I don’t recall the last time I met her. Had I known that would be our last meeting, would have I met her differently?
Would I have chatted a little extra and hugged her while saying goodbye? I wonder as a sense of emptiness and helplessness envelops me.
The first time I saw her, over two dozen years ago, she stood in the corridor along with a young woman in her early twenties for the college admission process. Thin and bespectacled, she wore a beautiful cotton saree, perfectly starched, with a big red bindi on her forehead. She had extremely good taste in sarees, which I learnt later.
In the next two years, during the masters programme, I met her many times, as her daughter and I became close friends, a friendship that, among many other things, blossomed over marathon sessions of reading Ayn Rand books.
She always came across as a very strong woman with an even stronger will. She would often tell us how we, the younger generation, were over-dependent on machines/gadgets and needed to do more creative work with our hands.
Once during the college summer vacation, I accompanied my friend to Haridwar in Uttarakhand, where her parents lived. That trip … all we did was read and read, talk to the street dogs in the colony, and take long evening walks.
One evening, draped in one of her gorgeous starched cotton sarees, she took both us young girls (her daughter and me) to the Ganga ghat in Haridwar. We spent the evening watching the Ganga aarti. Quietly. It was a communion of sorts. She insisted I taste the famous kachori sold at the ghat. And I did (my mouth is watering at the mere thought of the kachori she made me eat two decades ago).
There is something about the mother of your close friend! She almost effortlessly becomes your mother too, as she compliments you in your achievements and chides you for not eating enough fruit and green leafy vegetables — “Aankhon ke neeche black circles ho jayenge aur mota chashma lagega”.
In the last two decades, as I moved cities, got married and had kids, I met her on and off. About fourteen years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I clearly remember that phone call from my friend that had frozen me for a couple of minutes when she informed me that her mother was in the last stage of cancer.
But knowing her and her will power, she never gave up and fought the disease with vengeance. For fourteen long years. Every time I met her, she had lost more weight and grown frailer. But she still spoke with full authority and didn’t miss any opportunity to chide us for not taking care of our health, or for overworking ourselves at office, or for generally being lazy and impatient.
A few days ago, around mid-night I received a text message from my friend informing me that her mother’s long battle with cancer was finally over and that she had died of cardiac arrest after fighting for a week in the ICU.
I froze. You can never prepare yourself to hear the news of your close friend’s mother (howsoever ill she may be) passing away, someone who has watched you grow from a carefree college girl to a mother of two kids. Not knowing what to say, I picked up the phone and called my friend who was still at the hospital for the final formalities. I don’t know what we spoke of. Or, whether we just stayed quiet!
That Ganga ghat of Haridwar, where she took us for the holy dip and the evening aarti, will now receive her ashes. Life seems to have come full circle in death.
I have spent the last few days trying to remember the last time I met her. I can’t recall.
Losing someone dear makes you realise the fragility of life. The thought that come what may, you can never meet that person again. Never watch her walk around in her starched cotton saree, or scold you for not eating meals on time.
The thought that now when you visit her house, you will always be stung by her absence. That now when you meet your friend, there would be no discussions around her health and the condition of the disease. That your friend, who has seen you through the thick and thin of life, has lost her mother, who was also a mother figure to you!
Life indeed is short. And often snaps without any warning. More so in this COVID-19 pandemic when we cannot even meet for one last time those who have departed. Won’t this world be a beautiful place if we meet people imagining that was our last meeting? So that we can be slightly more warm, and gentler towards others!
Be kind. Spread love. Smile often. Because one day we will also join the departed, but still live on in people’s memories.
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