He would make us sit and draw a list of the Durga Puja pandals he would take us to on his Lambretta scooter. Three kids at a time. He would guide us through the crowds making sure we reached a spot close enough in the pandal to have a good view of Ma Durga. Some of us who were not tall enough would get lifted in his arms as the child would clasp his or her hands in a pranam before he was brought down and the next kid hoisted up.
I am holding the same man’s hand as I guide him through the crowds and through the bright lights which now blind him. I take him to a place as close as possible to Ma Durga where he does his pranam and then we slowly walk back home.
This is the only pandal he visits this puja.
He seems to have aged dramatically. A stoop, an uncertainty in his voice, a tentativeness in his gestures, none of these existed earlier.
A confirmed loss of vision in one eye, the other teetering perilously close to blindness, a newly acquired pair of hearing aids (after much persuasion by his children) the body debilitated by a sudden hospitalization (his first ever hospital stay in 84 years of his life).
My eyes shed a tear as I held his hand even more firmly, feelingly fiercely protective about him.
My father, Pitaji, has aged over the three months since I last met him when he visited us at Bangalore.
She would save every penny she could through the year, fighting with her husband and doing whatever she could to be able to buy three new sets of clothes for her children every Durga Puja. Not that it was the biggest festival for her family, but she did not want her children to feel anyway inferior to the Bengali neighbours who would wear new clothes each day of the Puja. Mostly bought courtesy the Puja bonus which the neighbours got. They nearly all worked in various Tata companies in the city. (My father, being a college teacher, got no bonus)
Here she is, fighting about the colour of sari which her daughter-in-law has gifted her for the pujas. Makes me look too old she says. Her daughter-in-law cannot not convince her otherwise.
She repeatedly confuses between her two grandsons, calling one by the name of the other.
She insists on serving her son a second helping of sweets, day-after-day, meal-after meal. She forgets, despite repeated reminders from her son that sugar is not advised for him anymore.
She goes on repeating what she has said just moments earlier. Like; brush your teeth, have your tea, comb your hair, have your meal. Mundane stuff like that.
She yells like a kid when her husband is being taken to an eye doctor to get the status of his functioning eye. She says, that was an over-indulgence bestowed to him, it is she who needs to have her eye examined. The eye which has been diagnosed at Sankara Nethralaya, Chennai, a few years ago as having been completely damaged and irrecoverable unless a corneal transplant is done.
Dementia is eating into my mother’s, Mai’s, short-term memory cells, she is now living her second childhood.
I discover him slumped on his chair as he is reciting Durga Path during Navratri. I summon my wife, and she is equally worried. What has happened, we wonder. And then a quick shout from me and he wakes up with a start. And he renews his reading.
This is the first time I see him sitting on a chair in the Puja Room. And fall sleep during his Puja.
Thank God, we say to ourselves, he is alive.
Yes, Pitaji is alive!
I see her hobbling across the house chasing the newly appointed (by my wife) maidservant. The hobble accentuated over the years due to worsening arthritis. She does not let go of the maid and it requires my wife’s intervention to get issues resolved.
She is on her feet the entire day. Arguing, fighting, sulking. Reminding my father of all his follies as a husband over the past 60 odd years of their married life. Father bears it, with a smile on his face!
And then at 9 pm, the day shuts off for her. She is not to be heard at all.
I hunt worriedly for her. And then I find her on her bed, snoring away.
The snores are so reassuring, Mai is still alive!
Pitaji turns 84 in the next few months, mai, 79. They stay by themselves in Jamshedpur, their six children living across the country. While they visit their children round-the-year across geographies, they insist on staying back at Jamshedpur. Just the two of them, together. Sharing a togetherness they have never felt before when they raised their children. They are very happy together, despite all the bickerings. Maybe the loss of vision and hearing has aided this togetherness!
I want to urge them to move in with us at Bangalore. As I am sure my other siblings too have wished they stay with them.
They do not budge.
The signs of aging are so discernible, on both.
And suddenly I am haunted by the thought of death. I do not know which of the two God will summon first.
And I do not look forward to the day.
I do not, at all.