‘Sometimes if you don’t get lost, there’s a chance that you may never find your way’
For more than forty years she had taken care of me, and not once had I said that I loved her. In our family, we don’t easily tell things like that. It is always in the background, and it is best left unsaid.
We are not a very expressive family, and I have not hugged her much. Some years back when I hugged her on impulse, she said she felt good. From then on, I have been hugging her every time I met her.
My father was a very straightforward man, and very little money was there to take care of us eight children. She was always careful that no food gets wasted. Feeding a large family of 10 was no mean business, but she always managed to feed everyone without complaints.
In fact, there were times when we had jokingly called her “Jesus” for her ability to feed the entire family with very little food - like some fish curry and a loaf of bread.
She used to make small dishes out of leftovers. One of her favourite leftover dishes was the “paniyaram” – the bananas which go very ripe that they can’t be eaten, she used to mash them into a pulp, add a bit of sugar, salt and mix it with atta and fry them as doughnuts.
It became a favourite dish between me and her, and since I was her last child, she always made it even with fresh bananas, just because I liked the paniyarams.
She was a pure vegetarian, but she always made very good non-veg dishes for all of us. On my birthday, invariably she would send my elder brother Sharo to get crabs – for she knew I loved crabs.
Only she could cook the crabs that way. I have traveled a lot in the last two decades to various parts of the country, but have never got to taste crab the way she used to make it.
When my father died, she took over the mantle of the head of the house without much ado, and did what was necessary.
For more than 25 years, she never forgot even one Ammavasai day. Every Ammavasai day, she would make pumpkin, drumstick leaves or agathi keerai, and offer them to the picture of my father kept in the puja room.
She would fast that day and would only eat a small portion of the prasad. All of us children would line up to pray and receive the prasad, a hand mixed mixture of all the rice and side dish that was offered.
That prasad always used to taste different. Many a time, we children have tried the combination, but the taste of her hand mixed prasad always eluded us.
Twenty years back, when I joined Railways, I was feeling lost being in a large organization like Railways. I wrote to her that I felt “lost”. She sent me a card, of a picture of a wooded forest, with the words, “Sometimes if you don’t get lost, there’s a chance that you may never find your way.” That card adorned my table for many years till it got tattered.
All these memories came flashing as I raced to towards Chennai, as soon as I received the news that she was admitted in the hospital and that her condition was serious.
At the hospital, I saw her connected with so many tubes and instruments. She was happy to know that I had come. She stayed in the hospital for a week and died.
Just the day before she died, afraid that we were losing her, I held her hand, and told her, “Ma, I want you to know that we all love you very much.” She looked at me, her eyes moistened, and she said, “Yes, I know. That is why all of you are taking such good care of me”
Now, it is more than three years since she died, and I am ever grateful to God for having given me the opportunity to say that we loved her.
Every now and then, whenever I miss her too much, I remember that day of having told her that we love her, and that gives some relief. Saying it when it matters has become a very important thing to me now.
Om Prakash works in the Indian Railways and is an avid blogger