When extremely furious at us, Mummy would come up with the choicest of gaalis. As those words spewed out of her mouth, we’d be shocked... Shocked not at the words themselves, but awed by her exceptional creativity and unsurpassed imagination! Was that all extempore or had she spent countless nights in preparation?
My mom was an insomniac. So, disturbing her precious afternoon nap was perhaps us just asking for “it”! We would be bombarded with abuses left, right and centre! It was hilarious, so unique to her and yet so different from her public persona.
My mom, Manjul, was born in a highly influential family. Her father was a Collector and they had the luxuries that come with it. She was very educated. She had not one but two Masters degrees. She dreamt of becoming an IAS officer, like her father, and even cleared her Civil Services exam. She was married before she could join the Services and her dream remained unfulfilled. She wanted her daughters to lead the life she dreamt of, to study hard, and reach positions of authority in their career. She was always so proud of us and found tremendous joy in each of our achievements, whether big or small. A friend told my sister that once you lose a mother, you have no one blowing your trumpet. We now understand what she meant.
Mummy was gorgeous!
She had the complexion of Snow White with a smooth and radiant skin. I remember her always joking about how the only prerequisite she had for an ideal husband was for him to have a “fair” complexion. Instead she got married to our Papa, who is a true personification of tall, dark and very handsome!
After marrying her handsome Army man, mummy adapted herself to the Army life like a fish in the water.
She was always involved in the unit functions, extrovert, and eloquent. She participated in it all - dances, races, theatre, and fulfilled her Army wife obligations dutifully.
Mummy was kind, polite, and loving! She had a heart of gold, filled with compassion for everyone - no spite, no jealousy, and simply genuine. She dedicated her entire life being a devoted wife, a doting mother, and an outrageously dedicated daughter in law.
Mummy’s commitment to children’s education was not limited only to her three daughters. She was a teacher by profession, and a terror in our neighbourhood jhuggi. She would make her regular walks through the slum, where she would round up loitering children and their families, and book them at the local government school! She would pay for their tuition, books, and uniform, and tolerate no excuses!
My sisters went to a boarding school at a very young age, but I was the baby of the family so she kept me close.
I spent the first 22 years of my life with my mom, but 5 months after I moved away for college, she was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer.
When I found out she didn't have too much time, I began to cry. I cried and cried, and I cried some more. Nothing prepares you for a moment like this. Your world literally comes crashing down. When I saw Mummy in the hospital, she looked so pale, so yellow, and so weak. She had instantly lost about 15 kgs. We knew she was very sick, but I don't think any of us fully comprehended the extent of her suffering or her pain.
She told us to be strong for her and for Papa. She promised us that she would come out of it for us. I saw Papa cry that day. Papa never cried. He was too strong, but he cried that day and so did my sisters...but Mom, she did not cry!
We had an outpouring of friends and family, who came to visit Mummy all the time, said a few words and left in tears. I suppose they saw what we couldn't bring ourselves to see, that she would be gone soon.
When she returned from the hospital, she did not move around as much as she would have wanted to. We could see that she was frustrated and disappointed, angry and in a lot of pain, but she never let us know that. Whenever we asked how she was feeling, she told us that she was feeling much better.
Mummy always lived with one grudge. She could never forgive herself for not being with her mother during her death. I remember locking myself in a room with her the night before I left back for college. I made her promise that she would wait for me, that she wouldn't die behind my back. I told her that I loved her and that she was the best Mom in the world, the best anyone could ever have. I told her that she was selfless and caring, adorable in every respect. She was funny and everything a Mom should be. She hugged me and told me that she was lucky to have the best daughters in the whole world. As days passed, Mom started getting sicker. Her cancer was only getting worse. She was slowly fading away. She was losing hope and willpower. We could see that she was tired and had now given up.
On her insistence, I went back to college. She did not want our lives to come to a standstill because of her illness and persuaded me to go back. Even through her own agony she only thought of others. What would happen to Papa after her death? Urvi's education, Neha's soon to arrive baby, Somu’s job on hold ...that's all she was concerned about.
I called Mummy multiple times a day. Whenever I asked how she felt, she would say, "There is a 60 % improvement in me from yesterday"; "Don't worry, I am almost 75% cured."
Every time the phone rang, my heart skipped a beat. No matter where I was, I started to shiver. I was scared that would be the dreaded call informing me of her death.
13th Jan 2006- Papa called. He asked me to come home. He told me that Mom was deteriorating, and that he felt that she had very little time left. I reached the next morning. My best friend was there to pick me up and I was kind of relieved to see her. She told me mom was really sick and did not have too much time left. She was lying....
When I reached home, Papa and my Didi were waiting for me at the gate. When I hugged him, he started crying. Didi was crying too. I knew what they were about to say but I did not want to hear it. I entered the house and the dining room was empty. There was a big picture of Mummy adorned by a garland. The place had been emptied for the mourners to come and sit. I went to Mom's room. There she was, lying dead. She was so cold. I just sat there holding her hand but this time I did not cry. I just kept staring at her. Her pretty face did not look as beautiful anymore. She had lost her colour. She was so yellow, she almost looked green. Mom broke her promise, she did not wait for me. She died 12 hrs before I arrived. She left me with the same guilt that she had lived with her entire life, the guilt of not being with my mom in her last days.
When she passed away, we had family and friends from all over the world come pay tribute. But what was truly amazing was to see our helpers, driver, milkman, vegetable vendor, dhobhi, the local pundit and his family, and even the children from the jhuggi whom Mummy had terrorized into going to school! They wept like they had lost a family member. Mummy had touched many lives through her generosity towards friends and strangers alike!
Not keeping in line with societal traditions, Didi and I were very much part of Mummy’s cremation. I am not big into loud emotional displays but that day I lost all control. As she got sucked into the electric crematorium, I screamed and bawled. I fell down on my knees and everything turned dark in front of my eyes. I looked for my sister but couldn't find her. She had fainted and someone had taken her outside, she couldn't breathe properly and needed some fresh air. As I looked around, I couldn't see even a single familiar face. Everyone looked so strange. I couldn't relate to anything or anyone at that moment in time.
That was the last time I saw my Mummy. I would never see her again. There would be no more fights between us and no more of 'I love yous'. No more pampering and no more hugs and kisses. My mom was gone forever and it's been 11 years since.
A lot has happened since she died; several lifetimes, really. I’ve missed her presence at my wedding and at the birth of my son. She didn't get a chance to meet three of her grandchildren, a profound loss for them and probably the saddest part of her dying so young. They would have loved her and she would have endlessly doted on them.
We did not know how we would live without her, and yet somehow here we are 11 years later! We’ve missed her presence all the time and no matter what they tell you, time does not heal everything… the pain stays forever, you just get used to living with your loss. Initially you count the separation in days, then weeks, months, and finally years. You learn that tragedies quickly become very personal, shattering the lives of a few forever while others move on. And that's the way it has to be.
I thought that her death would cause me intense pain and follow me around all the time. But it’s not like that. I live my life, I have fun, I laugh and all seems fine and then bang, it hits you suddenly. What I really miss is her presence in my world and the physical aspects of her body being here, the comfort of her cuddle. However, small incidents in life make you believe she’s always watching over us. I found out I was pregnant with Veer on May 3rd, her birthday...I see that as a sign!
To tell you the truth I still haven't reconciled with the fact that she isn't here anymore. There are times when I get really angry with myself for not thinking about her often. But when people who knew her tell me that I remind them of her, I feel elated. Some part of her still lives in me and no one can take that away.
I miss you Mom. I’ll always be your baby, ‘Mummy ki Gudiya’ like she called me.
Here is a letter she wrote for us in her last days:
My Dear Daughters Somu, Neha and Urvi,
In what remains of my life, I want to shower you with more love, more than what I've given in the past 32 years.
You three girls have achieved everything I desired from you. With our head held high, Papa Mummy say that there's only one sun and one moon in this world.
Sun brightens the mornings and Moon brightens the nights. Sun gives your body strength, Moon provides the calm.
But God has given us three Suns and three Moons in the form of our three daughters.
Urvi, the Times of Amma is honoured that you chose to share your precious memories of your mother with us. Thank you.
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