The wall clock displays 3:45 pm as the phone rings. The ringtone sends a chill down the spine. An odd timing for a phone call.
A contact who rarely ever calls is what is blinking on the screen
Mom shivers as she answers the call and says, “hello?”
Mom starts screaming, “HELLO! WILL ANYONE SPEAK?”
The phone call disconnects and mom looks at me. She says, “Keerthi, I’m scared. I heard people screaming and crying in the background…”
I slam my chemistry textbook shut and sit upright. We both just stare at each other blankly, me seated on the sofa and she standing in the balcony
The phone rings again. Same contact. Mom answers the call with a shiver in her voice.
And after 30 seconds mom starts screaming. Tears stream down her face like a waterfall. I stand up immediately.
I know what has happened.
I go towards mom, eyes filled with tears and hug her. Probably hugged her after years because I’m not someone who hugs often. But I knew this is when I must.
She comes inside and just cries. Keeps crying and blaming herself and life. I’m in complete shock and honestly I was crying looking at her rather than because of what was happening. I can never see her cry. I cry when she cries.
She tells me to call dad up and tell him.
“Dad, grandpa is…..” I couldn’t continue the sentence. I didn’t have it in me
“Keerthi speak up! I can’t hear you!!” I hear him screaming on top of his lungs.
“Dad! We just got a call from our village in Karnataka…”
“Keerthi speak properly. I’m outside and can’t hear you properly”
“Dad a call came from the VILLAGE! About Grandpa!”
I was wiping the tears from my face as I said this because I had to speak clearly. He now understood.
Silence. Among the commotion all I could hear and feel was silence in that train ride. Neither did I know what to feel or how to feel. I didn’t know what to do. A strange feeling took all over my body.
I’m dealing with death for the first time in my life. I was going to see my grandfather lie still with his eyes closed like he was sleeping. Except this time, he wasn’t going to wake up.
My paternal grandmother did pass away nearly 2 years before this but it didn’t sting as much as this did. Maybe because I wasn’t that close to her as I was with my maternal grandparents. That’s what I believed then but as we arrived at the station I came to terms with the fact that the previous death did sting me as well.
I just didn’t realize it then because I wasn’t forced to face it so I did what I generally do – shoved how I felt right into a corner of my soul and went about my life.
This was different. I was now been taken to a house where I was going to see my granddad and family. Sounds normal except he is going to be lifeless.
I’d look at my mother and then look away. I had no idea how to expect myself to behave, what I would do.
I was creating scenarios in my head and was preparing myself for any sort of scene that could possible happen. But little did I know that no amount of preparation or imagination for that matter would ever make me ready for what was about to happen.
We got out of the car and I saw my mom’s elder brother standing on the porch, waiting for us. Mom runs up to him, hugs him and just bursts out crying and he cries too. Mom’s younger brother comes out, looks at them and cries too.
That scene was not at all close to all the possibilities that I had imagined.
My grandfather was nearing his eighties when he passed away. He had a natural death, a slow and very painful one. Painful for him and for the ones around him.
He suffered for nearly six months. In these six months his health deteriorated steadily and no one could do anything. From walking around aimlessly, he went to simply sitting. And from there, he retreated to his cot where he lay for nearly 4 months.
In his last days, he wasn’t eating. All this time even though he behaved like a small kid, he’d eat a little. But then he didn’t. And my aunt called us up asking us to come as soon as we could. To get our chance at looking at him for it could be our last.
The last time we saw him, he was all fine. He stuttered then, and walking was slow. But he was alright. Leaving the house, even in our wildest dreams we didn’t see this coming.
He was unwell and we couldn’t go to see him. Neither us, nor his two other sons. And we all wanted to at least get a glimpse of him. A last memory.
But that is life. Reasons upon reasons came up which is why we couldn’t go. Tried like crazy but it just wasn’t possible. All of them frantic.
At the last minute, everyone arranged it. Mom’s younger brother was going to leave on a Saturday evening and the elder one on that very Saturday night. We were going to leave the following Sunday afternoon.
The call that we all got?
It was that very Saturday. Before anyone could make it.
And that is why three out of his four children cried together even more than babies do.
It’s been over a year and the scenes following up to his last breath are still vivid in memory. Maybe, that’s what death is. Strange isn’t it? One minute they’re with you and the next minute, you have to learn to live a life without them.
I can only imagine what my neighbors in my hometown felt when their family member passed away. I saw him leave that afternoon. I turned around and that uncle smiled at me as he entered his van with other family members. Healthy and happy, being his goofy self he was hopping along with his niece in hand.
At 4pm, we hear – he is no more. Such a sudden death. And till this day, I can’t come to terms with the fact that he isn’t here anymore. I remember seeing him oh so clearly, the day he passed away. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that it would be my last view of him.
A visit to my hometown now feels incomplete. So used to seeing my grandfather being a part of my yearly visits, to now not see his wooden chair on the porch gives me this unsettling feeling. I recall the times when I was a small kid. A fussy eater, I would not eat rice which my grandmother would make me. Not being able to bear seeing me go hungry, my grandfather would ride his cycle all the way to the market just to get me a packet of bread.
I was too small then to understand at that time, but now it is these very memories I hold so close to my heart and at times tear up just remembering them.
All I can hope is that he’s out there somewhere watching over us and that we make him proud. That all the regrets he carried with himself about the life decisions he took, fade away and that at least now he doesn’t have to feel bad. That he did what he felt was best, and we consider ourselves lucky to have had his presence in our lives.
My baby cousin brother still believes his grandfather went to the market. He just hasn’t come back yet….