We have shifted temporarily to a new abode, waiting for our permanent home to get ready. It will take eighteen months or so, enough time to be able to make new friends. The new residence belongs to a friend of ours, and she’s been so warm and friendly that it’s almost as if we haven’t moved residence at all. One of the challenges, though, has been making friends with our neighbours. While a few smile and say hello, others simply walk away despite you being eager to make conversation. Wdell, I guess it takes time to get used to new people and new surroundings.
As with many buildings in the area, this one, too, was once an independent house. The owners decided to hand over the property to a private builder to get it demolished, and retained four of the eight flats. All this happened about ten years ago. We were just getting along making friends with some of them when we learned that one of the sons of the owner was down with cancer and was in his last days. Death comes often in different and unexpected ways, and that was how it arrived at their doorstep a few months ago.
One evening after dinner, Ravindran (he was only 55) told his wife he was feeling uneasy and all of a sudden collapsed. To cut the long story short, tests revealed he was suffering from a rare kind of cancer of the brain for which there was no cure. Two months ago, he had a bout of fits and after that there was no recovery; he lay comatose in bed, looked after and cared for by his wife.
As I was leaving for Kerala Saturday, the news came of his passing away. He had struggled for three months. Before that he had led a very active life, being in the medical business. A couple of people who had come to pay their last respects told me that he would invite every one he met to his home for a cup of tea or coffee, while extending his business card, and that most of those who had gathered would at one time or another have had a meal at his home. It was obvious he was respected and loved; the number of people who arrived as soon as the news broke out caught all of us by surprise.
Today, after my return from God’s Own Country, my wife and I went to meet his family. What surprised us again was the courage his wife showed. She said he had a peaceful end and it was good he didn’t have to suffer further. She had had her bath, was dressed as usual, and spoke about her husband as only she could. Her old mother listened quietly, seated in a chair nearby. Soon, Ravindran’s daughter arrived and she was all for her mother pursuing her interests and spending her time the way she wanted to, even if it meant learning to drive a two-wheeler or a car. How wonderful, I thought. If only we had more of such progressive-looking families. It was all the more surprising because they were Tamil Brahmins, well known for being some of the most orthodox, apart from being some of the brightest and strict vegetarians, of course.
The grandchildren apparently doted on Ravindran and the younger one, hardly four, kept inquiring at regular intervals where her thatha was. The answer they gave her: he had gone to meet and spend some time with Shirdi Sai Baba, whose picture adorned one of the walls at their home. I left their home buoyed with some strange energy, an inexplicable dose of optimism. Over the years, I’ve been used to older women (including my mother many years ago) deliberately withdrawing into a shell after the demise of the husband, most of them preferring to wear white or off-white saris. Of course, there have been more independent women, their numbers were small, but in Ravindran’s wife I saw a certain confidence, a certain maturity that transcended what most normal human beings are capable of. From up there somewhere, Ravindran must be looking at his wife with pride, happy that she has it in her to make life worth living after all. Deep inside her heart, he is always there, as fresh as memories can be, and she knows that in those memories and in her daughter and son and grandchildren she will find him every day and, together, they will keep her rooted ad help her reach out to a new world.