The Abstraction in Immortality
The memory of that day still haunts me. The graphic details and the chronological events are perfectly etched in some corner of my brain. Yet, whenever confronted with the question, I have somehow found myself evading it subtly. As much as I wanted to pour my emotions, I would end up answering the queries in indirect half sentences, when deep within, I knew that every nuanced detail of that happening remains with me till date. The dreaded question would be, “How did your grandmother die?”
I seek to look for a key in my writing to barge open the door to the locked chamber which has nestled the memory of my Dida systematically, almost like a surreal image which could be relived whenever desired.
The first image that curls up is that of an innocent child resting her head on her Dida’s lap which seemed to be the safest place on the planet. The sweet voice of the wrinkled yet serene lady narrated Tagore’s Chitrangada, as I listened attentively, amused at the courage of the protagonist in the play. It was the story of an extraordinarily courageous girl who possesses the powers of a man in combatting the battle of life until she falls in love to discover the truth of life. It was my favourite story and I never got tired of listening to it, each time getting as amused as before. Little could I perceive then, that Dida was preparing me for the perilous world that lay ahead!
My Dida meant the world to me. My mother was busy all day as she not only had to manage her professional life but also the additional pressures and responsibilities of taking care of almost everything that concerned the family as my father stayed in Patna for work. Inevitably and almost effortlessly, my childhood revolved around my Dida. Throughout the years, I lived and grew up at my Dida’s Saltlake residence in Kolkata while I had a comfortable house in the same city where my family resided. I held her hand when I took my first tender steps. Ever since then, all my “firsts” had Dida in it. From those little mischievous acts of my childhood days to the first sip of alcohol in my teenage days, there was nothing that was unknown to her. She taught me the art of questioning and being fearless about speaking my mind. As the cliché goes, she was indeed my “friend, philosopher and guide”.
Often, I had woken up at nights fearing what it would be to not have her beside me and the feeling kept growing as I saw her ageing over the years. Sometimes, I would find her coughing strenuously from the closed bathroom door. Sometimes, I would discover a tinge of red in the corner of the basin when I used the bathroom after her. Sometimes, I would catch her gasping for breath. But, amidst all of that, she would always hide her pain behind that calming smile and shield me from everything that could render a scratch in my soul. As I began to grow up, the fear inside me kept crawling its way towards the surface and I learnt that Dida was a chronic patient of bronchial disorders. That was when I experienced what fear of death could feel like. Her gradually sickening eyes hollowed my soul every passing day.
At the age of 18, when my ISC examinations were approaching with all its accompanying anxiety, I received the call which marked a transition in my life. It was a busy afternoon and I had just prepared myself to have lunch. It was one of those rare days when I was staying with my mother. As I was just about to gulp my first spoon of rice, the phone rang. On the other side, my Dida’s maid frantically informed that she has been deteriorating since the morning. It shook me for a moment and within no time, I found myself heading towards Saltlake in a cab. I was being swayed in the midst of a daze. It was only in the cab that I realized that I hadn’t informed my mother about it, and I just sent a message to Maa which merely depicted what I was feeling.
When I reached, I found Dida struggling for words. I could sense that she had something very useful to convey but the excruciating pain prevented her feelings from taking the form of words. She slurred until she was tired. She wouldn’t eat at all but when I took a biscuit dipped in milk towards her mouth, she gracefully ate it. The ambulance reached within fifteen minutes and she was carried in a stretcher to the nearby hospital. I accompanied silently; the lump in my throat choking me every minute.
After she was admitted to the hospital, I came back home with a sense of loss that I have not been able fathom till date. I remember calling the doctor and begging for her life unreasonably. It was the kind of sadness that wrings every bit of rationality.
However, she recovered after a week. And I went to meet her in the hospital. She sat on the bed with the known expressive eyes and that comforting smile. But evidently, her demeanour spoke of the knowledge of her impending death. I sat beside her with moist eyes. She broke the ice. She wiped the tears from my freckled cheeks and started talking about how she loved watching me grow up over the years. I merely had 15minutes with her as the visiting hours would come to a close. Just before leaving, she held me in her secure arms and said, “I want you to grow up as Chitrangada and be proud of who you are!” With those last words, she kissed me goodbye. I left the hospital with the moist imprint of her lips on my forehead, cherishing it until it evaporated.
Next morning, she was declared dead and the rest of my world mourned it. She was peacefully cremated, covered quite royally in a white shroud and surrounded by fragrant flowers. Strangely enough, not a tear rolled down my numb cheeks. I replayed those last words in my memory until I made myself believe that she lives inside me.
The feeling that I have held onto until now has prevented me from answering all the questions related to her death. The tears that did not find its way in the specific moment makes me cringe and shudder on random nights. I continue to live in denial of my Dida’s death and seek for her existence in moments when I seek Chitrangada in my life. Since that day, I have come to understand the abstraction in immortality.