I eye the phone longingly. My fingers itch to dial Amma’s cell phone number but I desist. I can picture my family this morning. All of my dad’s siblings and their spouses gathered to observe the yearly anniversary of my Thatha’s passing. I imagine the kitchen busy, bustling. I can almost see my aunts and Amma with wet hair, towels wrapped around their head, wearing freshly washed and dried sarees. I imagine that the cook employed for the occasion having different dishes in various stages of preparation. I also suspect that there will be reminiscences of the kind of person my thatha was.
My mind is far away in the quaint city of Coimbatore, in the small house with ample space around it. I am wandering the alleys of my memories remembering guava trees and pomegranates. I am thinking of my thatha, a cloud of white hair, lean body and a peace that emanates from his being. I remember light-colored shirts preferably with vertical stripes and a black pant or a crisp white veshti. I remember the way he would sail through the road that lead to our home in his bicycle and arrive in style from whatever errand it was he was running. I remember his voice soft, calm and in control. I remember his long fingers as they held mine on the rare occasions we sat on the thinnai watching cars, bikes and cyclists go past our house. Most of all I remember how much I loved him and took him for granted.
Most of my childhood had him as an ambient presence, hovering watchfully never once interrupting what I was doing. Even as the rest of the family encouraged me to run and play and lose that baby fat, he watched approvingly as I read and swatted mosquitos sitting by my side. Sometimes in the morning as I sat on the sofa before my morning coffee, I would watch him, his black glasses on his face, his back erect, eyes tracking every word in the center page of The Hindu. He would lean back, let the words sink in and move on to the next article, next page until he had devoured it cover to cover.
Sometimes as I snuck into the kitchen in the dead of the night to finish just one more chapter remembering to close the heavy wooden doors behind me, he would appear waif like, gently take the book from me and herd me back to bed. Some early mornings I would wake to the feeling of his fingers scratching my face in the dark and reluctantly would head to the outhouse, a small three roomed building at the back of the house to study for exams. He or Paati would bring me hot tea and sometimes stay by my side to wake me as I fell over my notes and bound books.
Then there were the days when friends from college would ask us before they entered the house if Thatha was around. His preference for speaking in English intimidated them even as he would sit with us a bunch of twenty year olds gossiping about class and people.
I remember our last conversation sometime before I was married. I was young, earning and living the single life in Bangalore. He broached the topic of mortality and spoke of the Gita and held my hand as he explained how he was ready to leave his mortal coil. I remember the lump at the base of my throat, the tears that I held back. We held hands for a long time when he made an abrupt, almost prescient turn to talk about marriage and kids. “You’ll probably have twins” he said referring to the fact that he had twin siblings.
I was at my desk at work when I received word that he had passed on. I do not remember much of what happened after. I missed him like I would miss a dear friend. One who was not in touch but would always be there when I needed them. On the day I married Saathi, I missed him acutely, in a way that was visceral. The sight of his maternal uncle nearing a hundred years was a sign. A way of reminding me that he was around in spirit. As mama thatha placed his hands on my head and blessed me, I imagined Thatha hands in his.
Today as my family invoke our ancestors and pay tribute, I sit a few thousand miles away doing the same.
You were loved. You are missed Thatha.