Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
AGEING: October 18, 1998
My parents' home in Madras has been sold. I wander through the rooms desultorily sorting objects to be stored, to be given away, to be sold and to be taken to Bangalore where my father is going to move after his wife of almost sixty years passed away suddenly.
My mind peoples the house with the events of the last 30 years. I can see my young daughters playing in the courtyard, my sisters' marriages, my sister-in-law as a new bride, and all the other grandchildren. I can see my mother in the kitchen, stirring, frying, sauteing, boiling, in an effort to offer us tangible proof of her love in the way she knew best - not with demonstrative hugs and kisses, but with our favourite dishes. She was a superb cook and although I have many of her recipe books, I think with regret of all the recipes I never asked her for.
Her room is redolent of her puja rituals. Next to her chair is a stack of recipe books, a lifetime's collection, and her prayer books; on her dressing table are her talcum, cream and perfume - all rose, her favourite. Inside the dresser drawer is a collection of letters and cards from her grandchildren dating from childish scrawls and stick figures-she had thrown none of them away.
I try to define what the house has meant to me. I recall my earliest vacations, some short, some long, some alone, some with family or siblings; the unconscious rituals we followed of sitting with Amma early in the morning as she sat in her wonted place on the courtyard verandah, with a tray of flowers which she threaded into a garland for her puja, her hair wrapped in a towel after her bath. I remember my father arguing with his erstwhile colleague every morning, brandishing a dictionary like a gun to prove a point. Like clockwork Mr. Shenoy would come at 7.30 a.m. and leave at 8.30 a.m.; each got his adrenalin for the day from the arguments.
We used to sit out on the front verandah later, watching the children in the neighbourhood troop by to school, calling out to my father who was a great favourite with them, or listening to the various vendors selling vegetables and fruit, stainless steel vessels, the used paper man, the coconut felling man, the knife grinder, the shoe repair man, the bangle sellers, the carpet man, the mattress cleaning man twanging his instrument, the pappadam man, the ice cream man, the balloon man - the list was endless. I remember my eldest son-in-law, an American, who said that one didn't need to go anywhere, just sit on the verandah, and life presented itself with colour and verve.
It was a safe place, a refuge in our changing world and we recharged our batteries there, moving in from the cold and hurt and bustle of an uncaring world. We were secure and loved. We felt we were children again within the four walls of this house, cocooned in warmth and love. It was an anchor.
I empty the cupboards and all of a sudden I am engulfed in sadness. The tears run down my face as I linger over a saree vivid in memory. I take out my father's old police uniforms, his caps, and I touch the keychain at my waist reassuringly. He has made me a keychain with his insignia. I watch the house being dismantled of its possessions rich in association, now in the hands of rank strangers. I decide on an exercise in ruthlessness. I go round taking in all that was precious to my mother, the Tolkienesque drumstick tree, the lime tree with whose fruit she made the pickles for me to take back for my husband, her jasmine bushes, her pots on the terrace (my father looked after the ones in the garden - they competed).
After a few days the initial sadness lessens, for I realise that my rich mosaic of memories is still untouched. With the realisation comes a strange sense of lightness. In a way, the loss of all that was once imbued with so much meaning seems to endow me with the sense of what I have left, with what my parents have given me. It was time for me to let go, and be all the richer and calmer for it.
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