Different – that’s what this feels like. This month. This world. This very daughterhood where there are no parents left to be daughter to. A disease has reshaped my entire existence. My parents’ death was not caused by the coronavirus, they were both covid free – my mother died of diabetes related complications, hypoglycemic encephalitis to give it the correct medical name. My father, of heart failure. Yet every aspect of their medical care, their death and death rites were defined by the pandemic. They had been isolated completely since March 22 last year.
My mother passed in April during the first, strictest of lockdowns, with no one but my father beside her. I could go to my father only in October, once the restrictions were slightly relaxed. He died last month, 11 months after my mother, with no family members around, only the nurses and caregivers. The last rites were observed with just 2-3 people in each case due to the prevailing restrictions. By some miracle, two of my cousins were in Kolkata at the time of their death, one on my father’s side and the other on my mother’s – they accompanied the hearses to the crematorium and lit the pyre. That a close blood relative could perform this final ritual for both my parents was a huge solace. I am their only child, there is no one else who can share the ramifications of this passing from the same perspective. I was able to fly in after a week after my father's death and do what needed to be done immediately – the dry procedures, the registration, the dispersal, the final turning of the key on the front door of the place they lived in for nearly forty years.
But for the pandemic their passing would be an opportunity to celebrate their rather full, long and interesting life. My mother was diminutive in stature, but no one was taller in courage, in joie de vivre, in faith and positivity that I know. She was a cancer survivor and a carrom and card player par excellence. She was named after a star and she twinkled like one wherever she went. She got cancer at 45 and died of diabetes at 81, that in itself is a blessing and a testimony to her spirit. My father was an art lover and an architect. He worked all over India - he designed buildings/projects in Bombay, in Delhi, in Chandigarh, in Calcutta, in the north eastern states of Assam and Manipur and god knows where else besides. He worked for the PWD in the public sector, for well known private architectural/engineering firms, and set up his own private practice too. Then he chucked it all up and moved to Nigeria and worked there for more than a decade. He loved images of all kinds - paintings and photographs, still and moving. He read widely and was a prolific correspondent. He had a phenomenal memory for people and numbers and an exceptional eye for detail, which he retained right to the end at 89 years of age. Both of them were poetry lovers and my first poetry teachers. Both of them had huge hearts and were 'people' people, kept in touch with a massive circle of extended family and friends from all over the world and took great pleasure in doing so. Unfortunately, all of this is kind of overshadowed by the manner of their passing, but I'm determined not to let it. Although I don't yet know how I'm going to stop it exactly.
My aunt, my father’s sister, his particularly cherished much younger sibling-cum-daughter almost, stuck in her son’s house many cities away, wept on the phone to me. I did not know how to comfort her. I do not know what to do with myself either. How does one get back on track? I get up in the morning and the first thought is, I must call them…and a split second later I realise, there is no one to respond to that call. Some random memory pops into mind during an afternoon and I idly think right, I must ask my father about that, verify if I’m right, did it really happen that way? And then it crashes over me that there is no one left to answer these sorts of family history questions, the insignificant details in the fabric of bygone events and relationships. The final click of that lock has somehow unhitched me from my moorings and my past, rudderless, directionless, adrift in the ocean of an uncertain future. But then again, it's my parents who taught me to navigate, some little of it must have stuck - in time, I'll find my way home.