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Wordlessly, I packed her diaries, the scarf, emptied the room and moved away towards the airport. A hot bath was all I wanted after this strange day.
As is always, death came knocking without any preamble or paraphernalia, and without any prior notice.
Her death was conveyed to me most cryptically over a WhatsApp chat by a common acquaintance.
‘Jaya died today’. The message read. An entire lifetime, encapsulated in three words.
I exhaled deeply and called her hostel to find out more details. It was an unpleasant conversation, to put it mildly. I left the office early, packed a few things for my travel that I dreaded. This was the easier part.
Leaving my home after entrusting the children under their father’s care was tougher. Surely, they could manage not to burn down the house or kill each other over the next few days. So I hoped as I hopped onto a flight after purchasing a last-minute heavily overpriced ticket.
As the plane took off towards my destination, I wondered when was the last time I had used this route. It has been ages. Though Jaya had been asking me with increasing regularity to visit her, as though she had a premonition that her days on this earth were numbered.
But where was the time? Work, home, WFH thanks to the pandemic, children, their stresses, their issues and their studies. Life had become a never-ending cyclic mess!
But Jaya wouldn’t understand. She was a loner. Always been.
Though I was the only one with whom she bared her soul, that is until I got busier and then awkward silences began to fill conversations that became few and far between. And the regular scheduled calls became a trickle, once a while, reserved for special occasions, till I stopped picking her calls. Or reverting to her messages.
How often and how much could I hear about her bland hostel food or the travails of those underprivileged kids that she taught at that preachy NGO. Got on my nerves really. One had to move on with time.
Yeah, I know she led a more purposeful life than mine but hey, I was raising a family while she was a lone ranger.
Tackling the buzzing, noisy thoughts, I scrolled through my phone, searching for our pictures together, and the screen increasingly became misty, blurring the photos. Shaking my head, I rubbed my eyes and waited as we descended onto the tarmac.
The hostel warden was rude and downright condescending. She asked me to be done speedily with Jaya’s last rites and get the room vacated as quickly as possible. There were people already waiting to occupy the room. I nodded and headed to the government hospital where Jaya’s mortal remains lay.
Since Jaya passed away in a gruesome accident, I preferred not to open her body bag and finished the funeral ceremony at the electric crematorium with minimum fuss, giving the attendant extra cash for the immersion of her ashes in the nearby river. I then returned to her room to wrap it up. I was very sure that I would throw away everything, and just carry maybe one item of hers for keep’s sake.
Jaya was a minimalist, alright. A thin mattress and thinner pillow found no takers so reached the dustbin. She had barely four to five dresses and a few sarees, which the NGO took to distribute further.
There was a safe that I had to break open. No, it didn’t contain any gold or cash but a few old diaries.
All of them spoke about me in detail, us, our good times, her bad times and how she knew she would be okay because I was there in her life.
Neatly folded was a scarf that she had knitted for me for my birthday but was afraid to give me; it was too plain in comparison to the fancy stuff I owned.
As the taxi sped away, I saw a chuski vendor. I stopped the car, got down and ordered Jaya’s favourite ice. Kaala Khatta.
When I was a toddler, whenever my father lost his head and beat my mother up, as I crouched under the bed scared witless, Jaya would draw me out, take me to the chuski wala. She would make sure the ice was nicely beaten to a pulp and the syrup was generous. Once I had slurped to my heart’s content, she would always wipe my face clean so that there were no telltale signs and snuggle me back into my war-ravaged home. She always saved me from sticky situations, and rescued my childhood from descending into utter misery.
Jaya tucked me whenever mother forgot to do so which was very often. Mother was busy saving her skin from the welts of father’s belt. Jaya told me soothing stories. Jaya was…
As I licked the chuski, all my repressed past memories came flooding back. They say grief always engulfs and submerges you without a warning. Why it gets triggered no one knows.
Jaya was my mother in absentia. We had shared a womb for god’s sake. I thought, by moving away from Jaya, I was wiping off my painful past. I was starting afresh. I had never realised that I was cutting the threads of a bond with the one who loved me unconditionally since my birth.
How many times had Jaya called me, messaged me to spend some time with her, to revisit our old memories. I was so daft. I thought I had all the time in the universe. There was always a tomorrow.
Only there wasn’t. All I had was today, a painful reminder of how callously selfish I had been.
And as the panicky crowd watched, I crumpled and bawled away for all those lost opportunities.
I bawled for my Jaya.
(Would I get my redemption?)
Image source: shutterstock
Anupama Jain is the author of:
* ’Kings Saviours & Scoundrels -Timeless Tales from Katha Sarita Sagara’, listed as one of the best books of 2022 by @Wordsopedia. Rooted in the traditional storytelling of Indian legends, warriors, read more...
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I huffed, puffed and panted up the hill, taking many rest breaks along the way. My calf muscles pained, my heart protested, and my breathing became heavy at one stage.
“Let’s turn back,” my husband remarked. We stood at the foot of Shravanbelagola – one of the most revered Jain pilgrimage centres. “We will not climb the hill,” he continued.
My husband and I were vacationing in Karnataka. It was the month of May, and even at the early hour of 8 am in the morning, the sun scorched our backs. After visiting Bangalore and Mysore, we had made a planned stop at this holy site in the Southern part of the state en route to Hosur. Even while planning our vacation, my husband was very excited at the prospect of visiting this place and the 18 m high statue of Lord Gometeshwara, considered one of the world’s tallest free-standing monolithic statues.
What we hadn’t bargained for was there would be 1001 granite steps that needed to be climbed to have a close-up view of this colossal magic three thousand feet above sea level on a hilltop. It would be an understatement to term it as an arduous climb.
She was sure she was dying of cancer the first time her periods came. Why did her mother not explain anything? Why did no one say anything?
Sneha still remembers the time when she had her first period.
She was returning home from school in a cycle-rickshaw in which four girls used to commute to school. When she found something sticky on the place where she was sitting, she wanted to hide it, but she would be the first girl to get down and others were bound to notice it. She was a nervous wreck.
As expected, everyone had a hearty laugh seeing her condition. She wondered what the rickshaw-wallah thought of her. Running towards her home, she told her mother about it. And then, she saw. There was blood all over. Was she suffering from some sickness? Cancer? Her maternal uncle had died of blood cancer!
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