Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What an aunt means

A eulogy to my aunt, who passed away on Feb 15th, aged 91


Ma - si

Like mother. What a lovely word!

Aunts - and if you want to be gracious to the other sex, uncles as well - are like the emotional bonus awarded to us by the cosmos.

“You have your parents’ love”, it says. “Now here is an aunt, or two, or three.”
“You have a home. Oh, take another, and a third.” Places of welcome, of refuge, of bonding; of quiet comfort and cousinly camaraderie.

For several months, when I was 3 or 4, Masi’s home was our home, when my father was away in the UK, and we moved, bag and baggage, to the Air Force station in Kanpur. My most vivid childhood memories date from then - push-starting Rattan Uncle’s car, then falling to the road as the engine caught and revved away; going into town to order a pink frock with lace inserts for Cuckoo’s birthday; and her birthday cake. “What shape do you want your cake to be ?” she asked Cuckoo. “Puss”, Cuckoo said, monosyllabic at best. “Puss!”, exclaimed Masi. “So it shall be - and so I shall call you!” The nickname stuck for several decades, till the shifting tides of politically and socially correct language dictated we jettison that name.

Words reflect the character of the times. “Doughty” is not a word you hear these days. Perhaps because people are not doughty any longer. But doughty was my Masi - Two days ago, we were recalling how Masi sat on a muda on the baked patch of land that was D 68, Defence Colony, and supervised the building of the Suri home, brick by proverbial brick. All the while, knitting us sweaters, stitch by stitch, or knit by purl - again words you hardly hear these days.

On these doughty foundations are our lives built, we who take material ease for granted, who only dimly appreciate a generation that fought the ravages of colonialism, partition, war, and
socialism  - and built our homes, our lives. Through those years, Masi lived with a chuckle and a strong sense of reality.

A quarter century ago, I took Masi a few balls of wool in a deep sea-green. “It may be the last sweater I ever knit”, she said without self-pity -  knowing her fingers were beginning to stiffen with age and arthritis.”You had better look after it”. I don’t know about looking after it, but I wore it on mountain treks and on jeep rides in deserts, in front of fireplaces and electric heaters - wore it till the threads unravelled. Sadly, the wool was not as strong as the hands that knit it.

Last week, I again encountered Masi’s acute sense of reality. Her surgery had gone well, her wounds had healed; Aarti and Kucchy had set up all the systems to look after her convalescence and physical rehabilitation. But in her eyes I saw a strong warning, an intimation that her flesh and spirit didn’t have the strength to survive. Messages are lost in translation, and in our lack of courage to accept  them, but I did share with Kucchy and Aarti
that now the only thing to do was to love her, like we would a child.

Sadly, we never love our aunts the way they loved us.

Maybe that’s the way of nature, and we are designed more to love in turn. To pass on the love and the tradition, and the sense of the past, to each succeeding generation.

In my Masi’s passing, I would like to dedicate myself to doughtiness, to reality, to family, and to our children.

And it’s such a pity, I’ll never be a loving Aunt! Better luck next time, Pia.

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