Passing On…

For as far back as I can remember my mother, she wore gold bangles on her left hand. They are at least as old as, if not older, than I am. There were five of them to start with- thin and hand made, but hiding an unbelievable strength. The cuts are not in perfect synchronism as in case of modern ornaments; imperfections are clearly visible.

She never got gold ornaments replaced periodically to match the current fashions. So the last two survived intact; the other three having gone on to become thinner, fashionable and more elaborate avatars for her daughters’ marriages.

And she continued to wear these last two bangles, till she no longer had any use for them.

They are not glittery; gold does not tarnish, they say- but these, they are old and do not shine brightly like their younger, more modern cousins; nor do they call attention to themselves. They are self-effacing, like she was.

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There was a time when her voice used to be my personal news bulletin every Sunday- who died, whose son or daughter got married and to whom, what the wedding was like. Babies born. Whose child did well at school and whose did not. What the rains were or were not like that year. How the summer temperatures kept increasing (in her opinion) each year. How the weather was becoming unpredictable, like people themselves. Enquiries as to my children and how they were performing at school.

Being very less educated herself, she set a great store on education. “What is Malu doing now?”  she would ask. (In those days, my daughter was studying at her Plus Two levels and was glued to her text books.) “She is studying, Amma”, I would reply- a response which met with her approval. “And the little one?” “He is playing”- would be the standard reply. (Which is the truth even today; he has just moved on from toy cars to CoC). “Always playing, whenever I ask. Doesn’t he have anything to study?”, she would retort. I would mumble, “Amma, he is young.”

She never wavered from the faith of her ancestors; finding peace and solace in the familiar prayers, intonations, rituals and hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

As dementia claimed more and more of her memory, the range of those conversations kept shrinking. I trembled inside- what would this be like? this loss of brain cells, loss of identity, loss of perspective? She also lost weight; yet her skin remained amazingly soft to the touch.

Those last two bangles- I wear them today on my left hand- barely distinguishable from the skin tone of the wrist; they are tarnished, flawed, imperfect- like their present owner.

Have a safe journey, Mother.

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A Year of Goodbyes…..

The tersely worded transfer order from my employer was the start of winding down of life, as I knew it, for the last nine years. I was then based in the west of India, in the city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, which had been home.

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It was also the start of new beginnings, however reluctant.

 

It is tough saying goodbye, both to the living and the non-living beings. The house we lived in had been built right before my eyes. I still remembered the un-plastered walls and the banister-less staircase, which I had climbed with trepidation on the early visits during construction. One wall held a record of the heights of my children on their respective birthdays as well as random days. Neighbors, strangers at first, later friends, with always a smile and a kind word. Trees- Ashoka, pomegranate and guava- which ringed the perimeter of the property.  The Madhumalika creeper which climbed up to the terrace of the house and filled the summer nights with the heady perfume of its pink and white flowers. 

 

And most precious of all – the Kadamba tree by the gate… favourite of Lord Krishna in mythology, under which He played the flute. My favourite too; somehow over the years, it became  so dear to my heart,  like another  child.  I first saw the Kadamba  as a tall, gangly sapling with construction debris strewn all around it. Slowly it grew, in height as well as diameter; strong and sturdy. The leaf cover so dense that even in the height of summer, (Ahmedabad summers cross 40° Celsius) it would be cool under its shade. 

 

However difficult, they need to be said, goodbyes. Time robs away the unhappy memories and gives the sepia tint of long ago photographs to the good ones left. The kindness of friends as well as strangers.  Colleagues and their warm farewells. The smile, which used to light up the pretty face of the vegetable seller lady. The boy who used to push his handcart laden with leafy green vegetables- spinach, fenugreek, dill, coriander and mint- who asked me to teach him number names in English and who grew up to a young man sometime in those nine years. The kind lady doctor who became more a friend than a doctor over the years of doctoring the children’s ailments. The sweet old lady who lived next door, whose stories of her life in Dehradun were a treat to listen to. The indefinable aura of books and the cheerful décor of the British Library. Many faces, many memories.

 

It was also the year to say goodbye to my daughter, who at eighteen, went away to University, four hundred kilometers away. Children need to find their feet and spread their wings, which in turn need space, yet that knowledge does not keep mothers from feeling heartbroken.  

 

Two long cross country flights and a world away, in a part of the country where the standard time and the actual time do not really match, I learnt that change may indeed be a destruction of life as we know it, but change is also life affirming, forcing us to step out of the comfort zone we all unconsciously fall into. Change is growth!

 

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