Monday, September 19, 2016

A send-off

She caressed the still, gnarled face lovingly. Trying to hug what little was visible. The body was on the bier, wrapped in a favourite, bright saree it'd found too few occasions to wear, until today. So she couldn't put her arms around her sister like she'd always done when they met and again when they parted. This time was the last. And she squatted next to the unmoving body of her live wire, funny, loving, gossip-loving, chocolate-loving, loyal didi. Bending forward at an angle her own 80 year old body would have otherwise found impossible, she kissed the face again and again.

Finally all alone in the world. And finally waiting for her turn to come.

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A neighbour passed away last evening. I believe she died without any fuss. 82 years old. A cancer survivor. A widow who lived alone, with just her maid for company. Once part of a joint family of 9 siblings and their families - she died quietly of a massive heart attack, alone in her bed.

I didn't know her. I'd see her downstairs with her walker - an inquisitive, fierce-looking old lady. She'd only soften at the sight of my little girl. But she never spoke, and just half nodded at my mumbled greetings.

I got to know through the building guard, and then saw a scrawled notice announcing that people could go to the flat this morning to pay their respects, before they took the body away for cremation. So I went. Work deadlines crowded my mind, my phone buzzed discreetly with office numbers - all busy on a Monday morning. But I stole some time off.

Her sons were around, and I think a daughter, and they were done crying, calm and compliant now with the Kashmiri priest who was giving instructions to them in Hindi, chanting verses in Sanskrit, and ordering around the helpers in Marathi. Other ladies from our building were there, red-eyed, but in control. They'd known her for 40 years. But the sister - wizened, shrunken, mottled, arthritic - how she wept. Unrestrained. Unquiet. Inconsolable. She made me cry too. For a woman I never really spoke to. Or maybe I was crying for her, the one left behind. Or maybe I was crying for myself. For the good-byes I've said. And the ones I know I will say some day.


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