Friday, August 04, 2006

My Great Aunt

My Mother's maternal aunt was deaf and dumb, she was born that way and just because she was special, she was her Mother's pet. There was no great love lost between her brothers and sisters due to the sibling rivalry - the other children were jealous because she always got everything and all the attention while others - all seven of them, felt alienated.

In my childhood, I always looked forward to going to their house in South Extension; it was a small barsati (a room on the terrace) which she and her husband had rented. The house was impeccably neat; shelves stacked neatly, photographs of her husband receiving various awards from Presidents and Prime Ministers of India proudly displayed and an array of potted plants on the terrace. Her husband was the President of the Deaf & Dumb Federation of India and my great aunt, being his second wife was suitably pampered by her husband. At times they had massive fights when the step children came to stay or visit and all those fights were executed at our residence where both husband and wife banged our dinner table gustily while arguing - my Mother once in a while tried to remind them that the table was ten years old but who cared!

Years passed, my father passed away, my Mother had to start working and there was no one to look after me (I was eleven years at that time). My own Grandmother had her life and duties in Calcutta so she could not come and stay with us permanently. It was a difficult situation but my Great Aunt saved the day by offering to travel all the way from Narayana to Defense Colony every day, cook and feed me and leave in the evening. For many months she made sure that I ate a hot meal every day after I returned from school and had a maternal figure watching over me while my Mother was away at work. I carried the house key as she could not hear the calling bell but one day I lost the house key and I remember banging the door for an hour before she opened quite by accident.

Later our finances improved and we could afford full time domestic help but she continued to come every now and then to check our well being. She always got some snacks whenever she came - without fail and I always looked forward to her visits and the snacks. She taught me sign language, she taught me to lip read, communicating with her was never a problem because she could read lips very well. She was a lively, aggressive and gutsy lady who could not care less if buses, cars or rickshaws honked and stopped in their tracks because she was crossing the street at her own pace. She would just show her hand and glare at the driver.

Her husband passed way mysteriously on a train, he was poisoned and robbed and one fine day her life changed suddenly. She had to return to Calcutta, her brothers and sisters tried their best to avoid her as they would have to offer food and shelter, she lived with us for a few months but we were a family of women and it was stressful for my mother to manage two elderly people. She moved to an old home and finally the step son who she had ill treated and shooed out of her domain offered shelter. Her health failed, she lost her spirit, she kept visiting us, she asked if we were all well and still she never forgot to get the snacks.

I got married; I had a baby while she became bedridden with old age. My Mother visited her sometimes and told me about how she was ill treated and neglected. My Great Aunt wanted to see my son and my Mother kept reminding me that I must go and show her my son. The line "Chele ke khub dekhte ichche kore" (I want to see your little boy) still haunts me for I never did make it, she died before I could visit her.

To this day I regret that I could not find time to go and visit someone who had left her everyday priorities and daily chores and come and looked after me when I needed her.


Nautilus said...

There are some things we can't help Chatter...

Just before I left for the US I was in Kolkata for a few days. It was a hectic trip, yet I somehow managed to squeeze out half an hour to meet with my Pishi & Pishemoshai who lived in an old age home. I was expected somewhere else, and kept looking at my watch the whole time. That very night, Pishemoshai an otherwise healthy man, had a massive heart attack and passed away! As if he was waiting to say good bye to me. The shock and the guilt is something I'll have to deal with the rest of my life...

Kausum said...

I have always thought about how we have become extremely busy in our daily lives. I sometimes feel, we can always make time for these things but never do it. We have become self centered, arrogant, pursue just our own objectives without thinking for family.

One of my professors used to say "Only a busy person finds time", but I dont think I ever made time. I have never been able to attend a single wedding in my family after my 12th. I had been busy, I had to cancel tickets. Its a running joke in my family, that they do not expect to see at my own wedding.

When, I was in India for a month before leaving for the US couple of years ago. My grandmother called from Cal and said, "Ek baar dekhte aashbhina amake, aibaare aami tor jonno gur-aam baniye rekhechi" (Would you not come to see me this time, I have made aachar for you which you like so much.) I did not find time. She passed away a year later, but she kept that aachar for me and told my mama about it. My mom brought that aachar and gave it to me which I brought it this year to the US. I used to remember that aachar, how I used to die over it, fight with my cousins, secretly eat it when its kept on the terrace in the summer. and now that aachar is in my kitchen and I cant touch it, I just ate a morsel but thats all about it. It just lies there and reminds me of my guilt everyday.

I have always said, that we work for our stomachs. Paapi pet ka Sawal hai. But at the end of the day is it worth it. Do you think, is this we want in our lives.

jhantu said...

Nice post, and in a way your tribute to her in a small way.

kavita Chhibber said...

I had sent you an Im also.
Will you please contact me at

ichatteralot said...

@Nautilus: I have become better at understanding the necessity of honouring sentiments after this incident - it eases the guilt a bit

@Kausum: The only way to ease the guilt is to find time for all these little things. I still remember grumbling when my Father was coughing very late in the night and he quietly got up and went to th enext room so that people sleeping were not disturbed. The next week he died - its still difficult to forget but I try to be sensitive to other's distress and try my best to contribute.

@Jhantu: Funny I thought of her and wrote about her on her death anniversary - I did not have a clue about the actual date of her passing away.

@Kavita: Thanks for dropping by - I have sent you a note.

Anonymous said...

havent received it. Please make sure you spell my name correctly.People forget either one h or one b :)

indianpeppone said...

Really moving account....

Life is full of such moments that v wanna do different in retrospect... The only q is whether v realize when a similar moment reoccurs???? I have been guilty of commiting ...repenting and commiting again...then again repenting...weird

Kausum said...

I think, the best way to move forward is to learn from our mistakes and let us give time to everyone.

ichatteralot said...

@Indianpeppone: Just learn o be aware and listen to your heart. The decisions made by the brain are devois of emotion and have the worst possible results

@Kausum: Totally agree and it works if one practices it

eve's lungs said...

Such a thought provoking beautiful post . We have all been callous and plain thoughtless at times . I remember balancing my little ones, my family , my Pishi and Pishamoshai and my maashi . I used to get mad at times and I have been callous and thoughtless also although I loved them deeply and they, me . I still have to come to terms with my acts of thoughtlessness towards my mother . Maybe they were not very important and all children take their parents for granted but I still cannot come to terms with my guilt feelings .

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful. The waft and the weft of the years; time going its way and the change of the generations.. Amazing guts some of the differently abled have. I am so honored to know someone who is very similar wrt approach to life..


ichatteralot said...

@Eve's Lungs: The pain of guilt can be only eased by doing what one should have when one gets a similar opportunity.

@Austere: Thanks for dropping by - and for a beautiful comment