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Sunday, July 13, 2014

N Kaaku

February 10 2014

Today , I strike out a name and number from my contact list.  I lost a  friend  today. 

N Kaaku was a little younger than  my her early seventies.  She and another neighbour, Rao Kaaku,   a 80 year old , were my closest friends.........friendships , relationships, attachments...they are rarely limited by  contraints of age.

Every day, the three of us would exchange a couple of phone calls.   " काय केल , काय खाल्ल  ... काय स्वयपाक , कुठे  गेली होतीस .. एक संपूर्ण    दिवस फोन नाही तुझा  .. कारण दाखवा..."  I was expected to report to the two , everyday. They expected because they cared. I was only too glad to. I  love sharing, I love listeners. Their age and experience made them a calming influence on me. 

I had met N Kaaku for the first time,  when my son was born.  That would be   a good 21 years ago. She was a neighbour I had not known existed. It turned out that her husband and mine, belonged to the same village in Udupi.

She was not a beautiful woman, in appearance. But she was a beautiful person, full of life.  At 52, she sported huge golden rings  in her ears.  Sometimes they were replaced by jhoomkas. She wore 2 bindis on her forehead. a round 'tikli' and a vertical arrow above it, arrow head and all.  She was always well turned out. 

Over the years, I got to know her better, and got to love her too. She was a fantastic cook. She was born a maharashtrian.. CKP to be precise. The community is known for its love for food , food which looks as good as it tastes. A casual mention of a favourite dish and the next day a dabba full of the goody would be sent over.

She loved conversation.... "बोल ना … सांग  ना काही मजा मजा".    She was  the life of the women's group in the building.

She shared recipes … and was encouraging when they bombed as I tried to replicate them. Summers would see her buying whole spices, roasting them, getting them ground to specification in the mill... washing the glass 'barnis'.. drying them in the sun and burning an incense stick inside them…" आमची आई अस करायची  ", she would explain.   Little packets  of the masala would reach me in a few days.

वडी च  सांबार ,  वालाचे भीर्डे ,  खव्याच्या  तिरंगी करंज्या , उकडीचे मोदक, मेथीच्या दाण्याची उसळ … all CKP specialties which I had relished as a child , I got to dig into them once again, thanks to her.

And one day all of a sudden her husband passed away. It was a Tuesday.. September 12 2006. He had been a little unwell with diabetes issues. In the afternoon she called in a panicky voice…" घरी  ये पटकन ..  Kaka is not feeling well.. I don’t know what's happening… send for your husband".

 I rushed to her .  Kaka was very ill.  He was doused in sweat, unable to communicate.  He was only huffing, unable to get a word out of his mouth.. his eyes widened in panic.  We called up the doctor, he asked me  to pop a spoonful of sugar into his mouth… I did it and kaka pursed his lips tight.. I was cradling him in my arms.  He was foaming at the mouth.  Their son and other neighbours had arrived by then.  Kaka  was suffering, probably in pain… tossing his head here and there .. and suddenly in one instant his eyes rolled upwards, one hiccup and then there was silence.

CPR  was tried… mouth to mouth resuscitation too… and then he was taken to the hospital where he was declared dead before admission. 

I sat with her.. for the next 3 hours… I had not known of Kaka's passing away.  I kept reassuring her that everything would be all right. When relatives started assembling at her home, she knew something was seriously wrong. 

From then on  she was a different person.  Managing to sound happy in company, she gave up on herself.  Later , a fall at home,  made her lose whatever little confidence she had in her. Between us friends we took turns being around her.  Soon she assured us that she would be fine. 

Cooking had been  therapeutic for her. Now that she was home-bound and her movements restricted, after a fall in the bathroom, she would only reminiscence of the good old times when she reigned in the kitchen.  She would talk about the stream of guests who arrived at her home and loved their stay with her family.   She would tell me how she slowly and surely, mastered the Konkani cuisine.  She would talk about the food her mother cooked.   In the monsoons, she would long for the  fare, the rains brought in....pausalyatlya bhajya  - shevli, phodshi.....  Whenever I went to Vile Parle market for my veggies,  and spotted a vasaiwala I would call her up .  With instructions from her on the phone,  I would select a couple of bunches for her. Those would be duly cooked and packed for us -" सॅंपल आहे , चाखून  बघा " she would say.
Diabetes was her bane.  She would visit her doctor each month, and while returning, she would gorge on a Bhelpuri, or a South Indian meal, or even a Kolhapuri thali, in Vile Parle.    " आज आम्ही एक मजा  केली... शर्माजी कडची  भेळ खाऊन  आलो", she would begin enthusiastically as she told  us of her exploit.  Little thrills of having broken rules....childlike.

N Kaaku had passed away after a brief illness. She had been hospitalized .  It was for a cough and a  fever which did not subside, and then her sugar levels had spiked up too.  Chest infection set in soon.  The lungs too were affected.  Things did not look promising for her and her  condition deteriorated rapidly.  I had had a feeling that she would not survive this round of hospitalization.

She did not.

I was at her home today, with her family, waiting for her to be brought to her home from the hospital, one last time. 

The ambulance arrived and she was carried in to the drawing room, wrapped up in the white shroud.

Her face was then uncovered. It was a sight I knew I would never forget. This was not the woman I had known. This was not the friend I had known , loved and now lost.  The hair knotted in a bun on top of her head, - a style she would never have approved of.  Her jaws closed shut and  secured with a bandage which went around her face and tied in a knot above her head.

Death had taken away her breath, her life.... she would never smile now, never speak... that mouth forever shut now.  The eventuality, the finality of death, of her death,  came to me.   It was then that I broke down.

A revulsion...for life…. after everything, if it was going to end like this,  then why the incessant quest for all things beautiful. Death sure was not. ……….Why?    living itself was futile if everything simply  ended like this. 

I listlessly scroll  through my contact list on the phone , my fingers automatically resting at her name on the list.  It is  her lifeless form ....that image of her in the shroud , that came to my mind's eye. Every moment I thought of her, it would be that face which haunted me.

I long to hear her voice, her words, her reprimands.. her complaints that I don't visit her often enough, her lament that she was unable to cook my favourite dishes....

There are no conversations amongst us friends today.. phone calls that used to happen every 2 hours.. to ask about her, to talk about her, to pass on news of the progress she was  making on the health front...... our phones are silent.  The few calls made - to check on each other - were mostly silent too... 

Today I have nothing to do..... no prayers to a God, to take care of her , no pleas to get her  to recover...

देव स्वतः वर काही घेत नाही ग, ना जन्म.... आणि मरण तर कधीच नाही. ती रुख रुख तो आपल्याला  देतो . मन  चाचपडत  बसतो  आपण फक्त, Rao Kaku  said..... her frail hands  holding mine... tightly.

21st February

It was the day of her Vaikuntha... when she ascends to Vaikuntha,,, the 12th day of her having passed away. The rites and rituals were being performed at her home. Her family and friends were around.  She had touched  many lives and they were all there..recounting anecdotes.  It was then that my gaze fell on a large framed picture of hers. It was a beautiful picture of her.  Her smiling face stared back at me. It was probably clicked at a wedding... she had her finery on.  " Houshi" was an adjective everybody who knew her had applied to her.  She had had  a zeal and a lust for life.   Here she was,  just as I had known her.  I could not but smile back at her , at her picture. 

Now when I think of her,  it is her smiling countenance , like the one in that picture in the photo frame, like how I had always seen her , which comes to my mind.   A smiling face, a happy face.

I understood now, my family’s displeasure with me when we had posted an obituary for my father in law. He was 76 when he passed away. He had been a handsome young man, and one with an imposing personality even at 65 when I had joined his clan. In the last one year of his life, I had seen him ageing... daily....wasting away , bit by bit,  with Parkinson's.  The photograph I had sent to the newspapers was taken at a family function,  just a couple of months before his death . His face had looked gaunt  .... a sad  caricature of his former handsome self. 

The family was unhappy with my choice of the photograph and I had wondered what difference  a mere picture could make, when the person himself is no more… Aren't his memories. intact within you?  So what is is the issue with a photograph? 

All of us   carry memories....impressions, related to the people around us .  We carry a mental picture of them in our mind  and in our heart. Those pictures do not age, while we all do.

The mismatch is there.

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