My Ma died on Christmas day. She was a special Ma.
Thinking of childhood is so nostalgic. That is especially true because my childhood was really a lot of fun. I did not go to school until I was 8 years old because of my polio, that I contracted when I was 3. Lucky me! I was schooled at home until then. My mother taught me to read.
I remember having a surgery when I was 4 or 5 years old. It was a hip release or something like that. I was in a huge plaster of paris cast and was in bed for a long time. I am unable to tell, if it was a month or two or just a few weeks. I remember my mother telling me stories to keep me entertained as I lay in bed. My mother did not study beyond high school. However, I remember her reading every day, just to fill me up on stories, for I had quite an appetite for them. I would listen and ask for more. And she never disappointed me. I enjoyed that very much. Looking back it feels so good.
We moved to Coimbatore, as my father was posted as the Additional Collector/District Magistrate of that city. We were given a huge British Bungalow to live in. It was such a stately home – a vestige of the Raj. It had a huge banyan tree and acres of land around. My mother tended a well-maintained garden with all kinds of flowering plants there. I ate my food perched on a low branch of the Banyan tree. I was still recovering from the surgery and I was thoroughly pampered! My mother would gather the children of the office staff– the office attendants, the drivers, the dhobi- who also lived on the campus, and she would tell all of us stories. She would make us sit on the floor of the corridor that ran along the bungalow. She would give us Rasna to drink and murrukku and rose cookies that she made to eat. We sat in a round formation, and she would tell us a story a day. The next day, one of us had to retell the story back to the group, to the accompaniment of much laughter and impatient prodding. For Christmas that year, she made all of us do handmade ornaments for our indigenous Christmas tree. It was the most rustic Christmas tree ever. They were mostly made of various kinds of paper, string, glue and clay and color. Then she organised games for us, and gave all of us small gifts, which she wrapped like a giant toffee.
Every day she would go into the garden and bring back flowers which she strung for me. Violets of different hues and violets with stripes. Kanakambarams. Jasmines. Roses of every size and color. She would dress me up like a button. She would take time every day in the morning and evening to do so.
She would bring back the wounded mynahs and kingfishers from the garden into the bungalow and nurse them. She would set them free.
She made the prettiest smocking frocks. For my 5th birthday, she made a violet smocking frock which I vividly remember. It had the most intricate colorful pattern. She hid the frock from me for all of those months that she was secretly making it. On my birthday, she sat me on a chair on the front porch, closed my eyes, draped me in it, and then made me open my eyes to see it. I remember being thoroughly thrilled. She also made panties for me with a lot of frills. They were the sweetest things a little girl could wear. I look for those frocks and panties in shop windows whenever I go shopping, and I have never seen anything quite like them!
After my father died in 2002, I did not see her happy face. Her personality slowly started changing and I didn’t realize then that she might be sick. For a couple of years I was antagonistic to her as I didn’t understand her. We did not get along at all. She was severely depressed. Subsequently she went on her religious trip to make matters worse. This once amiable parent morphed into someone who was totally unlike herself. She was always frowning and filled with fear.
Only very late did I take her to see a Professional. Shame on me. Many times during those 7 long years that were difficult, I began to fear, if I ever imagined the good childhood days with my mother. Did it really happen just like I thought it did?!
On Pongal Day 2009, she had a heart attack and while admitted in the hospital, she had a cardiac arrest. I thought she was gone. I made a pact with God even as the medical team were defibrillating her, to give me 10 more years with my mother. It was nothing short of a miracle that on the third shock she was resuscitated and came alive. Subsequently she fought valiantly for 6 weeks in the ICCU and sailed through. Something happened to her in there. She was never depressed after she came out. It was a new lease of life in every sense of the word. We saw the former twinkle in her eyes. My young cousins told me with incredulous disbelief that they never knew, that Pedamma/Atha was so much fun!! I never imagined that such a recovery were ever possible, and it once again reposed my faith in God.
And true to my pact it will be 10 years come Pongal this year. Those precious 10 years were a gift from up above. It was stories at the dinner table all over again. So much joy and simple pleasures. She supported all my risky ventures wholeheartedly. She cultivated her own ring of wonderful friendships and did what gave her pleasure. She read her Eenaadu newspaper from top to bottom and kept abreast of current affairs. She read her Bible and prayed fervently. She watched her Shubavaartha TV with relish. It was a faith that was so pure and innocent. I spent many hours with her talking to her about her fun childhood with all her siblings. We went out a lot.
I asked for 10 years and I got 10 years. I regret not having asked for 15 years. I regret that I never learnt her recipe for peethala pulusu or pappu chaaru. I regret that I did not see her face the last time she served me coffee as I was couched over my keyboard typing something furiously. So many regrets. If I could only have one more day with her. But that will have to wait until I myself make the cross over to the yonder shore.
The stinging absence is unbearable. My heart may explode. Craving for one more hand grasp and squeeze of your fingers.
I told you so many times. And I’ll tell you once again. I love you Ma!