I had just returned from a weeklong vacation and heading straight for Hyderabad to the training institute of my organization. Maa informed me that our Aunt was not keeping well and was travelling to Hyderabad for treatment.
Bubu Mahi was our youngest maternal aunt – a jovial lady, always animated and an amazing person who was core of the joint family, the source of energy and motivation for all. She had decided to remain a spinster and no matter if it sounds selfish – I am glad she took the decision because we the children (me, my sister and our cousins) got someone so motherly who was always there for us. Her unconditional love, the care she took, and the ever positive encouragement she gave – she was always there for everyone who faced any problem. With her, there was always a way out of the troubles, there was a radiation of positive energy. Not to forget her sense of humour and her culinary skills (I always preferred the mutton curry she cooked over Mom’s recipe). She had established a music school where she taught classical music, and also ran successfully a clothing store in the town.
After learning of her visit to Hyderabad, the first thought which came to my mind was, “When was the last time we met? When was the last time we spoke?” The next day after the training session, I headed for the lodge she had put up at. The same happy smile and warm hug welcomed me, although it was with much less vigor. I noticed the deep dark circles below her eyes and the long sighs after few seconds of speaking. As always, it was about my well being she queried about and that if everything was alright in my life. Never once she complained of me not visiting her or giving her a phone call – guess she was too understanding like always. We spoke for almost three hours and when I was about to leave she said with a beaming smile, “We are planning to celebrate my birthday this June. Didu (my cousin) is also coming from Delhi. Book your tickets now itself.” “Ahibi dei” (“Please come”).
A few months later, I called Bubu Mahi on her birthday, 19th June. Our eldest aunt answered the call and said she had been taken to the hospital as she was not feeling well. I called again in the evening, this time it was she who answered and I wished her. Never complaining, she said “You must’ve been unable to come due to leave issues, I understand. We had a party today, many of music class students came, and there was a big cake.” So full of excitement were her words were that I couldn’t muster the courage to ask how her health was.
And that was the last time I spoke to Bubu Mahi…
Two days later around 2 AM, my sister woke me up to the message, “Bubu Mahi is no more”. We both were silent. I was not able to cry, nor was I able to speak. Finally I called up my cousin in Delhi, he was the closest to Mahi and I didn’t want him to be alone. We spoke aimlessly and how and when we are going home. We understood that Mahi would be cremated by the time we could reach.
We had never thought that she would go away like this…so suddenly…without giving us another chance to meet her. During her recent treatment, every other time she had felt unwell and been to the hospital, she had returned home fine. We had expected her to get well, which is why I never realized that my postponing a plan to see her soon again was to bring me to this point where our meeting in Hyderabad was to be the last time we were together.
My sister took the 5 AM flight and I was left here alone – it was a hard decision to make, but at that moment we decided to go with that. Amidst grief I had walked into the office. My only consolation was that even the earliest flight would not have made me reach on time to be at Mahi’s last rites.
I decided to catch the flight on Saturday, two days later.
I cried at work, I cried while I lay on bed at night. But still I couldn’t make up my mind to take a day off in advance and leave for Mahi’s place.
On reaching there on Saturday, I cried more. They had kept Mahi’s body till early afternoon after learning that my sister was arriving by the morning flight. My only consolation had long gone. And no one but I was to be blamed.
As we enter our professional lives, so engulfed we get after a certain point that we begin to overlook the important roles played by so many people in enabling us to stand where we are today. We take life the way it comes, making excuses not to visit the very people who at one point fed us and cradled us to sleep, from discussing about our first dates to what career we should chose, from gifting us our favorite candy to standing besides us at the toughest of our times.
We don’t forget, we never do, but slowly we move away from them, even for the smallest gestures of affection and care which gave us confidence in our lives.
It is important that we all realize the gravity of this matter. It is essential to be able to devote time and effort for our loved ones, whose presences have enriched our lives in diverse ways. Official duties, of course, deserve our sincerity too. But we need to make the effort to balance both work and the life beyond it. As an individual, I feel we should try our best to share our genuine thoughts regarding any personal circumstance that require us to take a day off. It’s in our responsibility to express the emotional need to be with our family when they need our presence, and request for a leave. Post it, the decision lies with the management. On the organization’s side, may be there should be active efforts for sensitization around emotional well-being of the employees. Organizations need to empower employees to make decisions over situations sentimental in nature. The organizational culture needs to imbibe within itself a practice of acknowledging these kinds of needs.
The world and its businesses are growing busier. With that, our work culture and lifestyles have been altered. The pace is growing faster. But while trying speed up with it, we should hold those bonds even closer to us – the people, the memories which strengthen us from within. Let’s make that effort needed to not let them move away. While we reach out much more to the wider world through newer technologies, it’s so much important that we have a strong emotional foundation to nourish our soul. Let’s make that effort.