An ode to Aaji

Dear Husband,

I know I shouldn’t have cried when you were leaving for Romania yesterday. Not like you are gone forever. But it’s so unpredictable these days, people go forever. You can’t even take the rain or the sunshine for granted anymore. I’ve kept this locked in my heart for a long time now. Like a flower pressed in the yellowish brown pages of Brontë’s classic, or a timeworn photograph from your childhood tucked under a vintage cot.

I don’t know how people ‘get over’ a person. I can’t get over most people or things. I still remember the boy who bashed me up in the front yard of my school. Amidst the quarrel I tugged and swallowed a milk tooth; the girl-next-door whose mild-natured mother cooked savoury meals and Nana Sane, the generous grandfather who presented a big bowl of chocolates to every kid who happened to cross his open house. Open probably because the only thing he had to lose was a stove and two sets of clothes.

Twenty years ago, I lost my grandfather to cancer. I was ecstatic when they got him home from the hospital a month before. But how do you explain a nine-year-old that they sealed him up not because he was cured, but because the disease had eaten up his body, like a mortal python. I still remember how I ran behind the ambulance till I could no more keep up with its celerity. My voice was drowned in the chaos of the main street. And so he was gone, almost like magic. The stern, brown-skinned, cricket-obsessed man with a voice that was anything but gentle, and the man who heralded patriarchy in a household with a majority of women. It’s all a haze now.

Four years ago, on this day, I lost my Aaji; my grandmother who made me her world. My grandmother who made me. At the age of four, when most kids my age were fascinated with Cinderella, Snow White and other such fairytales, this woman decided to give me a dose of reality by stuffing my impressionable brain with the predicaments of Shakespeare’s Othello and Shelley’s Frankenstein. That shattered my idea of any Prince Charming who might have ridden his way into my life. But I ain’t complaining. I’m glad to have a rugged husband who rides a bike and steals my heart with his jaw-dropping salt-and-pepper look and masala omelettes.

So coming back to the point, it was my grandmother who draped my soul in the golden weaves of literature and music. She was that hammock that cradled the art within me, reading out verses, penning down the meanings of tough words in the margin, and keeping me healthy with wholesome Maharashtrian foods like ukad, dangar peeth, modak, thalipeeth, pithla bhat and sudharas, yes the kind of stuff we cough up 100 bucks for at Gokhale’s now.

It was a small house in a small chawl – not more than 300 sq ft, and that really taught me how staying in a tiny dwelling keeps a family more closely knit. The Brahmin world seemed to be brimming with life, as the aroma of waran bhat floated in the air, children broke glasses while playing cricket and vendors hollered out their wares in incomprehensible jargon. And then grandmom gave us a five rupee coin to fetch a couple of bananas or a kingly cone of peanuts.

Years flew, buildings were reconstructed, and life capsized thereafter. It was just another Friday afternoon before Holi when Aaji complained of back pain. I pressed it for her, applied a little balm and she was alright after her customary ‘Aum’ burp. Her last lunch at supper at home was with me, and somehow I’m glad that I was around. That it wasn’t just a stupid Whatsapp or phone conversation about me asking her to take care and let me know if she needed anything. Why do people have to let people know only when they need anything, why can’t they just be there for them just because it makes them feel better?

In those seven days, I saw her in never seen before hues. Yet she appreciated my mother for wisely garnishing the curd rice with pomegranate seeds. That’s all I remember, or rather wish to remember. The next Friday morning, when I reached the hospital, they were taking off her life support. She’d grown considerably thin and had too many black and blue needle marks on her tender hands. But you know, it wasn’t an unbearable sight. She looked content. On one hand, she seemed like Buddha who had passed on his extraordinary talent to his disciples, and a fiery woman who had lived her life to the fullest, on the other.

I was crushed, and for months after that I refused to bloom. Even today, my voice quivers a little when I start singing, I turn to her for approval when I write something I’m proud of, I giggle  when I see her all excited in the pictures from her European holiday and I weep a little when I see her handwritten notes. But I know she’s around, frowning when I drink too much to nudge my creativity, yet smiling to see me do what I always wanted to.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you about all this now, after all these years. Just that I’ve never missed anyone so much after her. I never thought I’d miss anyone as much as I’ve missed you in the past 24 hours. It’s like you waste an eternity keeping someone close to your heart, and then they leave, and then there’s someone else who comes, and you just don’t want to let them go. It’s almost like you don’t want the sun to set or the season to change. Or maybe, it’s just because I’m in ‘that time of the month’.

I’m going to stop now, because I really, really need to stop now. I think I’m going to wipe my tears and mucus into your shirt, I hope you wouldn’t mind that. Finish your travel soon, and come give me a tight hug!




2 thoughts on “An ode to Aaji

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