Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Remembering Daadi

Daadi was the epitome of resilience, compassion, patience and devotion.

Not once did she lose her composure in the six odd decades she lived on this planet. Not when she was wheeled into the intensive care unit. Not when doctors gave up on her.

Not even when Daada, my stone-faced grandfather, broke down the night she lay still in coma.

Daadi and I shared a special bond.

I was her oldest grandchild — the one who “elevated” her status from ma to grandma. Still, she set the strictest standards for me.

I remember her overworked hands holding my glass of milk every evening at six.

I would make faces, feign a stomachache, sometimes simply ignore her. Her wrinkled face would remain resolute and emotionless.

She would hear no arguments and never presented one of her own.

She’d wait. In silence.

A while later she would plod back to the kitchen with an empty glass and a glorious smile.

It was fun to watch her work in the kitchen with my mom.

Daadi re-washed everything Ma had cleaned minutes ago. She re-arranged all the containers and hid all electronic gadgets in the cabinets.

She hovered over Ma’s head, quietly supervising and critically observing.

She brooked no interference.

In her annual two-month stay at our house, the maids refused to come.

Daadi also cooked onion-free versions of the same dish Ma prepared for dinner.

My father had been raised to despise onions and garlic, but Ma thought those bulbs were an integral part of every dish.

I, the neutral observer, relished Dad’s agony as he munched down both versions in an effort to keep the peace in the house.

At nights Daadi would place my head on her lap and tirelessly relate stories about her childhood. How she, her three sisters and four brothers climbed mango trees, played for hours on end, did household chores, and spent evenings in the temple.

She taught me chants to recite when facing the idols of her revered gods, painstakingly going over the mantras, explaining what each verse meant, and which evil spirit it fended off.

Much as I relished her tales of yore, I detested sitting in her prayer room with folded hands.

Daadi, on the other hand, beamed with pride every evening as I recited the prayers before mute temple idols and a bored priest. She knew I would concede to everything she asked of me — I was, after all, the first grandchild.

I couldn’t refuse to do grocery shopping with her, or visit her relatives; she made me watch “her” mythical soaps on TV, and asked me why I talked “patar patar” in English.

And to be honest, I liked indulging her.

Her mornings started even before the “Sun God” was awake.

She would make her bed, bathe, clean the kitchen, and slowly climb the staircase to the terrace to pray. Even when she developed arthritis, Daadi continued to follow this daily ritual.

With her bent back facing the west, she kept murmuring until the birds’ chirping fused with her own muted prayers.

Nothing and no one could stop her from cleaning the house, washing the dishes and clothes, and doing groceries.

She felt it was her right to take care of everything and everyone. And no doctor could dictate to her what she could or could not do.

It was on one such chilly morning in Mathura, where Daadi stayed the rest of the 10 months, that she passed out while washing clothes.

Daada rushed her to the nearest hospital immediately. She was diagnosed with severe jaundice.

My father took the first available train and was by her side in 28 hours.

The disease had gone undiagnosed for a week and she had been exerting herself routinely when she should have been in bed, resting.

Her two sons and three daughters decided to move her to a bigger hospital.

This time Daadi did not resist.

She kept chanting her mantras believing — knowing – her Gods would not fail her.

Two days later the telephone rang at midnight. It was my father. He said that Daadi was repeatedly calling out my name.

The doctors did not know when she would breathe her last.

Ma and I found ourselves aboard a train in four hours.

By the time we reached the hospital, Daadi had slipped into coma.

Lying on the bed with numerous pipes invading her bloated body, she was unrecognizable.

Gone was that shine in her eyes, the crooked wrinkled smile, the affectionate nod of the head.

Up to the previous night she had been calling my name. My uncle and aunts kept telling her I would come.

She kept telling them it would be too late.

The last words she had said to my granddad were, “Tell Mansi I love her.”

Sitting by her bedside, holding those crumpled lifeless hands, I found myself chanting the Gayatri Mantra.

I repeatedly chanted everything she’d ever taught me to ward off evil spirits.

I went to all the 14 temples she visited every day.

I kneeled down, bowed my head, and folded my hands. I closed my eyes and asked her Gods to spare her life.

At the hospital I kept waiting for her to open her eyes and look at me — to see that I had come; that I was there; to tell her that it would all be ok again; that I would drink not one, but two glasses of milk.

But her face remained emotionless and resolute.

Two days later she died.

Just as silently as she had gone about her day-to-day chores, Daadi left us.

Summer vacations were never the same again.

She left a void — a big one.

I don’t have a single photograph of hers from the time she spent with me every year.

All I have are our memories. And they live on.

Also posted on my blog.