It’s uncannily familiar—this feeling of traveling to a location so full of childhood memories, to mourn the death of someone who has been an inseparable part of those very memories.
This time it is Jammu. Not far from the last such journey I took to attend the prayer ceremony commemorating my Dadima’s death at Pathankot in 2014.
The sensation is similar yet not familiar. On the previous occasion, there was an acceptance, a finality. Something that was bound to happen, had happened. A logical conclusion.
However, this time I feel strange. It still seems like I’m going to meet her, be greeted with her full face smiling with her eyes, a general sense of chaos and clutter about the house, a deep warm forceful hug prefacing the strong wafting aroma from the kitchen of simmering Gushtaba and Yakhni. My mind tells me she’s not going to be there. Yet, my heart replays all the previous visits to Kukku Masi’s place in anticipation. This emotional conflict refuses to resolve while I am still flying over the clouds from Delhi.
What is it about these sudden departures? Why does this situation of 'media res' leaves one feeling extremely wanting? It’s the Pavlovian reflex, I guess, that continues to evoke the previously learned response – the phone rings in the middle of the day and you know (before you realize) it’s Kukku Masi again. Calling Ma to share some inconsequential nugget of gossip, information or crib. And yet, in a split second, once your rational impulses kick in, you start wondering who could it be, calling from her number? Somehow, when life cuts short, you suddenly remember so many important things you wanted to hear, say, share, remind, complain... And all this while, they didn’t seem even worth picking up the phone for. In fact, when Masi called once every couple of months or so, I remember trying to quickly hunt for reasons to curtail the conversation to get back to work.
And yet, today, when she cannot call me any more, there is so much I want to talk about, remind her of the times when it didn’t matter if it was she or mom around for us; when she got clothes tailored for not just two of her own children but four of us cousins together. Of times when the rickshawalla in Amritsar looked shocked out of his wits when told all healthily endowed four of us pre-schoolers were her own children! Of that one time when instead of one balloon each, she bought the whole colorful bunch of 30 odd, sending the poor Gubbarawala home delighted; and ending up making us all feel so special and on top of the world!
Not only these but I’m left with so many complaints I have still not made. Like of the time when I took Rana (by then my husband) to her home for the first time – she didn’t greet him, I felt, with the same forceful, strong hug that I had come to expect from her; left me feeling a bit resentful. And of the time when she was visiting Delhi and never even informed me – I learnt from mum and went to meet her like a distant relative. How did we drift apart this way? Why did she pluck me out of her life? Jammu and Delhi had always been physically apart. But any visit to Jammu meant everyone put up at Masi’s place – didn’t matter if there were three rooms or two, two AC’s or one. All of us managed to squeeze in somehow and always had a great time together. But gradually, as one family became two, and two became four, the visits became fewer. And those that did happen, didn’t necessarily end up at our respective homes. The tight circle became bigger and loose. With many more in it - not necessarily sharing the same old, deep warmth.
And yet, at this moment, when I’m squashed up in a corner occupying 25F and gliding over land (looking exactly like the picture thrown up on my phone of Google Earth) and accompanied by drifting white fluffy clouds, I can’t help feeling this intensely strong pain in my heart like someone is twisting the pointed sharp end of a knife through it. It’s not the hurt of knowing I won’t see her again. It’s not even the pain of love that is lost forever.
I know now. It’s the cloying, deepening realization that I didn’t give more of myself to someone who gave me so much of her. And now it is too late. This is the pain of regret.