|Mrs Kasturi Prasad, my aunt|
When grief envelops you, it is silent yet all pervasive. It is as though your body and mind have been taken over by a stranger and you are a mere observer of the world surrounding you. As I bid farewell to one of the last members of my father’s generation, grief got a grip of me. The first sense I got was that of thankfulness. I was so glad that my sister insisted that I come to Hyderabad immediately and that I went without giving some excuse, that I got to my aunt and in that unbearable witnessing of her belabored breath, I got the chance to whisper in her ears that she had the permission to go IF she wanted to go.
After seeing her, I went to our school where she was the Principal and her daughter Padma and I were students, along with my friend Neeru, from US. As all three of us stood in the school ground, I felt as though I was paying homage to her along with representatives of two parts of my life. In that split second, it was as though life went on a fast rewind. Memories of the school ground full of kids having lunch with smells of roti, dal, subji, rasam, curd and pickles assaulting the senses; of rushing back to classes when the bell rings, falling in love with Telugu as we were being prepared for debates by Satyavathi teacher, being mesmerized by math by the ever serious Augustine teacher, learning lyrical lines for English plays being directed by Thomas teacher, of being taken to painting competitions by Farida teacher, the laughter of Murali teacher; of being made to stand on a bench or being called into the Principal’s office because of some mischief or the other, totally hating having to wear that awful pink and red half saree as a uniform, secretly longing to wear the blue and white uniform of the convent school and speak in fluent English; going to book binding classes after school, spending many nights at my aunt’s house as I would inevitably miss the school bus home, Padma and I making up games and playing in their front yard, moving many homes of aunts and uncles without any distinction, scenes of my dad and aunts laughing together sipping cups of coffee on a Sunday afternoon – so many mundane moments made magical in memory.
A few hours later, when I got the news that my aunt was no more, I went to the hospital and Padma and I brought her body back home in an ambulance. I sat next to the body that was kept in an icebox for a long time marveling at the beauty of complete stillness. The difference between her belabored breathing in the morning versus the complete quiet of her body placed in front of me now taught more philosophy of life than any book could ever have.
Through the course of the evening, I met many of my old teachers and fellow students who all came to pay their respects to her. The next day, we took her body to the crematorium and stood close by as they bathed her, arranged a new saree on her, carried her to the burning ghat, placed her on a funeral pyre, arranged the wood on her body and lit the fire. As the fire crackled and enveloped her body, a sense of finality descended upon me.
Death always brings into sharp focus what really matters… to make time for those who matter to us, when they are alive as well as when they leave us. I used to feel that when someone dies, it does not matter whether we go to bid the final farewell or not, as it does not matter to them, which is true. But, what missed my attention was that the final farewell was for ME and not for them. Witnessing death always grounds me. It is so easy to get lost in this world of meetings, money and the mundane of routine and traffic jams. But, watching her body turn into ashes, made me think of all that she left behind with most clarity.