I maybe one of the rare fortunate people who had two mothers in his life. One my biological mom, who I called by her first name “Sheela” till I was 11 years old, the other was “Aai” who was my neighbor next door. Our families had the bond that was created over 3 generations. She saw me as the third generation and she saw me. She had opened her heart, her home and family to me.
I did not know people could be otherwise when I was young. Looking back this was the best gift I received as a child. Unconditional love.
I used to sleep, eat, bathe, be at their place anytime I wanted to. Especially when I wanted to run away from my sister after a fight or when a scolding by my parents was due.
Aai knew me well, knew my tastes, saw my character and stood up for me. When my father used to go on a harangue while scolding me, she was the only person who could manage to tell my father “That’s Enough” and he obeyed. Everyone knew where she was coming from, Aai had the most integrity of anyone I have ever met. She held honor and integrity to be supreme. She had led her family through hardships by doing everything she could and people were in disbelief of her efforts. They still are, however she had that strength that you read about only in novels these days.
I was very close to her children – they were a little older than me and we used to play board games, play dice, cards, go on family vacations together, I was always included by every member. Her husband Dada used to tell me stories of “Sindabad the Sailor” and teach me grammar meticulously.
Aai used to peel fruits for me, give me an oil head massage along with the rest of her kids, used to always put a plate out for me when it was dinner time and afternoon teas were always to be had together and she used to get me my favorite biscuits to go with it. When I used to be sick with fever, I remember being fed interchangeably by my mom and Aai and my head lying on her lap as she changed the eau-de-cologne dipped cloth to cool my forehead.
She gave me the gift of being seen as a result my sense of self emerged.
I saw her last during late March ’08 in the hospital, her body had refused to work, she was shriveled up and she could barely breathe, she was in a lot of pain, I was completely distraught. Coming back to Bombay I went to the church she used to visit and prayed that she suffered no more, she did not deserve it at all.
Yesterday in the afternoon I was wondering to myself how long must Aai fight this, there is inevitable death and it should be a dignified one. Yesterday while leaving the apartment I found a dead pigeon outside my door, no idea how it had come in, but it probably had tried to fight it’s way out by the numerous feathers lying about. I took it as a sign of Aai saying goodbye. She loved me.
I won’t be able to recreate what I had, the openness, the security and safety that Aai and her family provided and I will always know what belonging means.
Thank you Aai.
May heaven be honored by your presence now.
My life would not be the same without you. I thank you for providing me with a sense of self. Thank you for your guidance, your strength, your love, your integrity. Thank you for seeing me, for standing up for me, for including me and making me a part of your family. For being there, for understanding, for showing me what strength and integrity is. For the nourishment in your care, the openness, the security and the solace.
My deepest gratitude for all the beloved times we spent together, the diwali baths, early morning alarms, my preparation for SSC, for the khatkhatah, for the afternoon tea and biscuits, for your unconditional love.
May your soul be in Mother’s care and may it find the comfort that you were seeking in your last few years.