I was standing in front of the closet exactly after a week. This was the biggest closet in our home and it belonged to my grandmother! A closet full of beautiful sarees collected over 80 years! Each type of saree made in India was there in this closet. Everything was arranged neatly on hangers, in plastic see through tubs and drawers. On many occasions I had helped her, or better yet, interfered in her closet arrangements. And if I may take the liberty, it helped her organise the biggest closet in our home to her exact requirements.
Unlike the common belief that living requirements reduce with old age, I have observed that it is not so. Of course, one’s needs might reduce but the requirements become more and more specific with old age. My grandmother required light weight sarees, woollen socks, cotton blouses and Nivea moisturiser that came in a white coloured jar. Now if we count, these needs are very few and really basic. But they are extremely specific! Anything other than that, DID NOT WORK! I did everything in my scope to ensure these things were always there in her closet! Due to her short height of 4 feet 11 inches, everything she needed daily was kept in the first 3 shelves from the bottom. A stool was kept near the closet just so she can access the shelves above her height. Which she never used by the way, because she had substituted me as her stool ever since I grew taller than her! I grew up in a joint family, so this isn’t a rare thing! Those who have lived in one know better that junior family members usually get substituted with a lot of things. Favourite ones are utility things like massagers (I am a ‘pro’ at it now, with all the practice!), earphones (Repeating everything in a loud voice, that includes jokes! Seriously!), reminders (The only way to ensure medicines are taken on time is, to hand them over on time!) and of course ladders and stools!
My grandmother’s closet looked very different than it did, just a week ago. In fact, I was the last person who saw it before closing it for that week. For a while I was unable to understand how can a closet untouched for a week can look so different? But how could it look the same? My grandmother was gone and she will never open it again! She won’t ask me to pull out things kept in the top shelves! She will never rearrange it! The closet was dead with my grandmother! I was holding the same bag that I packed a week ago and I was staring inside it for what seemed like infinity! It was me who packed her bag, which she happily took and headed for the hospital with a broad smile on her face! She was supposed to come back fit and fine! But she never did! I wished I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. Stop myself from packing, stop her from going to the hospital and stop her from dying! Stop everything at the point where she had a broad smile on her face! I wished, how I just wished for that one thing! I swear I would have never packed her bag had I known this would be the last time I was packing her bags. All this time, it was clear in my head that death is not in our control. In fact, it is the only certain thing in everyone’s life! Her time was up and no one could do anything about it, let alone me! On the brighter side, she was gone in a week and didn’t have to suffer a prolonged illness. A fit woman like her would have been miserable had she been bed ridden. But still, it hurt so bad that she was gone!
It didn’t take me much time to unpack her last bag! Unpacking her bag was in my reflexes, I had done it so many times before! But each and every action felt so different! Of course, she wasn’t there by my side with her narration of “what the trip was like!” I had hit my low point! Probably the lowest ever! The last time I had lost a family member was when I was 12 years old. I am 32 now and even though I have witnessed others mourning and losing a dear one before this, it seemed so different when I wanted to grieve right now! The time between creating memories to only remembering them, seemed to pass so quickly!
I don’t remember what came over me, but I thought of looking at this closet as a summary of its owner. A lot can be revealed about someone by just looking in their closet! She surely lived a fulfilling life even though she was a widow for the past 19 years! A mother of 3 children, grandmother of 4 girls and great grandmother of 2 boys! I could see the subtle signs of all of this stacked in her closet. Little square, black and white photographs of her yesteryears were stored in an equally antique envelope! A stack of old letters written by her late husband! Ah that handwriting, the context of those letters, the time dated before my birth! I couldn’t help but read a few of them at that very moment! It took me to the times before I was born in which I could literally see the lives of my family before me. How they found happiness in writing to each other, something our generation is sinfully devoid of! No one puts a pen to paper these days! One big tub was full of plastic bags, she truly fancied them! I remembered how she loved to store plastic bags and when someone needed one, she never found them! She had this talent of carefully storing things and then forgetting where she stored them! She was a singer, professionally trained for Hindustani Vocals who completed her Master’s Degree in it when her eldest son went to college! Those old notations scribbled during her lessons were neatly filed. A die-hard tailor, I don’t remember wearing readymade clothes till I turned 10 years old! She used to stich everything at home! Knitting was one of her skills that she continued even after she was diagnosed with frozen shoulder at 75 years of age. Her last knitting project was a few sweaters, caps and a pair of socks for her great grandson! All of this was there in one section of her closet. There and then, her entire life stood in front of me before the final curtain was drawn!
One hell of a patient she was! Extremely cooperative and a fast healer. Even during her last hospitalisation, she left our home smiling! Throughout her one week of recuperation at the hospital, she must have endured a lot of pain as it was a heart surgery, but she was extremely silent! She went over the board only once in her life as a patient, and that was on her last but one day! She practically pulled out the dialysis pipe from her body with the intravenous medicine attached to her hand! After that she was declared to be serious and doctors asked us to call the extended family for their last visits. She kept on sinking slowly till the next day when she was declared ‘dead’! She was gone! I am never going to see her again!
My entire family collapsed in front of my own eyes! I was broken just like them but there was one last thing remaining on her wish list. It was her decision to donate her body to a medical college when she would die. I was there to fulfill her wish - a privilege I will always remember till my last breath! I was there when she was growing old. I was there when she was sick! I was there to make her a great grandmother. I was there to involve her in the co-parenting of my child! I was there to pack her bags to go to the hospital to get well! And I was there to take her to the mortuary! I was there all the time and that’s what matters the most!
She made me realize that it doesn’t matter what we do when someone has passed away. What matters is what we do while we are alive and together! The memories we make that will last even after we are gone! Whether we loved in spite of the differences and we cared more than we took for granted! Can we find a purpose in every choice, compromise or compulsion that comes our way? How we should embrace the pit falls and choose happiness in the darkest of times! I promised myself to never forget these lessons!
One last time I looked inside the closet that was owned by my grandmother, bid it adieu and closed it shut!