Tag: family

When Piku made me cry

A few months ago I went to watch the film Piku with my friends (those of you who’ve watched it will know what I’m talking about, those of you who haven’t, I’m not giving anything away). One was an old friend, the others were all new friends at the time, the “I like hanging out with you and want to impress you with my coolness and wit” kind of friends. I don’t remember thinking or feeling anything during the film except immense irritation at Amitabh Bacchan (role well played). The film ended and we walked out and one of my new friends asked me what I thought…and I burst into floods of tears. The kind of ugly crying Oprah sometimes refers to, snot and tears everywhere, running to the bathroom to have strangers worry about me kind of crying. The old friend (and the only female friend) coming in to check on me, asking me if my dad is okay and when I spoke to him last and perhaps secretly wondering if I was on my period. I wasn’t on my period and my dad was and is fine, bless him.

I miss home. SO MUCH. Home means so many things now, it’s no longer four walls and a roof, a physical entity. To friends and colleagues here, it’s India, if they ask more questions I tell them it’s Calcutta. To those who are still curious, I explain while I spent most of my life so far there it’s not where I’m “from” whatever that means. September 2010 onwards this feeling of missing home was a constant, physical pain that wouldn’t go away, I just didn’t have a physical injury to show for it and I couldn’t articulate it. Where would I have started? 24 years of everything I had ever known, a very long and uncomfortable Air India flight away, all discarded by me for a life I thought I wanted. It’s gotten so much better over the years, and I happily consider London home, my other home, I don’t know, something along those lines now.

And then ever so often, something will remind me of what I’ve left behind perhaps for good. The quaint, old buildings of North Calcutta that I used to go past everyday on my way to college and back. Eating puchkas whenever I felt like it and not getting sick (totally different story now, oh my delicate NRI tummy). Spending days and nights at my friend’s house, where her father never tired of quizzing us about current events and would be appalled each time at our ignorance and yet never gave up. Loving the monsoons and running around the school garden getting soaked to the skin during lunchtime, I genuinely did not care if my socks were wet let alone my uniform. Waiting with bated breath for the inter-year school fest that we weren’t allowed to participate in until we were much older, but if we got lucky and leaned out of windows we could maybe spot a boy or two (it was an all girls’ school I went to, and yes it was slim pickings). Sitting in our balcony at home with my dad as he smoked and drank his tea (kalo cha, black tea) which is also when he is most chatty, man of few words otherwise. Family dinners at Mocambo, best restaurant in the world hands-down, highlight of my week. Hanging out at “the lakes” with my friend trying to learn how to smoke a cigarette feeling very, very cool and grown up until an old lady yelled at us saying even girls in America don’t smoke apparently. Going to New Market with my mother and always coming home with way more stuff than I anticipated I would be bought. The first and only time I ever went to Tangra; my sister and I were never allowed to go there because of so-called anti-social elements…perhaps a figment of my dad’s imagination? Nutrition classes in my final year at school where I was always assigned cleaning duties and fair enough, I set fire to a dish cloth during my practical exam and was most concerned about my teacher seeing it, not setting the whole school on fire. The feeling, the slight nip in the sultry Calcutta air when you know winter is coming, out with the monkey caps and shawls. Drives down the second Hoogly bridge, don’t remember doing too many of those but the times that we did were magical. Mamata Banerjee campaigning in our neighbourhood, and my four year old sister asking why that aunty was so angry? Durga Pujo every year, and my father huffing and puffing about the “bloody city going bonkers” and the traffic jams. The heat and humidity not really bothering me, in fact I remember defending it to someone from the Delhi of the dry heat “your dry heat makes me sick.” Trips to Forum the first mall in the city after school, sometimes without telling our parents, and running into my dad there one such time…and his classic comment later “I thought my God that girl looks like just Sona!” Uhhh yes dad because it was me! Going to Flury’s, old and new. Oxford Book Store, the stuff my dreams were made of. Park Street during Christmas, and my one and only time singing Christmas carols in our choir at college; no I don’t have a beautiful singing voice but I enjoyed it thoroughly anyway. Lying around in my sister’s room talking and laughing about nothing and everything, our mother feeling left out yet you can see the “proud mother” look on her face as she complains. Writing love letters to Leonardo DiCaprio and yes mum I know you read at least one of them, still haven’t forgiven you.

Calcutta reminds me of me, my childhood, everything I was and am now. Whenever I go back now it feels quite alien, things and people have moved on, I’ve moved on, and yet so very familiar at the same time. So yes Piku unwittingly elicited a pretty strong response from me, and now I’m happily counting the days down till I’m back where I came from. Reservations at Mocambo? Check.

This is how a heart breaks

This is how a heart breaks

I love it when people say I remind them of my Amamma (maternal grandmother). She was among other things intelligent, witty, beautiful, fiercely independent, generous to a fault and wonderfully quirky and eccentric. To think I’ve imbibed even a tiny bit of what made her the way she was is a compliment and a blessing. I was her eldest and favourite grandchild (sorry my lovely sib and cousins, facts must be faced) and she was my third parent, the only other person besides my mum and dad that I remember feeling “at home” with as a child. All my knowledge of Hindu mythology is from the stories she used to tell me while putting me to sleep at night, or trying to get me to eat my food in a timely manner. She was there when I split my eyebrow at age four and needed stitches, she was there through the hardest times we went through as a family when my dad was out of work, she was there each time my mum was unwell, so unwell we almost lost her, I remember her holding my hand and praying all night long when I had pneumonia and couldn’t sleep because I had difficulty breathing. It’s no wonder then when my little sister injured herself when she was a child and as the anaesthesia wore off she mumbled asking for our Amamma, where is she? Amamma taught me how to have faith, “do your best and leave the rest” she would always say. I didn’t appreciate it at all as a child, but she always pushed me to be the best version of me that I could be.

I remember once laughingly saying to her “I hope you’re around to meet my children, I don’t quite know how to describe you to anyone…they have to meet you to know just how weird you are.” You see, for as long as I can remember she always wanted to die. Yes that’s right, she used to long for death. I never understood it, it used to confuse and upset me, and after a point I just chalked it up to being “one of those things” about her. Ironically once she actually left us, I totally get it.

She and my grandfather were childhood sweethearts, as the story goes she rejected all his initial overtures but he persisted and she melted. They went on to becoming colleagues at university, she taught English and he taught Accounts I believe, they were the golden couple of their time. They had two beautiful children, started building a house for the four of them, and had their whole lives ahead of them when everything changed. One day on his way to work my grandfather was in a road accident, and he died. I think he was thirty eight, and she was thirty three…I say I think to a lot of this because I’m piecing it together from what I’ve heard over the years from different people, she would never, ever talk about him. Except one evening about eight years ago, she was visiting us in Calcutta. I came home from college and she followed me into my room, and I assumed it was to tell me off for oh I don’t know, throwing my bag in the wrong place as I walked inside. What followed was one of the most precious conversations I’ve ever been a part of, it was more of a monologue I just listened and cried with her. I don’t know what prompted her to tell me all the things she did that night, but I remember even then feeling very privileged. She talked about her life with my grandfather, and the pain she felt for most of her life which was without him. She told me stories of him and my uncle when he was a baby, and how excited my grandfather had been when my mother was born. She told me how she wanted to die with him, but his final words to her were asking her to look after their children so she did. On the first anniversary of his death she was teaching her class “Duchess of Malfi” and how she had to maintain her composure through talking about the Duchess’ dying plea for her children to be cared for, and the poignancy wasn’t lost on her students.

For years she had ridiculously high blood sugar levels and her blood pressure was through the roof (really, the numbers were scary) but she stubbornly refused or discarded all forms of medical advice. She finally got her wish (!) and had a heart attack and didn’t tell anyone until the pain became unbearable; once at the hospital she asked the doctors to only put her on morphine to lessen the pain as she passed away. Erm…they didn’t agree, needless to say. She had surgery, everyone was doing everything they could to get her better but you know when someone just doesn’t have the will to live? A cousin of mine told me later how she had been to see Amamma in the hospital and commented on how well she was looking post-surgery, to which she responded that it had been forty-four long years and she just wanted to go. I remember ringing her from London and willing her to live, saying the most ridiculous things including asking her if she didn’t want to be around for my wedding. She asked me if it was happening anytime soon had I found someone, not to rush on her account and to only get married if and when I felt like it, end of. As always, she was stubborn and insistent about what she wanted, and what she wanted was to finally get to be with the love of her life.

Even in death she has taught me valuable lessons. She died four days before I was heading to India, heading to see her. The night she passed away was the longest night of my life, I found out about midnight and I’m still not sure how I made it until the morning all by myself. But now nothing seems insurmountable, I made it through by far the most difficult hours of my life so far on my own and as they say what doesn’t kill you certainly makes you stronger.

It has been three years to the day since she left us, since she left me. It still overwhelms me when I think about how I’m never going to see her again in this lifetime, or hear her voice. A few weeks ago I was walking home from work and somehow started thinking of her and was in tears in a matter of minutes. But I don’t for a second wish she would come back, wish she was still here. It isn’t until she left us that I was able to fully comprehend the pain and loss she had lived with for over four decades. I’ve dreamt of her several times since, especially the year after her passing away; in each and every dream the message was the same, she is finally where and who she wanted to be with so I shouldn’t worry or be sad. There have been other signs of this message too, one of which inspired my third and what I think is my final tattoo (which I know she wouldn’t be pleased about!) She spent her whole life living selflessly, for her children and her grandchildren, keeping her promise to her beloved and now it’s only right that she is with him where she belongs. Even the math is unfair, I had twenty six years with her on this earth which is more than what they had together. She would be so proud of me, one of her biggest worries used to be my selfish tendencies as a child and now my grief is entirely secondary to me, I’m so happy she is finally happy.

Don’t rest in peace Amamma. Love, laugh and make up for lost time you both have a lot to catch up on. Till we meet again.