Photo from Prakash Sastry's FB page
At first, when Usha called up to say that her mother was sinking, I felt very bad...I was leaving that evening for Madhya Pradesh, and was returning only after a week. Sure enough, when I returned from the forests, to a place where my mobile worked, I got the news that she had passed away.
I went down with viral fever, which recurred; this prevented me from attending the Vaikuntha Samaradhana, too. I felt really miserable. I wanted to hold my friends' hands at this moment...to take comfort from them as much as to comfort them in their hour of loss.
But now...I feel better about it. I remember Mami, not in the sad state of her health...but as a very strong pillar of her family and circle of friends. Let me reminisce...
At the beginning, of course, Mami was, to me, only "Prakash's mother" and "Usha's mother". It took me many years to realize what an excellent homemaker she was, and what a great "sahadharmini" for Mama. Their flat was always neat and spotless; there was always something that she would offer visitors She herself, was the same. A spick-and-span saree, hair tied neatly back in a plait, with perhaps a few flowers in her hair; face bright with sindhoor...and always, always, always, that welcoming smile on her face. Such unstinting affection. My heart overflows through my eyes, and I hear once again, her calm "Enna Deepa! Eppidi irukkai?"
What a great homemaker she was. She sent Usha for veena lessons, Prakash for violin; she watched with very quiet apride as they both became proficient. (In fact, I still feel that I rarely have heard the kind of "naadam" on the violin that I heard from Prakash.). She was patient and loving to Bhaskar, too, and his being "special", though it must have been quite tough for her, never saw her complaining or wishing that things were otherwise.
She supported Mama through his career; they never changed their simple living and high thinking. At every gathering, you could see her, well-turned out....and that affectionate smile.
I never thought to ask her about her life before marriage, or how she managed, coming to a very strange city all those years ago. For me, she was like a mother or an aunt...a wise, mature person, who always managed.
When they moved to Bangalore, they had intense difficulty with the flat they had booked, and she silently supported Mama through the years of struggle before they could move into their own apartment. I have never heard her complain. "That's the way it is!" would be her pragmatic comment.
She was an excellent cook. One of my great favourites was her "gasagasa" payasa...I used to joke about the ganja in it, and she would smile. She was never one to talk a lot, or laugh uproariously...but she always enjoyed the company of others. Did she sing herself? Did she learn any instrument in the time before she got married? Who were her parents? Oh...I never found out all this...I regret that now.
I got to know her more as a person (rather than "Usha-Prakash's mother" after they moved to Malleswaram. Even then, when arthritis gave her a lot of knee/leg pain, she tried to bear it stoically. She took care of Prakash's children while the parents went to work.
All through the time that Usha and Prasad went through severe health travails, she kept up her courage and hope. I remember telling Usha just before her major heart surgery at Vellore..."You will be out for the count, and fast asleep! I have come here more to be with your mother!" Which, of course, elicited another laugh from both of them. Usha's daughters were a source of delight to her, too. She would smilingly share some small anecdote of their mischief.
Bhaskar's passing away, and the manner of it, was the kind of tragedy that only she could have handled. What it must have cost her in terms of worry and emotional trauma..I can only guess. But she took that blow, too, that Fate dealt her. Dearest Mami, what a load you have carried in your heart...
When Mama died, something inside her seemed to crumble. That cheerful countenance was less so. But the affection never varied. I count myself so very lucky to have had that kind of unstinting affection and love, most of my life, from her.
Mami, I miss you more often than I would have thought possible. You taught me so many values in life, without a single sermon...you were the living example. Simplicity, competence, and wisdom...you were the epitome of these qualities.
So I am glad that I remember you as I last saw you...in full possession of your faculties, offering me some sweet which you had made.
I know that your suffering has ended, and that you are in a much better place now, looking down on us and blessing us. Why, then, are my eyes filling with tears?Why do I feel bereft?
Life has made me wary of rituals, so I am not unhappy that I could not attend the samaradhana or the homa that your children carried out in your memory. But your memory, and the memory of those happy, halcyon days in Calcutta...that is where you will live forever, smiling, your love reaching out to me, making me a carefree child once again.