The phone rang around 8:30pm (Austin, USA, time) on October 12. I was busy teaching my son math so my wife, Suchetha, picked up the phone. It was my nephew, Sandeep, and she asked, “Sandeep what’s up?” Next, I saw my wife run out of the front door with voice cracking, “what are you saying?” My heart immediately started to pound and ran out yelling, “what happened?” I realized that it was the “Dreaded Call” that I was mentally preparing to hear, but never willing to accept that the day would come. Suchetha turned the phone over to me only to hear that my “muddhu” (cute/loving) “amma” (mother) of 82 years passed away.
I called home immediately and pleaded to see my mother’s face on Skype. My other nephew, Anoop, set up Skype and saw my mother in the living room. Holding back my tears I exclaimed, “She is so calm and peaceful!” Her face radiated the same love and innocence. I just wanted to hear her voice one last time and say goodbye. Rest of the night, we watched visitors and observed the last rites including the burial on Skype. Life became too virtual for comfort, but the alternative of not seeing her one last time was too much to bear.
So many thoughts crossed my mind during these hours. Why am I referring my mom in past tense? Why are we referring to her as “the body?” I thought to myself I must resist that. Did she suffer? Where is she now? Is this a bad dream? What if the hospital she visited the previous night caught the symptoms? Guilt started to creep in. Why didn’t I call her last few days? What is it that was so important that I didn’t call her? And most importantly, she sacrificed so much for me and yet I did very little to take care of her when probably she needed us the most. My mind was turning numb, confused, and guilt-ridden.
As I sat in the plane on my way to Bangalore, my mind wandered around trying to rationalize all these events. Probably, it was God’s way of ending her day-to-day drudge. She was fiercely independent and never relied on anyone until the end. She took care of my father – now approaching 90 years – like clock work. May be, it was that the God fulfilled her desire to end her life when she was fit and independent. She said repeatedly that life should end when one is strong and not when one turns weak, immobile, and dependent. She often told us that she had fun and enjoyed life despite numerous hurdles, problems, and sufferings along the way.
I began to think that she had a full life and deserved eternal peace from the daily drudge. After all, we all desire such a life. Briefly I felt guilty rationalizing this way until I realized my father and rest of the family thought the same.
As I bid goodbye to my amma, I vividly remember her tender loving face saying goodbye to me every time I left home. It was 33 years ago, leaving home for engineering college for the first time, my amma said goodbye to me at the Majestic bus stand in Bangalore. Tears welling up she gently waived her right hand while covering her mouth with her saree and acknowledging my goodbye with a gentle nod. Nothing else but those eyes and gentle nod can so powerfully symbolize mother’s love. That scene repeated hundreds of times as recently as last July. However, the last few times were different, as it was getting difficult for her to come to the airport. The last time, her right hand waving gently from behind the iron bars (for security) in the verandah of our house with tears welling she shook her head to acknowledge my shout from the front gate “bye amma.” I felt horrible that I am missing when my aging parents needed me the most. I would lie if I say it didn’t cross my mind if this could be the final goodbye; I am sure she had the same feeling.
My mother grew up in her grandparents’ house after she lost both her parents as a toddler. A strict grandfather did not allow her to study beyond 3rd standard (my mom said he believed girls should be at home!). But that never limited her acquiring knowledge and reading difficult-to-read novels or spiritual books. I don’t ever recollect engaging her in deep discussions about spirituality; she kept her understanding very private. But her behavior exhibited much greater understanding. She reflected a much deeper understanding of the meaning of life and how to deal with life calmly and quietly. That was indeed her strength in that cuddly face. Her empathy and compassion were unmatched. She embodied the notion of tolerance and love.
She understood life and people so well. When I complained about something she would say “You won’t get everything you want. You have to deal with that.” If I told about people’s rudeness, she would coolly say “There are all types of people on this earth. You have to accept the reality and deal with that.” When undesirable things happen, she would simply say “It’s God’s intentions that we won’t fully understand. If we recognize that we will be fine.” When I lamented about some death or her own health, her response was “everyone has to leave this earth. You just want to leave when you are strong.” When I was upset with someone, she would say “everyone doesn’t have to like you. If you want to get back at them, they will get back even worse. Just learn to ignore.” Her best line is when I was angry about something - she would say “if you become “wrong wrong,” it won’t get what you want.” She repeated the word “wrong” twice for some reason!
She loved to entertain guests and particularly all those relatives she grew up in various villages. Any relatives dropping by unexpectedly would excite her much! Of course, we would whine when it affected us watching that exciting finish in a cricket match. She never hesitated to prepare food for any guest who comes at any odd hour. She would never express tiredness or complain. She passed away with the same spirit. She chose to get up middle of the night to sleep on the sofa in our living room to quietly and calmly leave this world for a better place.
It is now over 10 days. I have come to accept life and feel comfortable that my mother fulfilled her purpose on this earth and that she is at peace and free from daily drudge. Her life lessons are profound and will continue to guide me how I live, even if I cannot practice those fully. She will remain with my thoughts and me, just the same way I lived away from my “amma” for decades.