Monday, 18 September 2017

The house died too that night

My tribute to Ma, a month after she left us...


It is a little over a month now since she left us, but the house has not stopped waiting for her.  These days the main front gates remain closed all day. Nobody honks asking for them to be opened. The house seems to have aged in the meanwhile  – it has grown old, tired and grumpy. Initially I thought it was the exhaustion of having hosted the death, and the rituals that came after it. But now I realize that it is not just that, it is the weariness of being emptied out, as if something vital has been scooped out from its inside leaving a gaping hurting hollow which cannot be repaired; the lonely verandah does not know how to begin the day when she does not come to sit there in the mornings; the empty garage has remained vacant since they laid her there before taking her away to be cremated – ever since then it is confused – was it still a garage or had it become part of the house? else why was she laid out there? why were no cars parked there anymore?
Part of the completely devastated house still in deep mourning

Her bed room is much the same as it was – I have spent countless hours there trying to reconstruct her last few hours in that room – how did she fall and hurt herself so badly on the left side? I had agonised endlessly about precisely this happening  for years – I had forced her to let me sleep in her room for a few weeks after she returned from hospital last year – but it was clear that she did not like it. She was happy when I left and quickly made sure that the second bed was also evicted from her room soon after. ‘Ma, what will happen if you fall one night when you are going to the bathroom and hurt yourself,’ I had asked her once. ‘At your age, broken bones will take forever to mend. You will be bedridden for months, it will all be very painful for you. Why won’t you let someone sleep in your room?’ I had tried to warn her.

‘Don’t worry,’ she had answered, ‘none of all that will happen to me, when my time comes to go I will bother no one, moi porim aaru morim, phat kori jam, toi ahiye napabi (I will fall and die, immediately, before you can even get here.’)

She had her way. She fell in the wee hours of Sunday morning, she was gone by Monday early afternoon. She left minutes before I could get to the hospital. She bothered no one. This time she gave us no notice…

She had hurt her head, internal haemorrhage, and had lost consciousness soon after; she never woke up. She had it her way and lived in her own style – proud, fiercely independent and unbeaten -- till the last. Before she left her room for the last time, she asked the men to go out while she changed. The Ma I saw in the hospital that day was not her – that was just her battered and bruised remains – which they nicely sewed up into a ‘packing’ with starched new white cloth and sent home; once home we tried to hide her baldness and the black eye and dress her up in her usual dignified style knowing how important it was for her. She then went on a trip to her favourite haunts, and when I saw her later at Nabagraha, I could detect a dim sparkle in her closed eyes, and a faint smile on her lips. She looked happy, and at peace then. I could recognise my mother. The DC getting stuck in a traffic jam gave me a few quiet minutes alone with her… and then she was gone… swallowed up in the soaring flames of the burning pyre…someone gave me back her spectacles to carry back home… a few of her bones came back much later… but there was no way to know for sure that they were hers.

Many have told me that the soul lingers for some time after death and that it comes and speaks to you. Ma has come back and spoken to many others but not to me – wonder why? Could it be because she does not want me to start yet another fight with her?  I am still doing that every day in any case – as I sort her things, I am yelling at her for not having given away many of the unnecessary things that she had accumulated over her lifetime… as I am trying to sort out the official papers and to make sense of what it all means, I am shouting at her for not having left things in better order. But I do her injustice, for given that she had become rather forgetful in the last years, I could have not expected much better. She fell on the night of the 12th – she had all her accounts up to date till the 11th. Although I did panic briefly, it did not take me very long to find the important things. Everything was where I thought they should be…I even found enough money in her purse to tide over the initial expenses.

Not only that, it was mainly my maternal family – her family, her friends and her associates in the various institutions she was involved in who came to help me in those completely crazy initial days...Some of those who came to offer their condolences, although they had very little to do with me earlier, saw the need and happily volunteered to help with specific jobs. I can feel her presence in all of this...And she has been around, patiently and silently overseeing my impatient sorting, even to this day. For she is making things happen which are forcing me to look in places where she had stored valuable things which I would have otherwise overlooked. And looking back, the crisis we faced last year had more or less mentally prepared me for this eventuality.

Still, it was crazy having to rush home at such short notice on hearing about her fall; there was also a strange sense of deja vu because I had done exactly the same thing exactly a year ago now when she was suddenly taken ill on the day of Bishwakarma Pooja, 2016 and was almost gone. It is exactly a year today. Yet last year it had turned out differently. Then I had rushed to the ICU to meet her, fearing for the worst. But I found her sitting up on her bed – she had looked quite pleased to see me but had greeted me in her usual manner: ‘Who asked you to come? There was no need. Did you think I was going?’ That was her style, our style – understated, we never said what we felt for each other in so many words, although we could guess. She survived that time although the doctors had almost written her off… it was a real warning though, at least for me, of what might and would happen some  day, possibly soon. I tried my best to make her see it in the same light, I tried to tell her that she had been lucky that time round, and that she should make the best of the bonus time that she had been given – I counselled her to stop carrying on as usual as if nothing had happened, but rather do the things she wanted to do but never had time to do earlier.

She listened, but that was probably not what she wanted to do with her time. As soon as she was well enough she went back to her usual busy routine.  These last months she was busy and lived life to the full – the way she wanted it. She was well enough to travel to Delhi, she was often on TV taking part in discussions and attending meetings, giving advice and interviews, reminiscing about her past, ruing the present. Everyone had seen her within the last month or two. She even went visiting a lot of friends and family as if to say good bye. She had even started repairing the house in order to have it done and ready by the time I came around Durga Pooja. I teased her for her one-tooth grin when we video chatted over Whatsapp end of July. That was the last time I saw her.

Many people came in the days that followed her death – they came and told me their own stories of their connection with her; they told me about what she had done, how she had helped them, about her courage, her fearlessness, her incessant and tireless activity; I learnt many new and nice things about her in those days. The many letters that many have written tell me more about what she meant to them. The copious notes left in her beautiful handwriting are helping me to understand better her ways of thinking, her strategies to handle institutions and people and her style of functioning. For, while she was alive, I had deliberately kept myself aloof from her public life and her many activities. So I did not know much about a big part of her life. I realise that the written matter and what others tell me about her is all I have left now to make sense of who she was. I also now realise that I will have to build my direct links with some of those people who were close to Ma, for she is no longer there to keep those links alive.

The realisation that one is an orphan, that too one without any siblings, can be very painful, when it hits one for the first time. I had foolishly imagined that Ma would live on forever. After she had come back from the dead last year, I told myself that Ma would/could never go away.  It has been so many years since Baba died that I had begun to take Ma’s presence for granted. That was a mistake. And that is why it is so difficult for me to let go… to let her go… to accept that the car horns won’t honk anymore at 2:30 p.m. when she comes home for lunch, to accept that next time I sit down to eat at the dining table, she will not be there to serve the food, to accept that next time I don’t have a clue about how to get my driving license renewed, I can’t go to her and ask for help… to accept that there is no one else left in this big wide world who I can take for granted…it is in fact much worse, for not only will I have to fend for myself, I will also be expected to take her place and be there for the many others who depended on her.

Time will teach me to cope with some of these new responsibilities, people tell me.  And as life unfolds from one day to the next, I will be able to figure out how best to proceed from here, I hope. But how do I console this house, the house which she had built, where she had lived for so many years of her life, the house that had become part of her, the house that all knew to be my mother’s home at Panchabati? Today, with Ma gone, that home too has ceased to exist. Ma inhabited more than her body, she had filled the entire space here... without her, her home, is not only empty, it is also dead.  What remains of it sulks and looks away, every time I try to make my peace with it. The tired hollow frame still stands, and keeps looking and waiting, with an indescribable hurt writ large all over it, as if it too fell that night with Ma and hurt itself, still believing that it can make the impossible happen -- and waits for Ma.

14 comments:

  1. বাইদেউ,

    ক'বলৈ ভাষা নাই। তথাপি ফুকন ছাৰৰ শেহতীয়া কবিতাটো মনলৈ আহি আছে...

    "...
    টিপচাকিৰ আন্ধাৰত এদিন আইতাই আমাক কৈছিল
    মানুহ নমৰে অ'
    মৰ-আউসীৰ ৰাতিও কণা বেলিটোৱে জিলমিলাই থাকে
    পাতালৰ নৈ-নিজৰা সৰোবৰ সাগৰৰ পানীত"

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    Replies
    1. iman sundar kabita phaki... montut santi palu...ases dhanyabad...

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  2. I cried while reading this...sitting at my workplace, hiding from my coworkers. I have often wanted to know more about you as a person, and this excerpt brought me one step closer. Mothers are always taken for granted, always assumed to live on forever. I wish we are able to say and do more for them while they are still alive. I hope time gives you strength to cope with this loss, and wish to say, I hope you can say that now she is closer to you, hearing you at all times...

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    Replies
    1. thanks for feeling with me. can you please tellme who you are?

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    2. i would love to know you better too.

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  3. Thanks for this, Reekshit. Stay happy and well, wherever you are. And look me up when you are in Guwahati next...Hopre your parents are well...my regards.

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  4. Ba. ....anything which I feel like saying seems too superficial... Hope the emptiness gradually reduces....and hope God always keeps Panchabati blessed and safe

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  5. Ba. ....anything which I feel like saying seems too superficial... Hope the emptiness gradually reduces....and hope God always keeps Panchabati blessed and safe

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  6. thanks, dear girl. i do know that you worry about me. time will help in sorting a few things...meanwhile dont let me fall.

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  7. Deeply moved by your tribute, as I shuttle between Guwahati and Kolkata to keep an eye on my ageing parents, and as I fight and argue with my mother on many matters.
    Here's hoping that time will help to heal your pain and ease the grief and that your house will come to terms with its loss.....

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Ketaki. Life teaches you something every day... these last days and weeks have been very dense...

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  8. Meenaxi, This is too moving. I must be saying I am crying now. But I wish to say you are so good with your feelings and your words. Shower this on others as much as you may. Just as your mother showered all her good qualities on others.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks very much, Lipi, for your sweet words. They mean a lot to me... it makes me happy that at least a few of you understand why I am so sad...

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