Wednesday, 2 April 2014


I would call my grandparents in Rajkot, where they insisted on living on their own. It was an inconvenient house, with the toilet on the ground floor and the rooms upstairs. The stairs were winding, and the ones that led to the top floor were precarious. They were not entirely healthy and it must have been difficult but Ba refused to shift anywhere else. It was where they had lived all their life and no other place must have felt quite like home, I imagine.
So I would call them. My grandfather would answer the phone. Over the past few years, he has lost his hearing. He would begin the conversation by saying "Hello I cannot hear you." I would start screaming too "Bhi, its me. Babli. (His pet name for me)." I would scream louder and louder, and he would keep repeating "I am calling your Ba. I cannot hear what you are saying. I cannot hear any more. Just wait, she is coming". Meanwhile, Ba would begin her long journey to the telephone. Her legs hurt and she would walk slowly, muttering loudly all the time. "Why do people call us? It is so difficult to walk all this way. Do they think I have nothibng to do?" She would finally get to the phone and say "Hello". "Ba its me". I would say. "Oh my child, I am so happy to hear your voice. How are you?" All that she had been muttering would not matter. She would discard that persona in a moment and become the affectionate grandmother. She would ask me about life in Australia, interested in the daily minutae of my life. "What did you cook today? What time is it there?"
At the end of each conversation, she would say "Have toh bhagwan lai le toh saru" (Now its good if God takes me). I would always respond with "Ba, evu kem kaho cho? Evu na kaho." (Ba, why do you say that? Donb't say that). Over time, this statement and its response had become routine. She said it, but it was difficult to believe that she meant it. She loved living. She was inquisitive about everything, gossiping about family, friends and neighbours with gusto. She was fiercely alive, and age did not make her withdraw from the world or become cynical about engaging with it. She wanted to know what everyone was up to, attend weddings and funerals, meet people and talk to them. At my cousin's engagement, she got mehendi put on her hand with everyone else. I saw the picture on whatsapp, and knew that she would have participated in each and every ceremony, insisting on following the rituals and trying to get everything done her way. I remember family functions where she would do or say utterly outrageous things, and exasperate my mom or my chachi, and their eyes would meet sympathetically in a crowded room, commiserating with each other.
She passed away in November last year, a fortnight before we went to India. She never saw Shabdita. It was sudden and unexpected. The house in Rajkot lies empty. My grandfather is a prisoner of his own senses, unable to see or hear; lost in his memories and the conversations echoing in his mind. With her,an entire way of being 'our family' has gone. There were typical things that we would say or do, actions, reactions and patterns evolved over the many years of being one family, which now have to be reworked. We all have to learn how to engage with each other anew. Rest in peace, Ba. I'm sure heaven for you is a place where everybody knows each other and gossips about the achievements of their families and the secrets and failings of others. I hope to find you there someday, and then you can tell me everything about all the people you have got to know.