I am at the golden age of 60. In fact I turned 60 the last week. And then, I was handed a letter of retirement, reminding me how tireless journey I have been through, in these years of yearned service. Only I know what efforts I have given to this school where I taught and what it took from my slice of life to be here today.
The temple bell chimed, the cuckoo was singing in the soft breeze of dawn. The sun was peeking in between the clouds as if a child is mischievously playing hide and seek. Her face had lost its shine. She had a wrinkled face, dimmed eyes and dry grey hair. She had grown into an old woman into the past few years. Sitting in the garden, she was remembering.
I was sitting on my Jhoola (Garden Swing) and staring at the open cloudless October skies of Jammu at the foothills of the Himalayas. Myriad thoughts were pouring into my mind that made my heart ache with bitter sweet memories. With every sip of the lemon ginger green tea, I recalled my farewell speech that I had delivered yesterday. The faces of those teary eyed students and staff were fresh in my memory and the image lingered before my eyes as I was staring at the sky. A distant loneliness and nostalgia engulfed me. It was the same time of the morning that I had been rushing around all these years to reach my school on time. But today it seemed that the time had stopped, and everything was frozen in their place. There was an uneasy sense of relaxation. My heart and body were cool and calm but my mind wandered from one thought to another reminiscing the past three decades.
I saw my garden and its colours. The colours seemed very different from ever before. I thought that as these beautiful flowers of my garden would end up one day with fall of petals one by one, my life too will also come to an inevitable end. Although the time seemed still, its imperceptible passing made me sad and nostalgic.
I picked up the water pipe and began to water my plants, mechanically. I felt a certain sense of contentment in the flowers of my garden. Now onwards, they would be more in touch with me, and this thought consoled me a bit. I pondered on the question of what to do after my retirement.
The words penned down on a piece of paper, my retirement notice, had taken away all my expressions and feelings and read out loud my aching heart.
I was broken from my reverie by my younger daughters voice.
“Where are you? You have a missed call!” Jagriti called out loudly. Amidst the ocean of my thoughts, suddenly I hit on the hard solid ground of reality.
“Whose call is it? I don’t know! Keep the phone away!”
After some time I kept on wondering who it might be. “Jaggi, let me call that number. It must be Akanksha calling.”
Akanksha is my sweet little elder daughter, who lives in Delhi and practices Ayurveda. She sometimes plays pranks over the phone. “Let me see what she is up to, now!”
I started dialing the unknown number.
“Hello!” a sweet unfamiliar voice came up on the other side. “Yes, who do you want to speak to?”
“Me?!! Not me, its you, Madam, who called up first! The call was from your side first. What’s up? From where are you calling? Madam, please tell me where are you speaking from. I found a missed call from your number, hence I called back!” I said. I was a bit upset since morning. I was fantasizing what about the new and creative things I would do during my retirement.
“Missed call?!”That chirpy sweet voice retorted in a surprised tone. Then, she said reassuringly, “Don’t worry, it must be a WRONG NUMBER! I am from Mandi. May I know from where are you calling?”
“Jammu!” I replied. The voice at the other end of the phone sounded happy and full of vigour. There was passion in it.
“Madam, don’t worry, it happens many a times. You live in a beautiful place. Nice to have a chat with you. I am Alka here. The sweet voice said.
“Hi Alka! I am Dilshad! I thought my daughter must be playing some pranks. It is nice to talk to you. I never thought that I will get such a decent reply from a wrong number. I am teacher. And yesterday I have retired from my school. They had given me a farewell yesterday. I was in a flashback and memories with a heavy heart since today morning. Suddenly I got distracted by the call on the cell phone. But after talking to you, I am feeling so relieved. Never thought that I would love to get a friend after dialing a wrong number! I was thinking of giving back to my community, doing something for the homeless elderly people. Also of course, I wanted to cherish my hobby of photography by traveling. Somewhere during this time, my late husband’s business suffered a series of losses as he was suffering from cancer. Oh! I am only talking about myself! Please tell me about Mandi, I have never heard of the place!” I asked gingerly.
“Oh! I have listening very intently. I found your talk very interesting! I am in Mandi. It is in Himachal Pradesh Ma’am! Its a beautiful place surrounded by mountains and the River Beas, its a small place which comes as you travel to the Kullu valley and the highway leads to Manali.”
Alka was beautifully crafted by god, with her twinkling blue eyes , lustrous lips and sharp features, she was a well sculptured “pahadan”. There was a jubilation in her voice and for her agile nature, she was the heartthrob of her small town.
Alka told all about her place and people. It was nice listening to her. My tensed mind relaxed with this chit – chat.
She continued, “So sorry Madam. Retirement is your time. In Mandi, we celebrate retirement like it be a wedding! There is a grand function and everyone rejoices. Your time – to be who you want to be actually! You can crave for something new. Enjoy this beautiful world with your grandchildren and family. In everyone’s life there is some or the other trouble or problems. But when you worry, you make it double. Don’t worry! Arrange to meet with friends for coffee each morning. Join a club. Whatever you do, make it a habit. Do it being NOT OUT!”
“Yes, Alka! This wrong number has given so much hope and now I rethink of living life, doing, feeling, seeing, adapting, changing, loving and adding another brick to the new foundations of my life’s journey. Retirement will have to wait for me!” I replied.
I will be your lifelong friend my wrong number!
You have given me hope and path towards happiness. We can be friends forever! You are my WRONG NUMBER!
Da … Dadi!
Small tender hands curled up my neck from my back. Holding and kissing me innocently. It was my granddaughter. It was entangling me towards life. She had collected a lot of night jasmine flowers, that had fallen on the ground overnight. The fragrance of the night jasmine was wafting all over the place. I suddenly remembered, that the night jasmine tree had been planted by my husband. While I was inhaling the aroma of the flowers, I felt his presence and realised he was egging me on to start a new innings of my life afresh.