I’ve always considered myself to be a level headed person and so I’ve been a little embarrassed to talk about my reaction to the totally unexpected news that my mother had passed away.
I rushed to kochin from kottayam early morning when my brother informed me that amma was hospitalized in the small hours if the morning with a chest pain. He assured me that the doc said it’s not really serious. Since she had had a heart attack ten years earlier (after which she’d been perfectly ok), I thought I wont wait for further development. She might need me to look after her.
She was in the IC unit when I saw her. She looked pale but was cheerful as usual.
‘Any pain, amma?’ I asked.
‘In the chest, but doc says it’s only muscular’
‘I’ll go home and get your lunch’, I told her when the sister told my brothers and me that our time’s up and we have to leave the IC unit.
“What do u want amma?’ I asked.
‘I’ve no appetite’, she said. ‘Anything’d do.’
“Shall get you your favourite stuff and kanji’, I told her.
‘OK’, she said smiling.
As we were about to go she asked, ‘Cant one of you stay with me? ’
‘What for ammachi?’ asked the chirpy sister. ‘So many of us are hear to look after you. They’ll be outside. We’ll call them whenever you want to see them. They’ve taken a by stander’s room”.
‘OK”, said amma shaking her head in agreement and smiling at all of us.
That’s the last I saw her alive. Looking back, I feel she knew her end was near – and the pain was bad. Just like her to take it all smiling.
I went home-prepared kanji, bitter gourd thoran and tomato chutney – all her favourite and, with my brother, came back to the hospital. The visiting time was 5 o clock.
“Amma’ll really enjoy this hot kanji and her favourite dishes.’
‘We’ll make her eat it straightaway”, said my brother.
“Yes’, I said as we entered the hospital compound.
My younger brother and our friend were standing outside the hospital entrance from where they could see the gate. They didn’t move as we walked towards them. They faces were unsmiling. Even these unusual signals sent no message to me for amma’s death simply did not figure in my scheme of things then.
We approached them and my brother looked at us and said ‘she’s gone’
‘Where?’ I asked perplexed.
‘Amma died 15 minutes ago.” (Those were not days of cell phone).
I heard him. I felt nothing but a great worry took hold of me. What am I to do with the kanji and curries I’d brought? Who’s going to eat it? Oh my God, that was a real problem, I thought.
I could think of nothing else. The kanji I carried for amma was really troubling me.
Nothing else seemed important at that moment.
I remember raising the kit with the tiffin carrier in it and asking, ‘What will I do with this kanji?’
Our friend quietly took it from my hand. My brother stretched out his hands and gripped me above my elbows. He told me later I was swaying but I don’t remember feeling giddy or sick.
I still feel foolish when I think of my concern with the kanji. Today I realize that it was the way my mind protected itself from the impact of the shock – by deflecting itself to matters trivial till it was ready to absorb the shock.