Notes on a Sunday afternoon – C.K. Mathew, former CS Rajasthan


When I was younger, my hair not so grey, I had the answers to all the questions. My days were pleasant, my nights serene; I slept soundly and woke up clear-eyed, ready to face the world and its challenges, confident in the sure knowledge that I would meet them and bring them to heel. The sky overhead was filled with a divine light. I could feel the presence of my God watching over me, carefully ensuring I came to no harm.

But over the years, my sureness and tranquility have seeped away. The questions have grown like dark clouds and all my ready answers have trickled away into the encroaching twilight around. Things are no longer clear and well-defined. I see now that there are several answers to every question, each of them valid, and as true. Or else the questions breed more questions without yielding any secrets at all.

I meet with my quotidian tasks with a plodding will that will brook no hindrance, and should I be deterred, I will do it again and again, with no particular pleasure, but the knowledge that it is required to be done; and sure enough it will be. I am prudent about my money, knowing I must have enough of it to make our days ahead comfortable; but that does not mean I do not give in to a whim and splurge a bit when it feels good. My clothes should fit and be comfortable: I need no branded shirts and snazzy trousers.

Food is a necessary, everyday thing: it is required to keep body and soul together; and not because it fills me with any hedonistic pleasure. The slightest murmur to my body, a headache or a pain in the joints, a rumble in the stomach, raises more fears than they should: I worry that it doesn’t turn into something more serious. I watch for signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia, for I know that I have a genetic predisposition for it. And when my wife should feel unwell, there is a disquiet that eats away inside, until the fever or the infection goes away.

I don’t sleep well at night, at best it is erratic and in fits and starts. No, I am not in a panic when I don’t, but then the night takes infinite time to dissolve into dawn, while my mind wanders through subterranean tunnels and unknown detours and side lanes. And when I do sleep, I can never remember my dreams; but I wake up refreshed, with some flickering images fading in my brain, that are soon gone, disappeared.

Where my thoughts clash with others, I find no need to press my viewpoint: I might just smile a little crookedly and let the moment pass. Even though I know I am right! If those who disagree are younger than me, well, they have a lot to learn yet, haven’t they? And should they be older, what matters; let them be.

My daughter is with us now, she and her baby: her ten-year-old marriage has not worked out. The courts, just a few days ago, have thankfully dissolved her troubled marriage. We are thankful for the law. She is strong and cheerful, and I am confident things will turn out as they should. In the meanwhile, most of our efforts are to see that she, and baby Zaara, will face no stormy days or a worrisome future. So, if Somebody is still out there behind the clouds and far away in the skies, please look out for her, won’t You?

I continue to work, thank God, or Whoever, for that. It keeps me relevant, useful. I write because it keeps me ticking. That great wonderful novel, or that opus of complex political commentary, sits somewhere inside me, waiting to come out; one day, in the not too distant future, I might yet surprise you.

The status quo is a wonderful place to be in. No sudden turmoil, no events to disturb me out of my hard earned peace. And should it come, as when, with no warning at all, my father-in-law recently went away in his afternoon sleep, I know it will all work out, friends and family willingly rushing to help. My wife, Geeta, is my best friend: she is strong of spirit and filled with a faith in her God, that defies explanation. She is the untiring, indestructible centre of our home, and all of us revolve around her, like so many willing planets and satellites around the Sun.

And so, that is who I am: a greying senior, seeing the world spin around me, contented, but tremulous too, learning more about life and people now than I had ever had. Perhaps the questions I ask myself now, are really the answers I should have searched for, all these so many years. I read my books and listen to my music, and don’t mind the paunch I am flaunting around my midriff. It’s ok to stoop and slouch a bit. I await a full life, of travel and of broadening my horizons, of countless books and sweet music, hopefully free from disease or distress.

I see very clearly, but as if from a great distance, the very world I inhabit, spinning in the heavens, one blue marble lost in space, going I know not where, but certainly going somewhere, its destination forever a mystery to me, too deep and awesome to comprehend. In that uncertain knowledge, I must be content; but then, what does it matter. For, by now, we surely know, that whether we are star dust, or heavenly debris, in the long run, it makes no difference.

In short then, I try to live as best as I can, trying to be at peace with the genes inherited, facing up to happiness and sorrow, mixing my pain with my joy, finding some undefined and ambiguous balance in the incomprehensible mystery of our life. I try to live with that. That is good enough for me.