Sands of Time: As far as I can remember, she has always been old

Disclaimer: This memoir is my personal account of one of my favorite people. I generally restrain myself to write only about triathlons, fitness and travels. This is my first attempt at something more personal.

I was at Chelsea, Michigan today on a customer visit. After a long and stressful day, my colleagues and I were walking towards our truck at around 6 P.M. My phone buzzed and I nonchalantly looked up to see what the deal was about. It was from one of my WhatsApp groups, titled “cousins”, which includes my mom, her siblings and all her cousins (I am the black sheep here). It was weird in the sense that it was just 3:30 A.M in India at this time and everyone in the group lives in India. The message from my uncle read, “Kemp atte passed away”.

Millions of young adults leave India every year in pursuit of a good education, challenging job and exemplary standard of living. In this pursuit they lose something significant — spending quality time with their families back home. I fear getting old, everyday. I spend significant time in front of the mirror, few times a week, stressing about the couple strands of grey amidst my otherwise black hair. I do feel my body taking longer to recover post workouts these days compared to my teenish years. All these are quite natural and more of a ”first world problem”. I have been so selfish and self involved with my own aging phenomena these days, that I need to be constantly reminded to check on my elder relatives back home, who are aging exponentially at the same time.Some of those very relatives who bathed me, clothed me, fed me, played with me and took care of me as a kid, left me forever without even saying a final goodbye. I have a gulp in my throat when I say this, but when I go back to India this December one of my dearest relatives wouldn’t even be around to greet me anymore.

“Kemp atte, who’s that?”, you may ask.

Her name is Kempadevamma (my mom and her cousins fondly called her Kemp atte or Red atte). She is my maternal grandfather’s sister (the kannada word atte loosely translates to Aunt). She is one of the gentlest souls I may have come across in my life so far. I have never met anyone with such dedication and commitment to holding morals, like how she did. She was very close to me throughout my time in India.

She has been a widow, as far back as I could comprehend. I have never personally asked her this, but the story my family told me was that her husband passed away within a couple years of their marriage. After that, she decided to never marry again, and lived part of an extended family that included my grandparents. She was employed at a reputed private sector company and served there till her retirement at 60. My extended family has switched 3 houses in the past 30 years, and she always had a small and cozy room for herself at each place. As a kid, I fondly remember sitting in her room and watching Kannada movies with her on a 23 inch, wooden framed, black&white BPL TV, which she had with her for atleast one and half decade. I always felt comfortable being there with her and listening to her stories, which I wish I could remember now. Every time, every single time, I visited my extended family and stayed with them for holidays, she would give me a 100 Rupee note (she started doubling it as I got into my teenage years) at the last moment of my stay there. My mother pocketed all of that, claiming she was a bad influence on me, swearing by my rotting teeth and falling grades. Despite she being always nice to me, I remember playing a mean prank on her

My extended family brought home a Pomeranian dog named Rosy around the same time I was born. She was very fond of this dog and took good care of it. She was devastated for quite a long time, when Rosy died. Several years later, she underwent the same phase and this time with an other dog named Pintu, again a Pomeranian. Her love for all life was unconditional and undisputed.

This could so be her!

She was an extremely religious person. Her religious beliefs even though exaggerated, were just constrained to her and she never tried to force it on anyone around her. There were multiple days every year, on which she completely fasted (no food, no water) to “appease god”, as she always said. Just thinking about this makes me pop a candy in my mouth, as I unjustifiably feel my sugar dropping since my last meal which was an hour ago. Call it crazy, but even under the direst circumstances, she refused to touch even a morsel cooked by a person of a different caste for reasons best known to her. She was heartbroken and it took her several months to see my cousin(s) in the eye, who married outside our caste. Even though I never understood why she was so hellbent on this unspoken rules of her’s, I never disrespected her for this.

I am sitting here in this empty hotel room, thousands of miles from home, wondering: Damn, I really did not know anything about her. She was into her late fifties by the time I started forming memories and reciting rhymes. She had atleast fifty years of her life which I know absolutely nothing about, except a few bits and pieces. I never asked her what growing up was like for her, what her favorite hobbies were, who her best friends in school were or how she felt about being married so early in her life. She was probably an innocent kid who always donned a colorful frock, sported a pigtail and played hopscotch with her neighborhood kids when the Britishers walked the streets of historic Mysore. I always procrastinated telling myself, she will always be here, and I can probably ask her about her childhood years the next time I visit her. I guess, I will never find out anything about it now…….

At the end of the day, when I hit the bed, I am sure I will ponder for the N-th time: Is being so far away from home and family for a few extra dimes and reduced travel times even worth the trade off? No amount of money that I earn here would buy me an opportunity to watch one last movie with her on her classic BPL TV, in her dark, cozy room at the back-end of the house.

She has always been old, as far as I can remember!