I waited for months, trying to find the right time to write this. It is a Sunday afternoon. I am sitting in an open cafe in Griffith called ‘Trails’. Trees everywhere. Benches with people talking to each other. Kids playing in the sun. A steady commotion of voices, footsteps, laughter. Yet, this isn’t noise. There is a sort of calm with this breeze. My books are on the table and my iced coffee glistens in the sun. And then, there is Albert.
70 year old Albert. Sitting in Trails all by himself. A smile on his face. Holding on to his cup of coffee. White hair, a pair of glasses and a light sweater. Observing people, like I am. I sit in front of him and he smiles. I ask if it is okay to share the table. And he immediately nods.
I open the book I am supposed to study today. And he immediately asks in broken English, ‘College?’. I explain that I am a little too old for college. That those books are for some exam that I am writing. But, I work now. He tells me he is from Armenia and I tell him I am from India. Almost immediately, he launches into the song ‘Mera joota hai Japani’. I put my book away and ask him how he knows this song. And he tells me. Albert was 10 when this movie was released. ‘In the 1960s?’, I ask. ‘1951’, he corrects me. So, his parents wouldn’t take him for the movie. Once they leave, he goes loitering on the streets and sees some money lying on the street. Picks it up and watches the movie. Comes back home before his parents do. And then sheepishly asks ‘How was the movie?’. 🙂 There is something very comforting about happy memories. An anchor that keeps you rooted.
We laugh at each other’s stories. English somehow doesn’t stand across as a barrier. He doesn’t have family here. I tell him, most of my family is outside LA right now. He thinks I am 20. I correct him. He still chooses to believe I am 20. Waves his hand dismissively and laughs it away. Asks me why I am not married. Do I have a friend? I try explaining the best I can. Some gets lost in translation. Mostly, he gets it. Albert wears a locket with Christ. He shows the locket to me and asks whether I am a believer. I tell him I believe in God, but not religion. And he says, there is one God only. And people everywhere are the same. The difference lies in their hearts. Skin is superficial. I realize I am getting lessons in life from this stranger. He tells me I look happy from inside. He knows when people look genuinely happy. Not many people do. I am warming up to this old guy in some random cafe. Coincidences that life throws at you. He promises he will give me lessons in chess. I tell him I come to this cafe often. Sunday afternoons would be a good time.
Thakuma passed away few months back. Thakuma, my favorite raconteur. My source of childhood memories. My supporter for all kinds of nuisance. The person who would laugh the loudest at my new age notions. Yet, who would, with equal ease, say that being happy is key. Everything else is secondary. Every time I visit Patna, she would say, ‘Jhunu, kobe biye korbi? Aami dekhe jaabo.‘ (Jhunu, when will you get married. I want to see you get married before leaving’). And I would give my standard response, ‘Thakuma, ekhon to onek time aache. Chinta koro na.‘ (Thakuma, don’t worry. We have a lot of time.). I wish I could tell her what I told Albert today. But, we ran out of time. Thakuma and I. I know she is out there somewhere. Watching over me. Smiling at my mistakes. A distant star. A faraway light on a clear night. At the end of the day, we will never learn how to deal with losses. Someone dear recently said that the best we can do is to let our dear ones know how we feel about them. Because life is uncertain and nobody knows when the bus is coming.
So this year, I am letting people know. I am writing lesser on this blog; yet I am writing more letters. I am being vocal. I am being expressive. I am telling all my stories. And I am making you a part of them. And not once, did you judge or walk away. Instead, if it was ever possible, you loved me more. You cried with me and laughed with me. Danced with me, sang with me and traveled with me. Each one of you. You know who you are. Maybe that’s why Albert says he sees happiness in my eyes. So, Thakuma, if you are listening right now, I am doing well. Really well. Your stories will always remain. Some day when Kubo starts asking me for bedtime stories, I will tell him the ones you told me. Of beautiful jungles and huge castles. Of brave people and how they never gave up. Of doing the right thing always. Of kindness. And of happy endings.
I lean on Gulzar to end this note.
कुछ अधूरे से लग रहे हो आज, लगता है किसी की कमी सी है|चेहरे पे मुस्कराहट है, मगर आँखों में कुछ नमी सी है ||