DISTANT RELATION Silverman gave a final steadfast look at his father’s body kept on pyre. He flew from America only to have a last grievous look at his father. Suddenly, something choked his throat. Though his kith and kin were around, he felt all alone there. His eyes were not tearful and neither did he attempt shedding tears. Are tears that much easy to produce? A new generation has emerged who either know not to shed tears on the demise of their fathers or do not know how to cry at all for the great loss. Probably, weeping at times of sorrow has been listed under ‘immodesty’.
As long as their fathers were alive the sons remembered only the strict face that always admonished and taught them dignified demeanor. It is quite unfortunate that they get to see the kind face of their fathers only when it is lifeless. Death favours the dead, indeed! Death only brings sweet memories of the dead.
“After all is said and done don’t ever lay hands on my son” – warning the school teacher, buying the two wheeler through insurance loan, keeping the adolescent picture of his son beneath Tiruppathi Lord Venkateswara’s picture in his purse, sobbing while his son left for America for the first time…. all those thoughts came one by one tuning his mind to feel “hmmm.. Dad was a nice man”.
“In a few minutes, the body that gave me life is going to be incinerated at this crematorium. Yesterday –he was a lively human; today – a body; and tomorrow – a mere name. In this world every human turns into a mere name, in the end. The irony is that the dead one finally attains a ‘second death’ when the last survivor who kept uttering the name of the dead also dies, someday. That’s it”.
Sivaraman was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the heat and sultriness of the crematorium. He could hear his wife’s voice reverberating through his ears.
“You better keep a little away during the rites. Don’t come here with some kind of infection” – his wife ‘Cow’ had warned him to be careful when he left. ‘Cow’ was the nick name for Kausalya. Sivaraman, nick-named as ‘Shiv’ nodded his head to her words.
As an obedient husband he told them “better handover the ashes to me in a polythene bag properly packed with a rubber-band”.
The skeleton turned into embers.
Refusing to shave his head, he pondered for a long time and finally accepted to sacrifice his mustache (Tonsure and removal of the mustache after the death of the father is an age-old Hindu custom, representing grief for the departed soul). He then sprinkled the ashes of his father in Bay of Bengal, without even wetting his legs. When he returned home, his mother hysterically shouted “Sivarama……ahhh” and broke into tears uncontrollably.
Her pale body proved her to be anemic. Being a diabetic patient for many years, she looked fragile. Holding her cold palms he asked her – “Ma…how are you”?
“What to say…I am still alive…. I thought I would precede him but he overtook me”.
“What were his last words”?
“How will you survive when I am gone…” – her sick heart seeped through the tears.
“Why…. Ma… Am I not there for you…?” – he replied earnestly.
“No… Sivarama… No… you were not here; not for saving his life, but you were not near him when he breathed his last”.
“Ma… what to do… I am helplessly far away”!
“Yes.. it’s true… everything has gone beyond reach now…”
Even after everyone left their home, sorrow pervaded stubbornly refused to move away.
The leafless hibiscus plants and two coconut trees with dried out leaf-stalks also moaned the death of their owner, in their own way.
It was an old house; the paint in the walls has peeled off. Within the frame his father’s old-photo smiled through the incense.
Through the broken ceiling the iron rods were protruding that seemed like his mother’s skinny figure with protruding collar bones.
The words of his wife began to take shape up in his mind.
“If Amma is alone, she would certainly need a home; but if she is not here, where is the need for the home?***** ***** *****
Tears and sorrowful mourning naturally evaporate after a week. Amma gradually gathered strength. In fact, she seemed to have forgotten the sorrow of her beloved’s demise and began to worry about herself. She began to drink oats; carefully dipped the bread in sugarless coffee; smiled briefly like a sprouting leaf in a leafless branch of an autumn tree.
Slowly her son started his spade work.
“Amma… How will be alone here”?
“Do I have an option but to accept my fate, Sivarama? Of course, I don’t wish to live but certainly I lack the strength to die too”.
“Come, I will take you with me to America… Will you join me….? No… I know…you wouldn’t”.
She comprehended the crux of his reply that implied his wish, yet she pretended not to and looked at him strangely with a queer look.
“Hmmm.. it’s a’righ’…. How long am I going to live? Let me live here in this place, where your father lived”.
“What do you mean…Ma… alone… are you crazy? How will you be all alone? It’s just not possible even for a family to survive alone without the support of at least a few people, that too in Chennai. Moreover, you are a sick lone-woman”.
“Who’s there to support me?”
“Ma… the support won’t come to you… but you have to go wherever support is”.
“Sivarama… I don’t get you…”!
“I found a place for you Ma. They will take care of you like their own mother”.
“You mean…like you..”?
“No Ma, even better than me”
“The Fruit-Farm on the ECR Road”.
“Oh.. is that a commercial name for an Old age Home?”
“Ma…Worry not! It is safer than a home”.
“But…eh…what about this place… this home?”
“We think on similar lines Ma. When you yourself are not going to be here, what’s the point of having this house? I think we can sell it off”.
“Sivarama…! Remember…this is where your father lived.
Shrugging his shoulders and blowing a sigh through his mouth like a whistle, he touched the bony shoulders of his mother and spoke.
“Ma..Even the palaces of Asoka, Akbar and Rajaraja Chola had gone with the wind. Will this home where my father lived be stay put? This house belonged to someone else and now here we live…and after us… someone else would… this is the reality. Please understand”.
Listenin to his talk, his Amma was speechless.
India’s famous philosophies are handled brilliantly by criminals.
‘Let me think it over’ – his mother said innocently without knowing that he had already registered her as a new fruit at the Fruit-Farm!***** ***** *****
It was an old house located in a prime area. A corner plot it was in Kottur Garden; a 50 x 70 perfect rectangle. It was 100 sft lesser than one and a half grounds. It was known as a ‘hot cake’ long back but remained unsold. After the introduction of VAT, real estate had fallen; only builders are paying to politicians but the politicians have not paid to the builders.
Sivaraman priced six crores per ground and demanded nine crores for the entire plot. One of the builders came up to seven crores but Sivaraman wanted only a cheque payment for the entire amount.
“Brother… listen, do you know we are in India” – Builder asked him sarcastically. “I will provide a cheque payment for four crores and the balance three crores will be given as cash” he said.
“How to carry the cash?”
“Tell me which Country you want to receive it and I will do door delivery…. Dollar, Euro, Pounds or Dinar… what’s your preferred currency?
“Oh…great. Only Dollar, 17, Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, New York” – said Sivaraman.
Next day, ‘Cow’ sent him a message “Yes, I got it”.
The deal was done; the three months of his stay had not gone in vain.
Before leaving home, his mother said “Sivarama, my dear son, I have a wish”
She fell upon the floor where his father was laid and rolled left and right in the hall, emotionally and the river of her tears wet the floor. “I m leaving” – she uttered a meaningless phrase; she was leaving… but never to return. She gave a last glance to the hibiscus plants and the coconut trees.***** ***** *****
“Don’t worry Mr. Sivaraman. She is not just your mother, but ours too” – the guardian of the Fruit Farm told him. The other inmates of the home looked blankly which gave a clear account of their worthless sons.
Sivaraman paid sixty thousand as Advance money calculating twelve thousand per month, for a period of five months; the guardian added ‘medical expenses will be extra’.
Holding his son’s hands fondly “speak often to me Sivarama” – saying so, she caressed his chin. He simply nodded. She stood holding the pillar at the entrance of the home and stared at the hired car in which his son left. She stood with a raised hand hoping that he would wave at her when the car took a turn but the car vanished without pulling down the window. Slowly her hands fell back.***** ***** *****
‘Cow’ came to ‘JFK’ Airport at New York to receive him.
“Hi… Cow… how are you? How’s our child?”
“Well.. all fine”
“Money is safe?”
“You don’t seem a’righ’… what’s wrong?”
“Well, this three months leave, will have implications on the continuity of your service and might delay your promotion… isn’t it?”
“Hey.. silly, worry not. Will do overtime to compensate the leave”.
“Great, have you got me what I wanted?”
“Hiyyyoo… the sweet shop was inside a small lane in George Town; I walked miles and got it for you darling”.
After he bathed and sat at the dining table, she served sandwiches, bread, fruits along with black coffee.
“Where is the sweet I brought? Bring and serve that too”
“Sorry dear, those who bereave are not supposed to eat sweets”.
“wht….bereavement… Oh… three months have gone past dear. What’s wrong if we eat now?
“No.. dear, it’s only three hours now after your Mom has passed away”.
“What… what the hell are you telling?”
He pushed the plate and got up in shock.
“I got the news when you were flying above Atlantic. I didn’t want to tell you the sad news as soon as you arrived to make you upset and simply kept quiet.”
His head began to spin and holding it in his palms he sat down on the floor and rested his back on the wall.
“I did not tell you because I know you will be terribly upset and turn emotional. You are still under the Jetlag. Had you known the news, you would run to the counter and book a return ticket to India. One more expenditure – one more journey – and all the tiresomeness once again - Is it really needed? In any case, you mother is no more and is not going to come alive because you are running there by next flight…? Or, will they keep her without burring or burning? Is she the Lenin to be preserved in formaldehyde? Of course, I am truly sorry … she is my Mother-in-Law. But there is nothing called ‘American-sorrow and Indian-Sorrow’. It’s all the same. The loss is a loss, the pain is a pain and the sorrow is a sorrow. Now, come on dear… get up. Don’t be so upset. Let us think and plan how to do the final rites from here. Be practical Shiv… and don’t be emotional…see how to get the promotion.”
She comforted him and made him sip the coffee and acted quickly. She called the guardian at the Fruit-Farm House.
“Listen… you can deduct a ten thousand from the Advance towards the rent and complete the formalities of final rites in the balance amount of fifty thousand. In case the amount is exceeded, I will send it as dollars to your account.
The next day, at the same time, both of them were peering at the computer screen.
Amma was incinerated in skype at a distance of 13,462 kms between Besant Nagar Crematorium and Manhattan.
“Darling… take your tea… before it turns cold” – sipping her tea, Cow told him with overflowing love.***** ***** *****