I have been lately engaged in preparing examination notes for my daughter, and it has led me to read up and reflect upon a lot of modern poetry, including some I encountered for the first time. So I have written on Heaney’s Punishment, and Lawrence’s Snake, Musée and Unknown Citizen and Shield of Achilles by Auden, and Church going by Larkin. It has been good exercise for the brain cells, and besides, it amused me to think that though I have stopped teaching plus-two level students, the plus-two curriculum hasn’t let go of me. Someday others will come running to get their hands on these notes… I know for a fact how many have found them useful even in college.
It’s been fifteen months that I have been living by myself now – for most of the time, that is – my wife and daughter being in Kolkata. Learning anew to live the bachelor life at this age (and that too, devoid of the kind of ‘compensations’ that a metro city could provide) has been hard, but I think I am getting into my stride now. It’s not fun, and it’s risky, but then things could be a lot worse, like having to live cheek by jowl with impossible relatives who make you feel murderous… and I’d much rather live alone than have to consort with ‘friends’ who care only about what they can get out of me. It’s been my great misfortune that I have known far too many of that kind. 2013 was a particularly bad year – or an intense learning experience if you want – and I’d much rather stay unsocial for the rest of my life than bear with ‘friends’. I have been missing my grandfather, and Sudhirda, and I miss my daughter all the time, and it has occurred to me that I have met very few other people in my life, despite an enormous number of acquaintances, who have given me reason to miss them.
Which brings me to the issue of charity. I have written about it at least twice before in years past (see this and this). My own life is replete with ironies, one of them being that I have fended for myself since an unusually early age, and I have never begged anyone for charity yet, at least of the monetary kind, and at the same time I have been sought out for help nearly all my life, until this very morning. I cannot tell you how many and how very different people turn up at my door with what an incredible variety of sob stories, assured that they will not go away empty handed. I know I am different, because I have checked: they never go to anybody else at least on my own street! I sometimes get exasperated, and yell at them, but I have to work very hard to persuade any one of them that I don’t want him or her to come begging at my door any more. It doesn’t even make me feel good any longer – I’ve been giving for far too long, and know that there will hardly ever be any reciprocation, even by way of a word of gratitude, so heaven knows why I keep doing it. Some are born suckers, is my best guess. Or maybe somewhere deep down I do believe in compensation in the hereafter. But another kind of charity I have needed, and occasionally even asked for – the kind of charity that involves giving someone part of one’s time and attention and empathy – and this I have learnt: whatever the reason may be, I am not the sort who can get that kind of charity from anybody. People only come to take; they either can’t or don’t want to give any. I have sometimes thought that it is the curse of being strong: people give only to those whom they find to be weak.
So it must be my daughter alone, I think. The kind of person she has grown up into, she actually does love me with the kind of love I have always wanted; and she should be enough. I have already seen more charity in her, at least for me, than I have seen in anybody else now living. In another ten years or so, I might even be asking her for money (it feels odd even as I write this: I have been giving money to people for thirty-odd years now; how will it feel to take money for a change?!). But this much I have decided: I am never going to ask anyone else again. Someone told me some time ago ‘I am not Pupu’. That will stay with me forever. And at my situation in life, I am not seriously interested in anyone who is less than Pupu in his or her attitude towards me…