She somehow reminded me of the gentle breeze that unexpectedly appears on a hot, humid day, soothing the scalds of the day. Clad in a frock, with girl thin legs, a tiny smile on her lips, she was the picture of a child. It was impossible to believe she was 58 and the mother of three. And yet, there was that warmth, receptivity and wisdom about her persona that only a woman who had seen life could possess.
It was ironical that I met her only a few months ago…only a few months before she was to bid goodbye to this mortal world. Sometimes, I feel this encounter had a purpose. Today, she is no more. But in that little span of time that we spent together, she shared with me those aspects of her mind that defined her spirit. And so, she lives on in me- her joys, sorrows, anxieties continue to throb within me. Somehow, her life has incorporated itself into mine, for her experiences have become mine.
I think of the child-like joy with which she talked about her childhood memories….about her life with her parents….about the Goan culture in which she was raised….about the freedom, conversations, dancing, singing, laughter and cosy meals with the family….about the happiness of intimacy.
I think back to how a little text or a simple gesture of love would get her all excited. I think of how a cloud of anxiety, despair and fear would cross her sunny face when she talked about the problems that are unique to women. Her recollection of that moment long ago in Kuwait, when a man followed her, and she went into a building and hid behind a pillar, waiting there for what seemed like eternity, not having the courage to step out and walk back home. Her anxiety for the future- the fear of loneliness, lovelessness and turbulence. A dark shadow would immediately descend on her face and I knew that it was one of those fears that had no immediate consolation. I remember how she spoke about each human being’s struggle being his own….about how we are all alone in our struggles and suffering…how motivation and energy fail us as age advances….how ageing makes the whole difference in the picture, for every little problem becomes a huge burden.
Physically, Jane was fine. I even thought she could do a waltz. She was active, bustling about all the time. Her energy flooded that house. It was her mental energy- her motivation , that was giving up.
The memories haunt me every day. From the very first memory of how we met by the gate, thanks to dear Dusty. To me, that portion of the lane, just by the gate, symbolizes Jane. For that is where we met first and that is where we had most of our conversations. In the evenings, as I walked back to my hostel, I would pause at her gate. Jane, clad in one of her pretty frocks, would walk up to the gate, a warm smile on her face. She would hold my hand and we would sometimes talk for long hours. In that short span of time, we had bonded. I saw my mother in her.
Today, when I walk by the lane, everything is the same. There is the gate with the lamp posts….the tree by the side of the gate….there is Dusty….there is the same gentle breeze. But there is no Jane to walk up to the gate. That soft voice, that gentle tone, that little girl’s laughter and the warmth of those hands- they are conspicuous by their absence. Dusty seems to perceive this absence too, for he is quiet and sober these days.
Jane belonged to a different era. Affection was an integral part of her love for people. In every little gesture, it was palpable. She would often wait patiently for me in the morning, and just as I passed her gate, she would thrust into my hands a little parcel- breakfast, carefully and lovingly wrapped up in foil.
Jane talked with pride about her daughters. I had met the youngest one. The other two lived abroad and Jane would tell me that the next time they came over to visit, she would introduce them to me. Both of us did not imagine that I would meet them shortly, on the occasion of her death.
Jane was intensely nostalgic about her childhood. In her reminiscence of the past, there was the palpable yearning for those early years of her life that defined happiness for her, and that contrasted with the turbulence of the later years. Her happiest memories were of her father, who passed away early. Consequently, she was deeply attached to her mother who tried to fill the void. She remembers her brother- a very sensitive soul, quite into music, but also a victim of drug abuse.
That day, she looked happy. I hadn’t seen her for a while as she had been to visit her daughter. And when I finally met her, she looked happier than all the other times I had seen her. Perhaps the change of environment had done her good. She narrated to me brief episodes from that trip. She told me that she had lots more to narrate, but that had to wait. Coz she was travelling to Bombay the next day. She was visiting the very house that housed all her childhood memories- her parents’ home in Bombay. That was the reason for her excitement and elation. She hadn’t been to that house in a long time. Until her mother’s death, she regularly visited. I would often tell her about my anxiety when I spent the weekend with my mother and then left. For one brief moment, as i waved to my mother, I would be gripped by a sudden fear of whether I would see my mother the next week….for life is so uncertain. Jane always empathized with me for she thought back to the days when she would visit her mother….and to that time when her mother passed away. But that day, she was very excited. ‘You so love sweets. I will get assorted sweets for you from Bombay!’, she said to me. Dusty was whining for attention. So I patted his head while Jane gave him a titbit. ‘I will see you on Friday!’, she said.
I had not known then that I would see her lifeless body on Friday.
On Thursday, we received news of her death. She had passed away in sleep….in the house that guarded her cherished memories. On Friday, her body was brought to Mangalore. I looked at her lifeless body in the coffin- stiff, cold and devoid of expression. It could have been a statue. I touched her hand. It felt like wood. It had none of the warmth that I felt when she had held my hand all those times in the past. By the side of the coffin, there was her picture. She had worn a pretty top, her hair left loose, her smile radiant- you could easily mistake her for a girl in her teens. It was impossible not to fall in love with that picture.
I was struck by the irony- the picture by the side of the lifeless body. Life and death, side by side.
It was only a picture, and yet, it had more life than the lifeless body in the coffin.
Suddenly, I realized the magic in life. Life that spilled into the lustre in our eyes….into the vitality in our smiles….into the energy in our strides. Only life could do that.
Suddenly, I wanted to hold on to the memories. Until the person is alive, we don’t seek the memories. For we have the person in flesh and blood to recreate them in our minds and to evoke the emotions those interactions evoke. But now, I needed the memories to relive my interactions with her.
My only solace was that Jane was never scared of death; she was only scared of her life ahead. My solace is that her soul must have reunited with the souls she always yearned for- her parents and siblings. My solace is that she is finally free of all mortal suffering. I am only glad that our paths crossed for she touched my life in ways that only she could have.
May her soul rest in peace!