“Hi Paati,” I said over the phone. “Wish me! It’s my birthday!”
“Happy birthday Kanna,” she said.
“Will you sing Happy Birthday for me?”
“Oh paadarene..” (Translation: Sure, I’ll sing)
And she sang. The whole song! Thanks my cousin, who kept helping her with the words she forgot. Paati is my 81-year-old grandma and one of my most favourite people in the world. Some months ago, her health deteriorated very badly. She was put on a ventilator. The doctors were not hopeful and we thought she would leave us forever. To see my paati helpless in the hospital, poked with needles all over her body is an image that I will find it very difficult to wipe off my head. It was one of the first times that I have had to deal with the possibility of the death of a loved one. After a particularly depressing hospital visit, I remember, all of us in my family, sitting around, talking about making arrangements for her funeral. There were so many things that had to be done. Trying hard not to choke, some of us clinically went about discussing the arrangements. Suddenly, S, a cousin of mine, after prolonged silence looked up and said, “We are all sitting here making arrangements for paati’s funeral. What if paati decides to change her mind? What if she says—Screw you all making arrangements for my funeral! I’m coming back!” A short silence followed the statement before all of us broke into a big laugh, inspite of ourselves. And guess what! Paati did exactly that! She came back! Surprising one and all.
While, she is back with us, her memory has gone for a toss! Her ability to remember things that has happened recently has really suffered. For instance while she might remember me, she will forget if I visited her. Every time I speak to her, she complains about how I haven’t visited her. This, when I have easily visited her 3-4 times in as many months. However, this memory loss of hers has resulted in some hilarious situations. When my cousin and her husband came to visit, she pointed to all of us (her granddaughters) and asked if he (my cousin’s husband) is interested in any of us! You see, she wanted to set him up with one of her grand daughters. She completely forgot that they were married just a little over two years ago! The entire house roared with laughter, while my paati had a sheepish grin on her face 🙂
I visited my grandmom a few weeks ago. It was a small family reunion. The reunion was followed by a dinner at a hotel. For the first time in many years, paati accompanied us! Owing to her ill-health, she had hardly stepped out of the house in the recent past. She was more than happy at the prospect of going out with everyone. In the hotel, while she enjoyed the food, she couldn’t remember why we were there in the first place. For some reason, somebody told her that it was her birthday and started singing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song! All of us immediately joined the chorus. A musician in the hotel also joined the merriment! I don’t think I can forget the look on my paati’s face! The initial puzzlement gradually metamorphosed into joy resulting in her gorgeous toothless smile! She was overwhelmed! I wanted to freeze that moment.
Why am I sharing this today? I am sharing this because this memory occupied my mindspace for most part of my birthday that was yesterday. The image of my paati looking happily bewildered, a tad confused followed by a huge toothless smile listening to all of us singing happy birthday to her, remains etched in my memory. I think it is THE best birthday party I have ever attended!
Quite often I go through this phase wondering about the general pointlessness of life, existential angst if you will! I have often wondered about the pointlessness of celebrating birthdays too! There has also been a general reluctance in wanting to ‘celebrate’ in the recent past. But I have come to feel that the seeming pointlessness can also be very weary. The existential questions have no easy answers and I doubt if there will be any. Given that, I have come to a conclusion that pointlessness does not mean I should not have fun. I am going to exploit all reasons to have fun. Personally, this is what birthdays or any festivals ought to be about. Lots of love, laughter and fun and of course food! On my birthday I want to celebrate my paati’s presence in my life. I wish her more and more of such happiness. And thanks to her poor memory now, I think she is going to have many more such birthdays! Love you paati.