Today is my last full day here. I’ve noticed a lackadaisical attitude toward general cleanliness here. Because daddy and mama are so old and unable to see well or really monitor the house and they haven’t empowered the servants to have that authority either, things lie around for eons that should really be thrown away. The scrubbing mop is tattered and should be replaced, the utensil holder has rust at the bottom, the forks that aren’t used regularly (because they mainly use a spoon) are rusty. Stainless steel water glasses are old that I wouldn’t want to touch my lips to are still in use. Plastic water bottles that should be one use are being reused to store water. I tell Usha that I want to go shopping and Priya and I make a list. Things that need replacing…the lady who comes to wash clothes needs a scrub brush for clothes, the girls need a soap dispenser in the kitchen to satirize their hands, the tablecloth has seen better days etc.
Mama’s helper Pooja who’s job is to massage her with oil and then bathe her arrives as usual and I encourage mama to get bathed. She’s resisting a bit, saying that she’s feeling breathless. I gently encourage her and she acquiesces. After she gets done, Pooja in braids her long grey-white hair and I ask her to wait and I get mama to pose for me. Mama primps a bit and I even manage to get her to give an ever so slight smile. Then the girls and I decide to help her into the front garden and get her to pose with me, with the girls, and alone. She’s my ready and willing model. She’s definitely enjoying herself and the attention which is probably something she’s been craving for ages.
Their older son comes over from New Agra where he lives in the three story home that Daddy built and lived in for a year before his appointment in Dayalbagh. Rami uncle has always as far back as I can remember had a terse, abrupt and short attitude with them. Interestingly he has lived for free in that home without being gainfully employed for over 30+ years! He had ventured into a business with someone in the U.S.who swindled him out of a lot of money, and that was that. He never worked again. I don’t know any much more than this but my 10 or so year old self formed an opinion about him then, that hasn’t had much opportunity for change. In the two brief pre-Satsang interactions I’ve had with him and his never-seen-her-smile wife this trip he’s been irritated at and dismissive of them. Almost scolding them as one might a child who’s not listening. I’ve no doubt that caring, managing the affairs of, and having to repeat oneself a minimum 4-5 times in each conversation would be challenging. I’ve only had to do it for a few days and he’s been here for all of their old age years. So my feelings are definitely my own as a granddaughter who’s seen them after 6 years and hence its easy for me to be tolerant and inordinately patient. Perhaps he is inordinately grateful for them supporting him and his family all those years. Perhaps he in fact is kind and gentle and generous with his love and compassion and that the heat has gotten the better of him these few times that I’ve seen him. I’m going to go with that because it helps me feel better.
After our photo session Usha comes to bathe daddy so I retire to my room to give him privacy. A few minutes later Priya brings mama to my room to sit and visit and have ‘nashta’ which really means breakfast but here it’s used for snack time which because of how little they eat is basically two hours on either side of the main three meals. 6am chai and biscuit, 9:30 breakfast, 12pm coffee and biscuit, 1:30pm lunch, 4pm chai and biscuit, 7:30pm juice and biscuit and 8:15pm dinner and then milk.
She brings me sweet milk based coffee which I would NEVER drink back home. We talk in the room for a while, I ask Priya to cut her nails which seem long, and I ask if she had nail polish. She says she doesn’t so I promise to bring her some. She wants a dark maroon color. Usha gives us the all clear and we move back to daddy’s room to keep him company. Since tomorrow I leave – today is the day I tip all the various servants. I’d given Rs. 100 to the gardener when I last saw him, the same to the errand man who’s gotten my snacks and jalebis and also initiated my permission letter etc. another Rs. 100 to the clothes washing lady, 200/- to the woman who sweeps and mops, 300/- to her mom in law who’s unfortunate job is to deal with the bed pans, toilets etc. and she comes twice a day. Rs. 100 is put aside for Surekha who comes at 9:30pm and stays overnight with mama/daddy in their room. Rs. 1,000 for the main ones Priya, Pooja, Gudia, Ram and Usha. Mama and daddy remind me of this periodically all day long. They of course want me to give the ‘lesser’ ones Rs. 50 and the main ones Rs. 100. I nod in agreement just to acknowledge their input. They’re still of an age where things were a lot cheaper. 10-20 years ago yes, that’s how much we would have probably given them. Now, for what they’re doing– literally my grandparents lives are in their hands. I feel like more is warranted.
Lunch today is ‘Masala Dosa’ the dosa shell is crepe like thin and made crispy out of a rice flour batter that’s the consistency of paint. This is usually stuffed with cooked ‘aloo’ (potato) and served with a ‘nariyal chutney’ (coconut) and ‘sambhar’ (a thinner than daal consistency liquid) which a bite full is dunked into and then devoured! In a restaurant these can be the diameter 4 times a dinner plate. Here because it’s been made on a ‘tava’ (roti roasting pan with no lip) it’s small.
Mama has a dislike vibe around Usha. Not sure why…but she’s not thrilled that Usha is cooking. After daddy is fed, and I sit near him and remind him to eat slow at every bite (his regurgitation is a lot less since the first day I arrived), mama and I sit at the dining table. Priya serves mama the first Dosa and she refuses it because it’s stuffed. She wants it empty. So we put that one aside (Priya says my potato stuffing has more spice so not to eat that one) and the second one that arrives is mine – I start eating/devouring my dosa. The next one is devoid of stuffing. We’ve taken the potato out of the first one and put it on her plate. She finds the sambar salty, then she finds the dosa not thin enough, then the potatoes are salty. She’s sulking a) because Usha is cooking b) because I’m going tomorrow. She doesn’t want anything else but won’t eat much of the dosa. I manage to coax her into having most of the dosa with some of the potato filling.
We come back to the room, daddy is already lying down. I sit with mama a bit and then she asks to lay down. I help her with that, situate the sheet on her, put the cooler at the right level and let them know I’m going with Usha to the bazaar.
We take a man-powered rickshaw- I should have guessed from the price negotiation (this happens before stepping into the car/rickshaw) that we were going to a different place. About 25 minutes of feeling like my life was in this guy’s hands, with crazy traffic navigation and no concern for the big trucks, cars and autorickshaws all of which had more horse power that he, he skillfully navigated us through the mèlee of ‘downtown’ Agra traffic and got us there in one piece. We passed an area mainly populated by doctors’ offices and homes according to Usha and was pleasantly surprised to find a center for balanced living facility offering mind body spiritual support. I realized that I was thinking this was ‘alternative modalities’ and then realized that this is India, and this isn’t alternate, this is mainstream.
The ‘mall’ is basically an all-in-one…it’s 6-7 stories of store…each level for different things- starting with clothes and cosmetics, then groceries and food, then home goods, home appliances and electronics and personal care. Basically a Target with a lot better food choices! I have fun loading the cart with everything on the list Priya and I made and an hour later we are on our way back – this time I insist on an auto rickshaw for a faster return, laden with two heavy bags full of stuff for the house.
We get home in one piece, with our bags intact and not strewn all over the main M.G. Road which I find out stands for Mahatma Gandi road just in time for chai.
After chai Daddy asks me to write the permission request letter for my parents and brother. I bring my letter out and using that as a template I copy the words and replace my name for theirs. I tell daddy it’s written and he worries and asks me to come sit next to him so he can dictate. Again I tell him it’s written…he then insists I couldn’t have known what to write, so I tell him I used my letter as a template. He asks me to read what I wrote – reading try letter isn’t enough- he wants me to read to him even where I’ve written his address as the ‘from’ and the address of the secretary of the sabha as the ‘to’ address and then I can start to read the text. There’s a little PS: where the name and age and visiting from are written, and he insists I write (N.I.) against each name and instructs me multiple times on how to do that. ‘Daddy, I’ve already done that.’ ‘Ok so be sure to add the ages for each’ he says, ‘yes daddy, i did that.’ ‘Ok be sure to write NI in brackets against each name’ he says, ‘yes daddy I’ve done that too’ ok, now put a big bracket around all three and write ‘from Pune’ so that signifies where they’re from.’ ‘Yes daddy I’ve done that too.’ ‘Ok so read the whole letter again for me.’ I comply. I place the letter on his lap, hand him the pen, position it on the page and he signs off on it. That took care of nearly 30minif our time.
Daddy’s asks for the jacket I bought him. He wants to test it out. We help him put it on, he’s liking just how soft and fleecy it is on the inside and happily poses for me when I ask him to smile.
Then mama wants to get in on the photo action, so we ask her to come around to near daddy so I can get them both and me too. We bring out the poncho I bought her, she tries it but takes it off before I can take her picture. She happily sits next to daddy and I get to work.
So all my adult life that I can remember daddy has been a huge proponent of laughing as a form of good medicine! He would make us just start belly laughing– he would say ‘Geetu hasso’ Geetu being my nickname stemming from my full name Gitanjali; I was named after a Nobel Prize in literature winning book of poetry of the same name by Rabindranath Tagore Bengali author who also wrote the Indian National Anthem (Jana Gana Mana). Interestingly, while in school we had three houses that students would belong to, these houses are similar to the ones at Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter series. We would have our loyalty to our house, our athletic, debate, oral and academic performances earned our house points and bad behavior took points away. My entire school life I was in Tagore House. We had 3 at my school Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore. As a track athlete, swimmer, cyclist, poetry reader and debater I proudly earned maximum points for my house all the years of high school and was often named ‘Student of the Year.’ I wonder if I was assigned Tagore because of my given name.
Hasso means literally that he’s asking me to laugh. It’s an instructive form of the word. And he would start literally going ‘Ha Ha Ha’ and before long you can’t help but laugh because of how funny it is that someone’s trying to intentionally laugh! So every time I asked him to smile he would start his ha ha ha laugh and we would end up laughing for real!
Rami uncle and his wife Rashmi aunts came by – Monday is ‘prasad’ day at Satsang which is a blessed offering. It could be anything…- sweet, a savory, a green chick pea, which is what it is today.
I grudgingly include them in the photo session as mama keeps insisting on them being in the picture. I insist that they smile!
Soon it’s time for Satsang. Rajesh is here early for daddy because he skipped Sunday. Ah, he gets Rs. 100 from me too. I go to change into Satsang clothes and by the time I return, Daddy’s already been wheeled off. Mama gets situated into her wheel chair and I take off my slippers and put on my socks to walk across the dirt path to the hall. Today I’m determined to record the ‘binti.’ Luckily in the kurta that my aunty gave me to use, it has a pocket and I smuggle my iPhone into the hall. Pooja and I situate mama along the wall and then find a fan to sit under at a close distance.
Huzurji is late today. Binti starts without him, and I start the recording on voice memo hiding the phone in my lap. Midway through he arrives and I observe his ritual. He first acknowledges with folded prayer hands one of the the big framed photos of Dr. Lal Sahib who was the most previous Huzur and the one I’m most familiar with during my growing years. This garlanded photo is sitting in a chair with a spotlight He then faces the audience and acknowledges us with folded prayer hands and then sits down into his chair along side Lal Sahib’s photo and within minutes his shoulders are stooped and he’s entering his meditative state.
Binti is 10 minutes long. We listen to 2 paaths sung by the women (it always sounds horribly out of tune to me) and then mama gives us a sign that she’s ready to leave. We wheel her back to the house and then Pooja leads me to go get ‘Prasad’ for us and her. We walk across the concrete field adjacent to our home where 4 people are set up a slight distance apart to wait for the throngs of people who will soon come to get Prasad. We are luckily early because Satsang is still in session.
Another fascinating thing is 4000-5000 people all sitting in the hall, and apart from soft whispers, they patiently wait in practical silence till Binti fills the air.
We get Prasad and get home. Daddy gets wheeled in shortly thereafter and then it’s snack time for them some diluted guava juice and a couple biscuits. Gudia arrives to make dinner. I’m sad this is my last meal with them. I’ve had such a soul-filling, vibration-raising, heart-overflowing time with them. Mama is definitely sulking. She barely eats. I’ve noticed an interesting ritual that she developed with me. in Indian culture the elders are served first. Daddy was given his meal first, followed by mama, and when her roti would come, fresh off the stove, she would break off a piece and give to me. Always. She’ll eat, but wants me to start too.
She gives daddy his food and for the last time this year I sit with him and ensure that he eats slowly. ‘Dheerey dheerey daddy’ (slowly slowly daddy) chaba ke khaye (be sure to chew before you swallow).
Mama doesn’t want to eat much. I plead with her to eat. She has tears in her eyes and it makes me so very sad. It’s going to be tough to say good bye, knowing that it’ll probably be a year before I see them again. If I do. Reality is he’s 99. He’s not a spry 99. It may be that in this body wrapper I don’t see him again. He will always live on in my heart, taking up residence right near Jason’s grandfather. I’m not ready to contemplate that yet. I don’t know what I’ll do without the knowledge that I can just see him anytime I hop on a plane. I’m envious of my brother and parents who’s time with them starts in two days. I remind mama of this, that it’ll be just one night before they’ll have family around them again for another week. I know that death is a beginning and not an end. The opportunity for a soul to start on a different journey. I wonder what learning he was to have, and why he’s meant to be here in this way for as long. As he said, he’d have been happy to die at 90. Why did he have to live this long? What did his soul need to learn, experience or do? I know my soul learned deeply these past 5 days. I experienced simple pleasures. Seeing him eat and retain instead of regurgitate food, seeing smiles on their deeply lined well worn faces that tell stories of a good life, having them be positive and joyful instead of depressed that no one cared or no one looks out for them. Having no wifi or internet connection meant that I had absolutely zero distractions. My time and focus was 100% on them. And in being on them, was on me!
After dinner I lay down between them for a long while. Ram and Surekha arrived as usual but I didn’t want to leave. I had each one of their hands in mine and I wanted to lay there, and capture this moment so I could freeze it in time. I want to remember just how long daddy’s fingers are, and how bony and yet how soft his hands, I want to remember how mottled with age spots mana’s hand is, and how in that contact, in the human connection of holding hands, there was so much comfort. No words needed to be spoken in that moment. Holding hands articulated more than I could hope to say. And so we just lay there. Ram and Surekha understood this unspoken need to just BE and they didn’t start their usual routine immediately, opting instead to just sit silently and allow us our final moments of deep connectedness.
I love you deeply mama and daddy and I don’t know if your body wrapper will wait for my return next year. If you don’t, I understand you’ve places to go and things to do. And you’ll always be in my heart. Always. There’s a little nook carved out just for you two. It’s been permanently reserved for you.