Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Long day

No pictures. Lots of scrolling. Warning over.

When the call came, I was sitting across a colleague drinking my second cup of black coffee. My brother rung. I picked up and barked, "what do you want". The tone of my second utterance -- "... when" -- was different. Less barky. Colleague got it immediately, "Grandmum?" I nodded. We exited Costa Coffee. Had a smoke outside. To conceal vulnerability and a first of its kind jolt, I diverted my mind. I asked  him about the Tibetan journalists walking in our direction. They were on the table nest to us inside, also drinking coffee. One was American, but Tibetan features. Both in pretty, long sun dresses ('maxis'?). I asked which one was the American. The one on the right. Pause. Then the first of a few consolations: hey, it's okay...

* * *
I can't say I've been terribly distraught, really. It was expected. I had made my peace with it. I wanted her to go. She had been suffering. We were living a story played out everywhere, all the time. The hospital, the ICU, the family gathered, the exhaustion on faces, the matter-of-fact tones, the oxygen cylinder in her room, all merging into normalcy. It wasn't tragic. Death at 91 is no tragedy. We should have had a band at her funeral, as the old custom for those who live over, what, 90? I think it is. No band. But I like the date she chose. 21st June. Like I was telling my friends, got to give it to her for some black humour, for making it a truly long day. Happy summer solstice, Nanu. Your heart grew tired. You exercised a birth right. You called it a day.
* * *
Om Triyamabakam Yajamahe
sugandham pushtivardhanam
uruvaruku miva bandhanam
mrityo mukhsheeya maamritaat..

That and a mish mash of two Fleetwood songs ('paper doll' and 'somebody') that got mixed up in my head so came out like, to the chorus of paper doll, "yesterday's gone yesterday's gone... mmmm hmmmh mmm by somebody yesterday ..."
These were the bits of prayer and song that kept humming in my head and on my tongue throughout the rituals, through getting you dressed, through prettying you up, through stroking your hair and kissing you bye. Your cheeks were cold but soft. I learnt Om Triyamabakam for you. You better be pleased. And proud!

* * *
Driving back that day, when the news came, Thursday, office to home, I cried only very briefly. The finality was undeniable. I couldn't wish it away. I was exhausted at the thought that ahead are all these years I have to live with only fading memories of you, because frankly, even now, I'm having trouble remembering verbatim the stuff you said to me at the end. (Other than bit two weeks ago, the last time I saw you, about go put cream on your hands! So dry!)

* * *
I will miss the the animatedness and the 'raunak' around you. Your cutting, shrieky, angry, yelling-out, loud voice. The obsession with food, flowers, lotions, people, the telephone, the godawful cricket matches, my wedding; sorry, no, I don't think I'm going to miss you banging on about that. What I WILL miss is your ability to catch a pulse, to read me right, to back me up when I tell you I didn't feel it for 'him' anymore, and you saying, bas phir theek hai, better now than later; 'if you don't get on, get out'. I will miss you asking me to look up, look at the ad on tv, dekh! dekh!, look at Saif Ali Khan and his chips or his paints or whatever he's endorsing. And my grandmum's remark: "iski bilkul kutte jaisi shakal hai". He looks just like a dog. Not dog as in rogue, but dog as in woof, canine. I will miss the acerbic, the tartness, the cut-down-to-size, the only yardstick of how to be generous and transparent and lovely. I will miss the camaraderie. I will miss how you said certain words, your phrases. I will miss your smell. Your cloves and your elaichis and your badams and your assuming that anything you had made for lunch was my favourite - accurate enough. I will miss your assessment of my wardrobe, your praise of it, your need to feel the fabric of any new thing I bought and comment accordingly. Food. The planning ahead for the next meal before the last one is even digested. Plum Jam, Strawberry Jam. Suji halwa. You're everywhere. Chocolate ice cream was you. Ghee was you. Anything sweet was you. How you kept the figure, lord knows.

* * *
It rained a lot that day. Dehradoon. Really muggy weather. Not your scene. And I wish you were there at your funeral so we could bitch about the pandit who was really not a very nice man. But getting into that might offend you, so nevermind. Bottom line: we got our way, ok. I think you would have not minded this one time that we dismembered the flowers from your garden and sent you off with the hydrangeas and the bougainvilleas and the hibiscus and I can't remember if we threw in geraniums too in the mala, in the the garland Mamata wove for you... but Kohli said this wasn't the season for camellias. I asked him, but sweet chap, was so teary ("sab chale gaye...") he came with the marigolds. Sweet old Kohli. (Kohli's the gardener next door with a glass eye, and as a child I used to be terrified of him).

Anyway, you had the flowers. The pick of them. The lot of them. You may think I never sat with you towards the end, but you jolly well better have been watching me up close to see how I 'made amends'. And for gods' sake, once you were brought home and bathed, I creamed your hands. Body shop. Almond. I reapplied your Lakme Vanilla on your toe nails. C and I made you wear bangles. Red on the left. Green on the right. And your favourite sari. And I powdered you. And I slightly smeared your cheeks with the same lipstick I put on your always-way-too thin-upper lip. And I combed your hair. You know the rest. Soft tears. So if you're going to give me grief that I didn't spend time with you, you're wrong. I don't buy it. I will not let it get to me. I will take on my barking tone with you like I have when you wouldn't eat another spoonful of dal and you'd say nasty things and then rebuke me for bearing grudges. I will go sit in the other room. I will sulk. I will be a fool. But I will still care.

* * *
The last couple of days have been, yes unusual, but not unnatural for me. I didn't sleep walk through anything. It's there, documented, up in my head, even if not ALL of it, distinct outlined fragments. The sounds of the frogs at night, the smell of ripened almost putifying litches in the cane basket under the study table, the sounds of the screen doors, all the ring tones of all the outdated cordless landlines, it's there. A lot of inconsequential shit packed away beside the cut glass stuff I'd like to hoard and reflect on later.

My grandfather's ok. He was drinking his morning tea in the veranda when we fetched up and it was pouring like crazy and she was still in the hospital. I think shanti sthal is an incredibly sensitive name for a mortuary. Shanti = peace. Sthal = spot/place. I think if I were to to say she was chilling, which she was, it might be in incredibly poor taste. But it might not be me if I thought it and didn't say it. I'd say it to provoke, to get a reaction, to get her to raise her eyebrows at me and say hai! hai! So there. Provocation. But also: you looked peaceful. Your hair looked good. Strikes me now to tell your hairdresser. Will. Later.

You would have approved of the ceremony at Rishikesh. We were all there to scatter the ashes of your body. The swami jis there said a prayer for you, for amma ji. And the view of the Ganga was right up your alley. You've seen it, of course. Many many times, all thet times before we set you float in it. Jal samadhi. All of us were basking in your approval.  See, now you're with your gurus. Say cheese.

* * *
Aapka shauhar. Your husband. He's okay, nanu. We're on his case. Poor guy. Last time in Doon, two weeks ago, when you were having a fitful sleep and we were sitting outside in the veranda, he and I, we had a long conversation about having the litchees plucked before the monkeys get to them, and then, to shave or not to shave, that is the question. Don't worry. Your daughters aren't going to let him be. There's no way in hell a beard will be allowed. Of that you can be certain. And he's taking it very philosophically - everyone's time has to come. Life is an illusion. There's no birth. There's no death. All that. 
Life may be an illusion but he will still shave.

* * *
The number of people who called -- there, that would have thrilled you to bits. The phone didn't stop ringing. That morning I had field-the-phone/ make-the-calls duty, and I don't know know how many times I must have said the same thing.. yes aunty/ uncle... haanji... no, I'm the grandaughter, the younger one... haanji, he's here, of course you can speak to him... she went peacefully... no aunty nothing sad, haanji all ok, yes aunty... ok, god bless you, too.

And on it went. The consoling of people meant to offer their condolences.

* * *
You went in the evening. 5.15. 5.17. That night, all the neighbourhood dogs barked and barked and barked. Much like I do at my brother. Were you still there then? 'Around'? Could they sense you? Hanging by the pond? Witnessing your progeny take final decisions with the rider Amma, would have liked that/ Amma would have been so pleased.

* * *
I haven't been mourning for you. And I'm not sure I haven't had the time is accurate. TIme? What the hell for. You're lucky! And good riddance. All that lying in bed! That nebulizer was the pits! I didn't like your face with a mask. You became alien. I didn't recognise your expressions. I was so, so grateful for that wink you gave me that last time, in the garden when you were propped up in that chair and crying yourself hoarse to be taken inside because your inherent mountain girl temperament couldn't bear it. It was too hot for you, even with that table fan, and we were bullshitting you that NO, you will sit in the garden, make the effort, you have to make the effort! Fresh air is good for you! Amma, stop being difficult! You winked at me. How am I to mourn with all these conflicting mental pictures! One day you're accusing me of wanting you to die, one day you're yelling for me to come be by your side, one day you won't do more than whisper and then one day, the other day, that day, I guess you just had had it.

And anyway, what's the hurry. To grieve. I'm back in Delhi. And in fits and starts, in waves of differing intensity, high tide and low tide, I have the rest of my life to pity me for the loss is mine. Not yours. You're good. Forget good. As my grandmother to whom, as the phrase goes, "I was close to", closer than I was and am and might ever be to my own mother, you were the best. And that's not going anywhere. Why would ever I let it. As the phrase also goes, and since we're such living clichés and living such clichés, thank you for the memories, Nanu darling. I will always love you. It's like, remember when you were alive and I told you one day, out of the blue, at dinner time, that I will miss you when you die more than I will miss your husband when he dies? And you said you know? I meant that. And I know you know that. But I probably had no idea then, as I don't even now, of exactly how much missing I'm really in for.


NdeL said...

Oh. :'(

(Might just be hormonal but I got weepy..)

You...you're just... you expressed everything you felt and experienced so beautifully. Oh..

As for your gran, I'm too much of a stranger to say anything. R.I.P. Peace be to you and your fam.. <3

Nimpipi said...

Happilypenisve,Bhavna,Hooney: Sorry, klutz behaviour. I selected all comments to publish and I accidentally hit delete. :(.. but thank you.

NdeL: Thank you, too, sweet. And then Nora Ephron cops it. All the bloody good ones go. Sigh.

Hope the new office is being kind.

happilypensive said...

It's ok. Just didn't want to say some cliched thing which doesn't mean anything. But still just wanted to show support. God Bless.

NdeL said...

Yes. Nora. Again, sadness. :(

Thank you. Everything's been well so far. Even with my first ever female boss. :)

Anonymous said...

warm, sweet memories...thanks for sharing a glimpse of your nanu with us...
i couldn't stop smiling at 'saif-kutte' comment. it's gonna stay in my head now...

The Soul of Alec Smart said...

I read this yesterday, and just didn't know what to say. Have come back again because I have to say something, I feel. I'm really sorry for your loss, N, and in a way, I will miss your Nanu's anecdotes sneaking in to the blog during your visits. Keep the memories and take them out often.. God bless!

Nimpipi said...

pen: nothing cliche about your support.

NdeL: Female boss? uh oh. I've had two. Complete opposites. Good luck with yours.

sp: yea. she was only more hung up on ND tewari and whether or not he's agreed to a paternity test. the things that stick.

soul: sweet words. thank you. anecdotes will stay. i can't help but use her often as a reference point.

Anonymous said...

One can't say much when these things happen. Grief, I think is the most personal thing ever. just want to say the pi of your grand mother on FB is BEAUTIFUL.

Nimpipi said...

Chandni: Thank you, love. Check out the picture jo abhi dali hai. And FB one is this same blogger thumbnail.