She had two favourite children. One died young. And left her bitter. Vengeful. Shocked. She was afraid of evenings and bullets since then. But she often told me how she had it in her to make them suffer the same fate. Their mothers. The ones who killed her first love.
The other died. The youngest. “He left and took with him the light of my eyes.” And she wasn’t wrong. I see her greying eyes and blurred edges. The brown is not there anymore.
Life is before Ashraf and after him. I knew she couldn’t see me well. Only see my ghostly presence. I don’t know if it’s me who has grown a bit too much or her, who has shrunk down to half her size. If I could, I’d wrap Dadi up and keep her with me all the time. All the time. In the folds of my dress. Or the warmth of my bed. But I can’t. And she will never let me.
“Flowers still bloom every spring where Ashraf was bathed. He loved flowers so much. His child does too. When your jetha1 went to the ghat to ditch all the flowers from his janaza2, Ibu went along with him. He tossed the flowers into the river and kept saying - go flowers, go! Go to Abbu! Jetha picked him back up and came home - not knowing who was actually crying. The child or him.”
I feel like there is not enough air in my lungs to tell her - there are no flowers growing there anymore. It’s just grass Dadi.
She sits and talks like that. The voice I grew up with. Telling me I’m her favourite grandchild. She says her spine is bent now from the one time she was dropping me off to school, and tripped on the culvert. She doesn’t remember anymore. My school was 5kms away when I lived with her, and I always took a bus.
“He called me twice, thrice, everyday to just hear me speaking. To know I’m there. He loved me so much. I was his world oh my poor child..” It feels like an immense weight crashed inside me and made it physically impossible to not break down in front of her. I knew she wouldn’t see my tears though.
Love can do that to you. And it’s loss.
“I only have medicines keeping me alive now. And I have started forgetting so much. I didn’t eat the dinner I cooked last night, you know. So I fried that rice today. Do you want to have some?”
The taste hasn’t changed one bit. It’s on my tongue and I’m back there, 15 years earlier.
“I don’t like the medicines. And they’re expensive too. I feel like giving them up and going to baba (she refers to Ashraf here). But it’s a gunaah3. Allah will decide. Only he will decide. He took my baba’s life away and he will take mine too.”
She tells me of the time she went to see his place. “And Haji Ali4. It was a miracle in the midst of the sea. It was a miracle.”
I don’t tell her the waves don’t crash into the pathway so much anymore. I don’t tell her Dilli’s not near the seas. And that Ashraf hardly called her. And how she’d cry to me sometimes, because she missed him too much.
Humans are extremely fragile things. I could tell you exactly where in my bed I sat, what time of the day it was, and how I almost screamed because I thought the tendons in my heart could actually snap from the blow; when Abba called Amma to tell her of his death. Ashraf was so loved. But I do not think anyone of us ever got the chance to tell him that. I’ve seen Abba for almost a year after, having dreams where he reached the hospital before Ashraf went into the coma. And he heard his voice. Abba never did, and it broke him. It broke him. I know.
“I don’t know how the roads are now. I only go out to chase the monkeys when they come. They are just thirsty. It’s a great sunnat for Muslims. Giving water to the needy, anyone. Ashraf always did that. The birds, the animals, the slum kids near his flat. So kind my baba. She told me they’ve kept a room with all his stuff together. His tabla and his dotara5. He was so talented. So loving..”
I think she still sees the makeshift tent, the throes of people, and my father and uncles surrounding Ashraf’s kafan6 outside our house. Because I do. I remember shoving people aside to reach Dadi in the room she was carried to - every time I open the door to that room now. It’s there. It’s just there. The ghost of that day. I thought then if Dadi could even bear it anymore, when I felt so weak. We gathered around her and Ibu, and his mother - my aunt. It was grief. It was grief as grief could be felt. Nothing could be felt more in that moment.
“You all are my only joy, my grandchildren. Call me. Let me listen to your voices. I love hearing your voices.”
There is no tinge of accusation in her voice. Only longing.
Dadi will tell jetha that I got her a lot of stuff. And stayed the night. And talked to her the entire day. And that is what I do. The me of her thoughts. Thoughts that grow roots in her mind. Thoughts of what she loves but never turned real. Never actually happened. At least not in this dimension.
Dadi mixes bits and pieces of her reality with her dreams, and hangs on to them like the only strands of hope left in her life. An escape to sanity.
Humans are fragile. And death of someone loved teaches you that.