The age of love

By Suresh Pattali

Published: Thu 18 Feb 2021, 8:13 PM

Last updated: Thu 18 Feb 2021, 8:20 PM

"Good morning. How're you, old man?" Wifey mutes her e-class and rubbernecks 90 degrees to steal a glance at my MacBook screen.

As a biting winter breeze slams into the living room, refreshing my senses, I am wide awake to sense danger in the addendum of her greeting.

"Focus on teaching, darling, and let me do my job," I shoot back in a tone that doesn’t cross the limits of quotidian ramblings between an old couple.

"Hello ma'am, are you there? Please unmute," a gaggle of notorious magpies in wifey's e-class choruses.

"A gentle reminder, given the importance of the day. Stay off Valentine mischiefs." Having issued that subtle warning, she returns to her screen, dotted with a dozen circular DPs of kids on MS Teams.

I wouldn't give a damn about her final caution, but the "old man" salvo hit me in the forehead. My cognitive field is spattered with blood. My thoughts redden with anger and sadness. What has age got to do with love and Valentine's Day? In the battle for affection, are there classifications such as lightweight, featherweight or even heavyweight?

Isn't she aware of the old adage that age is just a number? I'm not a spent force. I'm not a Charlie Chaplin to faint at the sight of his opponents in every boxing ring. I wouldn't shut the faucet of love just because of my age.

"The world needs love as much as it needs air, water and food. I didn't say this. Your daughter said it when she called early morning to wish me."

"They are young, newlyweds. In times of pandemic, social distancing is advisable even in the online boulevard of love."

I stop listening and return to scribbling the love note that I’m not sure who I’d send to. It could be the widow of a groom blasted to pieces in a Colombo church. Or the fiancée of Afro-American George Floyd who was killed in a knee-on-neck hold by a White policeman in Minneapolis. Or one of the millions of teens orphaned by conflicts across the word. Or the widow of a frontrunner who laid down his life to save humanity from the jaws of the Covid pandemic.

The phone buzzes. A fellow writer on the other side wants me to edit a few couplets he has written to his Valentine. I am glad he has no inhibitions about making his emotions known.

"It's sad that love has been caught in a Manichean conflict with the young (good) on one side and the old (evil) on the other," I tell him.

"I'm glad I'm not living in India, where retirement is the final curtain call on your life. Death is just a formality," he says.

I reminisce how one of my sisters was brought home from her office on her retirement day. There was a farewell party in the office, after which her mannerisms were akin to that of a death row convict being taken to the gallows after the last meal. Speeches were delivered in a sepulchral tone. A tear or two lingered in the corner of her eyes. The procession of a few cars that accompanied her on her final trip back from the office looked like a cortege. After a few weeks, a framed colour photo of her farewell party was hung alongside a pantheon of black and white members of our genealogy in the dining room.

On a recent trip back home, I met a few retirees who talked and behaved as if their sunset has begun. Shabby faces with grey stubble and unbuttoned shirts complemented their hapless demeanour. Just a few months ago, they were the Mohanlals and Mammootys of our village.

"What happened, Shekhar?" He laughed like a lunatic.

"What more can happen?" His 80-plus mother lamented, grappling with a betel leaf in a corner of the verandah.

"He has retired." Shekhar's wife showed her face from behind the front door and sounded as if her husband had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

How do I convince them life only begins after retirement? It's the time to focus on yourself and love yourself more. It's the time to reinvent yourself and chase a dream that you had dumped by the wayside. Create more happiness, listen to music and make time to love and laugh.

The status light of an old Instagram contact with no chat history turns green.

"Hi, how are you?" the person asks.

"Who is this?"

"I'm a young fan of yours. You're that kindred part of me, that's fortunate to write. When you write, I see the colours of the world, I see my world amplified through you."

"Oh, thank you. How young are you?" I am game for a little fun.

"Does it matter? What's up?"

"I'm writing a Valentine note."

"Can I be your Valentine? Send me the note once you are done."

My heart vrooms in its cage. A tsunami of dopamine slams into my brain. My finger twitches as it hovers over the send key.

"Why hesitate? If your words can make someone feel like a Valentine, why not? Hit the key now."

"Done. Got it?"

"Yes, gotcha." These aren't written words. They hit my tympanic membrane from a close range. I turn around to see wifey craning her neck to watch me. She isn't angry. She bounces her legs in triumph and swallows a chuckle.

"Ma'am, are you on mute again?"

"No, sweety, my husband is."

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