Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hain jo makaam,
Woh phir nahin aate, woh phir nahin aate!
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was the evening of February 25, 1993. I was proceeding on my scooter from my house in Secunderabad to my newspaper office in Hyderabad for my night shift duty. I took a longer detour that day through the Osmania University campus, as I had to buy some medicines en route from an Ayurvedic store for my 54-year-old mother.
She was afflicted with ALS or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – a rare, degenerative neurological disorder. After I bought the medicines from a chemist, I had a strong urge to take a U-turn and go back home. I don’t know why I didn’t. I proceeded straight to the office from there. Once at work, I got busy. But to me, it seemed the longest night at work.
After finishing work at midnight, I kickstarted the scooter and hurried back home with my colleague and friend, riding pillion. I used to drop him home after the night shift, as he lived close to my house. That night, as he got down from my scooter, we didn’t continue the usual chat about office politics, girls, and the rest. He wondered why I was in a tearing hurry to get back home. I couldn’t explain.
At home, I peeped into the bedroom downstairs where my dad and mom slept. They were both fast asleep. I drew the curtains, gulped a glass of cold water, and climbed the stairs slowly up to my bedroom. I don’t know why, but it took a long time to remove my shoes and socks, and get into my night wear. The ceiling fan was whirling away at full speed, but I wasn’t getting sleep. After a bit of tossing and turning around, I did fall into slumber.
“Get up, get up,” my wife Sangeeta whispered, slowly into my ear. I woke up with a start, thinking I had overslept. I saw the time – it was just around 6 am.
“What’s the matter?” I blurted out.
“Your mom, she’s no more. She passed away in her sleep last night,” she said.
“What? Oh no!” was my first reaction.
“Vanit, you have to be thankful she passed away peacefully. God has released her from her pain,” Sangeeta tried to reason.
I quickly put on my slippers and rushed downstairs. Dad kept saying: “I don’t know why I didn’t wake up.” Mom used to make some sounds at night, and that was the cue for my dad to change her sleeping position, as she couldn’t do it herself. That night, after midnight, she didn’t call out – for she didn’t need to. She had already moved on to another world, free of pain and misery.
It has been 21 years since that fateful dawn of February 26, 1993. But it doesn’t seem that it was so long ago. It’s only when I look at my sons now that I realize it wasn’t just two decades ago, but that was another century. So much has changed in these 21 years within the country and outside, that those days seem like another world.
My elder son Saransh was just over four months old when my mother passed away, and my younger son Prerit wasn’t even born. I remember the joy mom felt when Saransh pulled at her skinny arms when we placed him on her lap. There must have been pain too, but it was a sweet kind of pain – her smile said it all. Moving her limbs was a torture for her, but she could smile those days, seeing the young toddler growing up slowly and speaking some gibberish.
After all these years, I’m still transported back sometimes, in my dreams at night, to that pre-1993 world. The most vivid images are those of mom spraying water in the numerous plants we had in the duplex house of the institute campus where my father taught Phonetics for the better part of his life.
Then she would be in the kitchen, thinking of things to make for us, even though cooking was not really her passion. But arranging and decorating things in the house was what interested her the most. And she was not just a housewife. She taught Hindi at a small, charming school near the campus, where she would commute to and fro on her TVS moped. In all my life, I never saw her sitting idle even for a moment.
The moment she came back from school, she started watering the plants in the garden. Then she would pay social calls to her friends in the campus during her evening walk. While we children played in the campus playgrounds, we would see a few ladies taking their evening stroll in the campus – they would be talking about us, their husbands, life, politics and films.
In the collage of memories, a few related to my mother clearly stand out. Dad used to be serious and strict in those days – he mellowed down a lot after mom’s death. If we had to ask something, it was always mom we (my sister and I) would go to – like say going on a picnic with friends, or a movie, or just staying out late. It was not that Dad would refuse, but it was just that we felt more comfortable with mom.
While I left home for my college in Chandigarh, I remember mom’s sad face on seeing me off with dad at the Secunderabad railway station. I felt guilty for feeling more excited about my new life in the hostel than sad at leaving home. And when I would go home for vacations, mom would keep telling everybody I’ve come home.
When I had a crush on the girl next door in the campus during high school, I couldn’t understand what was going though me, but she sensed it. A few years later, when I had my first (and last) dance with her at a New Year’s party, I couldn’t help but tell mom that I was smitten by this girl.
Much later, when my first love decided to marry her classmate from IIM Calcutta, I was heartbroken. But it was mom who reasoned with me that one had to face such situations in life, blaming herself at the same time for not talking to her mom about me much earlier. Of course, she knew that childhood infatuations must remain in the memories alone for them to be sweet.
Then, when I was posted out of Hyderabad to be part of a newspaper’s launch team for a new edition, I was most reluctant to go to that small town. But she convinced me that it was a good opportunity, and that’s how we grow in our career. And when I was to get married, it was she who gave her silent approval after seeing Sangeeta (with a slight nod of her head), even though she couldn’t speak at that time, as her disease had progressed fast. Thus, at every stage of my life, she guided me in her own way till she was alive.
She didn’t have to go away so soon, but she did. It was difficult for us initially to come to terms with the fact that she was no more. My sister Nandita and I would often slip into some fond memories of her and keep talking of the lovely days we had – especially summer vacations on the campus, and the road trips we undertook all over India (from Kashmir to Kanya Kumari). However, we were at least busy with our newly married lives and kids, but for dad, it was so difficult we couldn’t even imagine. It became increasingly lonely in his later years, especially after we had to go abroad for my new job in Dubai.
We didn’t realize till then how much of dad’s life centered around mom. They would often make holiday plans together with the road and rail map of India spread on the dining table. Later, they together spelled out their designs for the new house they built in Secunderabad. And they did their groceries and household shopping together on many weekends with us, often rounded off with dosas and idlis at Kamat Restaurant. Quite a few evenings were spent socializing with campus and non-campus family friends. How did they manage it? There was so much time in those days.
Those beautiful memories remain, and they wipe out the memories of her two-and-a-half year old suffering. But some nagging questions keep popping in my mind after all these years. Is death really the end of life? Do we have only one life – nothing before and after? Where do people go from this world? Can they see us from above – if there’s something called a heaven? Can my mom see how grown up my kids have become (she would have been so happy seeing them where they are today). Is there no way we can reach out to them, and meet them again? Who can answer these questions? I really don’t know – all I know is we have to keep driving this engine of life. Those moments and people that have gone may never come back, but life simply means getting into another mist after coming out of one.
Sansar ki har shay ka itna hi fasana hai,
Ek dhund se aana hai, ek dhund mein jaana hai!