Not really gone

It is coming up to 10 months since he passed away. Somedays I don’t believe it, on other days there is no other truth.

His voice rings in my ears. I ache to feel his soft palm around my hand. Somedays I call out to him, aloud, because if I am really quiet, I think I will hear him answer.

The most important witness to my life. The man I loved the most. The one who taught me nearly everything I know. His signature cologne is tucked in my bedside drawer. Some days I take a whiff and then I am 5 years old, on his lap, he is wearing his crisp suit and white shirt and his green eyes are crinkling with laughter and I am safe and loved and happy and my world is perfect because he is my world.

He will forever be the ache in my heart, the silence in my words, my first best friend, trusted childhood companion and adult confidante. The one who got me, like no else ever will. The one who could relay hard truths with grace and kindness and a complete lack of fear. We were part of an equation and now I will forever be incomplete.

Somedays I cannot breathe when I think of how there is now an empty space where once my larger-than-life father existed.

Somedays I wear the watch he wore the day before he didn’t need one anymore. When I see it tick on my wrist, I roll my eyes, smirk a little and say to death “And that is the best you could do?”

 

 

 

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For the best friend

For that time when you lived down the road from me. A best friend for all seasons. Dress-ups and sulking sessions, secrets shared on the ledge of your terrace, encounters with the boys dissected and magnified in great detail as we lay giggling in my room. Walks around the park and screams of thrill as we learnt to ride our bikes and then later those rickety scooters. Sharing make-up, lunch box treats and birthday months. Endless phone calls throughout the day, conversations that stretched over a dozen years and more. School yard loyalties and summer holiday ice-cream binges. The best friend a girl could ask for.

Do you remember the number of times we watched the same movie again and again once we liked something? Do you remember how we stayed on the terrace in the heat, with the mosquitoes biting and the sounds of the evening dying down, talking about this song, singing it endlessly? We did not understand the language but it did not matter.  Love and life and growing up seemed so easy and so effortless that evening, do you remember?

The future that day was obscenely rosy, our hopes were naive and nascent, we knew what we wanted our life to be like. 20 years down the line, some things worked out, others did not. I miss you R. I miss you tonnes.

I do not think we can ever take stabs at deciphering the script of the future. But with a friend like you, I can turn back every single time and say that my childhood was beyond wonderful and perfect. I would not have had the laughs and the fun and the joy in my heart if I did not have you to share notes and stolen candy, teach me how to to apply lipstick, cheer me on, hold my hand, hug me when I cried and followed me with sane advice when I walked away from you sulking.  Thank you for being there. For R. For my first and forever best friend, for being the sister I never had. For making my childhood worthwhile.

Like the song, with all true friendship, you do not always understand the language but it makes your world a better place. There are no better words to hum.

Change of Guard

“My Uncle A passed away this week,” your mother tells you over the phone.

The enormity of the demise does not register right away.

You never got to see your grandmother, your mother’s mother. She was always a photo around the home – a gentle sepia portrait, her eyes so much like your mother’s (and therefore yours), her smile warm and welcoming, her gaze on an object in the distance. Thus it was that you came to know and love a woman who you never saw but re-created through part legacy, part longing.

You spent all your summer holidays with your  mother’s side of the family. Every May, you made the 3 hour bus trip, in a dusty red State Transport bus to your aunt’s home.  Your aunt lived in a rambling old building where your grandmother’s brothers including Uncle A also lived. It was an ancient buidling with endless nooks and crannies, creaky wooden staircases,  latticed balconies and a huge amount of people distributed amongst the eight individual houses that the old building house.  Every house had someone you were related to – it was a merry gaggle of aunts and uncles and second cousins and first cousins and great- aunts and old grand-uncles and everyone else that was somehow, family.

You could wander into anyone’s house around lunch time and they would set you a plate and you would eat. If you went to the neighbouring house, you would be fed lunch again, you did not refuse. In the afternoons, while your mother and your aunt and the extended family chatted, you wandered the large building, opening doors and discovering new and old worlds. It was the magic hour, the world lay suspended in a brief stupor, a humid silence coloured the world. And yet you played with stray cats, you hid behind the dusty cauldrons that housed the water for your morning bath and you played hopscotch on the blazing hot tiles in the paved courtyard.

“Come inside, do you not feel the hot sun?” someone would say. It could be anyone of the extended family, love and discipline and meals and treats were shared around here, you were looked after by everyone in the building, even the building itself.

You were a child here surrounded by a thick blanket of summer,mangoes, late night icecream and family that sat around and talked and drank endless tea. You stayed awake, bright eyed and revelling in these chat sessions, hugging yourself to stay alert under the whirr of the fan and the animated chatter. Your mother was a child here too, but you did not realise that till you were grown up.  Here she talked to her uncles and aunts, she sat at their dining tables and they made her tea and fussed over her. Her, the youngest daughter of the sister they lost so tragically, without any warning.

You would talk to your mother’s uncles and her aunts several times a day. They wanted to know important things about you like what flavour of milkshakes you liked and whether you were doing your times tables in school and how you liked your tea. They gave you little gifts, sometimes a crisp 50 Rs note in a plain envelope, sealed and fresh, brimming with the promise of everything you could hope to buy. Sometimes it was little lunch box or a book,  little gifts that you recieved with profuse thanks and then packed carefully to take back home. You had surrogate grandparents every summer, you never realised it till today, till you accepted that they were all gone.

They bulldozed the old building one summer. You had grown up by then and you had moved out of home. Your aunt moved away to a better and bigger place. Your mother’s uncles moved away too. Your summer holidays were still fun but you did not have the luxuryof a house anymore where you could open doors and find so many branches of family sprawled inside.

Then you heard the obituaries from your mother over the years. One by one, they passed away, taking with them their gifts, their promises of crisp notes, their steel lunch boxes, their friendly banter on the steps, their admonishings to abandon the afternoon sun.  One by one they became empty chairs around the communal dining table, mounted photos on aging walls, a past reference to a time now irrevocably eroded.

Uncle A was the last of the grand-uncles. 38 years after his baby sister, your grandmother, died in her sleep, he passed away in a town that was far away from the bustling house of the past.

“There is no one of that generation left,” you say to your mother. The greatest of absences. The simplest of truths.

“No, they are all gone now. All the siblings,” she says. She does not have her siblings left either. They are really all gone now, the old house included.

When you were a child, these people built a fortress around you, a canopy overhead that kept the sun and the clouds out. You are left with crumbling battlements now, the house is in ruins.

There is no canopy anymore. The mighty trees have been felled, there is an endless horizon as far you can see, a clearing where once there was a magical land.

The sun blinds your eyes now, there are not many people left to shield you anymore.

RIP Uncle A. And everyone else that left.

The Mother’s Day Tag

The lovely Priya tagged me for this one. I have loved Priya’s mother-daughter posts over the years and her approach to motherhood is so serene, graceful and dignified that I have always been impressed.

Priya has asked me to mention the 5 things I love about motherhood – restricting it to five things is going to be hard, but hey, this is about motherhood. It _is_ hard, and it _is_ all about second guessing. Motherhood is about being presented with a blank canvas all over again, just when you thought you had set views and opinions on things. You get to a phase in life when you think you have a general idea of how the world functions. And suddenly a knee high person points out a burst of blossoms in winter and tells you that exceptions are possible and acceptable. Suddenly, time tested norms are thrown out of the window. An icecream can be a meal, odd socks on chubby feet can be quite cute, a washing basket is really a time machine and will be used as such, and shoeboxes can help you build castles.  Nothing is quite the same again – everything is multi-layered and multifaceted and everywhere you look, there is more to life and living. And this is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

 

1. Motherhood breaks down social barriers like no other. Strangers talk to you on the bus because of your child and her pink shoes and her pony tails. The man in the business suit next to you makes her a paper crane and grins at her. The waiters hover around your table and get her free icecream. The shop ladies talk to her stuffed dog and ask her its name. Everywhere she goes a barrier is broken, a smile is exchanged, a conversation is guaranteed. And you get to bask in this love and this attention and the general joie-de-vivre because of a little person who holds your hand and skips around puddles and starts every sentence with “Mummmm”.

 

2. Motherhood helps me rediscover the world and all the hopes and dreams that come with the  trappings of the business of living. A sense of wonder about the universe floods me when I explain the idea of the day and night with the aid of an orange and a table lamp, to a pre-schooler. An autumn leaf on a cold day makes me appreciate seasons and cycles and patterns like never before. I see the world through new eyes and heightened senses.  I watch an ice cube melt into a puddle of water and marvel at transition. I soak in the fascination of seeing food being spun around as I stand with my nose pressed against the microwave door. I worry about baby birds when it rains because a little person reminds me that the birds dont have cardigans for the chilly days. I am no longer just me, I am in tune with the world and  I realize the joy of being part of something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

3.  It doesnt matter what kind of a day I have had, the sight of a familiar face playing hopscotch when I pick her up in the evening gladdens and heals my heart like no other.  To be able to feel a love this magnificent and overpowering and raw for another human being is the greatest gift of motherhood. It takes a child to show you how far you can traverse the regions of the heart and I know that I would make any sacrifices for her, wage any battles for her and defy the norms at any cost. It takes a child to show you that love can indeed be pristine and unconditional and forgiving. And the very notion of being the recipient of such an emotion humbles me and elevates me like no other.

4. Motherhood makes me appreciate what a fantastic mother my own mother is, in a way I would never have understood had it not been for my child. Every sleepless night, every grazed knee and every tear now makes me appreciate the roads my mother travelled, the lessons she taught and the patience and grace she exuded. Motherhood makes me a better daughter and for this I am infintely thankful.

5. Motherhood is the closest that I will get to immortality. My daughter is my link to an eternity that would have been otherwise out of my grasp.  My smile, the crinkling of eyes when I laugh, the memories my parents gave me and the lessons I learnt are now also a part of her personality – and the essence of who I am will never be tarnished by the ravages of time because long after I am gone, I will still live through her memories and those that come after her.My life will not end with my passing, my daughter is testimony to the fact my life will more be than an exercise in living and that I will live on through her heart.

I would love to tag the ever delightful Ardra to take up this tag and anyone else that wants to do it. Looks like nearly everyone else has done this 🙂

This was fun, thanks Priya 🙂

When You Are Old…

 A summer afternoon long ago. From far away echoed the tumbling laughter of a class having it recess.  

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep; 

Sunlight pattered in through the old and dusty windows of the Year 7 class, making undecipherable patterns on the black cuddapah tiles. Old,wooden benches stood embellished with the stains of ink, tired notebooks bore doodles in the margins of the foolscap pages and the scribbling sound of notes being made filled the air as the words of WB Yeats were read out aloud by Ms S. The charm of childhood and perhaps teenage to some extent is that you do not fully comprehend the intricacies and the complexities of the journey that lies ahead. Eternity isn’t a reality when you are a child; it is a mere concept of a time far away, a place beyond the safe fences of your imagination. You do not appreciate the convolution of love anymore than you understand the realities of old age. You do not understand that there is a love that remains when age has staked its claim and that this love is quite different from the love of shy glances and stolen kisses and hastily scribbled notes.

Ms S was a person I adored unconditionally. She had a soft but firm voice with a gentle lilt to her dulcet tones. She was a strong personality with a face that asked you to maintain your distance if you were not sure of yourself. She was a tall, well built woman too, who strode down the school corridors leaving a trail of discipline and an aura of awe in her wake. You prayed that you wouldn’t be summoned to her office because while she never raised her voice, she used her words carefully and often acerbically. I adored her because I looked up to her, because her tough exterior made me feel safe and made me feel that she was in charge which she always was. Mostly I loved her because she taught English and because she always had time for my ramblings and essays, because she took the time to make me look up the dictionary if I dared use a word without understanding its meaning and because she knew just how much the English classes meant to me.

But this is not about Ms S, not really anyway, for when you are a child, and when you look up to an adult, you don’t see the adult for what they are but rather for what you want them to be. And so it was that when Ms S took me along to an Inter School Dinner, I tagged along eager and honoured. We chatted like acquaintances for a while and when a tall, handsome man with greying hair came up to chat to us, I felt annoyed that my little party was being intruded upon. This was my day with her and I didn’t want him stealing the limelight.

“Will you alright by yourself for a few minutes?” she asked me even as she got up to go away, “The Colonel and I would like to catch up since I haven’t seen him for long”. So he was a Colonel and so she knew him. Was he a friend, I wondered idly? She had been a spinster for as long as everyone knew and the Colonel didn’t exactly look very young. I stayed inside the hall by myself for about 20 minutes and then I decided I wanted to see where she was because I was sure it was time to go home. The air was redolent with the smell of jasmine and the ground smelled of the first bounty of rain as I stepped out into the night.

It took me less than 5 minutes to find them, they were under a jasmine laden rotunda and he had his arms around her, her head on his shoulders. I stood there for eternity staring at the woman that I had always thought was incredibly strong and yet the vulnerable look on her face, taught me my first lesson about the truth that lurks behind facades. I should have looked away but I watched dumbfounded as he whispered sweet nothings in her ear and she blushed. And again before my eyes, the woman who could silence you with a mere raised eyebrow stepped away into the shadows and in her place I saw a woman whose features had been softened by the evening. She saw me then and broke free from his embrace. The magic of the moment receded into thin air as she walked towards me as in control as ever and took my hand. “Shall we leave?” she asked, “Shall we get something to eat first?”

I don’t remember my answers but I shall always remember the feeling of the air going dull and heavy around us as if the last traces of life had been sucked away from the evening. If she was upset that I had intruded upon a special and rare moment, she didn’t show it. It was as if she switched roles and my peek into her world ended as she closed the windows. She took my hand and led me inside, turning around to acknowledge him only once, as we opened the doors to the hall and merged with the milieu inside. I saw the look on her face then, and learnt that hope and love and heartbreak are a  family. That time always manages to have the last word no matter how much is at stake.

When I mentioned this encounter at home, I was told that the Colonel was a much married man with a family of his own in the next town. Nothing more was ever said on the topic and I didn’t tell anyone though it was the kind of thing that a 12 year old on the cusp of teenage would have loved to share with friends and giggle over, in the comforting recesses of her room. I didn’t tell anyone not because I thought I would get her into trouble by mentioning this daring display of affection in an era of supposedly gentle sensibilities but because that brief encounter opened my eyes up to the love that the moment exuded. I would understand it many years hence but suddenly I knew that love even when it is at its messiest and fragile best, rises above the confusion and the shackles that bind it, and anoints itself as the one magnificent force that has the power to change lives and fates. And in that romantic interlude between Ms S and the handsome Colonel, this power of belief impressed itself upon me more than their sad situation and the frailties that both of them had to contend with.

I saw her again, years later, the ravages of time had peppered her hair with white strands and crows feet and the first appearance of wrinkles had changed her face with firm reminders of how the years had treated her. Her voice was the same; the unmistakable lilt was the same. “How are you?” she asked me with the same warmth that had graced me all these years. I could not take my eyes away from the small ‘mangalsutra’ that adorned her now. “The Colonel and I got married”, she said, as I got up an hour later to say goodbye. It is almost like she owed me this explanation for the evening many, many years earlier. A plethora of questions rushed to my aide but she answered all of them with a mere “He couldn’t leave his life and start anew – so we lead our lives as before. We do meet every now and then when he is in town”.  There were no more questions after this, because I knew that she didn’t have any more answers.

But yet, I pretended I hadn’t heard the resigned sigh in her voice, I pretended that the strands of white hair were not due to a fate that took victims of those that dared gamble with life. I wondered if she lived with her memories of the future as she once dreamt it, I wondered if his was the face that made her smile as she taught us Yeats years ago. Did she believe in eternal love? Does one ever stop believing in eternal love? When the future arrives and it is not the sepia spool of your dreams, do you dream again or do you sift through what once was?

I saw her getting ready for a class and I muttered a goodbye. My eyes roved to the lesson she was teaching for the day, the same words of Yeats she taught me many summers ago, came back to stand between us, this time though, they were real and solid and full of painful truths.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars. 

It may not have lasted and the love may have vamoosed in a crowd of stars. But I know that love visited her doorstep however briefly. How do you ever force a gypsy to stay? Don’t you merely gather a slice of the night and a dying ember of the fire and wait for the gypsy to pass your way again?

The Gift..

An overcast afternoon, a sleepy road. A house rousing itself from its afternoon siesta. The girl plays hopscotch on the chalk marked tiles, with the mango trees keeping a watch on her. One. Two. Three. The double jump. She has nearly made it to the end. She hears the front gate creak to life. Four. Five. Six and Turn. And Jump. The creaking of the gate stops ominously. The decibels die away in the middle of her jump. She stares at the visitor with frightened eyes even as he leans against the gate, breathing heavily, smiling at her. She stands frozen in time as he walks in through the gate. He stands unsure for a moment wondering if he should walk towards her or attempt the steps that lead up to the portico. She will have to walk past him if she is to run inside and she doesn’t feel brave enough. “You have grown taller”, he says as he walks towards her and pats her head. She catches her breath then because his breath reeks, his hand is unsteady and his eyes are bloodshot.

His trembling hand settles on her shoulder and she stifles the urge to run, to scream, to push his hand away. “I got you a gift”, he says even as his hands fumble inside his pockets. A soiled handkerchief and a rolled up note are the only things he find. “I did get you a gift”, his voice is plaintive now, pleading even. “Would you like my bus ticket? Do you still play with such things?”. The ticket is torn and in a sorry state – it also reeks – just like him, she thinks.

There is a quickening of steps and the portico door opens. Her mother sounds calm and measured “What are you doing here?”, she asks in a tone that is strangely clipped and unfriendly. He smiles at her and staggers down the path towards the steps. “I came to see you, it has been a long time”, his eagerness and joy shine through the gloomy afternoon.

She opens the door to let him inside and wonders if anyone saw him. Her face softens when she sees the scared face of her girl,  “Do you want to come in for some tea now?”, she asks. The girl shakes her head, she is petrified and the thought of seeing him across the table fills her with dread. “Send Dad out to play with me”, she pleads. “Your father needs to have a talk with your uncle”, her mother explains. And then almost to herself “I do too, it has been long coming”. “Use the back door if you need anything” she says and then the steps hasten down the hallway.

She hears the voices then, a slurred apology, a firm tone, a soft voice asking how long he intends to hurt the people he loves in this inhuman way. She hears words like drinking and addiction and shame thrown around. She hears a muffled sob and she knows it is her Uncle because her mother is too strong to cry. She hears her father’s tones asking questions and a half-frenzied outburst in a heavy voice. She hears the door opening and her fears give her wings. She races down the garden path to where the old storage tank drips water in concentric circles on to the moss beneath. She has been told to stay away from the terrace but today she needs to escape. She grips the rickety old ladder with both hands and makes her way to the terrace. There is a stock of chopped wood there and she hides behind it. She can hear indistinct sounds from the rooms below but she feels safe here. She knows in some corner of her heart that her Uncle wouldn’t hurt her but a small, nagging voice tells her that he is not himself and that perhaps he could hurt himself someway.

Her father finds her an hour later – she has fallen asleep, leaning against the logs and her clothes smell of sawdust and the humidity of the impending rains. He picks her up and guides her down the ladder even as she leans against his shoulder and tries to invoke feelings of safety. “He has gone”, her father says. “And he wouldn’t have hurt you – but I saw him off on the bus a while ago”.

“He is not coming back”, her mother tells her. “He is not coming back till he gets better or till he wants to get better. He is not coming back because he knows he scared you”. She feels sorry for him then and wonders if he will know when to get down from the bus and she wonders if someone awaits him at the end of his journey. She feels better when she sees three teacups on the side table.

“Why did you hide on the terrace?”, her mother asks her, without once reminding her of the rules that usually forbid her to access the terrace.

“Because if he could barely walk, he wouldn’t be able to climb up the ladder”, she whispers.

She doesn’t see him for 10 years after that. He doesn’t want to get better, she assumes. Or maybe he doesn’t want to scare her again. So when her mother takes her along to a wedding and he greets her, she wants to disappear up the ladder again. His breath still reeks and his eyes are still bloodshot. He is still unsteady on his feet and his hand trembles – only one hand works now, the other one stays limp by his side. He has aged tremendously and he smiles at her in delight. “You have grown taller”, he says as she shirks away from his pat. She wanders around her mother’s old house, a house she has only seen a couple of times and stops when she sees a photo of her mother with him. She is too late though, he has walked up to her and he sees her taking in the photo. “You look like her, you look so much like her”, he smiles through his failing eyesight. She doesn’t know what to say to this old, frail, man. He is as much a stranger to her as the smiling elder brother, her mother is looking adoringly at, in the sepia photo.

Her mother takes her to the top of the house and shows her a hide-out. “I spent ages here, hiding from the world. I could tell when your Uncle was home – he always came zooming down the hill there on his shiny, new bike”. She looks at her mother with new eyes, “Did you hide here from him?” she asks and her mother laughs, “He was the best elder brother anyone could have asked for”, she says with a faraway voice. “Maybe we all stopped waiting for him to return – maybe no one was around when he did decide to get home”, she whispers.

She receives the news of the death of her uncle an year later. He died in his sleep, she hears and she wonders if he looked at the sepia photograph of his sister before he died. She wonders if he knew how his younger sister waited for him everyday, even after she turned him away.

Years later, her mother hands her a stack of old LP records that belonged to him, in another place and another time, when things like music and song coloured his world. As she goes through the records, her mother gives her a heavy, gold chain wrapped in fine muslin . “It was my mother’s and then mine and now it is yours”, she says in a whisper. “I gave it to him many years ago, when he needed some help to battle his addiction – he never used it because he wanted it to be returned to its new, rightful owner – you”.

She knows suddenly that after all those years, that the gift he was supposed to have given her then, has come back to her. And then she wonders what it would have been like to have the gift accompanied by a trembling pat…

She has been wearing the gold chain ever since – as a reminder that even at our worst, there is some goodness that sustains us enough to create a memory for the ones we leave behind, long after we have packed up and left. And that even after you have lost the tryst, someone will remember the way you played the game and hope you made it home….safe.

For now and forever..

I see you for a split second as my car passes the country cemetery. Dark, foreboding clouds hang low in the sky, somewhere in the distance are the echoes of a faint, rumbling thunder. The sky is turning from an angry blue to a sooty black even as the last rays of sunlight flee in face of the emerging storm. You stand in rumination at the foot of a grave, bright gerberas in hand; your back to the road, the rest of the world passing you by in an oblivion. The road opposite the cemetery meanders back to the town square where families and mothers and daughters have gathered around polished, wooden tables with checkered table-clothes, for mother’s day luncheons. Strings of ribbons and gauzy wrapping paper dot the family landscapes, there is much laughter and mirth hanging heavy in the air. And yet, around the corner, up the path, with a bouquet of red gerberas for company, you stand by yourself because the other half of your share of the mother-daughter equation is missing. 

What kind of a mother was she? I want to ask. Did you ever laugh long into the night, did she teach you to name the stars as she pointed out the night sky to you? Did she make you the bestest birthday cake ever, with frosted sugar icing and pink roses? Did she sing along in the car as she drove you to places, hold your hand perhaps as you both waited to cross the street? Did you spend lazy afternoons making daisy chains with the sun tickling your necks? Did she make you drink water on a hot day when you had no time to stop even for a minute, as summer coloured your holidays with all her glory? Were you allowed to get up only after you had finished everything on your plate, did she cut your food into bite sized pieces as she raced the clock for you to win? 

By virtue of her role, she became your best friend, your confidante, your cheerleader and your worst critic; a quirk that she perhaps had is now yours to keep through a series of genes and family history. Perhaps you have an old sepia photo of her somewhere, tucked away in a drawer, safely hidden away from the ravages of time so that age and death can no longer get through to you and to what she left behind. Perhaps you have her eyes, her smile maybe, a gift from one generation to another, another example of her giving you a part of herself, a presence that talks to you every time you see yourself in the mirror.  The red gerberas tell me that there is no weather beaten hand to guide you any more, there is no quickening of the steps down the hallway as you ring the doorbell. There is no one else that quite understands the unsaid words in the crevices of your heart. There is quite likely no one else with whom you can begin a phone conversation with the words “Its me”.  

I don’t know what she was like, this lady that you are now grieving, but in a strange way I hope you are celebrating the birthdays and the songs and the laughs, the time-outs and the arguments even. I hope you have enough memories to last you for the journey, and to protect you for what lies ahead. I know that somewhere above your head hovers a cloud of memories so real that is  almost tangible –good old homespun memories mind you, not necessarily important milestones.  Just fragments of time, where you remember her laying the table for dinner or humming above the static of the radio on humid afternoons. I know that if you strain your ears you can hear her voice mixed with the smell of washing liquid, billowing through freshly laundered sheets on stooping clotheslines, and you can conjure up her magical and far away tones that permeated the blankets on lazy Sunday mornings as you fought bravely to hang on to the last remnants of sleep.  

I am going to drive away with a burning feeling in my throat, though really I would like to come in and stand with you awhile but this is your moment and hers. You must know that death is too feeble to get into the way of something as powerful as a mother’s love. You are here today, flowers in hand, celebrating a woman who is no longer around and yet all that she has done for you is stronger than the moments she will never get to share with you.  Eternity is a two way street : when you realize that the moment doesn’t last forever, but that a memory of that moment does, you have created your own eternity. And mothers are powerful that way, for whenever things like death and loss and separation get in the way, they merely take you back to a childhood road that time forgot to visit.  Dark, foreboding clouds hang low in the sky, somewhere in the distance is the gentle patter of autumn rain. The sky is turning from a sooty black to an inky blue even as the last rays of sunlight step out from behind the clouds. 

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