Two years ago, on a dank October forenoon, my favourite aunt died of cancer. Emotionally speaking, she is the closest relative I lost and her death changed me forever. But this is not about how her death... this is about the beautiful way she lived!
When you are born into a family just finding its way up the socio-economic ladder, you get to meet people at every stage of affluence (or the lack of it) - from the educated whiz-kids making it big to those who were forced to escape Sri Lanka's war-ravaged '80s into India where they had neither the money nor the skills to stand a chance. My aunt and uncle came here with their 6-year-old daughter in 1985 - two barely literate people in their early forties - penniless, clueless and hopeful.
In the next twenty years, things didn't change much. They remained poor - taking odd jobs and eking out a living in a ramshackle little house which didn't get power-lines until as late as 2001. But that little asbestos-roofed house - overlooking a shallow valley, prone to the chilly highland winter winds, reachable only through a rather treacherous slippery mud-path downhill - was where I lived out the best summer vacations of my childhood.
Back then, summers breezed past in a joy-ride of walks into the forest, temple-visits, days spent zestfully "helping out" in daily chores and long nights of listening over and over again to my aunt's and uncle's limited repertoire of stories. And easily the best part of it all - hours spent lazing cosily in front of the stove as my aunt buzzed around the tiny kitchen. Annual savings were quickly used up to buy chicken and fish for "her children" as she used to call me and my sister. The best seats, plates, fruits, sweets, pillows and blankets were fished out for us and we had the run of the house. But despite sleeping without mattresses, I never ever felt cold in that house - the inmates were too warm and loving for that.
With my father's side of the family, complaining about the lousy hand life's dealt them is almost an obsession. But my aunt, the poorest of them all, never complained! Not once have I heard her fret over her fate. She was too busy fighting it and she managed to do it with a smile. What's more, she was a great listener and comforter. And that meant the enactment of a rather funny family ritual - her brothers, sisters, sister-in-law, nephews, nieces, neighbours - most of them reasonably well-off - all opening up their woes and worries to this slightly-built old lady with a kindly smile. And not once did she bother to point out that she fought more bitter battles everyday just to feed her family.
I stopped going to the Nilgris for my summer vacations after my grandmother died. And it was after seven long years that I rushed to visit my aunt as she lay dying. For one fleeting moment, for the only time in my life, I saw disappointment, anger and sorrow in her eyes as she muttered - "Why is all this happening to me?" But that was it! She lit up soon... enquiring about me and my work. "You must be tired. Go rest a bit" - those were her last words to me. So quintessentially my aunt. They told me she smiled briefly before she breathed her last and I believe it.
There's this thing about little people - those simple folks with little to hold on to... They teach you how to value little things and be thankful for what you got. More importantly, they teach you to love and value people. The latter was my aunt's lasting lesson. With her, you felt like the centre of the universe. A few hours with her and you'll feel special, cared for and comforted - she always had time for you.
Later, as I spoke to my uncle and my cousin, they told me how she had set the cancer ward alight with her wit and friendliness. A nurse told me that she would always be her favourite patient. Every neighbour and every friend had a tale to narrate about this dear old lady who had little to give but had given all she had - love unblemished and boundless. And as I left that house in the hills one last time, I had mixed emotions - sad that things would never be the same again, sorry that I had let things as silly as work and studies keep me away from my aunt but , at the same time, proud snd happy that I had known and loved this wonderful lady.
And I'll give my right arm for another dinner of fish curry and rice, cooked in an earthen pot over a sputtering fire of tea-bush twigs and eaten right next to the fire on a chilly mountain night, with simple tales of big-hearted little folk for accompaniment.
June 16, 2005 12:04 AM PDT
Thanx for dropping by... And the IIM connections don't really matter, do they? ;) :D
Do keep coming... And please leave your URL if you blog.
|Shobana Kamath |
June 15, 2005 04:05 PM PDT
Was surfing as came across this article....i have no IIM connections..just a stranger
November 10, 2004 11:30 PM PST
Two Words.. "Best thing" I have ever read. Only feelings can come out this strong, not the writings.
October 27, 2004 12:18 PM PDT
Aditya and Rohit,
Thanx for dropping by guys...
And is this the "legendary" Rohit Kamath of IIMC batch of 2004 ;) ?
Love and Peace,
October 27, 2004 05:56 AM PDT
My previous best blogger has just been shoved down to the second spot.
little people, little to hold on to, but tonnes to share, lots to give. you remind me to call mamaji.
tx n cheeros
October 27, 2004 12:03 AM PDT
Me just stumbled upon this page of yours and all I can say is WOW.
U did to me what no Hind or English Film Director cud do so far, brought tears into ma eyes. Believe me Man, I was beginning to suspect my eyes till I read this post of yours. Amazing writing...keep it goin!!!
October 11, 2004 05:44 AM PDT
U continue to give me the complex :) but not complaining anymore ... lovely post and great feelings.
Happened to stumble across the psot abouf Randy. Loved that one. Maybe I'll write one about him sometime too :)
October 8, 2004 10:45 PM PDT
just got a mail sayin u posted... just thought of hoping by n sayin hi... am yet to read ur post... will be back later!