She just stepped out of the car. Her son dropped her on the gates of this old age home and said he will pick her up “sometime soon”. She was blank. Absolutely blank. She walked towards the gate and then towards the main office building of the old age home. She reached the reception where a very chirpy voice greeted her with “Welcome to Old Oaks – The Happy Folks!” That’s when it hit her. She was supposed to stay there, till…She suddenly felt disoriented.
Her big brown 53 years old eyes got moist. It felt as if was just yesterday when her son, daughter in law and her granddaughter were all excited about this new business venture Tarun, her son was going to launch. They were expecting a huge turn over and were all busy making plans, about what they would do with the money. All Sunaina wanted was to have a beautiful get-together for all her friends and family, thank them for being there for her. After her husband died in a car crash, It was their support, emotional as well as financial that made her capable of surviving and eventually living. Tarun said that it was trivial and they could do it any day and asked her to dream about bigger things. Sunaina was happy, as happy as a mother could be. What else does a mother need after her son says something like this? “Dream of bigger things, Ma.” Even at this age, Sunaina was fit, lively and enthusiastic. She was probably just wired that way.
“This is your room”, said the chirpy voice. She looked around; it looked like a decent place. It had all basic things a person would need. But at this point, nothing mattered. She spent all afternoon in her room, lost in her own world. In the evening around 7, there was a buzz around in the corridor and the chirpy voice greeted her again from the crowd. “Sunaina Jee, dinner time. Let’s go, will show you the dining hall.”
She entered the hall, it was just the usual, a huge hall with tables and chairs and a counter on one side of the room. It reminded her of the dining room in her son’s college hostel and his words, “Mum, This is where we eat shit!” She smiled. A “Hello there” got her back to the present. It was a man in his early sixties, fit except for a slight paunch, decent looking and there was something about him, probably his charming smile that drew her attention. “I am Nakul”, he said. She said a polite “hello” and moved towards the counter. The man followed. They both were in the queue and after they were served, he asked her to join him on his table. There were 3 other people sitting there. One lady in her early fifties looked like a typical Hindi TV series’ eternally bitter mother in law; probably that’s why she was sent here. She smirked. She silently thanked God for keeping the humour in her alive even after tragedies like her husband’s death and her son abandoning her. Once again she drew a blank, “my son abandoned me.” All the greetings from other people, like a man in his seventies and another woman almost her age, got her back. After a round of introduction, they got busy exchanging pleasantries. She loved talking and people loved the way she talked. They were talking about Old oaks and Nakul added, they had everything there, a yoga hall, a garden, a dining hall, a projector in the dining hall on which they showed the latest movies every Friday night, a supermarket nearby and together they all said, “Sab kuch hai yahaan, Bas ek disco ki kami hai!!” and they all laughed. Sunaina figured, this was their inside joke, and also a way to tell the new members that everything they would want was already there.
After the dinner, she went back to her room and lay down on her bed and got back to the fond memories of her husband, son, daughter-in-law and her granddaughter, Shanaya. She remembered the day when her cute little Shanaya picked her over her mum and dad to accompany her till the classroom on the first day of her school. It was a special moment for her, showing how important she was for her. She just loved to cuddle up with her and tell her the stories of Panchatantra and fairy tales like Cinderella. When will she get to cuddle up with her again? Will she ever get to cuddle up with her? She was really feeling hurt. She didn’t know when she fell asleep but her eyes were extremely swollen the next morning.
She met her “friends” in the dining hall for the breakfast. They all could see what would have happened the previous night and were busy in cheering her up. Sunaina just noticed, ‘this’ feeling. She had felt this before. Her face just lit up, it reminded her of her school and college days when all her friends would do all crazy things to make her smile after having a bad day! It was a good feeling.
She now liked it, her life in Old Oaks. Meeting friends every day, talking about new things, listening to people’s life stories. Some were sad, some happy and some were just plain. People would wonder what they did all their lives, caught up in a rat race, trying to meet both the ends, home-office-home life and even after doing their best, ending up at Old Oaks. But again, one or the other member would say, “Kya kami hai bhaai? Sab kuch to hai yahaan pe!” and everyone would say it together, “Bas ek disco ki kami hai!” and laugh hard!
Sunaina was very fond of Nakul, a retired Physics professor who chose to come to Old Oaks. His life had been simple; he had two boys, both married, who would happily let him stay with them. But after his wife’s death, he started feeling awfully lonely and there was a point where he got suicidal. That’s when he decided that he needed company and moved to the Old Oaks. His boys would regularly visit him and Sunaina loved the bond he shared with his sons and daughters-in-laws. She thought of Neha often. She was a sweet girl from a decent higher middle class family. Tarun and Neha studied together in college. Neha was reserved and Sunaina was an extrovert. They were not best of friends, but sure shared a certain equation and respected each other. They never had fought in 6 years, since she first met her.
One afternoon, post lunch, when the ‘bitter MIL’ was talking about how big his son’s business empire was, Sunaina casually mentioned that his son too was in the same line of business and talked about how he was going to make it big. That’s when the ‘bitter MIL’ asked, “Is that why he dropped you here? He did not want to take care of his old mother since he was too busy taking care of his new venture? I bet it was the bitch’s idea.” Hearing this stirred Sunaina’s soul. She had nothing to say. It had been long since, but she still could not digest the fact that her son had abandoned her.
Time flew, days turned into months and months into years. Sunaina was the life of the Old Oaks now! Her friendship with Nakul grew stronger. They had some of the best conversations she ever had with anyone! They liked each other’s company a lot. Overall, life was good. And one day, she saw Tarun at the reception, asking for her.
It was as if her feet instantly grew roots so deep that she couldn’t move. She stared at Tarun’s face with thousands of questions in her eyes. Biggest was, “Why?” Tarun slowly walked towards her and hugged her. And she hugged him back and they cried. Cried like they never did. All she could utter was “Why Tarun?”
There was no time for them to go to her room and neither did they care about people around. Tarun, in a shaking voice and tears running down his face said, “After I dropped you here, I dropped Neha and Shanaya at her parent’s place. I invested all we had into my new business which failed miserably, robbing us of everything we had. I knew Neha would understand and stay at her parent’s place while I try to figure out what to do but you won’t. You just won’t leave me in a situation like that. And there was no way I would let you to go through all that at this age. You already went through your part of hardships and I would absolutely not let you go through it all over again because of me.” He choked. They hugged again and cried. They just sat in the reception lobby all evening, reminiscing and comprehending.
They went to her room at night, freshened up and finally were smiling at each other. Tarun told her that somehow he managed to get a loan and finally was successful at what he wanted to do in the first place. And now was the time he wanted to take her “home”, where Neha and Shanaya were waiting for her. Sunaina was amused at mention of the word ‘home’! She sat there thinking for almost quite sometime and said, “This is my home, Tarun! I’ve lived here for almost 3 years and I have a life here.” Tarun was confused for a while but eventually said, “Okay Maa. I respect your decision. But are you sure you will be happier here?” That’s when Sunaina said what they always did at Old Oaks, “Sab kuch to hai yahaan, Bas ek disco ki kami hai!” and she smiled with tears still in her eyes, at how old oaks had become an integral part of her! Tarun heard what she said and smiled back. He still had that twinkle in his eyes, she noticed.
It had been a couple of weeks now that she met Tarun. Sunaina was casually having lunch in the garden with her friends and she complained, “What’s deal with this Vitamin D and fresh air crap? Why are they making us have our meals in the garden? It’s been a week now and I am done with eating in this scorching heat!” That’s when Nakul reminded her, “We are going to have dinner in the dining hall tonight. Happy?” Sunaina smiled, it was a genuine smile of relief.
That evening at 7, Sunaina heard loud thumping music; she opened her door and followed the music which led her to the dining hall and it was nothing like their old dining hall. The room was beautifully lit up with funky fluorescent lights, shiny disco balls and sported one kick-ass music system! Baffled, she looked around and saw Shanaya, Neha, Tarun and all her friends and family cheering and smiling at her. Two things happened that day. A dream came true and Old Oaks – The Happy Folks lost their unofficial punch line!