Achamma* lay on her bed watching us all. There were half a dozen of us around her, swallowing our tears and sniffing from time to time. She smiled at a few faces, uncomfortable with the attention she was getting. “What happened? Headache?” she asked my aunt, who kept her forehead cupped in her palms.
A slight breeze from outside swayed the curtains in the room to reveal a stiff cold body inside a glass box in the hall, that of my achachan**. He had passed away that morning in his sleep. “He left us just like that. Not even a slight movement” — my dad, who had sat by his bed on the night of his death, said to all who came to offer their condolences. Following the statement, there were satisfied nods, a few looking upwards to thank the supreme.
But achamma would never know how her husband of over 65 years of marriage passed away, how she wasn’t there to hold his hands, or give him his last cup of warm water, as she had been doing almost all her life. For, achamma now lives in a faraway land, where reality has no place.
Inside her head, she is young, looking for an alliance for her elder son — my dad. Her husband is in Delhi, and she is awaiting the day he would show up at her doorstep armed with goodies for all her six children. She is a busy woman, managing all household chores under the supervision of her strict mother, who though passed away due to a stroke ages ago, still is hale and healthy for her. “Oh I have to light the lamp, else mother will get angry,” she would say at times, or “Let’s pack our suitcase, we need to rush to mother’s place,” at other times. Sometimes she would rush outside to the winding roads of Vellinezhi*** village like she was in her early 20s, and sometimes take to washing a heap of vessels, cheating her own health.
On the day of achachan’s death, when dad broke the news to her, she cried her soul out. She passed out after a bout of wailing and woke up to a new world where everything was perfect. She even did the ritual of walking around achachan’s corpse devoid of any grief, like how she would walk to fetch a glass of water from the next table.
The next morning after the body was burnt, achamma sat at the dining table, and asked one of her grandchildren to call achachan from the bedroom for breakfast. A shadow of panic clouded everyone’s face, but only for a while, as achamma had begun to concentrate on her dosa by then. In the noon, when someone casually asked her if she knew where achachan was, she said he was in Delhi and continued massaging her legs with herbal oil. From then on, no one took efforts to bring her back to our world.
At 86, she laughs more than anyone I know at her age. She doesn’t carry any heavy burden of past, and lives her life in minutes. Probably she still hears achachan calling her ‘Janu’, an abridged form of her name Janaki, from his side of bed; probably, she does get flashes of the tragic news my dad broke to her, but rebuffs them violently inside her head; probably, she is consciously holding on to a world that was complete with happiness — when her mom was around, kids were messy and achachan, a young and handsome man.
From her, I am inspired to hold on to the happy moments in life, and forget the rest. Happy Women’s Day achamma!