A Shaft Of Light

My aunt, my mother’s dear sister
lies spent
suspended by distilled memories.
Where can the memories go?
The moments spent in that house in Mylapore
the grains of the wall and the dust of the tiles
settle in her blood stream,
the hollow of her  brain
rings with the voices of people-
her mother, her father, brothers, sisters
all her cousins, the beloved uncle.

The smell of boiling milk
simmering with cream
as her mother ladled in sugar and cardamom 
in the kitchen lit by glass slats fixed on the roof,
wraps her as a sheath in the ICU.
Unruly hair gathered in a long plait
skirt at her ankles
held by the strong breeze of a July morning
she walked past the temple to her school
squinting at the temple spires against the clear skies
watching the pigeons unsettle from their perches
the noise of the flutter of their wings
carried by the breeze from such a height.

From such a distance in life travels the breeze to touch her
in the hospital, pinned by tubes
images now tinctured with a dust of grey –
memories of her sick mother
breath rasping at her chest
as she lay dying in the room with blue windows
her lonely father slumped in large chair
shrunk with grief at the loss of his companion of fifty years
they began relationship as playmates, remained friends.

Memories of her husband
the brilliant and handsome man she married,
gaining  girth, building the family
the meals cooked, the evenings spent with her four girls
in the valley town
climbing to the terrace on a winter evening
to see the sun light the mountains for the last time
as it sank beyond –
a moment stolen as her basmati boiled in the kitchen
and shallots waited to be shredded for rajma.

The body gradually wearing away
with years of hard work and age
ridden with pains, failing health
lines deepening  around the eyes  
hair thinning, skin filigreed with scales of wrinkles
face clouding with pains of tragedies
the passing away of her husband
a dear sister – her twin in spirit
a part of her wrenched away from her.

The wave crawls to the beach now
the foam kisses the sand wearily
frayed
buoyed only by memories. 

The Call

His head sinks on his shoulders
the soft breath makes his shirt tremble gently
suspended between sleep and wakefulness
his hand shakes as he raises to flick a fly away
a pearl of spit at his mouth.

His wife sharp to catch his movement
moves closer
rheumy eyes oozing with tenderness
clearing her phlegm clogged voice
says, let’s get ready.

A call in the morning – her six
his seven the previous evening, voice across seas
asking her to connect the net at nine
– before I go to bed I’ll catch up with you guys,
their son said.

She searches for the guide
written by her son to use the Skype
words looped the way his father taught him,
holding his hand and taking it over alphabets,
large and bold now for his partial blind mother.

Upsetting the strips of capsules
bottles of cough syrup and antacid    
she pulls the paper that has a brown ring left by a coffee cup
taking it close to her eyes
she reads the steps to activate the computer

the way she used cookery books
splayed open on messy counters
she peers into the paper as she reaches for the switches,
adjusts the camera perched on the computer
wipes the dust to see her son better

living in the East coast
holidays captured in photos, of his wife
and son, shown to them in his last visit
when was it – two years? three years?
she asks her unresponsive husband.

The son keeps his time
the mother sits in front of the camera
then angles it so that her husband can be seen
Amma  you look good, Appa looks better
what’s happened to the house, it’s a mess

it’s raining – dampness, you know how my arthritis gets,
no servants, nurse’s on a half day break
driver has gone to his village for a marriage
tomorrow everyone’ll be back, she smiles, breathless,  
the face powder applied specially for the chat, patchy with sweat.

Why isn’t Appa talking? Appa?
the father looks up vacantly
thoughts coiled in the womb of silence
stirs, translating into a smile devoid of emotion –
rearrangement of facial muscles.

He never talks, he never answers me
I feel lonely
refuses to move around much
nothing interests him anymore
I can’t bear to see him give up totally.

It’s Parkinson’s, dopamine levels
I explained last time I was there
he‘ll get stiff (make him walk ma, it’s up to you)
he’ll withdraw, remain depressed
do Google search on Parkinson’s ma, to understand better.

When are you coming to India, this summer?
bring your son this time,
summer courses, credits you said last time.
Ma he can’t come this summer, and neither can I
he’s joining college

campus visits, preparations, we’ll come next summer
I’ll mail photos of his graduation from school
and … ma, looking at his interests now who knows
he might crack on something for  PD – pa, do you hear?
that’s many many years of hard work, let’s see…

… take care ma, take care pa.
Gloom settles like a heavy blanket as she closes the computer
she clears the table of medicines
and leaves the paper with her son’s handwriting there
she’ll need it when she Googles on Parkinson’s that afternoon

she plans to cut and paste information in a folder
her son has left a guide for that on the backside
save as word document his son had explained
set to 125 percent to read he said
when she complained of her bad eyes.

Knowing about Parkinson’s is like fighting it ma, he’d said
now her grandson too is with her, cheering a bit
she comes to sit next to her husband,
reaches for the napkin, wipes the drool from his mouth
and rests her head on his stiff shoulders.