The days are flying by. My little baby (I do hope for both our sakes that the baby is a tiny one. Eases the pain, I hear) has travelled half-way down to the exit door. My mind finds it difficult to think of anything or anyone for long besides the swollen peripheries, sleep, food, and the process of birth. The immeasurably deep love I see in my parents’ and husband’s eyes when they see my belly swell and wiggle and move with the movements of the one inside it gives me the kind of rush I doubt I’ve experienced before.
My need to write a finished product continues t0 remain a need. It makes me uncomfortable that I haven’t finished what I had begun writing. The aim was to complete it before I drown myself in all things baby. My parents say it’ll be more fun eking out time when the little one is here — and that I will take out time, when the time’s ready. I hope they’re right. They’ve mostly been right about what I will do in the future.
The garden is defiantly growing against the sweltering heat. The roses and jasmines and plumeria are blooming. Gulmohar just might bloom soon! The carps and guppies and pink/yellow zebras swim deliciously in the lily pond. The lily is almost settled. The grass is green. Potted plants show promise of very green and blooming times ahead. My little world is almost ready to receive what is set to become its primary focus.
Amidst all of these things that make my days a happy, interesting, uncomfortable blur, I was forced yesterday to think of something that invariably breaks my heart into tiny little pieces which quickly rejoin to force me into a state of feeling immense core-love, core-sadness. Is there even a word to describe what I feel? Let’s see.
A cousin’s dying of mouth cancer.
My eldest cousin was born to my father’s oldest brother and his wife when my father was thirteen or fourteen years old. They named him Baba for convenience at home and that’s how we’ll talk of him here. He grew up amongst a lot of cats — my uncle’s and aunt’s favourite pets. I haven’t much idea about what his life was like as a child, or, indeed, how he was as a child. Except that his brilliance was never a matter of doubt. And that from being a highly pleasant and agreeable boy, he turned into a mocking, reclusive, eccentric teenager.
For us younger progeny of the family, Baba bhaiya has been a person of tremendous curiosity and wonder. It is easy, though, to forget the wonder and simply laugh at his eccentricities and atrocious habits. There never was much interaction with him, because he hardly ever came to the annual summer vacations the larger family indulged in. The only time we got to meet him was when someone died, because he never came for any weddings either.
My little-girl eyes were awed by his strangeness. A short man with a gay paunch and a pencil-handlebar moustache, he could pass off as any other money-guzzling Indian bureaucrat. But he commanded more than that. I found his eyes immensely fascinating. The little imp inside them kept smiling at the world, almost mocking it for being so naive. His mouth, coloured with tobacco, never uttered anything that wasn’t carefully thought of — a derisive jibe, or a nonchalant repartee. I was scared of him.
When we grew up into young collegiates, my brother and I, we were thrust into a situation where we had to host Baba bhaiya for a few months in our home. It promised to be a nightmare. He spat tobacco in the wash basin, demanded a thermos-full of tea every morning, took us to our little town library to borrow books on our card. Books he’d never return. Shonu was in a more torturous situation — he had to share his room with bhaiya. Not only were his habits incongruous to our sensibilities, his talks were disturbing. When he spoke of the society, he mentioned how shallow it was and yet he took undue advantage of his position in the police department. When he talked about all the mechanical models he’d made with his own hands, he sounded like a boy who’d found a treasure he’d never trade and yet the very next moment he derided the lack of our knowledge in the most un-little boy-like way. We were flummoxed.
As the months crawled, we discovered the little, sweet, loving boy in him our parents assured us about. He took joy in our company in his own way. Advised us about career and following our hearts. Spoke with my brother about just what intelligence is — a state of mind. Took pictures of me that somehow never showed my gawkiness of the time. I can confidently tell you that this changed my point of view towards him. All the pictures he took of me show a sweet Priya, the way I’d have liked to see myself at the time. I don’t know how he did it, all I know is that he took minutes that seemed like hours behind the camera, urging me to be patient. I suppose he just wanted me to stop being so conscious of attention. And yes, he did give me one the most unforgettable compliments of all time, too.
We were out shopping. I’d strolled adrift from everyone. As I approached his vehicle after a while, he said something like this, “I was standing here all this time, hoping to find a girl worth looking at but there was none. But then I saw this beautiful girl walking towards me and thought there’s hope for this town yet. Guess what, the girl turned out to be you.” This still makes me smile.
About three years ago, his father had a stroke and has been bed-ridden since then. His mother, my aunt was already severely arthritic, unable to move without a wheelchair. There was no way they could have lived in another city, managing at the mercy of a nurse or deviant housekeeper. So Baba bhaiya and his wife had them shifted to where they live. Members of the family and friends went from afar to meet my uncle and aunt. Whenever they did, bhaiya made no appearance. He refused to see anyone, making flimsy excuses like it was his bed time or just sent a rude “He doesn’t have the time” message. Gradually, people stopped cursing him for being a snob, stopped expecting a little courtesy from him. Time flew. Until it reached yesterday.
His wife called up my father to seek help in solving a dilemma. She revealed to him that bhaiya has had cancer since the last two years, and that he’s stopped responding to chemotherapy recently. The doctors have given up. “What do I tell his parents?” She wants to know. Like us, they’ve had no inkling about his situation. They’ve probably stopped wondering why he hasn’t gone and met them in years. His daughter told me last night that he was probably expecting the treatment to work, so he didn’t tell anyone about the disease and had forbidden his family to talk about it either.
Well, the treatment didn’t work. And he’s on the brink of leaving this world he’s so uniquely pooh-poohed.
His aunts and uncles are all filled with pain and sorrow, for they’ve seen him as an infant, and then as a young, handsome, pleasant boy. They’ve loved him, those memories remain. What do I feel? I’ve mostly seen him as a tobacco-chewing, podgy police snob with his thumbs firmly wound around the belt loops of his trousers, the heels of his zipper shoes churning the ground to help him ease his very excited mind.
And yet, I’ve also seen him as a shy man who blushed when you wanted to take his picture, and a giving brother who went around looking for the best gift for his cousin sister on her birthday. I’ve also seen the extent of love and commitment he’s shown for his ailing parents, taking difficult decisions even though he knew it would cost him a lot. What do I feel, I wonder.