Living in Memory

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There she was, slurping lemon tea from her saucer, half-pretending to listen to the news but acutely conscious of her elder son's disapproval of her noisy tea ritual. Her not-so-white sari a filigree of turmeric stains. Its beauty whispering her yesterdays and tomorrows. It was sometime in 2009. One needs a year like that. One, which tells you how much forgetting is forgetting too much, how much missing, is not enough missing. How much loving is still some loving short. 

Granny, I call her Dida, always smelt of tepid coconut oil before lunch. And of burnt incense and Boroline by evening. On this day however, Dida smelled like my childhood— eager and distant. She narrated again, in vivid detail, her encounter that afternoon with her father. A man, who was dead for 70 odd years. Dementia, the doctors declared. Dida however, was never more certain of her daydreams. The whereabouts of a misplaced key, or a jar of mango pickles, later to be discovered in a cupboard behind her saris, where details, minor enough to be ignored.

Memories are strange currencies of exchange. They give away more than we bargain for. Dida was slipping away in the oblivion of her yesteryears. However in her vivid stories- of the great cyclone of 1942 or the ensuing famine of 43, I was rediscovering my grandparents. In Dutch-tilt-flashbacks, I saw a young man instead of grandpa, drinking water from the communal tap to save on his evening meal. Within the crumbling sepia albums, I found Dida as a young wife- gorgeous and shy. In his three books and a half written manuscript I stumbled upon a poet in love, far removed from the irritable, compulsive man I knew grandpa to be. But books and albums don't miss people. They just house memories. Nurturing them, as the fleeting silverfish are.

Like that abstract mural of termite trails in my grandfather's study- once exquisite, but now lost under a fresh coat of paint, grandpa is no more. Dida will be gone too. But both will live on in memory.