Desai Uncle was my neighbour but he used to never speak to us. He lived alone and had a maid who used to come in the morning to run his errands. Uncle was frail looking and a chain smoker. I used to often find him in the corner cigarette shop on my way to work. Whenever he met me in the elevator he smelt of cigarette. One day I just started a conversation with him and said: “Uncle at your age you shouldn’t smoke so much”. Uncle gave a meek smile and said almost assuring me ‘Yes, I will stop” but the next day I again saw him standing in the cigarette shop. He gave me a guilty smile.
Gradually, we started exchanging small talks in the elevator. One day he lost his door keys and was locked out of his house. He rang my bell and asked for help. He looked tensed and nervous. I assured him that I would call the key maker and solve his problem. Since that day he always smiled at me with gratitude. As if I had done him some BIG favour.
Things were going on good. Desai Uncle even started coming to my house for tea. One day, he happily informed that he was going to Dubai to visit his son. He went for six months. The day he returned he excitedly rang my bell and gave me dates, chocolates and a souvenir of Dubai. He showed me his Dubai photos. He was excited like a schoolboy.
Within a month, his son and family shifted back to India. Initially, he was extremely happy but soon things started getting grim. Every day I started hearing the noise of fights from Uncle’s house. On some days the noise used to get so loud that we used to feel like intervening. In most days I saw Uncle leaving the house whenever there was a fight. Many days I saw tears in his eyes.
One day I met Uncle in the elevator. I asked him ‘how are you, Uncle?’ He smiled feebly and replied ‘Beta, I am going to Bangalore, I am shifting to an old age home.’ I was shocked. In India even now sending someone to an old age home is a taboo. I wondered why after all these years he was going away. I couldn’t resist and asked him. He replied ‘my son and daughter-in-law fight a lot. I do not want to create any problem between them and so I am going away.’
I never met Desai Uncle after that day. He was shifted to an old age home in Bangalore and within few months he left for his heavenly abode. However, his memory remained and many a time I could smell cigarettes in the lift and often felt it was Desai Uncle.