Deep in my bones, my angel mother forever. May peace return to your heart in your cosmic abode.
13 April, 1945- 06 August, 2017
It is the worst phone call to get when you are walking somewhere close to 828 Broadway in New York City at 4:30 pm, when you know it will be around 2:00 am in India. You dread the 'ting' of the message on your phone. But you hear it anyway and deep down in your heart you know the inevitable. The muffled sob chokes inside the depths of your heart as you try to be brave in a foreign country and your mind starts working with a clinical detachment, otherwise quite unknown to you. The twenty-hour something journey looming ahead feels like twenty something days. And you have to reach the other side of the globe. And you have to keep your wits about you. And you have to stop mid track as a long colony of red ants seems to crawl inside your head, gnawing, gnawing, gnawing restlessly, making your interiors bleed. Only you feel it. The world around you goes on. The feeling is even more deathly than death, to say the least. They speak softly on the phone, holding back things untold. "She is serious. She is battling for life." Your heart knows that they are following the protocol of 'breaking the news gently.' Soon, there will be an exit. It will be your mother and you know it. As cabs zip past in the concrete jungle where nobody has time for nobody, the thought that you won't be able to reach in time for that last goodbye, strikes you like a bolt of lightning. When you go home, you will open the door to yourself and be a silent witness to unbearable grief. She won't be there seated next to her window to welcome you and will not smile ever. The clock will continue to tick. The Sun will continue to shine. Everything will remain the same except the apocalypse descending on your life.
Today, a 'motherless' year later, I have still not been able to come to terms with her going away. Death has a manual of its own. It loves to strike where it pinches the most and derives immense pleasure in tearing unexpected chapters from its book titled 'Next.' However, in my mother's case, death maintained a civility, a respect that my mother always desired. It was quick. It was short. A minute here, a minute there, and she was gone. It respected her wish that when she died it should be quick, not a long endless suffering where she had to be dependent on others for moral and physical support. Death seemed to have overheard her wishes for a speedy departure and acquiesced, knowing she was a brave, content woman who seldom wished for anything.
I never cared if my fancy moneyed relatives attended all the grand parties hosted at our home, but I do care how many showed up to say a kind word or talk about her with fond remembrance. It goes without saying that in today's world most relationships are need based. A person is in demand as long as the needs are being served. So, I had zero expectations of compassion from a grand entourage. Needless to say, not many came. In any case they were not worth their salt and I am glad they did not come. As for the others, their text messages of condolences are just digital dust. I thank them profusely for taking out precious time from their busy deathly schedules. But remember death is a great leveler. Who knows when somebody will be as dead as a doorknob! The dalit girl who had been rescued from the shackles of poverty and empowered by my mother, came and all that she kept repeating was, 'this woman was a saint. She taught me to live my life with dignity.' I thank her for showing up and for the heartfelt generosity of her gratitude. It meant a lot to my mother, I am sure. Maybe she watches from a faraway place and sends her blessings.
I have not processed her loss. I never will. There are moments when I feel a constriction in my heart as if somebody is choking me to death. I had not cried at her funeral. I had to be brave because she had always been stoic and courageous, no matter what life hurled at her. So I had to be brave. Ever since that day, I have tried desperately to wear her shoes, but it has been impossible. I cannot define myself in any way, in her absence.
Leonardo DiCaprio once said, 'my mother is a walking miracle'. I recall that on the day my mother passed. The Indian summer was at its peak. The Sun was at its brightest. The dazzling light of the deep blue sky embraced me with her strength. I will be eternally grateful to have been touched by a ‘walking miracle' in this lifetime.