“Maa!” I whispered and stumbled down next to her bed as she breathed her last. Everything went numb after that.
The day is still clear in my memory even though a lot of things prior to her demise are now vague. July 15, 2008. I woke up and went to school as usual as papa packed my lunch. He always did. He enjoyed cooking much more than maa and always packed lunch for me. I came back from school around 2 and was feeling a little uneasy. So I sat down with maa for a bit while she cut me a guava. I had a slice and went to rest in my room for a while. She was in her room with papa after that. I was in my bed listening to soft music when I heard papa calling out, “Aditi! Jaldi aao!” I got off the bed in a second and ran to my parent’s room. Shubham, my brother, was on the phone calling the ambulance and papa was on the bed with maa lying unconscious on his shoulder. He was shaking her and trying to wake her up. “Neelu! Neelu! Wake up. Neelu!” And for the first time, I saw panic in his eyes. I was on the floor next to maa and held her left hand in mine rubbing it, trying to get her to wake up but she wasn’t breathing anymore. The ambulance arrived in ten minutes, but maa was already gone by then.
Things after that went by in a whoosh. People coming home and papa making arrangements for the funeral. A couple of my relatives were stuck at the airport unable to get a cab so papa and Shubham went to pick them up. I decided to clean up a little and watched an episode of Friends to fill the silence. That was probably the only day I didn’t laugh once as I watched it.
I am Aditi. And this was 6 years ago. Maa had cancer. I was 10 years old when she was diagnosed. Back then, I didn’t really understand what was going on. I assumed she’d be fine in some time. And she did get better. Only for the cancer to relapse. And that was that.
Papa tried his best to keep life for Shubham and I as normal as he could. He would still pack my lunch, sometimes put in a chocolate or two. He even tried braiding my hair once. He was terrible at it. He would take out winter clothes and pack the summer ones and vice versa every time the seasons changed in Delhi, just like maa did. He’d see what I learnt at my dance class, like maa did. I remember he even watched Twilight with me. Once I had read the book, he listened to me gush about how adorable I thought Edward Cullen was, and I remember he laughed really hard when I told him he’s as adorable as him, just less white. He dropped me off to the Examination Centre when I appeared for my boards.
Of course, I miss maa. But papa has been so strong throughout that he probably kept Shubham and I together after maa. All the things I normally did with maa, I do with papa now. He takes me shopping, helps me decide what to wear for a party, and even knows about my boyfriend. He wasn’t really elated when I told him, but he was pretty cool. Though sometimes I wonder, if maa was here, I’d probably discuss it better with her.
Shubham is in Bangalore now, so I spend a lot of time with papa. I share everything with him. We cook together sometimes. We watch movies together. We go out together. He is pretty much the center of my world. He is brilliant. It’s because of him that I never knew stereotypical notions like women cook and clean, while men work, until I was much older. Maa was a Chartered Accountant, so she came home only in the evening and papa would always pack my lunch. He has never been a victim of patriarchy and I suppose that is exactly what he taught Shubham and I.
Maa was a lucky woman. Papa is a superhero. I’m sure it’s bliss to grow up and have both your parents at your wedding and grow old with them in front you. I may not have that pleasure of seeing maa dance at my wedding and I know I will miss her, just like I miss her every day, but I know papa will make up for it just like he always has. I don’t know what or where I’d be, without him.
“Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.”