It’s never a beep. It’s a dull ‘tong’ – almost counting seconds, complimented by the steady whoosh-whoosh of the pump. Somewhere a loud, shrill teeeeeeep breaks the rhythm. Some feet rush towards the erring machine, and press the relevant button. A black screen has rows of numbers flashing with odd, ever-changing graphs. Numbers – that is what life is reduced to. The bed number, the tubes, the wires, the graphs, and the dull tong-whoosh-tong-whoosh.
Hope is a strange beast. It lures us. Makes us hang on to thinnest shred of miracle that we expect to happen. The miracle is a mirage. Yet, we hung on- to the ‘parameters’- another definition of the life that was much more than that. The first day, the guards were strict, the nurses curt, and the doctors’ briefs about the parameters, factual. As the parameters abandoned us one by one, they all changed. The gate-pass was not checked, nurses flashed unsure smiles, and the doctors’ tone softened. I learnt the hospital manners too. She wasn’t referred to by her name anymore. She was a bed number. I wasn’t her grand daughter anymore. I was her attendant.
Yesterday, they called the attendant one last time. The guard’s face spelt it, the nurse’s head-shake sealed it, and the doctor’s ‘sorry’ killed the beast that hope was. She was suddenly not a bed number either. The nurse’s tone softened further as she referred to her as ‘body.’ I sat there for a while wondering how to break it to mum, her daughter. She was already broken. She had been seeing her shrivel all these months, all by herself. I bore the guilt of stepping in so late. She bore the pain of her pain.
A few months back, I got a call from her like I always did, ‘gudiya, what colour do you want? There is this lovely red suit and another orange one.’
I stepped out of my class, ‘naniji, I do not need any more clothes.’
‘O-ho. I am asking you about the colour? I like the red.’
‘Anything you like. I trust your choice.’ I resigned.
She loved to shop for her family. And no was never an option. Yesterday, the nurse asked for a pair of clothes. I chose for her. She had chosen my clothes for me all my life, and yesterday, I decided what her final outfit was going to be.
As I stood outside the mortuary, I fought with memories and tears. Tears aren’t an option, for mum derives her strength from us. As for memories, it is going to be a long fight. How do I remember her? As a bed number? The mortuary locker number? Or the thunderstorm that she was? A roaring thunderstorm. Never stopping, never slowing down.
Nani never went against the tide. She created it. Politics were distant grounds for women when she stepped in the arena, where the women stood on the sidelines watching, their faces covered. Ghungat, as purdah is called here, was never an option for her. Thunderstorms never cover their faces. They snarl at anyone doubting the strength of women. We, the children, never saw her as a politician, a minister. For us she was the joy bringer. If we failed to make the cut in any selection examination- it was the system that was faulty. Her brood could never be flawed. For her, we were the best, always.
They were such opposites- my grandmum and grandpa. He was like a wisp of cloud in a spring morning sky. She was a storm- never abating till she got done whatever needed to be done, never letting winds of grief blow her away. She weathered it all, and so we weathered it all. Now we stand wondering who will shelter us, set us right, and fight the world for us. Doors never stopped her. The one that won’t open was torn down by her. I see doors all around now, firmly shut.
As we drive with her one last time today, I look up at the rain soaked sky. I imagine her. Up there. Tearing down the gates to heaven, demanding and getting the room she wants, checking on rest of the family already there, and giving the angel taking care of nana a solid dressing down. She’ll be busy, making sure that everyone is taken care of the way they should be, and taking the reign of everything in her hands, the way it should be.
For her I was always a ten-year-old. A child, spoilt rotten much to the disapproval of her daughter. We both chose to ignore it, always. I avoided complimenting her on the saree she’d be wearing for she would quickly change and give it to me. I also avoided asking her how she was feeling when she’d fall sick, for she’d always snap back, ‘why, what is wrong with me? I am perfectly fine.’ And then she’d go on rattling off things that she needed to do that day. Even when the machines said otherwise, she nodded when asked if she was feeling better.
She always said I was her mirror image since she had given me my first feed as a baby. I am not even half as strong as her, not even a miserly quarter. If I could be half the woman you were. Half the bull you became when it came to protecting your family. Half the strength you were that held us all up.
I don’t cry. I frown instead. Tears were never your forte. I shall not say goodbye. Bidding farewell would mean, acknowledging my thunder is gone. You made me feel loved, spoilt and feel like the best thing that happened to this planet. I cannot let go off that. You shall stay, here with us forever like you always have. So I’ll carry you in my heart, my rumbling thunder.