8th February 2006
Each year on this day I am a bundle of nerves. So many things come back to haunt me. Painful memories of a childhood that once prided itself on perfection. The day is etched firmly in my mind. However hard I may try, it fails to become a memory.
It all comes back on days that seem mildly disturbing. A reminder that life which one day seems all rosy could end up looking dramatically different the very next day.
For my mum, that twist happened in 1976. It was just a simple fracture. She was seeing off some of our oldest family friends post dinner and her foot slipped on a small ramp. A fracture that healed, only partially. Then when winter set in, the doctors discovered that the pain in her joints was arthritis. A year later, when the pain started spreading through most of her body, she was to learn that it was more than just arthritis - she had cancer.
Often I think - how did she respond to the news? Was it that discovery that made her want to do so many things in such a tearing hurry? Was that why she always spoke to both my sister and I about how love could never be divided and that both of us would always be special? Is that why, she wanted to strengthen our faith and despite being in pain, ensured we made our Sunday darshan at the Gurudwara? Is that why she worked in such a tearing hurry to put a permanent roof over our heads? Is that why she carried on with her painting classes, her school job, not to mention raising the two of us - two hyper-active little kids - who in this day and age would probably be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
That was till the illness totally got to her. On December the 8th, 1980, my mother, whose life was only marked by boundless energy and relentless optimism saw herself bound to her bed. No longer could she run around, trying to manage the two of us. The steady stream of visitors that followed heightened our fears that something was wrong - even though everyone said everything was going to be fine. Another line that heightened the impending sense of loss.
When my mother started getting visions almost a week before everything shattered into a million little pieces, I was convinced something was going to change - forever. The end was near, though I was not prepared to accept the fact that the journey would end so soon.
I distinctly remember that day. It was a sunny Sunday morning. The date : February the 8th, circa 1981. My grandmother, my aunt (my mum's sister) and my father were all there by her side - did they already sense the impending gloom? My sister and I were sent off to play. Nothing beats that on a Sunday morning, particularly when home-work is staring you in the face.
After the endless rounds of hide and seek, stapu and pitthu, we were heading home all flushed with energy to fill her in on the day's events. It was around noon and just as we were about to open the gates of our home, our aunt came rushing out. She told us we couldn't go in. That just heightened our sense of anxiety. We were in tears, wanted to go home, but were sent to a neighbour's home for more play and lunch.
But this just wasn't the time for food or even for play. My sister and I prayed as hard as we could, that somehow someone who is supposed to be watching us all the time would fix everything.
Two hours later, when we were finally allowed to set foot in our home, my Dad came out all teary eyed. My kid sister was only 8, I was 11 and the news that would come next bore all the hallmarks of love and loss.
My father who has always been a pillar of restraint, let the tears flow. We joined in too, adding to the surreal pall of gloom. My mother lay lost to the world, hopefully more at peace in a world beyond ours. Her body that had once rocked the badminton courts and flirted with the artists brush - a wasted form now.
What were we do now? My immediate concerns then were getting past homework, snuggling into her razai on a cold wintry Doon day, missing the aroma of her fragrant cakes, the business of her little art corner complete with the turpentine and oil paints, her loving but firm voice, her decisiveness and her ability to control the wild child in us.
People who lent us their shoulder on that day told us things would be alright. We would cope and time would heal.
If only I could turn back now and tell them how wrong they were! Nothing can heal, time only heightens that first real sense of loss. The void gets deeper with each passing year, the heart still aches, what the body tries to forget the soul remembers.
And what I remember best is the pain my Mum went through in her dying days. I remember not being allowed to see her body consigned to the flames. I remember banging the door of the van where my sister and were locked up while the elders performed the last rites. I remember her brother being just a couple of hours too late and not being able to see his sister for that one last time. I remember my father shoulders slumped. I remember my aunt crying for a sister lost. I remember my grandmother mourning another death in the family.
25 years on, on this day as a mother myself, with a six year and a three year old for company, I remember all of that and so much more. More than anything else I pine for her voice, her touch, her love.
But some things, as they say, are just not meant to be.