Akila arrived home a day sooner for Pooja holidays to help and take care for her sick father. Since her mother passed away, her dad Alok would often disappear unexpectedly, and she soon found out the reason. When she questioned him on this, he promised her that he would put an end to it. On opening the door Akila dropped her bags and stared with her mouth wide open at her smartly dressed dad standing in the hall, unable to hide his embarrassment.
“Dad, you are just out of hospital after having a triple bypass and are fifty years of age. This has to stop now! “ said Akila angrily in a hurt voice, as tears trickled down her ruddy cheeks.
Alok yelled louder than he was physically comfortable with, “Akila dear, I know you care about me, but this is none of your business, I am an adult. Just keep off. ” Placing a hand over his aching heart, he felt wounded by her argument. Alok turned away, and managed to walk unsteadily to the front door and opened it, as clumsily as a toddler would.
“If you leave, don’t ever dream of returning to a house with me. One more step and I will shift out to my dear friend, Shivani’s house,” retorted Akila and continued, “Don’t you know how disgusting you are?” Screaming thus she grabbed and subsequently threw his walker behind her in rage.
Alok, leaning against the threshold, beckoned a taxi passing that way. The driver nimbly jumped out of the car and assisted Alok to the rear seat. Akila watched her ailing father leave through the lace curtains her mother had sewn, to his moral desolation. Soon after she picked up her bag and left home in a huff!
It is a hot afternoon and the market place is eerily quiet in Delhi, with not even a leaf budging out of place. Alok and his newly acquired friend, Ranjith, the taxi driver, pull up outside the infamous Anoka Ghar. The air is dry and painful to inhale, but Alok continues to walk through the exhaustion. Just looking at the grey and black façade, Alok could feel that lust for life return; and the blood pulse through his veins He ignores the pain, tiredness, and the grief, as long as he could escape to this place, his private sanctuary.
Ranjith runs back to turn off the ignition and walks along with Alok, “Hey old man, I think life is too short for rules today, I will join you.” As they shuffle together on the grimy carpet in the interior of the vast old building, Ranjith notices the security person greeting the frail man like a family member. Ranjith couldn’t help but grin, “So you’re a regular? Fair play to you, life in the senior yet,” and then lowers Alok’s extremely light frame into his seat. Looking around Ranjith absorbs the desperate atmosphere of the room. The place is dingy and barren, just about four to five guys, maybe in their forties or fifties, jobless and wifeless he imagines!
“I understand where your daughter is coming from now, once is fun. Often is a bit much. She knows where you are. If you were my Dad, I too would shiver with rage.”
Alok pauses a moment for breath “Frankly, I would rather you got the hell out of here. I am not your father.”
There is pain in Alok’s voice. Ranjith says nothing, nods and walks out, leaving this bitter old man in the company of the sleazy and wretched guys. Suddenly the lights dim; colourful spotlights start dancing; and racy music begins to play extremely loudly. A lady walks out on stage with socially unacceptable dress. As the music subsides, Alok pulls out a few hundred rupee notes from his pocket and signals the lady to come over.
“Great to see you again Alok, you are looking fine,” saying thus, she grabs the money from his weak hand. “Thank you Anu,” utters Alok with his eyes spilling droplets of tears onto the stage. “I love you more than life itself. I miss you every single day, now that I am living without you my dear. How can I exist without you?”
“Hey Alok, stop calling me by your dead wife’s name, it is really morbid,” she says before dancing over to the next gambler.
Alok looks straight into her eyes and it was as if Anu had never died, what with all the days of sitting by her bedside staring at her life support machine. Coming here is the only time his heart does not burn. Painfully he continues, “Alright Anu,” knowing very well that he will never stop coming here, even as he remembers his darling daughter’s heart wrenching plea.