Dun, dun, dun.... That was the sound of someone banging on the heavy metal gate in the front. I looked up at the daily calendar and the clock on the wall to confirm that it was Tuesday 8 AM. I was almost ready to leave for school. I rushed to the Kitchen calling out "Amma, he is here." Amma was busy seasoning the sambar on one stove and stir-frying green beans curry on the other. "It is almost ready. Ask him to come inside into the shade Meena. I will be there soon."
I went outside to greet the old Thatha who was our guest every Tuesday for as long as I could remember and invited him to come and sit. He hobbled in slowly and lowered himself onto the bench in the shade. Poverty sat on him like a worn-out comfortable shirt and I remember him always wearing it with a contended smile. 'Tuesday beggar Thatha' as I referred to him, was a steady and comforting part of my childhood. Thatha always appeared at our door at 8 am sharp every Tuesday and my mom always served him a hearty hot meal on a banana leaf with a big glass of cool buttermilk and a banana on the side. Governments could fall and rise on a whim but Thatha's Tuesday visit and my mother's hospitality continued for years like clockwork and left a lasting impression on me.
This week, my mother drew her last breath. I stood by her bed with my sisters, held her hand and bid her goodbye singing her favorite hymns. As I watched her being carried out of the house for the final rites, I thought of her kindness towards the Tuesday Thatha and the very many people like him whose lives were made better by her.
My mother had the unique gift to connect with people around her. She genuinely cared about everyone's lives and wished them well. During our many walks to the local temple during my school days, people would stop her often on the street to share their problems and seek her counsel. They could tell her anything because they knew that she would keep their secrets. I have always been amazed by her talent at nodding. Her head never tired of the long hours of bobbing up and down listening to others' woes. It seemed to bring such comfort to people.
Daughter not getting married? In-law troubles? Rash in areas that shall not be named? Asking my mom to pray for them seemed to be the one-stop solution for many folks. There was an unanimous consensus in the neighborhood that the optimal way to reach God's ears was through my mother's lips. Folks were ahead of their times as outsourcing was actively practiced by our neighbors long before the word ever got popular.
No one entered our home and left with an empty stomach. It was just not done. On a normal day without visitors, my mother cooked 3 times a day for 10 people. That was just family, mind you. We were a bunch of picky eaters and I was the worst of all. I got hungry really fast and threw the most colorful of all fits if I was not fed right that minute. I don't know how my mom did not disown me for being such a thoughtless brat. I would have done it in a heartbeat. She always had my favorite food hot and ready anytime I came home, be it 5 pm after college or 10 pm after work. It might be a while before I could swallow tomato rice or vathal kuzhambu sadham without breaking into tears.
Outside of family, we had a constant stream of visitors at home while growing up. I remember her finally wrapping up things in the Kitchen around 3 pm one day to go rest before the evening chores started when visitors dropped in unannounced. Did she sigh and scowl like I probably would have? No. She greeted them with a big genuine smile and went back promptly to the Kitchen to whip up the next batch of food to feed them. Her famed hospitality continued even when she was sick and frail in bed at the end. When family members dropped in to check on her health, she called us closer with a weak headshake and reminded us to feed them before they left.
Talking about being in bed, 10 days before her passing, she was on oxygen support and had trouble speaking clearly. My sisters and I decided to take advantage of having a captive audience and practiced all the songs we were meaning to knowing very well that amma couldn't run away even if she wanted to. After one such singing session, she slowly opened her eyes and muttered something. As it was hard to hear her over the oxygen mask, I went closer to her and tried to listen. Still I couldn't make out what she was saying. 'Amma, what is it? Do you want us to sing you another song?' To which, amma slowly enunciated "Meena, put coconut oil on your hair and braid it. It is not like you have long hair. Take care to keep what you have." It took considerable effort for her to say it but that is my mother for you. Always caring like that.
Losing Amma 2 months after losing Appa, life feels strangely illogical. The 2 souls that loved my sisters and I without hesitation or reservation are no more. Navigating the rest of our journey without their physical presence seems like an impossible task but we have no choice but to try. We were loved and cherished every moment of our lives and I am so very grateful to both of them.
Hope you are together again on the other side with the rest of your family having a blast up in the Heavens. Love you both so much. We will see you in our dreams. Goodbye Amma and Appa!