Vestiges of a Relationship

Bholu dada called very early in the morning on a Saturday. The way the phoned buzzed I could guess that the news was unpleasant. He told that his brother-in-law Vikram’s mother has passed away earlier in the morning. Since Vikram was also based in Bangalore he was informing me about it so that I could call them and offer condolences. When I told him that I would like to go for the cremation he seemed surprised but said it was very nice of me. When I told this to my wife, she was more surprised by my decision to go for the cremation of her brother’s brother-in-law’s mother than saddened by the death itself.
I quickly called Vikram and told him that I will see him at Hebbala crematorium. I knew the way to the place. I have coped reasonably well with Bangalore having moved here just two years back after spending 7 years in Columbus, Ohio.
I knew why I was going. Probably after this Mummy would be happy and would not shout as much as she usually did. At the crematorium the atmosphere was somber but not sad. There were few people. I did not know anyone except Vikram. He looked remarkably calm and composed. He even managed to bargain with the Pandit and brought down the asking rate by 1000 rupees. It was a bit awkward - me being there, but I managed it fine. At these events you are anyways not expected to talk much. With almost everyone wearing dark glasses it was tough to say if anyone had cried. One person looked terribly distraught but it was because of the hangover from the previous night. His breadth gave him away. There was nothing to be sad about the death as the deceased was an 84 years old and had died of old age. She had fulfilled all her worldly duties and her husband had died before her and few say because of her.
Sudeshna shouted at me when I picked the pappad from the table on returning home. She pushed me into the bathroom asking me to get a bath before I lay my hands on anything. At the table she informed me that the deceased was known for her vitality and everyone gave her at least five more years. That explained to a great degree why she looked the most crestfallen at the funeral.
But Maa came to my dream that day as well, shouting and screaming, mouthing expletives much like she had been since the past four years. I as usual kept mum and listened. Having slept badly I was irritated the next day and scolded Pavi on some petty issue moving her to tears. In the afternoon Tinku called exasperated and worried informing that Papa has taken ill the night before and was admitted to Triveni hospital in the wee hours. He asked me to rush to Jabalpur. The first thought I had was about the trouble I would have canceling all the five meetings with analysts on Monday and Tuesday. Though it would be inconvenient but I had to be there this time around.
Papa in the hospital bed looked frail but he was in remarkably good spirits. The twinkle in the eyes suggested he was upto playing a trick on me as he used to when we were together. I told Tinku that since I would have to return by Tuesday I would spend that day’s and the next day’s night at the hospital and asked him to sleep at home during the night. Doctors also assured that the infection would subside in a day and in all probability Papa would be discharged by Tuesday.
After the dinner when Tinku left I was alone with Papa. He asked me to close the lights and sit on his high bed. On his bed Papa took my palm into his. Unable to curb any longer I started sobbing. I told Papa how Mummy is harassing and blackmailing me -that too even after 4 years of her death. I told him that “I just could not have come when she died. I had no leaves left and going on leave without pay would have meant defaulting on the bills or losing the job. I had just seen her four months back on the trip to India. And my coming here would not have done anything but would have definitely jeopardized my career. He listened intently when I told him that few times in life we have to make tough choices. One which is rational and another one emotional and then we take a call. That call might be right or wrong or might look like that in hindsight but it doesn’t bring the intent into question. But Mother doesn’t understand. She keeps shouting and accusing me of deserting her. She even says I have become very materialistic. She was always like that - unreasonable and rigid with her puritan views. She never listens to the other side. What kind of mother meets out this treatment for her son? Not allowing me to sleep peacefully even for a single night”. Papa never interjected my monologue, just made grunting sounds of understanding.
Finally I asked him to ask Mummy to stop bothering me as I was tired of explaining. I told him I had even promised the mother I would go to all the funerals I could all through my life. Sensing that my one sided banter was nearing the end and that I was exhausted Papa picked the glass of water from the side table took a sip and then asked me to finish it.
He smiled and asked why even at 35 I was not growing up. Then speaking at a remarkably steady voice for his health, he said “your mummy doesn’t come in your dreams alone, she comes in mine too and that too for the last four years. She never complained to me about you. On the contrary she said she is proud of you. She is proud of what you have done in your life and what you have become and the stable head you have on your shoulders. I do not know how you got all these funny ideas into your head.” But I protested, saying that she didn’t understand. Papa interjected swiftly saying, “The dead understands everything. Misunderstanding is for the mortals. Why are you explaining yourself again and again? Your mother understands”. To this I said, “Papa what I do not understand is what if Pavi doesn’t come for my funeral. I would be devastated”. Papa’s smile lengthened. He said “You would be dead before you are devastated so do not worry. Do not worry about the funeral and cremation. Let them feed my body to the dogs I say. Let the Vultures take away the eyes. Why should I care? The body might be of some use when you are alive it is surely of no use when you are dead. At that time the soul would be dying of the anticipation of meeting the God, I am sure it would not care to worry about such things.”
Papa seemed exhausted but I had to ask him this, how do you see your life Papa and are you afraid that you might die, you might even die tonight. He said after a short laugh -
Hanging from the door in the fading light
Seeing the villages and the woods go side by side
Jostling for space with others in the morning light
And sneaking away to the top berth
And lying low when the Sun is too bright
That is how I have seen the life pass by.
I kissed Papa on the forehead and slept on the red sofa in the room. I had a sound sleep. Mummy did not come but Papa did. He just smiled and went away and I woke up startled.


More by :  Shekhar Misra

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