R.I.P

There are never any signs that your world is about to come tumbling down you around you. On a perfect March morning, I call up my mother to have my usual talk with her and my heart misses a beat when her tired voice asks me if I am calling up because I heard. “Heard what?”, I ask her and a thousand fleeting thoughts rush through my head. Her voice breaks down and between sobs she tells me that she has just returned from the funeral of my aunt, my mother’s elder sister, the woman I loved as much as my mother and who loved me fiercely in return and often times more than that. It is all wrong, I should not have to hear the word funeral in the same sentence as her name. It is then that the tears start and as my mother pieces the last few hours of my aunt’s life, I cry with a pain I thought I was incapable of.

I never knew the love of grandparents, the fairy tale pictures of doting grandparents never entered my life. But to set the equation straight, fate overcompensated me in the form of my mother’s elder sister, my aunt or my Mavshi as I called her. It hurts to write an obituary, it hurts to talk of her in the past sense, because the gentlest, the most loving and the most affectionate person I ever knew will now forever be a photo on my wall and a memory from a time past. A routine afternoon, a morning call with my mother,a cup of tea with my cousin and then she slipped out and finished her lines, courtesy a heart attack. Swift, deceptive, transient, life merging into death, the future suddenly becoming the past tense.

My earliest recollections are of sitting cross legged on the cool black tiles of her home as she fussed around me. Every wish of mine was granted, every treat I wanted was given to me and she coloured up every summer holiday of mine with her enthusiasm, her contagious love and her largesse of heart. She took me to the museums and pointed out exhibits, she took me to the movies and passed me icecreams throughout the movie, she hailed rickshaws and cabs everywhere so that I didnt have to walk. She bought me anything that took my fancy, she took me on boat rides around the lake, she fed me an endless supply of bhel and pani puri and she allowed to me have tea in bed during the holidays against my mother’s protests. Every time my mother wondered aloud if I was being spoilt with such pampering, she would smile. “That child doesnt have any grandparents to speak of”, she would admonish her younger sister, my mother, “And every child deserves to be treated like this”, and then she would drop her voice and look at me and smile victoriously and say “My niece deserves this, arent you the most special girl, ever?” and I would agree. We both didnt know it then but she was giving me memories for a lifetime.

Throughtout the years, the summer trip to her place was my highlight of the year. As the rickshaw turned the bend, I would all but leap out of the door to see her waiting in her balcony, her hands shading her eyes as she scanned the roads for us.No matter what we did, we went to her place atleast twice an year and when she came down to visit, the house would be transformed into a holiday camp. She had a kind word for everyone and everyone from the maid to the neighbour down the road hovered around her. With the passage of time, I took her around on my scooter and she would hang on for dear life even as my Mum belted out instructions to slow down.

In my jewellery box, wrapped in muslin lie a pair of gold filigree earrings. They were a gift from her when I graduated and they joined a long list of gifts gifted by her, that included my first toy kitchen set (unpacked by me even before she got a chance to give it to me), my first salwar kameez, endless pieces of jewellery, musicshe liked and wanted me to hear (including “Sunio jee” from Lekin), books, bags and clothes.

No visit to India was complete without a visit to her house and the old patterns repeated themselves as she waited at the door step as ever for the car to turn around the bend and as I write this, I realize that a death is not just the end of a physical existence, it is the end of patterns and routines that have shaped us, the end of our plans for the future that include those that have left us and more importantly it is the definitive end of relationships as we knew them.

The hardest part is not that death changes life irrevocably but the clear message that the equations of life and love are always changing and sooner or later someone you love deeply will make way for a void. I grapple with never seeing her again, I anguish over never hearing her voice on the phone again and when it hits me that as the law of nature goes, I have lost a very important witness to my life from this point in time onwards, I break down and the tears come afresh. “It was like losing my mother all over again”, my mother says and suddenly I see her loss as her anchor, her elder sister who dropped her off to school and picked her up after dance classes is suddenly no more. “I have no one to call after my morning coffee”, my mother’s voice is a whisper. “She loved you, very much, you knew that didnt you”, my mother adds. “She was so proud of you that she would tell perfect strangers about you”.

I begin to chuckle through my tears, “That sounds just like her”, I say. My mother manages a smile, “I bet she forced them to drink tea too” and then we are both down memory lane and we are both celebrating a life that touched so many with its warmth, its generosity and its love.I never told her how much I loved her, I never told her that she made my childhood magical but I know I told her that having no grandparents wasnt such a big deal because I had her. Thank you for the memories, for the endless summers, for the phone calls, the letters and the pat on my back and the kiss on my forehead . I hope that you are happy wherever you are, and if you are telling perfect strangers about me again, could you please leave out the bits where we got lost or ran late because of me? And if you are making them tea, dont keep adding the sugar till they ask you to stop, because most people cannot say no to you. And I will wear those earrings for ever, because you gave them and because you are no longer around to offer me new ones.

“She will no longer be around to celebrate my milestones”, I whisper and my mother answers with a sob. And as my father tells us both of how she was kind to death itself in the end, my mother and I nod through our tears as we both weep for the woman we both loved the most in the world.

R.I.P