Archive for the ‘family’ Category

“I’m sorry Sir, we tried….”

Posted: October 30, 2012 in family

“I’m sorry Sir, we tried. We think she’s been dead for at least 15 minutes…..” These words roll off the tongue of a doctor so easily, and often sound so thoughtless. But never were they delivered with more sadness and poignancy than on that fateful Wednesday, October 17, after the medical staff at the hospital, failed to revive the heart of a frail 83-year-old woman who meant the world to me, probably even more than my mother.

We’ve all gone back to our daily routine. In fact, a day after the funeral, my son decided he didn’t want to stay home and went back to school. I followed his example and returned to work. It was the best thing we could have done. But you know what they say, one doesn’t realise the value of someone, until they’re gone.

But that Wednesday it was different. I don’t think I have ever felt as sad and desolate as I felt that moment. There were no tears, just a deep sense of sadness. As my wife and I kept our emotions in check at the hospital, my son broke down and wept like only a child can. Vidya, a friend from childhood, who idolised my aunt as a child, was the first one there as soon as my wife called her from the hospital to give her the news. She was inconsolable as she saw the lifeless body lying on the stretcher.

Chittamma (little mother in Malayalam) had brought me up from the age of ten, when my mother left me behind in Pune and went off to find a job in Ooty. She became a sort of surrogate mother and when my mother retired and came to stay in Pune, never did she complain about the additional load on her finances. Then my brother came to stay and she welcomed him too. She just stepped aside and became the aunt again and younger sister to my mother.

I remember telling my wife before we were married, “I’ll leave you, but I won’t leave them.” My wife thought I was joking, but I think she realised how serious I was about looking after my aunt and mother, after she realised how much the former had done for me. Today, she admits that she could take up a job only because my aunt was there in the background, looking after our growing son and running the home.

It’s the little things that we suddenly miss the most. The diary that had the dhobi’s list, the folder where all the bills were kept – neatly, in different plastic pouches, is now our responsibility to maintain. The clothes that were folded, painstakingly, every day, and kept on our beds, are now a big heap that one of us has to disseminate.

She would wait for my son to return from school so she could feed him something, cajole him till he agreed, and get angry if he didn’t. He too would return from school, dump his things on the living room floor, go straight to her room and flop on her bed. Today when he gets back home to an empty house, because, neither my wife nor me, are at home, I wonder how he feels. I haven’t asked him, and I guess when he feels like it he will speak to me.

I would get home from work around midnight and her bedroom light would be on. Once she heard the door closing, she would switch off her light. Quite often, she would be reading or be asleep on her ‘rocking chair’ that was a gift from my sister-in-law when we moved into our new home in April. She always wanted a rocking chair and now that she had her own bedroom her life seemed to have become complete. I would reprimand her for keeping such late hours, but she complained that if she slept early she awoke very early and “didn’t know what to do after that.” Nowadays, as I get home from work and as I pass her room, I give a fleeting glance inside, almost hoping to see her sitting up solving her favourite crossword puzzles.

Until recently she never had the privacy of her own room, because we couldn’t afford a large enough house. She shared a room with her sister (my mother) when the latter was alive, and looked after her as she deteriorated rapidly from Alzheimer’s. In those three years she and the rest of us watched my mother disintegrate from the happy-go-lucky person to a physical and mental wreck, until her death. But she looked after my mother – cleaning, bathing and feeding her. She could have asked us to get a nurse, but refused, and did it all by herself.

She would often joke that she would not outlive her own mother who died in her early eighties. Then she would say to us that she would not live beyond 84, and my son warned her in jest, “You are not going anywhere, till I finish my SSC exams.”

After my mother died, Chittamma told my wife, she didn’t ever want to go that way. “I don’t want to become a vegetable, no life support and never want to stay in a hospital. I’ll put it in my will!” We all joked at about it then. But on that Wednesday she got her wish.

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We’ll be moving to our new home over the weekend and even before we bought the furniture, I decided I wanted a liquor cabinet! Since I don’t drink, everyone in the family was highly amused! My point was ‘so what, if I don’t drink, my friends who’ll come over do.’ I don’t see any issues there.

I am, of course, hoping that my friends, who I hardly ever invited home, will come over now when I do invite them!! So when I announced my intention to get a liquor cabinet, a couple of my colleagues and friends visibly brightened up with “when’s the house-warming?”

Now every day, whenever she finds the time my wife’s been, very carefully, packing the crockery and the rest, and I’m seeing stuff that, I thought, had vanished into the blue. From the top shelf of one of the cabinets in the kitchen, she suddenly brought down the miniature bottles of all varieties of booze – which I thought she had quietly polished off! Since I haven’t touched the stuff for the past 13-14 years, who else could it have been?

But there they were, some of the finest Scotch, White Rum, Bacardi, different liqueurs, wines etc etc in their mini bottles. They are now lined up in the liquor cabinet at our new home…to be admired. My mother-in-law might throw a fit when she discovers that the madira, albeit in small doses, is in place even before the puja and the pedha! Hopefully, she won’t be reading this piece till after the weekend!!

I remember there was this grandfather clock that actually belonged to my grandfather – Roman letters, exquisite wood carvings that had to be wound every 24 hours. My brother decided he wanted the clock to adorn his living room, after it had been with me for some years. I was okay with him taking it, since there was something else that interested me more.

That something else was almost a family heirloom – an exquisite Japanese tea set which belonged to my mother. That it has remained intact without a piece missing, broken or even chipped is a compliment to my late mother, aunt and wife, who have protected it zealously, all these years through our travels. Even when we moved cities, the tea set went with us and not with the rest of the luggage that arrived by truck.

Even my brother and sister-in-law tried quite hard to convince my mother and then later me that they should be allowed to take it with them when they left India and then at various times when they came visiting, but I refused to hear of it. I always wondered why I resisted, because I don’t think I’ve had tea in those cups more than twice or thrice in my life! I guess, it’s just one of those things!

I have seen a picture in one of the family albums where my mother is seated near the late Dr. Zakir Hussain, who was then the Governor of Bihar, in 1959. My mother told me about how the Principal of the Sundarmati Mahila Vidyalaya in Bhagalpur, where she taught, pleaded with her to serve the refreshments to the governor and his guests in the Japanese tea set! She reluctantly agreed after getting an assurance that it would not be handled by the college peons! My cook Kishen was the only one allowed anywhere near the crockery. The line, “Didi ki jaan isme band hain, zaraa sambhal ke istamal kijiye” became quite famous in the college!

So (as the story goes). when the governor picked up the teacup he is supposed to have exclaimed “What an absolutely exquisite teacup! Where is it from?” My mother was only too willing to give him the details! Needless to say, that she was over the moon.

On Sunday last, when I was carefully cleaning it, I realised that it must be at least 70 plus years old, because my mother got it as her wedding gift! So you can guess why I am terrified to use the tea set.I don’t think I’d ever forgive myself if something happened to it.

It’s already been tucked away securely in one of the kitchen cabinets, where I am sure, it will lie, till we decide to use it for a really special occasion! I think the last time we used it was in 1995, and I think the next time we’ll use it, would be another decade or so away.


I always tell my students to be careful when they post things on social networking sites, because you never know when it could come back to haunt them. Of course, there are times when it does throw up things that are interesting too. Like last night.
I happened to be trawling the worldwide web looking for nothing in particular, when on a whim, I typed my father’s name in the window and clicked enter. On a whim, because I hadn’t thought of him in years, not since my mother passed away in 2003.
The relationship we (my brother and I) had with our father had been a pretty tumultuous one – my brother more than me, because while I lived with my mother since I was five or so, he stayed with my father. I guess both of us have never really forgiven my father for leaving my mother to fend for herself and her children, until he decided to take my brother along with him to Patna. Whether he did this out of some sympathy or sense of duty, I’ll never know.
I knew my father had been a lot of things like barrister, freedom fighter, lecturer and editor, but to read everything about him has left me completely stunned. My mother had never told me in details about his exploits. If she did, I was probably too young to realise the import of such things.
Anyway back to the present. So what popped up on google took me completely by surprise. It was a pretty impressive profile of my father, which I never knew existed. I was reading about things I never knew or ever heard from anyone. Call it a coincidence, but the places he stayed and worked in during his lifetime, I had unknowingly stayed and worked in as well. Then there was his career as a journalist, which was infinitely much more impressive than mine will ever be.
Then there was his career as a lecturer, teaching Law and Commerce at the Law and Commerce Colleges, respectively, in Patna, when he quit politics. I had heard from people he had taught that there were no empty chairs during his lectures and that his students kissed the ground he walked on.
I remember an incident that happened in Pune, when father came to see us. He was accompanied by a young man. When I asked him why he was there, the youngster said “Jayaprakash Narayanji told us that after his death, we should look after your father.” That left me quite unmoved, because in my book, as a husband and father he had failed. When father told me that he along with JP and others had written the Constitution of the Janata Party, headed by Morarji Desai, I caustically remarked that the experiment was then surely going to fail.
When he died at Darbhanga in 1994, neither my brother nor I went for the funeral. My mother cried when she heard the news, and I remember my brother and me telling her that she was shedding tears for a man who had deserted her and his children, when they most needed him. We had shut him out of our lives since then, to the extent that we had even given away the inherited family property to another one of our step-sisters. We wanted nothing to do with anything connected to him.
Seeing the profile on Google brought back a lot of memories. Had we (the family) misjudged him? I don’t know how my brother feels, but I think I am willing to let go off the past. I think it’s time to move on, tell my son that despite all his flaws and his philandering ways, his grandfather was a remarkable man. In his own small way, he had done his duty for his country and for his people, even though he had failed his extended family. But I guess we can’t all be perfect.

A lesson my mother taught me…

Posted: October 29, 2009 in family

My mother passed away six years ago on the night of December 9 in Lucknow.Why did I suddenly think of her? My student Ruchika Shah’s note on Facebook about life and the way we see it through our coloured lenses triggered it off. I told Ruchika I’d comment on her note in detail, but memories came flooding back…

From Trichur to Lahore; from Meerut, to Aligarh; from Patna to Bhagalpur to Ooty; and finally to Pune where she lived with us after she retired as a teacher; then moving with us to Delhi, Chandigarh and finally Lucknow, where she died my mother lived life on her terms.

She walked out on an abusive husband, with her two children and brought them up on 400 bucks a month, till she could afford to. When she couldn’t do so anymore, she sent me off to Pune to stay with her younger sister and my elder brother to Patna to live with my father. In a way that was good because both of us brothers grew up with memories of a man, neither of us ever wanted to see or be like.

My mother loved life and had more friends among the teenagers than she had among people her age. My friends were her best friends. They would discuss movies, books, their drinking, smoking, girlfriends/boyfriends, affairs, just about anything with her. Somehow, youngsters gravitated towards her much more easily without bothering about the difference in age. To them she was always “one of us.” If she was leaving town, I would be getting an auto-rickshaw and a friend would call up to say he was coming over to take her to the station!

Till three years prior to her death she was (metaphorically speaking) the life and soul of every party! Her memory for people, faces and places was phenomenal. She taught us the importance of nurturing friendships. The friendships she made lasted a lifetime. She could fly off to London and stay with friends for months and months and they would renew her visa without telling her when it was time for her leave! She could just take off for Bangalore or Delhi and be welcomed with open arms. When she died, my cousins and friends called to express their condolences, not because of my relationship with them, but because of their relationship with her.

Then, sometime in 2000 everything went downhill, although, thinking back, the problems set in almost ten years before her death. But we had no inkling. The alarm bells rang first when we heard that she had got off a long distance train at a Railway Station somewhere in UP, in the dead of night, barefoot, telling the conductor that she was meeting a friend. She sat on a bench on the platform “waiting for her friend” and the train left without her. It was only because of an alert station master that she was reunited at another station with her sister, who she had been travelling with, and escorted by a Railway Police official. When I asked her what she thought she was up to, she giggled like a schoolgirl, blissfully unaware of what she had done.

The doctors at the PGI Chandigarh told us she had dementia in the last stage, also known as Alzheimer’s disease. She stopped recognizing people, family and started seeing people who were long gone into eternity. She started hiding her food in her cupboard as if afraid that we would stop feeding her. She would talk about calls she got from friends, even though the phone had not rung the whole day. Then she started saying things completely unintelligible.

It was ironical, that she was diagnosed with a disease that destroyed something that she always prided herself on – her memory.In Lucknow, a year before her death, she was reduced to a walking, talking zombie, swearing at anyone she saw, kicking and biting anyone who dared to approach her to reason with her. Yet we were unwilling to accept that her mind was too far gone into the abyss.

The night she died, I returned home from work just after midnight. My aunt asked me to check on her because she was asleep. I called out softly and touched her shoulder. It was stiff. I tried to turn her, but rigor mortis had already set in. In death she was peaceful, unlike the turmoil we had seen in the last few years of her life.Sadly, more than remembering the life she lived and loved, it’s those last three years that are imprinted on my mind.

Verse by a 12-year-old

Posted: April 24, 2009 in family

Here’s something that I’ve never been able to…My son Ashutosh, who’ll be 12 this May, penned some verse and I just thought it was worth putting up here.

The Junk Box
I saw the box in the corner
It was just filled with junk
I had to just throw it away,
In the corner garbage dump

Just then I saw a boy
Crying across the street
He had no proper clothes to wear
Nor anything to eat

I quickly searched the junk box
Saw some clothes were small and torn
But when I looked at them again
Saw they could be worn

I ran with the clothes and some bread
And gave it to the boy
“Thank you, Sir, you’ve very polite,”
Said the boy with a bow

“You have been like God to me,
By giving me this bread
And with the clothes that I now have
I can happily go to bed”

Moms
Have you ever thought
What moms do for you?
They love you, and cuddle you
And always take care of you

When you feel hungry
You order her for food
Do you ever think
Of her mind and mood?

You cry when she shouts
And say she’s very bad
But, she’s still you mamma
And you’re still her loving lad

Mother Nature
You crib on your birthday
For not getting the right gift
So look out of the window
And see the best gift

Those trees and these birds
What’s life without them?
Like saying, can you have eggs
Without a hen?

All I want to say is
What’s life without nature?
If you try to harm it
You’re nothing but a traitor

So love trees and all creatures
Wherever, big and small
C’mon, isn’t Mother Nature
The best gift of all