03 Jun 2019 21:36 IST

Time is fleeting

Before you realise it, a whole lifetime has sped past

May 21. It is 4.30 am. I gaze out of the tiny window of a tiny room on the seventh floor of a city hospital. There is only darkness dotted with the occasional street-light and shadows of buildings and trees. My mother lies still, silent, seemingly oblivious to everything yet valiantly taking gasps of breath inside her oxygen mask. She had made us promise that when the time came, we would not hospitalise her. Yet, here we are – attenders waiting upon her as she is nasally fed and hooked to drips. We cannot let her go that easily and so we calibrate the nuances of our promise. We cannot withhold nutrition from her, can we, nor oxygen, both of which are in short supply in her body. Therefore we will hold on. We will wait a little longer.

Strange. Barely a week earlier I was complaining to friends that I needed a break. I couldn’t take it any more. I’m only human. There was only so much I could do while caring for Amma. Now, as I look out of the window, my mind blank, I yearn to hear the irritating sound of Amma pushing her walker around the house. My dearest wish is for her to jump off the hospital bed and insist on sleeping “for a little while” beside me. All the times I silently screamed about the “invasion of my private space” are meaningless now. I want her in my space. In any space. Whole and as she is. All mother. Then it was all about me. Now, it is still about me.

When she’d continuously keep calling if I went out somewhere, demanding to know when I’d be back, I’d say to her, “You can’t do that, Ma.” And she’d reply, “I can. I can take the liberty.” And I’d say, “No, Ma, you don’t have that liberty.” Not one to back off that easily, she’d snort and stomp off, only to return determinedly to lie down wherever I was. Now, I want Amma to take the liberty, to show that same dogged determination to break down my wall of impatience. Amma, I want to say to her, you have every right to do that.

It’s easy to be nostalgic about that Amma. It’s easy, even, to laud her caring nature and generous spirit. But surely it was bloody hard work for her. Every single minute. Every single day. Week. Month. Year. Years. Years and years and years. More than eight decades of solid hard work that she put in, heart, soul and body, to keep family feeling and love rippling way beyond the call of duty, beyond legitimate relationships, beyond differences.

Today, she lies still, silent on a hospital bed, unresponsive, this woman of action and total satisfaction to so many whose lives she touched. When did all these years go by? How come I didn’t notice them speeding past? What the hell was I thinking?

I look up from the computer, out of the window. The sky is lightening as somewhere the sun’s already up. The shadows are becoming shapes. The lights are shining dimmer. It’s scary. You can get used to letting time fly by.

June 3. It’s more than ten days since I wrote these words. Emotions, memories, anecdotes, feelings… so much has been shared with and by family and friends, each one shedding new light on an Amma we thought we knew through and through. But the one thing that lights up every conversation about her is her smile. Each and every person who has called or come to condole her passing speaks about her beautiful smile. Large and encompassing, reaching out to everybody, old friends and new, family, acquaintances, strangers asking for directions, the flower-seller, even passers-by…

It’s easy, really, to smile. Yet, when I think upon it I realise we don’t exercise the zygomaticus muscle quite as often as we could, or should. It’s infectious, too. It would take a majorly tough heart not to respond to a smile with a smile in return. Often it’s the key that opens doors. It certainly lightens the mood as our bodies release cortisol and endorphins that are good for our health. Smiling helps reduce stress and boosts the immune system. Besides, it makes the smiler and the smilee feel good, which is the best reason to smile more often.

Some people’s smiles genuinely reflect joy. Others learn to smile. Still others pretend to smile when inside they burn with anger and negative emotions. However, it doesn’t take rocket science to recognise the spontaneous smiler. Along with the facial expression comes a wave of joy dancing towards you, drawing you into a virtual embrace. We succumb and we are happy. Surely, we can all be that person, the one who smiles from the heart.