I never said good bye. I never thought you’d be gone. It’s been a year. And it still hasn’t registered for me. I saw you fade away in the last few years, and I tried to block it out. I didn’t want to face that you were aging. The twinkle in your eyes gave way to cataract. You now needed a walking stick. I didn’t spend enough time with you. I was soon going to leave home for college. And you were coming over often due to health issues and medical checkups. I “had” to go out in to the world and “seek my own destiny”. The last few years, you were almost bedridden. You moved home, but I stopped visiting. There were always other things to explore and do – like study for entrance exams, like move ‘far away’ to a big college, like move half way across the country for a job, like spending holidays globetrotting, rather than seeing you fade.
There were times I wished that I’d been born 20 years earlier so that I got to know you when you were younger and healthier. But instead, I have of you disjoint memories, stories, lessons that are now assimilated parts of me.
The first memory I have of you is when I must’ve been around 3-4 yr old. You taking me on a bike, to the village.. riding in glee through the streams, with water splaying on us.
The next memory was around 8 yrs. And I remember being SOOOOO in awe of you. You told me such awesome tales. Of your wanderings. Of all the stuff you’d tried. When you were young. Stories of you as a wandering minstrel. Black magic. Stories of the dacoits who raided the village, and your house. How you settled down and learnt ayurvedic medicine and became a ‘vaidya’; and then learnt modern medicine alongside and how to give injections. I sat in awe on the wooden benches outside your small clinic observing you mixing powders and roots and what not.
You diagnosed patients by reading their pulse. My jaw dropped. You showed me how to measure my pulse. I couldn’t even keep track of it beyond 20. How could you just “know” what’s ailing them from that barely perceptible pulse!!
Late evening. At home. I was about 16. You were telling me about Jain dharma as you called it – we debated about ‘ksharn’, the concept of ‘inifinite’, time being cyclic & never ending, the ‘present world’ being just an infinite spec in the flow of time, and being all in our minds, parallel worlds, beings existing on different levels, that we can’t see or perceive in any way. Years later I read all of that in the works of Paul Davies, Stephen Hawking, Oppenheim, Schrodinger and the ilk. I looked up Parallel Universes, String theory, Dark Matter, Colors, Flavors and the God Particle. I solved equations of singularities. Your simple words had summed up concepts theoretical physicist were grappling with. You called it religion. They called it science.
Diwali – I loved Diwali. I loved the diyas. I loved lighting up as many diyas as possible, all around the house, and keeping them alight all night. I loved the crackers. The dare. Lighting them as close as possible, staying near, for as long as possible, running away only last minute. Not flinching at the blast, not closing my ears. It was my mark of being brave. You humoured me, indulged me. And still made it clear you didn’t approve. Being brave is being true to yourself. Not marching in bravado to someone else’s tune.
‘diye ki lau acchi lagti hai, par usme keet patenge kitne mar jaate hain. Itni hinsa kyon karo? Itna tel daan kar do kissi ko – tho? Itna dhuan, itna shor kyon? Usse kitne jivon ko takleef hoti hai. Itni hinsa kyon?” You taught me to be sensitive to all living being – ahimsa – that encompasses everything. Conservation. Pollution. You didn’t do the usual pooja’s. You didn’t like any of the fanfare. For you Diwali, or any other festival, was more of a reflective time. Not to be drowned in ‘traditions’ that didn’t make sense. Religion was a personal thing. Focused on the self. Or releasing the self. Swa-adhyaya. Samyag dhyaan, samyag darshan, samyag charitra. That’s what all the prayers and paaths and mandirs were supposed to lead to. And if that didn’t work for you, find your own way.
Through the first year of college, you made me promise I’d go to the temple atleast once a week. And I did. Though I initially hated it. Because you asked me to. It was that simple. I’d promised you. Hence I’d go. Over time, I started liking it. Not the pooja paath, but the quiet. The stillness. I liked it. There’s was something so infinitely calming about that temple. I’ve never found a mandir like that again. Or maybe, my mind is now too perturbed to feel that stillness again.
Growing up, you were the only one who encouraged me to think. For myself. By myself. It’s a lesson I forgot. Then rediscovered. The hard way.
I never realized how much of you I carry with me. But as I sit to write this, I see the invisible threads of your influence. I’m proud to be your grand daughter. I’m glad I got to know you. I’d like to think, where ever you are, you’re proud of the way I turned out.