retiring from the spirit of life. There was this uncanny calmness around him, as well as within him. He sat on the same chair for 30-40 mins between 6-7 pm. Not bothering anyone, not talking to anyone, just by himself, in his own little world, surrounded by his own thoughts. He had freckles around his eyes, his skin was sagging, showing him as an 80 year old. Or more.

old sikh man
For representation only. Image source: Vikramdeep Sidhu/Flickr

She ran past him everyday, in that park, twice, completing two rounds of her jogging circle. He was as insignificant to others as he was to himself, people walked past him, children played around him, but no one bothered about him, just like he didn’t bother about anyone, not even the flies sitting on his face or his hand. But she noticed him, she wanted to go up and sit next to him, talk to him, ask him who he was, what did he do. To her, he seemed so lonely , abandoned and isolated from the world. Her heart went out to him. Occasionally, she would halt next to him while running, pretending to catch her breath, trying to initiate a conversation. But she could never muster up the courage to talk, until one day, she, against all odds in her mind, went and sat next to him.

She started talking. She wished him satsriakal and asked where he lived. He was taken off guard, a little hesitantly, he replied, “putt, park de piche” (daughter, behind the park). She told him she stayed nearby, and she had been thinking of talking to him for many days. He gave her a surprised look, and asked why a young woman like her would want to talk to an old guy.

He started eventually stared opening up, telling her about his life, his family who were settled in Canada, about the loss of his wife, about his son having two daughters and that it’s been 8 years since he saw them last. She shared her story of loss, how she coped with the loss of her mother. She felt like both of them were finding solace in each other’s grief. They talked, and talked, and it felt so good, so light. It seemed as if he had been waiting for someone to come and talk to him. He spoke at length about how times have changed from when he was young, how relationships have changed, how we have become entangled in this croney capitalist society, giving little value to human feelings. They talked for half an hour after which he struggled to get up and walk back to where he stayed. She offered to walk him back, to which he refused initially, but gave in on further insistence. She walked along with him, giving him support now and then. They reached the gate of an old house, there were a lot of elderly sitting in the veranda outside. To her surprise and shock, it was an old age home, she felt like a bolt of lightning had struck her. With a heavy heart she left him at the gate and went back home. She made a note in her mind to talk to him everyday. Maybe she saw herself, her pain, and insecurities in him. She felt a strange bond forming with this old man.

For the next couple of days she couldn’t go running, and very conveniently, the old man was also sent to some corner of her brain, so she forgot about him, busy in her own life. After five days when she went, she was excited to see him again, thinking about what all she would talk about today, maybe invite him to her house for lunch someday, make her father meet him, give him company. To her dismay she found the chair empty, she looked around for him in the park but couldn’t find him. Not thinking too much about it, she did her usual exercise and went back home. This happened for the next couple of days, weird thoughts started creeping her mind.

One day, she was too curious to know the reason for his absence, so she went to the old age home and asked about him. And, her world came crashing down for a few seconds, he was no more. He had died three days after she had met him, of a sudden heart attack. She just went numb. As tears welled up in her eyes, she turned and silently started walking back, cursing herself for not going back the very next day. She went back home, went over their conversation in her mind, played it again and again, trying to find some comfort in the memory. But she was heartbroken.

The only thing which he left behind was the memory of a beautiful evening, and, a name: Col H.S. Grewal. She writes to that memory, to him and to the pleasant half hour she spent with him. She writes with a heavy heart, for the memory to be etched on plain paper.

Note: This article recounts the author’s personal experience.