June 16, 2021
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Recollections

Death In A Foreign Land

With my mother's death, my "there" home is soon to be closed down and disposed off.

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Death In A Foreign Land
Death In A Foreign Land
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

Death. It's a funny old thing. Actually it's not funny at all. That was just a rather silly figure of speech.

Death is very weird and seriously disturbing.

There you are, a fully paid up, grown up, with your own pukka grown up children, and suddenly you find yourself sitting in your old childhood bedroom, opening your old toy box which your mother has kept for you all those decades, and wham, there you are -- Orphaned. Tearful. And oh-so-aware that an era has ended.

The house that was home for all your life, where you could lazily leave stuff, despite having lived away for most of your life -- suddenly the house is now empty, the fussy, ever-forgiving maternal presence no longer there. And with it, the knowledge that there is (no, was...oh dear, this past tense is strange) there was one person for whom you were perfect and could do no wrong. But that person is no longer there.

Of course one's husband and two grown up children are caring and loving and supportive. But realistically, I know, deep down, that I am not perfect in their eyes. For one thing, they don't boast about me to the neighbours. For another thing, they haven't kept a scrapbook of all my doings and to-ings and fro-ings. They haven't kept my battered old toys, and my hand knitted dolls clothes, and my old wooden tennis racket. They don't have my photo everywhere.

For now though, since I live so far away from England, I have to be grown up again. India is now my forever home, my retirement home, so I must look at all those toys and books that are still in my childhood home and decide if they should be expatriated to India as well. Logically, if I've managed to get a degree, and a job, and get married, and become a mother, and live all over the world without my old dolls and my Enid Blyton books, then it's fair to say I don't really need them. But to throw them out, or give them to the charity shop down the road…oh, I don't know, it seems such a drastic step. So very, very final. 

Clearly it is time to check the Indian customs rules on the importation of battered school books and hand-knitted dolls' clothes and old ballet shoes. One's gut feeling is that, despite the infamous, often lumbering Indian bureaucracy, any self-respecting customs official here in India, faced with a shipment of battered old toys and dolls and some seriously worn out ballet shoes, would probably let it through. Especially with the weeping owner standing by.

Being so far away, my home is now here not there. And with my mother's death, my "there" home is soon to be closed down and disposed of. Some of "there" probably needs to come and settle down "here". So perhaps there is, after all, a way of mitigating the sadness and the sense of finality and alienation. 

What is even weirder in this here and there equation is the knowledge that even though my mother lived thousands of miles away in Yorkshire, our last coherent conversation was about the pollution in Delhi. Tired but fully lucid, hooked up to all kinds of monitors, my mother had a serious go at me for running in the Delhi pollution. She had got quite a bee in her bonnet about it, fretting about my health and that evening, a few hours before her death, she told me in no uncertain terms that it was stupid to run in such filthy air.

"What is the point of exercising if you are deep breathing all that polluted air?" Brushing away explanations about masks and waiting till the sun burns up some of the pollution, her answer was tart.

"Get a treadmill."

Oh dear. That means that every walk, every run in Delhi, will now have an irritated maternal element to it.


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