For the love of cake

After I think the age of seven or eight, my relationship with my Mum became strained. I’d grown up, I could figure out what was happening around me and she was beginning to fall ill. The colour of my skin, also became quite troublesome for her as I grew older.

Hailing from a Sikh family, I was expected to be white, as milk and my skin and hair, have a life and mood of their own. Girgit ki tarha rang badalta he. Depending on how long I have been out in the sun, whether my eyebrows are done or not ( unlike my mother, I hate going to the salon) and if I’ve gotten enough sleep or not, I turn from wheatish to chocolate brown. So from 7-8 to 15-16, I was a chocolate brown colour, to my poor mother’s horror. She had to hear plenty from her family and I had to hear plenty from my brother and mum, ‘kali, Kali’ they would chant.

It’s only when I grew up, that I realised she didn’t know any better. I still have more than enough relatives, even friends, who look at their white skin, the way my mum would look at hers and think it’s an achievement. Thankfully, I didn’t grow up with a complex about it but I wish it wasn’t an issue. I wish we won’t have wasted time on so many trivial things.

Cuteness Personified

The cuteness quotient in 26 Hemkunt, has reduced to zilch, as the baby has transformed into something else. They say your loved ones turn into stars, I think our baby has turned into a rainbow or a butterfly.

The Beauty

Like I have SB and SC, two extremely stark personalities, my mum too, had many, many shades. Though, her darkness was all encompassing- with suicide attempts, violent behaviour and addictions always at the fore, her brighter side- the upswing, was what most people remember her by.

That’s a successful life, to not be flawless, to be quite imperfect actually but to love, so cheerfully and fully that the flaws seem inconsequential. If you ever want to know, how it feels to be loved wholeheartedly, obsessively and imperfectly, you had to be loved by my mum. Her love was full of sunshine and rainbows, with little dances and lots of kisses. If she loved you once, she would love you always!

There’s a song by Sheryl Crow, ‘are you strong enough to be my man?’. At the worst times of my life, I have listened to that on repeat (yeah, yeah, I kept believing in Prince Charming till I turned 35. Someone said something about finding a soul mate today and I said-‘ Mine’s committed suicide. He took one look at me and thought, ‘God, am I going to be stuck with this?’ Trust me on an incorrigible romantic fed on story after after story of family members, eloping, that’s the only thought that works) an umpteen number of times.

I suddenly remembered that song, today, when I was looking at mum’s pictures. It takes a special kind of man, to deal with a woman so full of spunk. I wish her companion would have been that for her but we all have our limitations. What she really needed she never got but surprisingly though it diminished her, it never did mitigate her love.

The calm before the storm

My Amma, had a very tumultuous existence. In the beginning there were a few happy years, though I was too young, I don’t recall them. I think like me, she was born with a void inside, that she kept trying to fill- with family, friends, medicinal drugs but she never could. Though, she smiled a lot, her eyes always wandered away, from people, like she wasn’t there, like she was meant to be somewhere else.

Prayers for me and you

When the heart hurts pray. Pray for your heart to survive the pain. Pray for the one who has departed. Pray that the one who has departed is happy wherever she is. Pray for the world to heal. Pray for all the other people who are in pain, may God relieve them. Pray for everyone you have ever loved, may God protect them in these trying times.

If you are a spiritual being, there’s an interesting app, I’ve been using Meditation +. There’s of course the Chaupai Sahab, which makes you feel stronger, during your trying times. But collective praying, in a jamat, is a powerful tool. In the times of social distancing, video calls, help. My Sufi friends were nice enough, to do a couple of sessions with me of the zikr on whattsapp and the ex assistant reads the Fatiha for mum. I try to follow, along.

These are troubling times, physically and emotionally for all of us. For some of us, it feels like the world has come to an end and this is when we have to remind ourselves, that, we are very lucky, to have all these luxuries. It’s not necessary that our heart will agree with all that our mind knows. It will want to wallow longer, get lost in despair, want someone’s hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, it will want to be ungrateful and childish. That’s when prayer helps, fake it( positivity, gratitude etc) till you make it. Sometimes working on the outside, helps to change the inside.

❤️

There’s a story, I heard about an experiment that was done with rice. Somebody took three bags of rice and started saying nice things to the first bag, nothing to the second bag and bad things to the third one. The bag to which good things were said, lasted longest and so on and so forth. You get the gist. Humans, animals and plants are like that. You can alter anybody’s behaviour by what you say to them, consistently. Words are very powerful.

With overly sensitive people, such as my mum, the change, was very dramatic. This understanding played a large part in altering our relationship, made us closer in her latter years.

Someone said something, about that to me today,’ how little it takes to actually please you, most people just miss it because you scare them away, with all your yelling’ that I realised, this trait of mine is so much like my Amma’s. How fierce, she was, when we were little! Though she was a hoarder, she loved things but nothing pleased her more than a smile or a kiss.

I remained locked up in a room today, trying to calm myself down. The praying, the books, the instrument calmed down my nerves and so the BP, was comparatively normal. My mum would gulp down bottle after bottle of cough syrup and lock herself up in a room, where there was no ventilation, to get away from the games people played. But I promised myself, I wouldn’t turn into that version of her. Plus, though she had a terrible temper, there wasn’t a vindictive bone in her body. I thankfully, have SB to count on.

The retreat in my case is usually a preparation period. The sharpening of the saw- cry, introspect, pray, talk to only those who can have a positive and healing impact on your existence. All of us thankfully, have a few people like that. In any case, this lockdown is a gift, from the Universe, to us and Mother Nature to heal ourselves, to understand that everything we need is within us.

P-S- The last person my mom saw, before she passed away, was my dad. A picture is worth a thousand words! No guesses about how in love she was with him.

2 weeks later

My Chottu

It’s been two weeks since you left. Your pink shawl smells of me and not of you, anymore. The blue and white frock, still carries your fragrance…a mix of dettol and talcum powder. At last I could get myself to go through you stuff. I don’t know if it was the process of trying to give some of your stuff away or being taken to the same hospital and spending two hours in the same ICU, where you passed away, that gave me some closure.

I think the whole episode, of my discomfort and the abnormality with my ECG was only, so that I could spend a couple of hours, reliving the day you left me. I don’t think that day will stop haunting me, but for now, my heart feels a little at ease. I looked at a video of your’s where you were dancing and I laughed so hard…only you and your son could make me burst, into those kinds of peels of laughter. It should be a sin, to be so damn cute!

Hope you’re having a good time. I’m not having, such a great one, without you. Remember, the first thing I used to do, when I would return home, would yell for Dusty ( when he was alive)..’Dustu bhaiya’ and he would walk down from the second floor, smiling like a jackass, thrilled to bits he was so important. Since, you shifted to the drawing room, if I entered the house and even if I went to the loo without meeting you, you would get so upset. The first thing I had to do was, come in, say ‘hi my chotte, I love you’ and plant a kiss on you. That would thrill you to bits and you always gave me the sweetest smile and would say, ‘ I love you the same’. I hate entering the house…it reminds me no one will ever, look at me and smile like that again.

P.S- Look at this photo, reminds me of what the lady at the parlour said,’ yeh aap ki mummy he, itni gori he yeh to!’ How amused I was and how offended you were.

Partners

My Chottu,

Sweet desire, called up, to say that I need to let go of you. I’m holding on too tight. You know how good I am at letting go. Not!

This is fourth time in the past twelve days, where I have woken up completely out of breath. Gasping for air, I quickly grab the oxygen can next to the bed. Panting, I make a call to the one who keeps saving me. It’s 5.55 a.m here and unearthly hour, there. ‘You have an infection, go to the loo and try to take out the mucus.’ I quickly apply some Vick’s, grab the toothbrush and go at it, back and forth movements till I start coughing. It’s quite poetic, a dog howls infront of our house, like it did a day before you passed away.

While I cough incessantly and the boy watches, (thank God for Whattsapp video) Bhaskarji rushes up, from the kitchen. The boy instructs, ‘sip on hot water, very slowly and then take a steam.’ Bhaskarji does the needful. I’ve survived another day.

You’re missing me, na? I can feel you calling me, I can feel it in my bones, ‘Diya, mera gheeya, please aaja!’ Not now, darling, not now! Just wait a little. I have to somehow muster up my strength and do something very important before that.

How it goes

Dear Love,

I hope you’re happy now. You have your mum with you. She always did love you more than me, I hope she is happy, too. I tried as much as I could to be you, I hope she thought it was good enough.

Last night I woke up, unable to breathe and with a pounding in my chest, not wanting to go on. Wanting to be with you both, more desperately than you can imagine. But as soon as I went downstairs, I heard the same jargon over and over again. ‘ Jab Diya maregee to…from natural or unnatural causes’.’ After hearing it for fourteen years and especially over the past six days, something inside me just snapped. The only person who never stood for this madness, is gone.

‘Ab to hum bilkul bhi nahin marenge!’ SB told SC. ‘ You wait, let me handle them and then you come out. Cry later, grieve later. I got to first keep us alive!’ Then I did something, I normally never do. I ordered plenty of meds and took them to ensure, I would be fine. I wish I could be with you guys right now…I wish I could sit by the side of the Dal and cry, the way I did when GD left. I wish I could sit there and pray for Mom, the way I have for you a zillion times. I wish I had a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold. But right now, I just have myself, unwell and more broken than ever, with people wishing me to be dead.

But I will be damned, if I let anyone convince me that I need to apologise for being a woman. I will be damned if I let anyone convince me, to crawl up in a corner and die. I will be damned if I allow anyone to tell me to shift to another city, so that they can get complete possession. I thought it was yours and I wouldn’t have gotten it any case. So, I thought let it happen, why should I stop it? But this incessant need to have me dead…I will be damned if the number of drinks two men consume, will become the deciding factor, of what happens to my mother’s memory.

God knows, I need to keep it together because this shit just got real!

Last moments

Answers! Would the guilt ever leave me…Ofcourse not. I was 9 years when my mother burnt herself and the first thing my Nani said to me was, ‘ Take care of your brother’. I tried and he died and then I was supposed to take care of his mom for him and she’s dead, too. So what will I do with all those feelings, I don’t know.

If you have ever lost anyone, please never ever go through the footage, of their passing. It’s by far the most painful thing you will have to do. So, why am I torturing myself. Well, one because I am a masochist, two I have a father who is an alcoholic ( which makes me the adult in the family), three I am unfortunately their only child!

Now, if you’ve always been the only child, you learn to navigate this world. You know how to deal with the sharks, that descend. But one is a bum and I was never supposed to get any of it. So, while you are supposed to be grieving in peace- there’s back and forth questioning, messaging, audio recording and what not! What all this world is capable off, I’m just realising.

In the past six days, I have been made to feel like crap. Ajeeb he ye duniya, ajeeb! One is usually, in fight and flight mode. My heart is not in the state to fight. I have a feeling, it is going to just give up, on me. All my excuses, for living are gone in any case.

Guilt

It took me 11 years to get over the guilt of not being there by my brother’s side. This one is another ball game.

Someone asked me, yesterday, was she on a ventilator? It sent my entire mind for a toss. Over and over again, I look at the video recordings. Trying to figure out what to do. What did I not do? What could I have done? Is there something? Was there something?

Did I miss something in a panic? Was she supposed to go on a ventilator? Why did the doctor not tell me? He told me she had one cardiac arrest and then another! Why did the Dr not tell me? What was I supposed to do in that case? I go through her reports again and again? Three hospitalisations in nine months, I frantically start looking at all the reports, all the tests.

Apollo, Sukhda, Ganga Ram, all of them. Did I abandon her at the last minute? What did I do? What did I not do? Should I have done something else? There are no answers! I can’t find any! So many years, so many hospitalisations, I did not leave her side. Did I abandon her at the last minute?

Shawl

‘ I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel like I can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. ‘

I still can’t manage to switch off the light. But I cling to the shawl, that smells of her and snooze. I sleep in another room, assuming I will feel better when I wake. But I feel worse. No one is yelling. It’s so quiet….it’s deafening.

This a level of loneliness, which is way beyond I have experienced , aur tanhai dost nahin lagti. My dad thankfully, has constant company and so does Bhaskarji, as mum’s nursing maid is with us. I was hoping the birds would keep me some. But turns out, I don’t make very pleasant company right now. Somebody said to me, ‘Now you must come to our house, you’ve gotten free, now.’ I tell her, ‘my mother wasn’t a burden on me.’. I always, always did and went where I had to go and never for one minute thought that I should stop my myself, as I never wanted to resent her. After all, we had a pact. She was supposed to live, for as long as I would.

She promised me…she promised me and broke her promises, as usual.

4 days

Ever since I was little, I thought I was prepared for my mum’s death. She was suicidal and in and out of hospitals, my entire life. After my brother’s passing, I would ask her again and again, ‘Mom when you die, what do you want me to do?’. I was asked to make her wear a particular suit and make her wear the first earrings my father gave her and a funeral, the kind that everyone has- with the wood, the shawls and the akhand path.

One’s not big on rituals. I don’t follow a religion , therefore I have no fucking clue, what the hell am I supposed to do. Other than the akhand path, we did manage everything else. Knowing her, she would have wanted it humungous.

Unfortunately, very few people turned up. Even the one’s who had been coming all these days, didn’t. But fortunately, they all prayed for her, thought of her and sent the nicest messages. Though, I didn’t organise it properly, I hope she looks down and knows what’s in my heart. I hear you can’t hide behind your specs, from everyone.

Kaisa lagta he

Kuch ajeeb sa sanata he.

Do din guzaar gayee, kissi ne awaaz nahin lagayee.

Ansu jaise mere aankhon me tham se gaye he.

Sirf mera takiya, comode, nalka, aur woh jisse mere aanso ghabrate nahin he, mere dar ki awaaz sunte he.

‘Shayaad mene yeh kiya hota, Shayaad mene woh kiya hota.’ sab waqt dimaag mein ghumta he. ‘Hyper kyuun ho rahee ho?Kyaa hua he?’ Woh puchte he. ‘ Meri Ma mar gayee he!’mera chilane ka man karta he. ‘Abhi mujhe bohat kuch karna he, yahaan koi nahin he!’ bol ke mein tal deti hu.

Pehli baar akelapan kat ta he. Koi coronavirus ke mahul mein, haath pakadne wallah hota. Kissi ki goud mein sar rakh kar, ghanto mein roti. Raat ko zorse kas kar pakadta. Ek raat mein jaise mera bistara, bada hogaya he aur andhera, zyaada gehra.

Kal raat mere pita, sharab ke nashe mein dudh, meri maut pe har waqt ki tarah discussion kar rahe the. Yeh ghar ka kyaa hoga, mere marne pe jisko diya jaygaya, usse bata rahe the.Ajeeb he yeh khandarat, abhi bhi, unhe ghar lagta he. Hum to pehle hi awaara the, ab to purre hi beghar ho chuke he.

Meri MA

Kuch ajeeb si natkhat he woh

Kabhi muskarati he, kabhi ruuth jati he

Kabhi cupboard ke upar, bacho ke saath

Khel te hue

Tokri mein chupp jati.

Sara din Bhaskarji, Bhaskarji kehte hue chilati he.

Mar musibat, dafa ho ja, aur kabhi galiyoon se bhi mujhe bulati he.

Par phir, diya oh diya, diya mera gheeya, I love you, Tu meri Jaan he, Tu mera imaan he, Bol kar mujhe har dafa manati he.

Ma jaisi kabhi nahin thi, alag jo thi

Na usse auro ki tarah pyaar karna aata tha

Aur na jeena.

Chotdi uski MA thi aur uske bete ke baad, me.

Param, uska ek lota pyaar.

Akhir chote ladke pasand karna humari khandani reet he.

Bhagaya tha usne apne pati ko,

Jo har dafa usse dekh kar boltatha

‘Fasa liya, fasa liya, mujhe tumhari Ma, ne!’

Aur me kehti ‘Kismat bana di meri Ma, ne!’

Par jab pyaar aata to kehte-‘ Queen of J&K he meri biwi, koi usse tang mat karo! Khyaal rakho sabh meri biwi ka!’

Ajeeb he ye ishq, na khush reh sakte the ek dusre ke saath

Aur na ek dusre ke bina.

At her brother’s wedding

My mother all decked up for her brother’s wedding, is trying to handle her rather stubborn child (me of of course…the other one was angelic ). To be fair, I was asked to pose much more than I wanted to, so most of the fit throwing happened due to that. On the left looking at the misbehaviour is my Masi who is a doctor.

MA-si

Sunit my Masi’s son, has been sending these gems from his Mum’s collection. In the first picture my Nani can be seen cutting a cake with Gautam ( My Masi’s elder son). On the left is Lily Masi (Rameena Sehgal) and next to her beaming, is my Nana. On the right side the elder sisters and their children. In the corner is my mother clapping and I think that’s me on the table and the woman on the left with her head covered is most probably Pabiji- our Nani, my Grandfather’s first wife.

In the one below, are my Mum and Lily Masi with their first borns- Gautam and I, who are just a few months apart. Apparently, when they were both pregnant with the two of us, they went gallivanting in autos through the pothole filled lanes of Jammu.

As my Bp shoots up uncontrollably, a friend questions what is hassling me this much. ‘After all you were praying for her suffering to not get prolonged ( as I do each time my Mum or anyone I love is in the hospital) and you can’t be this hassled by your mum’s side, what is it?’ he asks. ‘They call each other (these siblings) from the other side, the closer they are, the lesser the chances of them surviving without one another’ thinks SC.

‘Nothing…I don’t feel like talking,’ says SB as she tries to calm SC down.

Love and all

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Deepika Kochar

Since it’s our second anniversary and this is a special edition, I’m ditching the chronologic format of this section for this month. I share with you the images of the actual wedding. As an attempt to fathom the phenomena called love. Just a quick background-  A while before the marriage ceremony took place in front of the whole wide world; Mom and Dad had already secretly tied the knot  (the four pheras around the Granth sahib and all) on the insistence of my Mother. You see, my maternal side is hugely obsessed with looks and they didn’t approve of my Dad because they thought he wasn’t good enough. So Mommy darling, convinced my Father that this was the only way to get their approval. And that’s exactly how it played out. First, the siblings got to know and then the parents. Eventually, My Mom married the man she’s still obsessed with after 37 years of marriage. This is the reason why Dad says that the ‘aashiz mizaaj’ trait, of his children came from their Mother.

An Ode To My Mother’s Mother -Pabiji

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Pabiji.

My Maternal grandfather had two wives. The older one bore him one daughter and the younger one- five daughters and three sons. My mother was the daughter of the second wife. In every story there is a central figure around whom the plot revolves. But it’s the characters that stand on the sidelines, complimenting the central figure, who allow the plot to move forward. In my mother’s family it was Pabiji, my  Grandfather’s first wife, who kept everything going.

You hear stories of women who make extraordinary sacrifices for the men they love, who epitomize everything maternal. Pabiji, was an exemplary woman. There’s a reason she chronologically precedes my mother’s biological mother and this it-

My mother, the youngest daughter was the seventh child my Maternal Grandmother bore. Just a short while after her birth, my Grandmother, as was in common in the 1950’s, was on her way to have her Eighth child. Pabiji, took care of My Mother as her own. When Mom was in school, the teacher asked her to get a paper signed from her Mother. ”But my Mother is illiterate”, replied my Mother. Up until that moment she was unaware of who her biological mother was. The educated one was!

Pabiji, spent her life taking care of her Husband’s children. When they were young she nurtured them..when they grew older she loved them, like her own. When my Brother was to be born, it was Pabiji, who came to take care of my pregnant mother. Though, Pabiji wasn’t my Mother’s Biological Mother…I will always remember her as that.

Photograph Contributed by Ataminder Singh Bhasin

The Parents-Gurdial Singh Chhabra.

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My Mother’s Father- Gurdial Singh Chhabra

Gurdial Singh Chhabra

Gurdial Singh Chhabra, Akhnoor Road, Jammu. J&K.

Contributed by Ataminder Singh Bhasin (Neeru Bhaiya).

Text By Ataminder Singh Bhasin- He was our Maternal Grandfather. Born at Jehlum town (now in Pakistan) in 1910. His father was Sardar Malik Singh jee Chhabra and mother was Bhag Sudhi, fondly called Be-jee. He got his higher education at Govt. College Lahore. The entire family migrated to East Punjab during partition of India in 1947. Sardar saheb chose to settle down at Jammu, which was a good market then for their ancestral trade of timber. His elder brother Sardar Mehar Singh jee lived at Chandigarh, Younger ones Sardar Inderjeet Singh jee settled down at Bombay and his youngest brother Sardar Zorawar Singh jee lived with him at Jammu.
Sardar Gurdial Singh jee left us forever in 1982.