March 21, 2011. Just another manic Monday. I was running 20 minutes late to work that morning. Sitting stuck in traffic, I decided to call Amma for a quick update on how Appa was doing. I had talked to her the previous night, but it somehow seemed like ages ago. Amma reported that things were as usual – at least what passed for “usual” during those days. Appa had had a couple of visitors that afternoon and was resting. I told Amma that I likely wouldn’t call during my lunch break as I usually did, since I was already running late that morning. We agreed that we’d talk the next day.
At lunch time, I figured that my delay in the morning hadn’t set me back all that much. So I decided to sneak a call to Amma and Appa. I spoke to Amma again (Appa wasn’t talking much on the phone by that point) and heard Appa call out “Raji”. He was calling for Amma to help him get out of bed. Having been raised in an orthodox tam brahm household in the ‘40s, Appa was not given to public displays of affection or even to calling his wife by her name a whole lot. I teased them that it was all well and good that he called her by her name when they were on their own, and that I would see for myself how things worked when I returned to visit in June 2011.
I hung up and returned to my office, finished my lunch – chappatis and chow chow kootu (why does the mind remember such details?) – within 15 minutes, and got ready for an afternoon of meetings. The phone rang. Appa’s cell phone. My first thought was that Appa had probably fallen down and Amma was calling me in a panic. I was totally unprepared for what I heard next. It was Chittappa saying “Kavitha, Mani poyittan” “Mani is gone”. Just like that. Within 15 minutes. I could not comprehend what I was hearing. After repeating “what?” like a parrot to Chittappa a few times, I hung up after talking to Amma for a couple of minutes. I walked into my boss’ office and calmly told him that I was leaving for India. He offered to drive me home, which I refused. I drove myself home in a flood of tears. I called N and he came home immediately. We left for India with the kids within a few hours.
It’s almost a year later. Appa is never far from my thoughts. In the mornings, when I wake up before the rest of the household and brew my coffee. In the nights, when I have a quiet moment to myself before I fall asleep. When I take a little turn around the office block on my lunch break. Death affords a closeness that real life never permits.
I find myself greatly changed by the experience of losing Appa. I am a lot calmer. I don’t take people close to me so much for granted anymore. I try to hold my tongue when I want to respond with a snappy remark. I am not always successful but I do try. I give the girls more of my time and my hugs everyday. I am more easy going on others and on myself these days. I find more pleasure in the little things in life. I find time for things that give me pleasure – like reading and writing.
I try to stay in the present because that’s truly all we have. Just this moment.