Aai has always surprised me as a person and as a woman. I was worried for her when Baba died. I didn’t know how she would cope. Baba was her life, it almost felt like Aai existed for Baba alone. Dada and Amma are a very made for each other couple, very much in love, so are my uncles and aunts, my cousins and their spouses, a few of my friends and theirs but Aai had a certain kind of devotion towards Baba which I hadn’t seen in anyone else. Baba was in the literal sense her lord and master, something I detested in her .. But ya.. And one morning like that Baba was gone without even a hint and I started worrying for Aai. But that woman as I said has always surprised me. That very night after we finished his last rites I was in the house and as is practice I went to wash myself. When I came out the people around ridiculed me for taking a head bath! I was quite ignorant that as per their customs I wasn’t supposed to take a headbath until the 12th day. Aai who was sitting down in some corner still in the grips of grief stood up, took my hand and walked into another room and said, “take your bath everyday, after everyone has slept, let nobody but you know you did, I may not be able to protect you once again from their ire if they found out.” That was the first time, I was very grateful for having this woman on my side in this alien territory. When all women gathered the next day to take apart her mangalsutra, I felt so violated for aai. Why should she be removing a chain that is so close to her because baba had gone. The women including her very own daughter were adamant saying it was a ritual. Aai on her part was in much pain, clutching that chain, she wasn’t ready to part with one of the last physical memories of baba. I kind of fought with these woman and told them to back off! It wasnt my place to say it, but I could not bear see her going through that pain. She said, “if you promise to stay with me here I’ll not remove it, but after you leave tomorrow they’ll come at me again, and even you wouldn’t be here on my side. But what is a chain anyway, baba will always be with me. Let them have their peace” so saying she removed it and gave it to them. When I met her later a year after, aai was all back to a different self, there was that emptiness baba had left behind, but she had recovered from it beautifully. She was the head of her household now, in charge of everything she had become sterner than her older self, something which I considered impossible then because in many ways she was Baba’s shadow.
I’ve had my share of mother figures in my life. Aai is one among them, who used to let me sleep on in the mornings whenever I was at hers, pack my favourite puran and puran poli whenever she made them. I hope she is well, woke up thinking about her this morning. The friend to whom she is a mother to and I are no more in talking terms! I have no clue how she has been, therefore. But I hope her blood pressure is under control, her tooth aches a little less and her varicose veins don’t hurt her that much at the end of a long day!
(Aai is mother in Marathi. If you have friends among maharashtrians they go Aaigha..)