by Kakuli Nag
I slept more than I could to let go off that vacuum that I felt since I was back to Atlanta after my recent visit to India. I persuaded myself to remember the brighter moments of the trip to be able to get over that lump that stuck in my throat ever since I met them. It was a mighty effort, however in vain.
I have always been pretty bad with my priorities. I often ended up doing trivial things more than the important ones and with this inherent flaw growing within me for several years now, I had been oblivious about one of my primary duties. In my self indulgence and catering to ever consuming relationships of my parents, my in laws, my husband, my son, my family and the list continues, I remained a little selfish not to manage a visit to my paternal uncle and aunt who had been an integral part of my childhood, whom I fondly addressed as Jaji and Jajima. Even as I whisper these names to myself, while writing, a whole lot of memories come rushing to my mind, glimpses of their cheerful young faces occupy my thoughts, that remained unchanged all these years till I met them.
Almost like a commitment to an oath I decided during this visit which happens to be my second visit to India, in less than a year, to accomplish the much procrastinated task of meeting them. Come what may, I instructed myself, even if all hell break lose, I am meeting them this time. Deep inside I am yet to know, why my will was so strong this year. I fought my apprehensions to find them in a state beyond recognition and even worse, not being recognized by them. Another year late, could cost me more and even imagining that made me murmur a prayer in silence.
I rehearsed the same scene several times on my way to their place, how I would assist them to remember my name, stress every syllable Kas-tu-ri, introduce my son, my husband and capture that moment in my camera. My train of thoughts was abruptly disrupted as we reached there. I heard my husband complaining about the traffic. I was lost in the past and could not feel the abnormal traffic. It was time to face the reality, they and Me, just us!! I hated that fear that grew by the minute. I like them too much and cannot bear to see anything else apart from their well being.
It was a huge solace to see the same lane close to Naihati station, where we played as kids, the same color of the building, not as bright as then though, the huge banyan tree I used to lean on to count one to
fifty when my cousins hid, the shop that provided us our daily dose of candies. I could hear a constant rhythm, my heart beat racing every minute. The opening of the iron gates polluted the tranquility of the place. To my ears it felt like music, just like the good old days. I hastily gripped my son's hand and climbed the stairs. The red tiles, the windows, the hall, the preciseness of everything in the house was all similar to what I had seen a decade ago which almost lead me to believe and expect the same inside the bedroom.
Just that, in the bed room, it was not furniture, but my Jaji - Jajima waiting for me. Pangs of guilt gripped me so tight the moment I saw them that I choked. I stood their watching the blank expressions they wore on their wrinkled faces and something within me snapped. That minute, I realized ten years is really a very long time to be busy with your life alone. I touched their feet and Jajima who made that same sweet gesture I always remembered, to touch my chin and then her lips, made me weep tears no one could see.
I was late by a decade to give them this pleasure of meeting my family, letting them know my earnestness to be with them. Even as I was pondering on what kept me away for so long, I was latently happy that I made it this time and brought my four year old son along who was delighted to touch the soft hands of Jajima which he later described to me as "felt like cotton". My son now knows what Jajima is really like. The warmth of their togetherness gradually erased the pangs of guilt I suffered and I am thankful to Jajima for that bit of understanding.
I used sleep as a tool to combat my guilt even after I was back to Atlanta. Sleep did not numb my conscious. Every minute of my waking hour will remind me what a mistake it was to waste a decade not letting your near ones know how much you missed them.
One day, when my neighbor brought her parents to stay with them for a while, my son asked me, "They brought their Jajima home to stay with them. Do I have a Jajima too who can stay with us?" My son is too young to know what my exact relation with Jajima is, however the knowledge that he has gathered that all old people are Jajima is a soothing consolation and reiterates my belief that my son will not repeat the mistake I did. He wants his Jajima home already. He will sooner or later know them and have them here, I hoped.