I am in Hyderabad, where I grew up. We know our mother is very ill, and the realization she is in a coma has begun to sink in.
It is warm as I pay the auto rickshaw and set off on the dirt road between the big, beautiful British bungalows we lived in - The Railway Colony. Fruit trees grace lush gardens; my first stop is 306, the house with the enormous L shaped verandah and huge bedrooms, and I remember the huge mango tree at the back. I see the window of my parent’s bedroom under which I smoked the stub of one of my father’s cigarettes.
I recall one night, she found me in the garden picking leaves, for no reason, breaking them. She asked me if I would feel good if some giant broke my fingers. I thought, then, that was an unfair comparison, but I do not idly pick flowers or leaves, anymore. I remember her crying one night, sitting on the machine stool that stood at the cast iron sewing machine.
Evenings in the large drawing room with the fireplace that is rumored to have hosted a cheetah that surprised some past tenant. Guests arrive. Hot snacks served in little plates. Drinks; rum and water for the men, lemon barley for the ladies. Paddi bottled the lemon barley, and my father added a dash to his rum, acquiring the taste. The conversation moves from politics to spirituality. J Krishnamurti, yoga.
I have run two great circles around the area, stopping each time at the front gate. The long driveway we played cricket in. I am a fly on the wall of a time capsule. I see the kitchen; my grandmother would shoo me out if I staggered in unwashed, in the morning.
Homeopathy. The free clinics. People coming at odd hours to tell their case histories. Paddi sitting with the giant materia medica, with its thumb deep separators. A famous doctor named Kent. Success stories shared in the verandah.
I see the portico with round white washed pillars. Lush red bougainvillea grew over it. The family gathered to see me ride a bike for the first time, and I crashed into my father's car in the driveway. Dented it. Grim faced, he found my mother's slippers in the car, and flung them out and drove off to work.
The old Citroen is large in my memory, polished, with round headlights poised over the gleaming bonnet. The stick shift was a little lever on the dash. She often touched100 mph on tank bund, on the way to school.
I run a third circle around 306, and then find my way to the old IRISET building, the college for Railway Signal and Telecommunication engineers my father started in the 50s. They moved to a large new facility when he was still there, but I must find the old building. The area has changed, like everything in Hyderabad, but I find myself running past Hostel II, and know I am on track. We used to dress up for the weekly 16 mm movie projected on a rickety screen on the lawn. I remember Frank Sinatra in The Devil at 4 O’Clock.
The old IRISET building has been abandoned. I pick my way between piles of metal rods being cut in the yard and find the steps leading up to my father’s office; the door is locked. His Head Peon, MS Muthu, used to preside over him, giving us hilarious performances of scenes from the office.
The metal rods dissolve to an Independence Day Flag Hoisting. My father in white cotton trousers and a khadhi shirt making a speech. Paddi, gracious in a crisp starched cotton sari, serving tea and samosas.
I run on, thinking about her life. The large family. The charities. So many people in our lives.
Peace. That is all I wish her. Peace. For the body and for the soul. A quiet, restful peace.