Her house was a magical kingdom. Quilts could be turned into caves while me and my brother became lions, even in summer afternoons. Sarees were weaved through rusted door loops, and we would swing till our bums were sore…or the saree tore. There would always be ‘mangsher jhol’ for lunch, and multicouloured pickes. She sat there patiently while I chose my favourite pieces and my brother kept asking for endless ‘alus’. In the afternoons, while she lay reading the latest issue of ‘desh’, we were allowed to make tiny ugly idols by digging out mud from very exquisite flower pots, or pluck bonsai oranges and try to make juice. When our mothers found out, and our cheeks had fingerprints...we could always run to her...hug her and say…’ ma ke boko’. She smelled of talcum powder and keo-karpin hair oil.It was our sanctuary. She was our sanctuary.
On birthdays she gave us twenty, sometimes forty shiny five rupee coins in tiny beaded pouches...we felt we could conquer the world with our treasure. As I grew older I discovered other treasures… her treasures. Old faded copies of Shakespeare, O Henry, Jane Austen and Wordsworth with her pencil scribbled notes on the margins. She sometimes read out to me…entire hardbound novels…mostly Bengali ones which she knew I would never touch otherwise. In a few years I started reading out to her on my occasional visits... my favourite passages, from my favourite books. She loved Gone with the wind.
I lived with her for a few months when I was in college, and in those months I got to know a whole new her. We chatted late into the nights. She picked out matching earrings each night for me to wear the next day. I sang old hindi songs for her and sometimes she recited poetry. I heard reminiscence about her childhood, mom’s childhood and mine. About cooking for her family since she was six while her mother nursed her next, about having just one dress and shivering in the cold when it was washed, about finishing graduation with brilliant marks and then going on to get two master degrees, about running away from home to marry a man 27 years elder, about teaching in two colleges in two shifts and raising three kinds and four sisters…about her struggles and her victories. ‘Your life-story can me made into a film’ I always said…she laughed out loud.
I left the city the next year, and the year after that she came to live with us. I met her on visits home. She sat reading in her room- any book… every book…news papers, magazines, even packets and scribbles on medicine covers. When I went and hugged her, she smiled. Her eyes glittered…she kissed my forehead, but never called out my name. She took long baths, had lunch with us asking stubbornly for very specific items and multicoloured pickles, and then went in for a bath again. She slept with a pink quilt, even in scorching summer afternoons. Sometimes we told her stories that she told us, sometimes I sang old hindi songs for her…she just smiled and stroked my hair and asked me to sing it again. She was suffering from Dymensia.
Yasterday night I flew down to see her one last time. The woman whose life I still believe can be made into a beautiful film.
Love you dida..and always will...