Some two weeks ago
I was reading a book about grief. It was written by a woman who lost her husband and her son within a span of 10 months. The author who was a spiritual person shared her thoughts on moments before death, death itself and coping with it.
The author said that people who are about to die, or in a coma do understand everything that we say. She narrated the time when her mother-in-law was very sick and in terrible pain. The doctors had given up on her. Yet, she was surviving, days after days. Months after months. She asked the frail woman, why she does not want to be relieved of her pain. The mother-in-law told her that she was worried about her son who loves her so much, and would not be able to manage without her. The author told her that her son was grown up and capable of taking care of himself.
‘He will be fine. It is okay for you to let go..’ She assured her. The mother-in-law passed soon after.
The author narrated similar incidents with her grandparents. People who had been sick for a while, clinging on to life. How she held their hands, and told them it is okay to let go. The people left behind will be fine.
While I was reading, I thought of my Dadi (grandmother) who is 89 years old. She has been critically ill in the past five years, but she always bounced back. Doctors have termed it as a miracle. A thought came to my mind.
Nobody ever told Dadi she could let go. No one held her hand and told her she would be fine. We would be fine. She was a woman who lost her husband when she was 36, leaving behind four young children. How could she let go? She knew she was all they had. She knew she had to take care of them single-handedly.
Three days after I had this thought, I came to know that Dadi (living with my uncle and aunt in another city) was critical and in the ICU.
“It’s all my fault.” I told my husband. “You know, I had this thought, I put it in the universe and somehow it reached Dadi, and now she is ready to let go.”
I don’t know why we ordinary mortals think we are powerful enough to determine life and death. But in such situations we do. I was full of regret. I prayed to God that Dadi should not suffer.
Dadi was discharged from the hospital the next day. A miracle yet again.
1st February 2021: The premonition
I called my husband at the regular lunch time. He disconnected the call. This is usual because he always disconnects when he is in a meeting. I fell asleep in the afternoon, feeling very tired all of a sudden. When I woke up there was a missed call from my husband and a message, ‘Kahan ho?’. My parents had also left a message, saying that my husband had called them saying that I was not picking up the phone and he was worried.
Now, this is highly unlikely of my husband. He doesn’t worry so easily. This is the kind of thing I would do. I called him back. He said that he thought that there was some news of Dadi, and I was driving to my parents and that is why I did not pick his call.
“Dadi is fine.. Don’t worry,” I told him.
“Yeah… I just got this feeling that something happened to Dadi, and you were trying to tell me but I missed your call. That is why I called Papa to get a sense of things.” He said.
“Dadi is getting better actually!”
“Hmm.. Dadi the warrior.”
One hour later, we got the news that Dadi had breathed her last.
Who was my Dadi
I have blogged about Dadi before.. Dadi was born into a family where all babies died shortly after birth. With no surviving children in the family, the distraught expecting parents went to visit a Pandit. The Pandit suggested that the child should be named, ‘Ram’ then only it would survive. So even though Dadi was a girl, she was named Ram in the hope that she would live.
‘Ram’ survived. Being the only child in the entire family, she was pampered by all. She attended a reputed convent, she was good at studies, and was married to a boy who in her own words “was very handsome, much better looking than her”. She had four children and they were living a good life until her husband passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Dadi was 36.
Dadi’s mother, and her Chachi who had raised her could not accept the shock of seeing their young child as a widow. They both died within a year too. Dadi had lost her husband, her mother, and her Chachi, her three most beloved within 12 months.
Being a widow, she was denied eating non-vegetarian food, something she loved. Of course, colours were denied too and she had to wear plain clothes. The grief was immense. But Dadi was a warrior. With the support of her father-in-law, she completed her M.A. and B.Ed. She got herself a job as a Professor in Psychology and went on to teach till her retirement. She was well-respected by all. Her four children did well professionally, got married and had families.
Dadi became an inspiration of strength and courage.
What Dadi meant to me
This part is hard to explain. I have spent a significant part of my life living with my parents, and so has Dadi. My father retired from a transferable job, and there were numerous times that my father and mother travelled for my father’s job, or to meet my sister, or to attend a wedding or for any other work. They always left me with Dadi. Dadi and Tanu. Tanu and Dadi. We were a team.
I have shared rooms with Dadi on vacations. She is the person with whom I have lived the longest after my parents. I watched movies with her that I could not watch with my parents. I showed her pictures of boys and she rated them in looks. She was my partner in crime. She was my friend.
In fact, when I finally started living on my own in Bombay, it was very tough for me. I was lonely. I wished why couldn’t it be like earlier, that if my parents could not stay with me, at least Dadi could. I literally dreamt of Dadi living with me in my PG in Bombay!!
I have inherited a lot of my traits from Dadi.
Wearing clothes ulta in a hurry.
Taking out 3-5 clothes from the wardrobe before going out. Rejecting them one by one. Leaving them all crumpled and unfolded.
Checking the gas stove again before leaving the house, checking the purse to make sure the phone is there.
Washing the dishes again before using even though the maid has cleaned it.
The obsession with ‘running water’. Dadi could never take a bath from water lying in a bucket.
Washing the feet every time you come home from anywhere
Fearing that any electrical appliances are capable of catching fire unguarded while you are sleeping alone at home
Sitting on the dining chair with the legs folded up when with family. But the moment a guest arrived, the ability to transform into a sideways, cross legged stylish posture as if a more sophisticated person did not exist.
Lying in her room, complaining about leg pain or stomach pain, and being ‘low’. But when guests come over, her face lights up and she gets excited. She talks, she laughs, she jokes and loves telling stories.
Since the time I have got married, I have realized we have even more similarities. Dadi was never interested in household work. She liked to read the newspaper, and do jumble words and crosswords. She was very sharp and until few years ago, I had given her an article of mine to edit and she found mistakes in it that I had missed.
Once when I was in school I was watching ‘Roadies’ auditions on television. It was the coolest thing that time. It had inappropriate content though (for that age). My father overheard something (abuse words) and told me I should not watch such rubbish shows. Throwing the typical attitude of a teenager, I switched off the TV, started crying and ran to my room.
Dadi witnessed the entire incident. She later went to my father and told him that all kids watch ‘Roody’. She said that she has stayed with my uncles and aunts and their kids also watch Roody. She told my father that he cannot scold me for something that all kids my age do, and that it just a matter of generation gap.
That was my Dadi. She always supported me.
One time, I think back when I was in 12th grade, Dadi and I were home alone. My parents were in another city for some work. Knowing that we were by ourselves, a lady from the society, the wife of my dad’s colleague came over to our house with home-cooked chicken roast for me. The Aunty was from Andhra Pradesh and she could not speak or understand Hindi. Dadi knows English very well but she did not have much English speaking practice. I had to leave for tuitions, after introducing Dadi and Aunty. I thought it would be interesting to know what they talked about with the language gap.
When I returned, I asked Dadi how it went with Aunty. “She left just some half an hour back. Dadi replied. “Oh, she stayed for so long!” I was surprised. I thought Aunty must have left within 10 minutes.
“She must have thought I am some old, dumb budhiya but when she started talking to me, she realized how knowledgeable I am. She was so impressed with me that she stayed.” Dadi said with a lot of swag and a big smile.
That was my Dadi. She was intelligent. She knew it. She took pride in it.
Three years ago, my friends from work had come home for Holi lunch. I took them to Dadi’s room. One of them was about to get married. I introduced the friend to Dadi as the ‘bride to be’. The first thing Dadi said was not Congratulations. Instead she asked her, “Padhai likhai complete ki ho ki nahi?” The rest of us burst out laughing.
Another time, my parents had hosted lunch following some puja and lots of women from the society were invited. Dadi was not keeping well that time. I had come directly from work and was wondering if Dadi was still in her room. To my surprise, as soon as I entered the house, I saw a group of very entertained women crowded around a beaming Dadi, listening intently to her stories. Dadi was sitting in her sophisticated, cross legged posture reserved for outsiders.
She asked one of the ladies randomly. “Tum kya karti ho?”
The lady replied, “Dadiji main job nahi karti hoon. Ghar ke kaam mein hi time nikal jata hai.”
Dadi told her, “Dono karna chahiye. Maine bhi to kiya itne saal.” This immediately triggered a discussion among the women about ‘SAHM vs working moms’. Dadi was enjoying the attention and her ability to stay relevant in conversations with people four to five decades apart from her.
Dadi was especially fond of my husband. She called him, ‘mera bauwa’ (bauwa meaning baby). Babies in Bihar are called bauwa but as they grow up, they are referred to by their actual names. Dadi was the only one who continued to refer to all her grandchildren as bauwa.
In the last two years, Dadi was not keeping well. Whenever I would visit my parents, I would go to her room.
“Mera bauwa bhi aaya hai?” She would inquire about my husband.
“Abhi nahi Dadi. Humko lene aayenge.” I would respond.
“Theek hai, humko bata dena to hum ayenge.”
She would continue to lie down in bed, save her energy and come to the living room once my husband arrived. While in her room, she would only be complaining ‘pet dard, par dard, dawa de do.’ But once in the living room, seeing him she would transform into a very bubbly, lively, pleasant person who would talk, joke, laugh and tell stories.
Nobody will call me bauwa ever again
Throughout the years that I was doing C.A. , I stayed up all night to study. Dadi would get up in the middle of the night at least 3-4 times to use the washroom. She would see me awake.
“Tanu bauwa, abhi tak jagi ho?” She would ask.
“Haan Dadi.” I would say.
“To hum so jayen?”
This same conversation happened every night for years, each time she got up for the washroom. My mother always kept some snacks for me. Or I would make Maggi. I would never ask my Dadi to cook for me, since I was old enough to cook on my own. Still Dadi always asked. Every time.
When I was living in the U.S. I once showed a picture of me with Dadi taken when I was about 1 to a friend of mine. Dadi was pointing towards me, a big smile on her face. “Your grandmother looks delighted. She has loved you for so long!” The friend remarked. I always assumed that everybody had grandparents who loved them. This friend had met her grandparents once in her life and had no connection with them. I realized that day I was indeed lucky.
When I hear someone else passing away at a very old age I do not consider it a tragedy. I feel they have lived a long life . The body gives up with age. It is better to go than to suffer. Mukti mil gayi. As we say in our Hindu dharma.
However, this was different. It was different because she was my Dadi. It is always different when it’s your own. Everything you hear means nothing to you.
She lived a long life.
She is in a better place.
No more suffering for her.
She would be reunited with Dadaji.
All this is overshadowed by the D letter word. The D word is final and cruel. It is irreversible. She died! She just died!
One person’s death reminds of every other death that has happened before in the family. The shock of receiving the news. Remembering that the ‘last time’ you saw them will be the last time you will ever see them. Trying to book tickets in desperation. Getting on a flight in that state of mind. Unke time aise hua tha. The mind remembers another deceased loved one. It is also a horrifying reminder that every other person you love and cannot live without will also leave you one day.
Seeing someone’s lifeless body reminds us that we are all ‘bodies’. We are shallow people. We care about our eye brows, we care about our blackheads, we care about our body hair. But in the end, we are just a body. A body that is capable of giving us a lot of pain. A body that is capable of non functioning. A body that is capable of being no more. A body capable of turning into ashes.
When I saw Dadi lifeless she was wearing the same grey socks with pink dots that I wear. It must be something my mother had purchased for all the family members. She was wearing the same shawl in which I have seen her so many times. Seeing her quiet was so strange. She was never a quiet person. She was loud. She was noisy. I had a feeling that she would get up any minute and yell at us for leaving her alone and cold.
When they were taking her away, I remembered a conversation I had with her when I was a child.
“Dadi, when people die and they are getting burnt, are their clothes removed?” I had asked. Of course I asked Dadi. She was my ‘go to’ person for all questions that I could not ask my parents.
“I don’t know.” She had replied.
“How can you not know? You are an adult!!”
“They don’t allow women there. They probably remove all the clothes!” She said dramatically without giving much thought.
I was horrified. “No Dadi!! I will never let that happen to you. I will make sure you are properly dressed.”
I remembered this conversation as I watched her being taken away forever. I ran to join my father and the other men as they took her for the cremation.
I had to keep my promise to Dadi. She would be mad at me for leaving her alone with the men folk.
2020 was horrible. But 2021 has already scarred me
My grandfather died in February long long time ago. Since then Dadi hated February. She considered the month jinxed. She never travelled in February. She didn’t like any of her kids travelling in February. And the fact that she died on 1st February… It was as if she was waiting for February to start.
Dadi never tolerated anyone saying anything depressing. She was strong. She was wise. “Nirashawadi nahi bano. Aashawadi bano.” She would say. I hate being so nirashawadi right now. I know Dadi wouldn’t like it.
I can go on and talking about Dadi. My heart goes out to my father and his siblings who have spent 60-70 years with Dadi and now have to learn to live without her. My heart goes out to everybody who has lost a loved one. When I am taking this so hard, what must it be like to lose a parent, a spouse, a sibling or a child? Is there really any point to life? We have all these people we love and then one day we have to learn to live without them? If this is life, it sucks!!
Dadi spoke about death quite frequently. She did not believe in life after death because she said that ‘nobody has come back to tell what it is like.’ Even though she did not believe in it, I still hope she is somewhere, peaceful and happy.
I hate saying ‘rest in peace’. I don’t know why I titled this article rest in peace. It is funny because Dadi never rested in peace. She made a lot of noise. She spoke to herself. She banged the door hard at night and she had the ability to keep the whole household awake!
Goodbye Dadi. Part of me has died with you. But part of you lives with me.
P.S. I can imagine my extremely looks conscious Dadi saying, ‘Dikhao to mera kaisa photo lagayi ho?’