Daily life presents us with enough opportunities for amusement, empathy, sympathy, reflection, to name a few. Some weeks ago, I had entered the outlet of a grocery chain. Along with me, a couple of men also entered.
One, a senior citizen was very fashionably groomed. I am not referring to the clothing alone. The other one was about 35-40 years of age. While I had noticed the younger one on several earlier occasions at the store, the elder gentleman seemed unfamiliar. I heard the senior gentleman, Mr S tell his younger companion Mr G, “ the tenured people here know me very well. But recently some new employees have also joined.”. G replied, “Uncle, in the last few months that I am coming here, there doesn’t seem to be any change.” Mr S responded, “ That is what I am telling… all these people know me well.”.
I had been looking for some stuff in the same aisle that the two gentlemen were in. I immediately tried to look away from them, but could not avert my eyes before G’s fell on them. Just then, an attendant approached me in response to a request from my side. G also asked her for some item. Mr S remarked, “She knows me very well.” The Sales Lady said, “ I know him well (pointing to G) , but don’t know you, Sir”. Mr S did not seem to be one to give up very easily. He became a little agitated. He said, “Madam, just last week I bought a bar of soap from this shop.”
The Sales Lady and Mr G just looked at each other. That master ‘story-teller’, Alistair Maclean would have said “The silence was so thick, one could have cut it with a knife”. The situation was indeed embarrassing. The Sales Lady just smiled understandingly at G and walked away. One could not have expected less from her. The past few months that one had seen her, she had been very polite with Customers. Sometimes firm too, where required, but never rude. Guess it was fortunate for Mr S that it was just her and not another colleague of hers. Another Lady and her taking offence at the ‘uncalled-for’ attempt at familiarity may have queered the pitch for Mr S.
In such situations, thankfully, social graces teach us to make out as if we have not seen or heard anything. I quickly finished picking my stuff and went to the check out counter. Shortly, at another counter, G and the elderly person arrived. I could sense G trying to check whether the others were observing them. I hastened to finish my checkout and leave. After all, I bump into G often at the store. Our interactions had been limited to just the cursory smile now and then. We had all along, never exchanged a word. Hence my discomfiture at G’s.
As I was leaving i could hear a now familiar voice saying, ‘…. these people know me well,…. barring a few who have joined recently’. I would have thought my ears were playing tricks on me, but somehow I looked back involuntarily. I could see G looking at me and if a typical sub-continental Indian face could become beet-root red, G’s did. Ok, I may be exaggerating a wee bit, but am sure you get the idea…. I rushed to the exit, not sure how to react.
G’s situation was perfectly understandable. But for all practical purposes he was a stranger too (for me), and there was no way i could bring myself to approach him to make the situation somewhat lighter for him. There was nothing physically/ obviously alarming and one did not know how G or his companion would take it. Here was an elderly person, as fit as a fiddle physically, but most likely suffering from age related dementia. I just left the store wondering how vulnerable our situation is, to the vagaries of Life.
Epilogue: A few days later I bumped into G at the corner of an aisle at the store. After the immediate apologies for the ‘crash’, I asked with concern how his ‘uncle’ was feeling. To make him more comfortable, I even narrated from personal experience. “Old age should ideally be a graceful period. Sadly, Dementia like Alzheimer’s strikes sometimes. The afflicted keep forgetting and/or keep repeating. My grandmother who raised me also succumbed to it.” G just shook his head, chuckled and said, “My neighbour is as fit as a fiddle, physically and mentally. Very sharp, in fact. Alzheimer’s Disease or any other kind of Dementia is surely not what he suffers from”.
Humans are a wonderful lot, evolved physically and intellectually. Homo Sapiens as a species is expected to be more sapient i.e. wiser …. However, very sadly, the I, me, myself is not easily managed…. or rather ….the ‘ I’ does not easily evolve to more mature/ spiritual levels.
One would assume this to be the case more with the youth of today. As we age we are expected to mellow and become more spiritual/ giving/ forgiving/ letting go…etc.. But Contrary to expectations, age/ experience is no indicator or measure of one’s spiritual evolution. The great atma, Ramana, the modern day Maharishi is an example. Coming back to Mr S, one hopes he avoids ‘Alzheimer’s’. The ‘I-am-the-cat’s-whiskers’ disease itself must be quite an handful for those others around….