I consider myself fortunate to have never had the opportunity to think about death at a personal level for most of my life. The closest I felt to loss was when a fictional character died, and I would bawl my eyes out watching it happen on a screen. There would be a sense of emptiness when I thought of how the story would continue without this one character.
I also casually used words related to death – “Oh, I’m so tired”, “Just wait a second, you won’t die”, “God, I’m freezing to death!”.
It is only when someone I have known all my life, my grandma, my Ajji, died that I realised how I callous I had been about death. I have now seen death with my own eyes. I helped carry her body into the incinerator while looking at my mom’s eyes brimming with tears.
When I heard the news of her passing away, it didn’t register right that second. It took me a moment to see my mom break down to realise what had occurred. On the way to the hospital, I tried to make mom laugh on the way and spoke about nonsensical things in an effort to distract her from the reality she now faced.
We reached the hospital, met my uncle, aunt and cousins. It was only when the staff brought Ajji’s body, wrapped in white from head to toe, out of the morgue that I was truly shaken. And it was nothing like watching a funeral in a movie, or when your favourite superhero dies on screen while trying to save the world.
This was real.
Looking at her face as I helped carry her body brought up memories that I had not thought of in years. Shaking, and with tears streaming down my face, I could only think of the orange candies Ajji always carried in her purse. Or how she would gift me cash whenever we met and asked me to buy something nice for myself. Or how she confused my name with all her grandchildren’s names but finally reaching the right one at last.
I thought of all the times I joked with her about her obsession with Bollywood and how she could never comprehend how much prices for commodities had changed since “her time”. She would always express disbelief when I told her a pizza we had ordered was for Rs 600.
Walking away from the glowing incinerator, I remembered how the milk tasted different in Dharwad, the town in Karnataka where she lived alone, and think of how there would be no one to try and force me to drink more of it anymore. And how she would find every opportunity to make me sing for her while not approving of the songs I listened to.
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Her home – where I spent most of my summer vacation days as a child, and where she was a constant – will always have a special place in my heart. Climbing trees, plucking flowers from the garden, playing games with my sister and spending hours lying down on the terrace and watching the clouds are some of my strongest memories from childhood. Going back there as an adult always made me feel like a child again.
But it won’t be the same now. Even though the corners of that house will still remind me of playing with toys, watching movies of Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand on the old TV with the entire family, and listening constantly to Pandit Jasraj and Rashid Khan on the old cassette record player, it won’t be the same without her.
It has nearly been a month since she passed away and mom thinks she might forget how to speak Kannada without her daily gossip partner. She misses the way Ajji would nag her about her clothes, food and even what she watched on TV. Ajji would only call on our landline since she could never remember mom’s mobile number. But with her gone, the landline hasn’t rung once, and I doubt anyone will call on it again.
Mom is going to miss the landline too.
For me, Ajji’s home will still be a part of my childhood gone by and Ajji herself will be with me forever. But I will never forget how it felt to touch her feet as I carried her body to seek her blessing one last time.
Poorvi Bose is an Electronics engineer and a Post-graduate in Public Policy from National Law School of India University in Bangalore and specialises in technology policy.
Featured image credit: Flickr; Illustration:LiveWire