Saturday, October 9, 2010

"The Portrait of a Lady" Revisited.

"Well, once, I had killed a snake, and put the snake in Monali's (Mom's sister) drawer. There was quite a lot of noise from her side of course, I laughed and ran for it as soon as I heard Ma coming. I climbed the tree and sat there. Ma was so furious, that she didn't realise that if she climbed to the first floor she could have whacked me with a stick easily! Instead, she threw her chappal at me! Forget hitting me, it almost hit Monali when it fell backdown! I cracked up some more in the tree..."
I laughed along with mys iblings as mom recalled that "fateful" event. I imagined a younger Ma (my grandmom) racing around the house with a chappal in her hand and chucking it at a teenaged mom. I smiled inwardly.

Onviously, the lady in my imagination had no idea what God had in store for her.

Smt. Shailaja Patankar. Commonly referred to as Ma in my household, as that's what mom called her. Apparently, they had had muslim neighbours who called their mother "Ma" and it was picked up from there.
Ma was a beautiful woman. I saw all her old pictures recently, and black and white or not, she radiated beauty and intelligence of the purest kind. Although she was very young when she had gotten married, I'm sure she had been mature beyond her years.

She had been a wonderful sportsperson. Her mother had been an associate of the Maharani, and due to her sports ability, she got to frequent the Palace for games of Volleyball and the likes, in her childhood.

She paid tremendous attention to the education of my mother and her sister. She didn’t get to finish her education, but that didn’t mean they shouldn’t. When my aunt, Monali Maushi, was doing her architecture, Ma made an ingenious drafting table for her, involving bricks and a drawing board.

Ma ADORED gardening. I guess she found solace in her garden. She single handedly maintained the most BEAUTIFUL garden I have ever seen. As I write this, I can smell the mogras in her garden, and feel the chafas on her tree. I can remember countless times when I was little, and I sat next to her in the mud, playing with ants, while she loosened soil, planted saplings, removed weeds, all the time muttering to herself, and talking to her plants.

She had a different nickname for all of us…
I was Vinkie, Srushti Dinkie, Shrey Shambhu, and Rudra (my cousin) Nandu. She stuck to them like glue :D

When we used to stay in Kalyani Nagar, many a time and oft, Ma would take me out in the evenings. I still remember how she would mutter prayers while she bathed, and when she came out, she’d still be muttering them. Then she’d put on her flowery saree, with a sleeveless blouse ( I used to think she was SO “in” :D) and I can literally smell the talcum and the moisturizer called “Charmis” she used to apply. She took me out, no matter if it was just for buying groceries. Once, she asked me, “You want to ride in a new rickshaw?” “which rickshaw?” “That,” she said pointing at a nearby six seater, “ is a dukkar rickshaw.”

I still call six seaters dukkar rickshaws to this day.

I made a lot of trips to Ahmedabad from Baroda by bus with her. We would pass the National Institute of Design. “Maahitiye vinkie? Ek divas tu ithe abhyaas karnaar. Mama pan khub drawing karaaychi. Mi tila kadhi NID exam nahi deun dili” she said. At that time, I guess I was too small to get it. “You might not be my only grandchild, but you were the one who made me a grandmother.”

When I went to Baroda during my vacations, I used to sit in front of the TV every evening at five, to watch the Little Lulu show. I really REALLY loved that show, with the curly haired girl in thelittlered dress, and the fat boy Tommy (who I always hated!) When I used to switch on the TV, Ma used to bring me Parle G and Bournvita and used to come and join me. Soon, she knew the story too. Baba (my Granddad) once told me that she sometimes watched it when I was in Pune, coz it reminded her of me.

But as they say, “God gets jealous and weary of too much prosperity somewhere.”

We first started noticing the signs of the illness when she began doing the same chore around thrice a day. If Baba said anything to her, she’d retort and snap at him, so he stopped saying anything. If you pointed out that “Look, the plants are already watered. You’re going to do it again Ma”, she’d say “Oh did I do that already? I think I’m getting old,” with a smile.
We initially only thought it was age, or too much work. So it was ignored.

Soon, it started getting worse.

She began to cry at the drop of a pin. She would throw tantrums if anyone would tell her she’s doing something wrong, the perfectionist that she was. Baba would tellall this to us on the phone. Soon he started getting weary of her, and couldn’t control her anymore. So they moved into our house in Pune.

She started repeating one sentence over and over again. It used to sound like she was muttering to herself. She lost a TREMENDOUS amount of weight. Because of that, she looked like she had grown shorter by a few inches. We got it confirmed by a neurologist. It was Alzheimer’s.

I was in the eleventh then. Around the time they moved into our house, I started losing interest in academics. I started spending a lot of time in the DPS library, during breaks, and whenever we had free lessons, trying to find out more about the disease.
All we could do then, is try not to stress her emotionally…. And wait.

She lost her joyous nature. She lost her ability to express emotions. She would stuff her mouth with food, forget how to chew, and try to talk at the same time. She would drink water, with almost no water going into her mouth, and water falling out from all sides. She forgot how to put on clothes, and how to bathe. She forgot she has to comb her hair. She forgot everything in a very small span of time. I can’t even recall how short that time was. And how very scary.

Soon, she forgot my family. She only remembered me. Vinkie.

From when she would get up it was “Vinkie la zaaychay na?” “Vinkie la jevan de na?” “Vinkie la exam aahe na?” right down to the evening “Vinkie la class aahe na?” “Vinkie yetiye na? Vinkie?”

She scared the hell out of me once, when I emerged from my bus in the afternoon, and saw her standing on the road in her nightgown. She rushed over to me caught hold of my hand like a little kid, and I took her home. I don’t think I ate anything that day. And spent most of the night sleepless and in shock.

The next day she did the same. And the next. And the day after the next. Soon, I started locking the door from outside when I left for school, just worried that she’d go somewhere, and forget how to come back.

She stopped eating. I had to feed every morsel into her mouth and say “Ma eat” and pretend like I’m chewing something so she could imitate me. I had to pretend to drink water so she could imitate me. I had to pretend to sleep so she would lie down next to me and imitate me. I stopped going to school at that point. It was too much for me to take.

One day, she woke up at three am, and came up to my room where I was awake studying. “Vinkie… architecture cha form laaglaay na? tula architecture karaaychay na?”
I calmly led her back down and put her to sleep.

Baba told me the next day, that she continuously bugged him all day about how I “need the arch form” and how “the dates will slip by”. By this time, I was worried beyond limit.

Soon, she forgot all the elementary things too. She couldn’t tell when she felt like excreting. She couldn’t tell when anything happened to her, around her. She was like this hollow being. With no soul. Hapless. Helpless. And I could do NOTHING but WATCH. I had watched a flower deteriorate in the worst way possible, and seriously, could do nothing.

On my birthday that year. Second of September, I called a few of my DPS friends home. She realized there were people at home, and came out. There was pin drop silence, as she sat down on the sofa next to Aneesh. She patted his thigh and looked at him.

And smiled. That was the first time I had seen her smile since she came to our house.

Soon, Monali maushi decided to come to Pune to pick Baba and Ma up and take them to her house in Bombay. We dressed Ma up in a beautiful Salwar
Kameez. It hung loosely on her, but still looked nice. They left for Bombay that day. September the Seventh.

The next evening, eighth of September, we got a phone call that she was no more.

I didn’t know how to react. I was sad. Terribly sad of course. But in a way, I was happy. She had escaped from the most TERRIBLE disease I had ever had the misfortune to witness.

I realized then the importance of Khushwant Singh’s words as he described his grandmother,

“She could never have been pretty, but she was always beautiful.”