A lot of things happened today last year. The earthquake, for one. Of course it mattered, but I was miles away.
We had landed in California just a couple of days ago. It was supposed to be a holiday with our next stop being the East Coast. I had forced my mother to accompany me. She had just had a fall a couple of months prior to that and her knees were giving trouble. She braved the trip for me.
To make matters worse, we had an emergency. Sitting in a restaurant with friends two days after we landed, we got up after the meal to leave. I turned around to her and that vision still disturbs me. She was head-down on the sofa. I called out. No reply. I nudged her. No reply. I turned her and she was motionless. She could not speak.
There was a doctor in the eatery and she said her pulse was barely discernible. I tried to give her resuscitation and she came to for a bit, but she passed out again.
I have to admit I am the weak one. She is strong-willed and has handled many situations better than I have and ever can. For me this was devastating. I kept calling out to her and my eyes must have been full of fear for my friends were dialling emergency.
This could not be happening. An army of medics descended, many looking like bouncers. I had to answer their matter-of-fact queries quickly. I said something about her fall “around mid-September”, and they wanted to know “when, what date?” They would not let me accompany her in the ambulance. We followed and then I was told to fill up forms and get an entry pass. I was a nervous wreck. I stepped out and decided to call our doc in Mumbai. It was around 3 am in India. My friends were surprised. For me, this was the done thing. She spoke and reassured me. I suddenly realised how difficult it is when one feels like an alien.
Ammi insisted she be moved away from this place soon. Again, I had to sign some papers which said I was taking responsibility for this rash action. There was a moment of confusion – was I doing the right thing? But it lasted only till I looked at my mother’s face and she broke into a smile and said, “Yeh sab zyaada karte hai. Bas, eik Limca pilaa dena tha…”
Once out of the hospital she cheered up. I had managed to exercise control in her presence; it was only when she sat on the sofa wrapped in a shawl that I held her close and wept and wept unashamedly.
Her pulse, heartbeat, blood pressure were all fine, but her knee got worse. It pained me to see her shuffling. Friends helped a lot but I should have taken a flight back home as soon as possible. Instead, I stayed back.
I had not yet said yes to the assignment I was offered. But there were several brainstorming sessions. Later, I was a 20-minute drive from the HQ; my mother and I had rented an apartment; I liked it and was learning a new way of life. Take out the garbage, put whatever you can into the microwave, buy readymade parathas (that I invariably burned). I still remember walking to the 7/11 a few minutes walk away. I’d pick up everything that could be eaten without effort. But is food all there is to it?
Today – after my mother’s surgery was performed in January in Mumbai and she still suffers from related pains – I realise how wrong I was. For me it was most certainly not a career leap. I make emotional decisions and did not take the emotions of someone who matters so much to me into account.
I have no rational explanation. She would often be alone in that apartment; it would have been fine if mobility was easy; it wasn’t. As I type this the image of her sitting on the bed, sometimes calling out to me as I sat typing in the living room, fills me with guilt.
She stood by me then and she continued to do so in the months that followed, very lonely months when I had to fight battles with those I would not even dignify as opponents.
The year has passed by in a flash. I cannot give her back those days when prompt action would have relieved her considerably. I cannot give her back my presence because I was absent when she needed me. I cannot return her peace of mind because I assaulted it with my problems. I don't seem to have anything to give.
I still recall how she would look out of the window and see this café and insist she saw tables laid out. I told her it was a cigar lounge. Then one day I did see the white table linen and the gloved waiters setting up the cutlery. She was right. I went by the name. She saw its reality.
It’s time I did. Life is not about cloud formations you capture for the moment, as I tend to do. Clouds move away. Everything does…