It was a lazy afternoon, during our summer holidays, I hopped over to our neighbor Meera Aunty’s house as usual, opening the gate, I went in and rang the door bell. Nobody opened the door. I hung around for a bit, went over to her little garden of beautiful flowers – purple sweet williams and magenta zinnias were nodding to the breeze, right beside the huge papaya tree. We children liked a bush that had spread itself in the the little corner by the wall of her yard, laden with little pink flowers and leaves that made a snapping sound when held in pairs end to end. So, I plucked two leaves and started snapping them back and forth to entertain myself, like we kids did once in a while. I was hanging around, hoping that they would all be back soon.
To me, it was the most inviting house in the neighborhood, on East end main road, 9th block, Jayanagar. I always felt welcome there. Meera Aunty’s presence was like warm sunshine, she enveloped everybody in her light and cheerfulness. When I walked into her house, I always make felt so welcome, when she said, “Oh! Ish aao aao”, [come in] in a sing-song way. ” Kaise ho….”, ” kya khaya…”[ how are you, have you eaten]. No other aunty in the neighborhood could be half as nice as her. Her son, Ganesh and me played together, although we were three and half years apart. And we could play together without any curfews, as long as we took an afternoon nap, with her in the middle. She held our hands while sleeping and often sensed right-a-way, if either of us tried to sneak away to play.
We would play tag around the big long dining table that had blue crystal cut fruit bowl at its center. Her interesting looking wooden cupboard held many books and little treasures. I was intrigued by how the mundane became interesting. The Math tables from 2X2 till 18X18 were written on the walls with chalk, for a hardly 4 year old Ganesh! The walls had a red oxide coating, that was smooth like chalkboard, easy to write and wipe off, the floors were red too, they felt cool and inviting, especially in the summer. “Oh! Vasu-Baabu aa rahe hain!”, she would say with so much joy, every summer, before her nephews and sister showed up. She was delighted to have their company and looked forward to their visits, they came all the way from Bareilly, after a three-day journey on the train.
Meera Aunty’s sing-song voice was so reassuring and inviting to all the kids in the neighborhood, we all liked to surround her, when she came out while we were playing, as we went running to her with cries of “Meera Aunty! Meera Aunty!” She had a patient ear to listen to all our little achievements and complaints, to see our little scrapes and wounds, and empathize with us. In her world of castles and fairytales, everybody was good, nobody was bad and she did not like us bad mouthing anybody. She had a big heart, where loved flowed for so many people and it never seemed to ebb. She always taught Ganesh to be the better, bigger person.
Once while playing a game in the neighborhood, one of the girls bit Ganesh’s wrist, in a bid to escape from his clutches, as she happened to be the thief and he the cop. When he hit her back, she promptly complained to Meera Aunty and of course Ganesh got reprimanded, “No matter what she did to you, you have no right to strike her”, was Meera Aunty’s verdict. Unlike other aunties, Meera Aunty never sent me home, even when their family had to go somewhere. She often took me along, even if it was illegal, [only two adults and a child were allowed on the two wheeler scooter], she somehow fitted me in and had uncle drive through the dark lanes to get to 4th block Jayanagar, quietly without being detected by the police….Back then, 4th block Jayanagar was the place to be, it had a huge vegetabe market, Janata Bazaar and Kanti Sweets and other newer stores coming up..Besides, I enjoyed the scooter ride, and the breeze, it felt like an adventure to go on one, especially since Papa didn’t have a scooter; papa’s car seemed routine and boring in comparison..
It was at her house that I first heard words of another language – Tamil, “vango vango” [welcome], “Vokarango” [please sit] “Sapdiya” [ will you eat] ” Tayeer- Sadam” [rice with yoghurt]. How my continued visits and listening to the words became a part of my learning I don’t know, but that laid the foundation of my learning of Tamil, a new language, food and culture. On most evenings, there was a gathering of people at her house. Children, adults, maids, maid’s sister, everybody felt at home; as they sat and talked, with Meera aunty at the center of every conversation, infusing it with genuine joy and laughter.
Meera Aunty and Mummy; [she called her “Ish – Amma”], were very good friends, she often came over for chit-chat over a cup of chai and goodies. Krishna was her favorite God, a day before his birthday, she would draw little footprints all over the entrance and corridor of her house. We got goodies like rice krispy -jaggery balls, Mysore Pak, a delicious concoction of flour -ghee -sugar, brought over by Ganesh, early next morning. She made me feel really special by, talking about buying me silver anklets for months, before she bought them, for my seventh birthday. Then a silk pavade[skirt], for my next birthday. Every year, on my birthday, my mother was sure to receive a call from her, no matter where she was, she called, at times from a bed in the hospital.
She had a sense of childish delight about everything, even if it was bad news, she put a shiny wrapper on it. One evening, I rang her doorbell as usual, opening the door, she said jovially, “Ab Ganesh to bhagwan Ganesh ban gaye hai.” [Ganesh looks like the elephant God Ganesh] “Kaise??” [how] I asked. ” Woh dekho maatha phool gaya or muh bhi, bilkul asli Ganesh ki tarah”, [look at how his forehead and face have swollen up] she said, with a twinkle in her eye. Unbeknownst to me and our family, Ganesh had tripped and hit his head while running up the stairs to our house, and had limped back home. When I looked worried, she consoled me with a smile, by saying, ” Kal thak theek ho jayega”[ he will be fine by tomorrow].
So many memories of me accompanying her to “Nature Cure”, her favorite Spa, and buying puffs and potato buns from the bakery on the way back. I have a vivid memory of sitting in an auto and sharing slices of raw mango smeared with salt and chilly powder with her, for the very first time. I savored every bite of it, especially, because Mummy forbade me from having them, in her world, raw mangoes were meant to be pickled, not eaten with their skins intact. Soon, Mummy started accompanying us to Nature cure. The ladies would enjoy their steam baths and massages, while Ganesh and me happily skipped around making up our own games and playing, until we were forcibly given enema to clear our bodies of toxins.
My heart ached the day, they moved away to another neighborhood, that seemed faraway, but in reality was only about 4 miles away. Both my favorite aunty and best friend were moving away together. However, our frequent visits helped us keep in touch over the years. Whenever we met, 3 – 4 hours would fly by like magic. Meera Aunty was in and out of the hospitals a lot, feeling better at times and worse at other times but her disposition was always cheerful. Her mobility was increasingly getting limited, and to think of it, she was still quite young, only in her late 30s. When, she came for my wedding, she sat in the car the whole time, because other than getting out of the car, walking, sitting, standing, all of it had become much harder for her, and that was 22 years ago. Even though, she became practically bed-ridden, she was such a fighter, that one could never tell she was suffering.
On an impulse, I visited her, when I went to see my parents, last April. And for the first time, I had felt like she was straining herself as we reminisced “those old days”, while she still had the same cheerful disposition. Out of the blue, I got a text from Ganesh, about Meera Aunty’s rather sudden passing away, she was only 64 years old. It brought back a flood of memories; beautiful, happy times together. I am so glad and grateful to have had her in my life, especially childhood; that lovely fairy godmother who made me feel beautiful and special when I needed it the most. I guess she and my mom will meet up and chit-chat over a cup of chai or a tumbler of coffee …like they used to…
I had once read these lines in a book by Nikki Rowe and they come to mind when I think of Meera Aunty:
“She was like the sun,
She knew her place in the world –
She would shine again regardless
of all the storms and changeable weather
She wouldn’t adjust her purpose
for things that pass.”
And I have learned this the hard way, today, but I am glad I have
“Cherish every moment and every person in your life, because you never know when it will be the last time you see someone!”