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49, Caught Out

March 25, 2018

Lost another friend/schoolmate/classmate today – this time to pancreatic cancer. Second in a gap of one year plus. Bala died of liver cancer in Dec 2016. Now Nimmi. Unthinkable. Not even 50. Both blessed with beautiful happy families. Sweet kids. Loving husbands. Parents, in-laws …. what to say about aged parents… How can they even take it.

Bala used to be my next seat in school. Quiet observer. She was niece of Jayendra Saraswathi (Shankaracharya) actually. She would enjoy all our stupid conversations without a word. Confided only to me of her mutt connections. Came from a big joint family in Tiruvanmiyur, the fag end of the city in the ’80s. Sometimes would walk with me from school (in Mylapore) to take the straight bus 29 c from Mandaveli bus stand. In those days 29 c plied between Mandaveli and Besant Nagar only.

I recall strangely about her telling me, how when she got her periods she would be banished to the outhouse in their compound. Somehow vividly i remember that because it was a monthly affair for us girls. Too much ‘aachaaram’ in her home owing to their closeness with Kanchi. We girls did observe a certain degree of quarantine true in our days but hers was extreme I used to think. Today’s young girls cannot even imagine our living conditions then.

After school, I totally lost touch with her. But in the short span of 2 years at school in class 11 and 12, we had somehow struck up a warm friendship. I never told the class of her background. I felt awkward because, here was this girl who came from such a pious, religious background but we girls were raucous and cracked dirty jokes all the time. Bala would keep reassuring me to carry on (!) and not stop having fun because of her. I found that very sweet. She was indeed a very gentle and sweet soul. I thought she joined BA Music or Sanskrit as day scholar in Madras university.

Years later I got connected with her again in social media … this time it was she who found me. She called me in landline and I was astonished to learn she had earned not one but two PhDs in teaching special kids from the US. She said she was herself autistic perhaps in school but I refuted that. I said, being shy didn’t mean that a boy/girl must be autistic. She said, she anyway lacked social skills and lagged behind in academics.  She said something about her daughter being like her but I dismissed it outright. “Can you believe in what i am today Viji? Are you laughing?’ she asked because, in school I was kind of a good student but she thought she wasn’t. I said no, I believed her totally and she was smart. Bala couldn’t believe I was a housewife either.  She had had very high hopes on me as it turned out. That i would have become a professional or something, definitely a working woman. We laughed at how destiny makes us into what we are.

But I was really impressed by how Bala had turned out in life. I felt immensely happy for her, was very proud of her. From someone who was hardly visible in our class/school, she had become a somebody, someone useful to society.

She was running her own school in Mumbai for special kids for years as she told me. She shifted last to Malaysia and then Singapore where she headed special schools for autistic children. In Singapore she was diagnosed with cancer and was asked to leave for India as she was terminally ill. She refused to see any of us friends when she was in Chennai for last couple of months … did not want us to carry her last image as permanent impression in our minds.

I am today staying in touch with her daughter because I think I owe that to Bala. Feeling very guilty that ever since I found her back through social media years back, I still did not try enough to meet her in person. Over the years she was visiting Chennai periodically but I did not invite her home. With husband doing extremely well, with daughter and son pursuing their bachelor degrees in America, Bala who was having everything going for her in life, who was kind of already a mini celebrity in Mumbai giving Carnatic vocal stage recitals, got gravely sick and passed away right in front of our eyes. The tragedy was, we girls were mute witnesses to her sufferings via Whatsapp…. how her chats gradually grew less and less and finally one day stopped for good…

Nimmi (Nirmala), not a close friend of mine but who was close to some of my own close set of friends passed away day before yesterday. I knew she was mother of two and was working for LIC. Two of my friends who paid her the last respects broke down completely, shattered by the sight of Nimmi’s parents and children.

Nobody says a word about the widowed husband .. but just ask me. I had a father who perished day by day after losing his wife, my mother. Not too much love or anything. Indian husbands get conditioned to wife-syndrome that they cannot exist without their wives which is the truth.

I am mature enough to realize, i have to live longer for the sake of my husband now than for my son. My son can take care of himself. It is my husband who cannot live without me I know.

It is a sad day when you know girls of your age are leaving their beloved families dying horrible, painful deaths. Too young to die… This is very unfair…

The kind of dreams mothers die with. What a happy-go-lucky mom I had who would tell her friends she had everything ready for my wedding when I was hardly 12. ‘Double sweet treble kaaram (savoury)’ was her favourite expression. She would go on telling them what menu she planned for my marriage. Every Diwali came with new gold jewelry for us two daughters and new ‘pattu paavaadai’ (silk lehenga cholis that were expensive).

I still cannot cross my mother’s school without breaking down into sobs. Many a time the autowallahs had had to stop concerned. The school for the deaf and the dumb my mother worked for until the last day of her life is mercifully not in my regular route. It is a branching off road. My mother’s blood money (terminal/death benefits) saw us through school and college and established strong base for our future (in form of real estate investments). As a friend said, mothers are like banyan trees. With them, they take away so much. I still receive what I perceive to be monthly gift cheque from my parents… who lived very short lives but left behind a decent something that can take care of me life long that I can afford to be a housewife….

Such is the limitless unconditional love of a mother for her daughter. I don’t deny I see my mother in my Chithi (aunt), even Mother-in-law. I see my mother in my Mother Goddess…. yet there are moments i wish I could bury my face into my mother’s lap in my parents’ home that I haven’t had since my teenage and go to sleep forever and ever… blissfully happy and in total peace closing my eyes without a care in the world…

Too tired running around ever since my parents left that I became an advocate to myself with none to defend or argue ‘my case’. With no moral support system, sometimes it is overwhelming. I am tired of responsibilities, tired of having had to earn my respect, place, honour everything in my life from scratch as a nobody. Now I no more feel compelled to prove anything to anyone, but the fire was there for years. I have finally come to peace with myself, have accepted things for what they are. I am human. Sometimes all I want to do is to vanish. Past memories are now distant still surface out of nowhere to haunt and ache as they always do…

As for my friends Bala and Nirmala, i weep more for their daughters, their sons, their husbands. The vacuum they have left behind will never be filled. Like my father who stayed a widower for the rest of his life, I don’t expect my friends’ husbands to remarry. Indian/Hindu husbands mostly cannot. They can never see another woman in their wives’ place.

My heart goes out to my friends’ kids. Life won’t be easy. Children left to fend for themselves/orphaned from teenage become kind of freaks. Its my personal experience. I have created my own circle of friends, well wishers and relatives, yet sometimes I want to retreat to that tiny tiny corner in the space where no one can reach.

Years, been at the brink of depression. Even a small argument with my husband would seem threatening like sending me spiraling down a deep abyss but I am over the precipice now. Years passed brooding over suicide in teenage. It is good I had no courage and was surrounded by real nice caring people who regularly counselled me.

Years resented my mother/parents’ untimely departure. Couldn’t make peace with them or forgive them easily for leaving us in lurch.

Bala and Nimmi, what have you done. Do you know what you have done to your children, wherever you are…

As I blog this, my friend Nimmi is already an urn of ashes in the electric crematorium. Will be dispersed/dissolved in the Marina beach waters tomorrow. Without a trace….

And then, all that will be left of her will be in her daughter’s memory.

The bonding we shared at school… LS was a great school. It is there even today, over a century old. Standing tall in Mylapore. I couldn’t make friends at college because my school friends thoroughly spoiled me.

I want to put it down here how my mother’s friends cared for me, my friends’ mothers looked at me as if I was their own daughter.

In my old street, neighbours always referred to me as ‘Susheela’s daughter.’ Every single one attended my wedding. I found it strange that I had to learn more about my parents from our neighbours and friends and relatives.

I now find myself in the same spot as my mother’s friends. My mother died far younger compared to Bala and Nimmi. In fact I was nervous when I neared my mother’s last survived age. Once I crossed it, I felt like I had achieved a feat. I had lived longer than my mother. I was there for my husband and my son. Somehow that mattered to me most…

Hug you dear children of Bala and Nimmi. I am seeing myself in you. Oh no, no more Vijis please.

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