No mother should ever have to bury her child.
Before she turned 60, Radha buried her first born, her precious boy. Before she turned 70, Radha buried her youngest son, her little baby. Her husband stood by her side the first time, and on the other side the second time. Long before that, she lost her youngest one at birth, and almost lost herself with it.
She stood outside her body and watched as her mind slipped in and out of sanity. She watched as daughters-in-law were widowed and grandchildren were left without their father. She watched her two heart-broken children left behind grapple with one hard blow after another. She ached for them, she ached for herself and she ached and she ached.
Then she got up, rearranged the cushions and went to check if dinner was set.
Life tried to break her, and life lost.
No one radiates as much hope and belief in life as Rama does. Her eyes shine with the kind of love that we all crave, all-consuming, fierce and loyal. Her smile has a curiosity and mischief that is unheard of in women her age and situation. Her hands, her bejewelled hands are comforting like that’s their only purpose and purposeful because that’s what comforts her. The food that appears at the end of her magical wand-like hands could solve world peace if only she had the time for it. A heady mixture of Fair & Lovely Fairness Cream and Ponds Talcum Powder announces Radha’s arrival into the room and lingers on long after she leaves. The mattress under her, the clothes on her and the air around her carry the scent like a halo. The halo only a real human can carry. Her superhuman strength is carefully wrapped in delicate silks and diamonds. Her mind is always racing, her feet not far behind.
I must confess, as I write these words, I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I promise you, I have a story to share.
Her name is Radha, and she lets me call her Rama.
Rama is far from perfect but everything she does is. She makes friends, enemies, memories and mistakes in a minute. She feels love, hate, joy and pain with an unparalleled intensity. She dislikes dirty places, people and words. Her saris are starched and spotless and timeless. If it smells sweet, looks lovely and tastes good, she’ll accept it. She chases a fly out of her home with the same ferocity with which she welcomes a compliment. She is superficial and sincere in the same breath. She’s generous with her time and attention, but her special brand of blind love is reserved only for her siblings, children and grandchildren.
Nothing gives Rama more joy than seeing her family together. She never shushes or restricts kids from running wild. She’ll get us afterwards though, to scrub off the dirt before we step into her heaven (not haven), her home.
The home her husband and children built for her is her everything. The fact that her husband and eldest son never made it past the housewarming only makes her home a heaven more than ever.
She was treated like a princess till the day she wed, and like a queen every day after. Her home is her palace and she rules fairly.
The rooms are cushioned with music and sunlight, kitchen bursting with aromas, veranda decorated with flower pots and backyard with freshly washed clothes. Not a bowl out of place, not a cushion, not even a sound.
Remember how I said she rules fairly? Not if something is out of place. In the event of such monstrosity, there’s a very small chance that she will quietly go about putting it back in order. Rama has a – how do I put this mildly – she’s a control freak, a cleanliness freak and a broken record when it comes to running her home.
If you’re on an overseas call with her, she’ll put you on hold in order to fluff the cushions. She never entrusts anyone else to clean her bathroom, she does it herself every day, and believe me when I say you can eat off the floor in there. A Dettol cloud surrounds everything and the silverware doubles as mirrors. Her little army of housekeepers work with a steadfast loyalty that you can only get from an iron-fist wrapped in duck-down feather and glitter.
It was in this home that Rama taught me my first and only bedtime prayer. Together, we prayed that we would have sweet dreams and wake up early with fresh hopes and dreams for a better day. We prayed that we would be kind and respectful. We prayed for ill relatives and travelling neighbours and the homeless people we couldn’t help. We prayed for peace and happiness and love.
We didn’t pray to a God with a name. We prayed as a reminder to ourselves, to wake up as better versions of who we were that day.
Then I fell asleep, her prayers and arms keeping me safe.
That was when I was a child and she was my fairy grandmother.
A million lifetimes later, she falls asleep safe in my prayers and arms.
I move into an apartment in the city with Rama during college, and she takes about 32 seconds making the place hers. While I was away growing up and figuring out who I was, Rama perfected her unique brand of her-ness.
She brings along her little army of housekeepers and her her-way-or-the-highway-ness. She hates being away from her home, but she is unbreakable in her optimism. Deaths in the family and near-death health scares for herself and her loved ones can’t shake her faith. In rare moments of solitude when she lets herself reminisce, you can see it. You can see it in the way her fingertips touch her face, you can see it in her soft, faraway eyes. Raw, agonising pain.
On nights that I stay up late, I find her asleep with her arm reaching across the empty bed as if to clutch the husband, babies and siblings she lost and the family that’s scattered far and wide.
Born into a family of 9 children, alone was not a common feeling. Married to the eldest among 8, she instantly doubled her family. Then she built her own brood with 3 boys and a girl. Then there were in-laws and their families. She lost count after the 6 grand children; nothing else mattered.
These are the numbers that run through her head when she lies in bed at night. These are the numbers she aches for. These are the numbers that give her strength. She counts and recounts, wondering where so many of the numbers have vanished.
She wakes next morning, full of fresh dreams and hopes for a better day.
These are some of the many memories of Rama deeply cemented in my heart. There’s no obvious storyline here. No moral. Just that no matter how small or short life is, make your mark and leave your scent, so people speak of you as if you never left us 11 years ago.