It's a Sunday afternoon. Ravi is traveling. Moy Moy has gone for a nap and is actually asleep. Mummy and Masiji are also dozing. I sent Padma home early. I am "alone. "
This is the best I can do.
In the past 26 years, I have not been truly alone in my own house for more than 15 minutes at a stretch and that has happened, perhaps, five times.
Nowadays, with Mummy, Masiji and Moy Moy all housebound unless I orchestrate their trips out, being truly alone is impossible. In such situations, the only option is to change the definition.
Now "alone" means that everyone is out of sight, not making noises (coughing is included) and not likely to emerge for a predictable period of time. This kind of alone-ness is delicate. I tiptoe around the house nervously, alert for any sounds of life, always slightly on tenterhooks, knowing it's all about to end soon.
Don't get me wrong. I love everyone I live with. In fact, I love pretty much everyone I meet. But being alone! There are days when I long for it as one does for cold water or sunshine. To have the freedom to bask on the verandah with a book, or to sit silently, staring into space without having to answer anybody's questions . . . as comfortable as I am in India, this is one fundamental part of life here which I have yet to adapt to: the idea that one is always happiest surrounded by others, that being alone is to be avoided or endured but never embraced.
20 minutes is all I get. Mummy's 3 o'clock student is at the gate now and I must open the door and let him in. In a moment, he will be in her room and I will hear their voices in the familiar question - answer routine which goes on every day. Masiji will sigh and get up to escape it by coming into the kitchen where I sit perched on a stool typing. Any second now, Moy Moy will wake up and I will give her her milk and take her out for a walk.