I was reading a book last night, Rujwan, by Maneesha Dixit. It's one of the best books I have read; there are a few more chapters left to read. The author has written about her father and brother and other people in her life. Actually, you could call it a book of portraits – of people, of relationships and the knots that bind them together.
She has dealt with the deaths of her father and brother with sensitivity. Some expressions and emotions described in the book cut me to the core.
I knew that feeling of foreboding; something inauspicious, bad is going to stare me in my face. I don't know why you chose me, out of your three kids, to tell that you aren't going to live long. That was on September 3, and 17 days later you passed away.
You had uttered these words earlier too, sometimes as an emotional blackmail, sometimes as a mock threat. But, that night on September 3, I knew you were speaking the truth. I could sense death marching close and closer.
Trust me, I tried my best to help you dodge it. But, what is written, is written.
It was this feeling that prompted me to come home on 20th. I had made plans to take the bus home, after work. But the call came in the afternoon, asking me to rush home.
I did. I took a cab home and when it rolled down through the open gate, I half expected you to come and stand near the grilled door, watching as I alight, and then chatting with the driver, giving him baksheesh.
When you didn't appear, I felt as if something vital was missing. Like there is going to be a break in the routine. When I saw you lying on the bed, with no hint of recognition in your eyes, listless, and strangely quit, I was sceptical. I was angry too; I didn't know what was happening; I just wanted to console myself with normalcy; normalcy of your chatter and instructions – wash your feet; don't dump your bag here etc etc.
The doctor had left before I came; he had assured everyone that all is fine with you. And, once the tranquilizing effects wore off, you will be back to normal. Just hang on for a day. You lasted for just 30 mins.
And, when that attack came, it was just Anu and I. You snapped your head strangely, almost twisting it in the process. It was Anu who held you on in her lap; I was screaming and then I was calling the doctor. It took me a few minutes to understand the name of the tablet which we were supposed to give you. Papa went to buy the tablet, leaving me and Anu to watch over you.
Your breathing was laboured; your face turned black and then blue and then the breath came out slowly. When the doctor came, he declared you dead. But, but, Anu said, she just exhaled. The doctor shook his head.
For days after that I questioned why I was the one to be told that you were dying and why I had to be present. What I gathered later was that you were awake and lucid for couple of hours. That you recognised your first born, my brother, vahini and your granddaughter. You spoke a few words with Anu and my father too.
Unfortunately, I am still not sure if you recognised me when I came home in the evening. You said nothing...Only when I was pressing your legs, you had held my hand tightly in your grip. But, not a word.
And, then you left.
That day, when I was in office, before coming home, I was reading this news on ticker. Some man got up from his pyre...he was mistaken to be dead. When they took you away for cremation, this thought kept popping in my mind. Maybe you were alive, and you felt the heat of the flames. Were you hurt? Could you shift away from the flames?
When you die...you die. Or do you still feel something?
I started looking for signs; I guess others were too.
Vahini pointed out there was sudden profusion of hibiscus flowers in the garden; red ones. Perhaps they knew that you were biding bye-bye and wanted to say their farewell too. I had never seen so many blooms of jaswandi before either. It could have been possible, right? They were your favourites and in any case you loved flowers and plants more than you liked us.
I also spotted this rooster in garden. We have had several animals and birds living in the garden. Was it you who had come back to see things for one last time? I didn't see it after four days. I don't think anyother rooster has made an appearance in all these years.
We found your diaries. I don't know if I should even be calling it a diary. You used up the empty pages in Chintu's notebooks to scribble notes and keeping hisaab. We read bits and pieces laughing over your spelling mistakes, and the typical Konkani lilt in the written word.
Then, of course, the house was full of wool balls; sweaters, half knit ones. Anu took away the sweaters, I brought along with me a white wool ball. I can't knit to save my life; but I think I should string the Shanta-Durga and Mother Mary's locket and wear it around my neck, like I used to do earlier. Now, I am wearing it around my silver chain.
Some of your books are with me. I still find money order receipts for Daddy and Mayo in some of the pages!
Your musty-smelling sarees are still hanging in the cupboard. Somehow I don't feel like opening it and prying into its contents, like I did earlier. That's more Chintu's thing now. He opens it to go through the photo albums.
I still dream of you. You seem to make up for that chatter-less evening. You keep talking, waving and gesturing. I don't remember a single word on waking up. All I can remember are the images, you sitting in the chair knitting, watering plants, ferreting
out balls which fell into the garden and refusing to hand them over to the boys who came asking for them. Those balls went to Chintu when he played cricket. That was very wicked of you!
Earlier, I used to be troubled by these images. I hated you for not letting me move on. I still don't know what you want from me, what you wish to say. But, now I think I can make peace with your after-death/life existence. Some day it will all become clear to me. Till then..I guess you will make your presence felt through my dreams. And, you will keep a watch on me and on others too.
Maneesha Dixit, thanks for writing those chapters. I finally got the courage to voice certain thoughts.