Happy Mother’s Day

May 8, 2011

The hobble has accentuated over the years, but the activities remain undiminished, albeit a bit slow. The dementia has worsened over the years, but she does not forget to ask me for a repeat helping of the post-dinner dessert. If anything she asks even oftener than what she used to, thanks to her dementia. The voice and eyesight are substantially feebler, but her feistiness remains. I have a sure-shot cure for the eyesight, “Why don’t you clean your glasses, the greasy lenses are clouding your vision. And why do you need to wear your specs anyway, you neither read the newspapers not watch the TV.” She gives me a glare, “How do you think I will see the time” she yells as she gesture with her left hand making sure I see clearly that she is indeed wearing a watch. I don’t have the heart to tell her that she can barely read the watch- with or without her glasses- regularly confusing the minute hand for the hour and vice versa.

Regular readers of this blog would find this person familiar, yes, it is my mother, mai we call her, now into her 81st year. Mai, and Pitaji who is onto his 87th year live by themselves in Jamshedpur. They have regularly appeared in this blog, though I have not told them of all the posts on them I have written. Here are an older post on mai which they are both aware of, and here is another post which I have never told them about.

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I am in Jamshedpur for a day just to look them up. Travel to Jamshedpur from Bangalore is an arduous task. Jamshedpur does have an airport, but strangely it has no commercial flights! So I take a flight from Bangalore to Kolkata. A cab drive to Howrah and then take the train to Tatanagar. I reach home late evening on Friday, Pitaji is already asleep, mai is waiting outside in the verandah. “You must be tired, come and have your dinner.” I was indeed tired and I readily acquiesce to dinner. She hobbles across to the kitchen fixing things in the microwave as I change. “Leave it mai”, I exclaim rather rudely. “No, no, how can I leave it! You go and change!” I have not choice but to do what she says.

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Saturday at home- the only full day I have at home- goes in meeting people. Neighbours and relatives. Parents are in the background all the time.

We have a quiet dinner and we plan to sleep early. I have an early morning train to catch the following morning, after all. The return journey to Bangalore as tough. I have the 6.15am Steel City Superfast Express to catch. This will reach me in time to Howrah Station from where I can take a taxi-ride to the Kolkata airport to take my 2.30pm flight to Bangalore. The regular auto-wallah (tempo-wallah in Jamshedpur-speak) has been reached on his cell phone after multiple tries by Pitaji (after multiple reminders to Pitaji by Mai.) I have set my mobile alarm to 4.30am.

We are all set now.

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I was not been able to sleep. At all! I kept waking up with the fear that I may not be able to wake up in time for the train.

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Mai walks in at something like 3 am in the morning. She drapes me with another sheet over what I am already having. I can hear her muttering to herself, “Santosh must be feeling cold by now.” I do not react, and I quite welcome sheets two. It was slightly cold as it had indeed been raining throughout the night. Very off-season rains, they have been.

Thirty minutes later- and I am pretty deep asleep- Mai bends onto me and asks, “Don’t you need Poori and Sabzi for your journey, you have a long journey ahead.” I am very very irritable and I shoo her off, “Why don’t you let me sleep in PEACE!”

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Another 30 minutes, Pitaji walks in and announces that my cup of tea is ready and I should wake up. Mai is hanging around behind Pitaji. I was not told the following by either of them, but I knew the following:

  • Mai had had a bath at something like 3.45 in the morning
  • Prior to this she had swept and swabbed the floor.
  • She had changed into fresh clothes.
  • She had made cups of tea for me and her at that hour.
  • She offered me the good-luck bowlful of dahi and sugar. Never mind if I refused the sugared dahi. “You must have it”, she said, “Brings you good luck for your journey.”

I do remember this routine of Mai from the countless early morning departures of her many offsprings. No sweeping/swabbing/bathing after people leave.

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I have now placed my luggage in the waiting auto. Pitaji and Mai are around to see me off. I bend down and touch their feet. Mai pats me on my back and wishes me well. There is something to her touch that makes me clamber into the auto. I wave at her without getting into a discussion. I try my best to wipe my tears unseen. I don’t think my tears have escaped mai’s eyes as I do that.

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I reach Tatanagar station and get hold of the daily newspapers for the journey ahead. In each newspaper I see an ad or two announcing that today is the Mother’s Day.

I had not known this, and I am sure she does not either.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

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Ma and Pitaji: October 2008

November 13, 2008

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

^^^^^^