grief : my greatest teacher

On the 25th of March 2010, I lost someone very dear to me.

Maa was not my biological mother,
she was my dad’s older brother’s wife. I lived in a 2 roomed flat with 9 people as a baby, which consisted of maa, my uncle and their three children dad’s younger brother and an elderly uncle. We led a simple life, devoid of creature comforts. We were happy.

My earliest memories of my parents are in that apartment. Mommy giving me a bath in a plastic tub, while I splashed away. Me running to the front gate when I heard daddy’s heavy footsteps after a long day. Hearing maa laugh, hearing her sing, watching her roll doughs of flour into round chapattis.

This is very emotional for me to talk about. It’s still very hard to swallow that Maa is no more.

People have odd ways of ignoring the suffering of another. I remember going for dinners and outings with friends during the time maa was ill..I felt hollow and pained inside but nobody wanted to address how I was doing. And as much as I love my parents, they aren’t people I can just open up to. Mommy had a strained relationship with maa. Daddy buried his feelings with work.

When I was a toddler, daddy dislocated my elbow by accident when he tried to yank my stubborn bum out of the playground. Maa stayed up all night tending to me as I cried in pain.

I remember laying my head on her lap when we were at the temple. Maa would pat my back while I slept blissfully unaware of the loud temple bells and prayers.

I remember her teaching me silly songs, possibly self-concocted because they sure did not sound like Bollywood film songs. I remember that gleeful laughter when I sang for her and those loving, smacking kisses she would deliver on my cheeks.

My early childhood was spent for a good part with maa and family. At the age of 4, my dad, mom and I moved into our own apartment. Soon after, Archana (my baby sister) was born. Life was different, but there was always maa and family to look forward to every weekend or every other weekend.

Nobody in my extended family has had quite the impact on the person that I am, with the exception of Maa.
Even in my surly teens, it was a relief to spend time at her place eating her home cooked meals, laughing with my cousins.

I was 19 when I met Su, and introduced him to the family when I was 20. I was afraid of what Maa would think of him – she comes from a rural, conservative background. I was the first person in the family who did not agree to an arranged marriage, who married for love, who married outside of her community of Northern Indians. This was not earth shattering stuff for me, but it was all very new to Maa.

To my relief, she embraced him and was an active part of my traditional Hindu ceremony. I remember smiling as I saw her giving me her blessings. I remember her singing and banging the dholak on my henna night. I remember her taking me aside for quiet conversations, with me feeling awkward because my grown up self no longer knew what to talk about with someone who was so old-school. Also, admittedly I was swayed by mommy’s stories of her fights with Maa.

All of that awkwardness and getting swayed fell away the day my mom gave me a call and said “you know, maa has got liver cancer”.

Not Maa.
Maa? Liver cancer?
But she’s as strong as a horse! She only catches the occasional sniffles and suffers from headache. She uses Axe oil, or her funky smelling Indian oils then Voila! she always gets better.

She always gets better.
That thought, was what I held onto because there was no doubt in my mind that this silly cancer was going to be treated and she’d be back being her headstrong self in no time!

Maa was the LAST person I expected to succumb to a terminal illness.

So when she died 9 months after her diagnosis, I was inconsolable.

Maa seemed to know that her days were numbered. She would keep telling me to be happy, healthy and she would look at Su endearingly saying that I made the right choice with him because he was a ‘nice boy’.

My uncle and cousin brothers were involved in her care-taking. So I often got my news of how she was faring from mom, who got the news from the cousins.

Slowly, the deterioration from chemotherapy and the ravaging cancer cells caused her hair to fall. Her face that was the perfect oval shape became gaunt. Her loud laughs were not frequent, she needed to save her breath for fighting against the odds.

2 months before her passing, it had become pretty clear that she was not going to get any better. One month before her passing, the doctors said that chemotherapy was no longer a viable option. She was sent home to rest, with a cabinet of medication and regular home visits from the nurse. They had also given us morphine for when it was time to let her go in peace.

During the last few weeks of her life,
maa watched everyone around her closely. She brought my sister close to her, inspected her face and held it tight with her bony fingers as if to make a mental note of her face. She would smile softly when I entered the room and would often tell me to go on home, not to worry about her.

Going home after each visit left me in a state of anxiety. I did not know when I was going to expect THE call. That would tell me to rush by her side because she was close to heaving her last breath.

When that call finally came, I could not get to her side any faster. It was a true test of my patience..there was a traffic jam of all days, the lift was taking forever to arrive.

I heard wailing as soon as I stepped out of the lift and dashed to the flat.
I saw my sister crying, my nephews in tears, my father shedding tears. Was I too late? I will never know the answer to that question. By the time I had rushed to her side, she was not responding to our calls. When I whispered in her ears, tears ran down her face. Was that her goodbye? or had she already passed on? I will never know.

Everything after that happened in a daze. As per Hindu custom she was lain on the floor, draped in white sheets while people came to pay their respects. Watching relatives, her friends walk in crying was such a blur. I could not eat, I could not speak. I simply stared at her as I sat cross legged by her side.

She was cremated the next day, and sent off to the crematorium in the late afternoon. You will not believe the turnout. There was a line of people waiting to pay their respects from the flat to the lift landing which was a long walk from the corridor. There were well wishers communing below the block and at the next block.

I was not that surprised at this crowd because she was a people’s person. In her own little villager way, she formed many friendships and alliances. She was a prominent member of the temple. She was shrewd, helpful, loving and really funny.

Fast forward to December 29th 2010.
I am sitting by a pool, staring at my feet submerged in the water as I ponder over the significance of my 30th birthday. I was moving past the grief and veering towards acceptance that she was no more.

Maa’s demise was the catalyst for the series of changes that propelled me to conceive Curves Become Her.

I want to build a legacy like she did.
By legacy, I do not mean she amassed fame and good fortune.

I want my legacy to speak of lasting friendships, creating positive changes for people who observe my work, instil fondness in their hearts when they think of me, fostering meaningful relationships, making my voice heard beyond the confines of my web space. I want my life to have mattered to the betterment of the passions that drive me. Body positivity, plus size fashion, confidence, empowering women, animal welfare.

Because I want to meet Maa someday and have her tell me “You did good”.

I love you Maa.
I miss your physical presence, your hugs and kisses. I miss making you laugh.

I hope you are happy wherever you may be. I hope that you are healthy and robust.

Thank you for the memories and lessons. I am eternally grateful.


8 thoughts on “grief : my greatest teacher

  1. oh my goodness I relate to you so well. I lost my aunt two years ago and she was the same to you as your maa was just on a slightly extremely spoiling scale. . I know the feeling but I think its suppose to make you become stronger, you realize that you had a great person and still do in your life because their actions effect who you are along with your own personality. You take some things with sugar as I say and realize that without them would you have of done things as so? I would never say move on I hate those words I say keep the past alive but do something everyday that you are proud of that in retrospect they would be. You will always be the best in their eyes I feel you never let anyone take that away. great blog.

    1. Hey, thank you so much for sharing 🙂
      Yes I definitely have turned the grief around by making sure that I set out to do things she would be proud of. I don’t want her looking from above in distress because I fell apart. I’ve had a roller coaster ride of an existence and there is much to be said about the human spirit. I am so grateful for my resilience, sense of humor, my husband, my best friend, my pets. They keep me tethered to reality 🙂

      1. I’m glad to hear you say that.its an inspiration. I think we all need the things you listed to stay on the grown so to say.

  2. Hugs Aarti. I nearly came to tears reading this. In some ways it reminded me of the passing of my nan. I’m sure you will see Maa again one day, and I bet she’ll be proud of you. x x

    1. hugs back Leah.
      I wasn’t a snotty crying mess for the past few days but I definitely carried a heavy weight on my chest. She would want me to be happy. I am very thankful for newfound friends like you and my close friends, my husband, my pets for being so loving. She would be very glad to see that I am surrounded by really awesome people 🙂

    1. that’s okay, it’s the circle of life after all. I’ve had a lot of curveballs and tragedies thrown at me in life, but I stay strong 🙂

  3. She sounds like an amazing person and I’m sure she’s very proud of you. I think your building a great legacy with you passions with this blog.

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