20 December 2021

Following in my mother’s footsteps – chapter 4

Somewhere around very early 70s, dad brought mom to Durgapur. With me in tow. We lived in three different houses. These were quarters allotted by the steel plant to my dad. Today, they are completely transformed. During the doldrum days of the steel industry, the company sold many of the quarters away. The new owners modified them to the hilt.

The quarters used to be very dull and drab. Each looked like the other. The only difference used to be that one row would have yellow color walls outside and the next row would have red. The inside walls were always the same bluish white.

Now they are the brightest of colors adjoining each other – reminding me of the houses in the island of Burano in Italy. The top house in the picture – 6/2 North Avenue – used to be 350 sq ft when we lived there. Now, with all the buildups, the owner has made it five times that size!!! By the way, I had a great time chatting with the owner today and telling him the history of our times there!!

Mom lived there till 1979 Dec. Then we moved to the house in the middle. It was distinctly rectangular-ish then. Now it has an imposing circular structure. Incidentally, the owner’s daughter lives about 10 miles from me in Atlanta!! She was my mom’s student! Mom lived in this house – 9/4 Ranapratap – till 1995.

The last house – 26 St. Paul’s – is where she spent 17 years in till 2012. Again, the house is completely different from what Nikita and Natasha will remember from their visits to grandparents.

Durgapur is where mom spent most of her life and would probably call her “home”. I know for my siblings, that is how we think.

18 December 2021

This day… that year.

Precisely at this moment a year back, at this very spot, my mom had collapsed and died.

I picked up a few more details today about that moment. She had entered the room and was approaching dad when she came to a sudden end. My dad saw it with his own eyes. What I was not aware was that there was no domestic help that day.

Actually, I knew and I had heard about the details that I am going to tell you now but the fact the realization that my mom passed away had fogged up my memory. Hearing the description from my siblings and people around reminded me of the facts.

So, my dad kept yelling my mom’s name without any success. He then managed to get down from the bed (remember he was almost an invalid barely getting out of bed other than being carried out for his dialysis three times a week). He actually slipped and let himself fall from the bed. And then dragged himself on the floor past his dead wife to the main door. While on the floor, he reached up to the handle, opened the door and started yelling out my sister and brother-in-law’s names. It was my niece who ran up and saw my mom first. By now, already dead for a few minutes…

Sitting still at that exact spot at that exact time today, I closed my eyes and tried to play in my mind blow by blow every scene.

Those moments came and went thru my mind remarkably quietly and imperceptibly … like every life does… But intensely, very personal… like all relationships are.

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18 December 2021

Like old times… well, almost!

Evening “adda” or more aptly “gojola” among the siblings at parents’ place. The frown on my face making a point intensely, my brother’s Italian-esque talking with hands, sister quietly listening… everything reminds me of the good old days.

Of course, this time the bed on the other end is empty and mom is not constantly badgering us for yet another cup of tea. Without her fresh fritters, there was no bottle of wine either. Neither was the customary ordering of dinner from Dhakeswari – with the mandatory “misti pulaao” for mom (her most favorite item in the whole world).

One thing for sure – the quarterly gatherings around the parents every time I came to visit them created a strong bond between the siblings and certainly between the nephews and niece and me. Hope those relationships will go from strength to strength in future…

18 December 2021

A reflective moment in recursion

An annual routine for me has been to print 5 large calendars and bring them to India during my December trip. One for either set of parents, one for each of the siblings and one for my brother-in-law. The calendar served two purposes. It was filled with pictures of Sharmila, Natasha, Nikita, Jay Jay and myself. So they got to see some new pictures of us every month. I also marked all the birthdays and anniversaries in the family – so nobody would be surprised (of course, my dad never read the fine print and would always ask – “Today is my birthday?” every Aug 28th).

Last year, after losing mom, I did not have the energy to make calendars.

This year, though, I have restarted the tradition. There were two different formats for this year. One was for my siblings – filled with our parents’ pictures over the years and one for my mother-in-law and brother-in-law in the original format.

As my brother was flipping thru the pages… I caught a poignant moment on my iPhone where he was staring at a picture of dad in the calendar. The picture reflects upon itself recursively once you realize that the picture of my dad in that page is actually of him looking at a calendar I had just brought him during that trip that year!!!

18 December 2021

Daily routine… interrupted (4)

“Alta and sindoor” – the veritable decorative items of a married Bengali woman. By the way, what is “alta” called in English? I believe “sindoor” is called vermillion.

She wore it for the first time when she got married in 1964. The last application was on her lifeless body before they carried her away. The “alta and sindoor” has been sitting there ever since…

18 December 2021

Daily routine… interrupted (3)

Every morning when I used to call her on my way to office, invariably the answer to my question of “What were you doing?” would be “jop-e bosechhilam”. (doing her prayers).

That was her evening routine. Lighting an incense stick, sitting down on the floor and doing her meditative prayers. Till dad asked for another cup of tea or her elder son’s phone call came from the US.

That last matchbox and incense stick pack is still sitting there… untouched for a year.

18 December 2021

Daily routine… interrupted (1)

The clothesline clips have been sitting there for a full year without being used. Mom was finicky about hand washing clothes everyday and putting them out to dry. Which caused dad a heartburn of no small measure since they would obstruct his clean view to the outside world!!

In fact, during my daily phone calls, I could accurately gauge the weather in Kalyani from my mother’s response to my innocuous question about how had the day been. “Good” means the sun was up and the clothes had dried up. “Not good” means the clothes could not be put out due to rains outside and she was worried how were they going to dry.

There was a third response “dhoor dhoor dhoor“, which can be roughly translated to “Terrible”. That would undoubtedly mean that the sun was up but the rains suddenly came in rendering all her clothes wet all over again!!