My mother’s breast

[Book extract] We were her Gods. And she was ours. Serving her was our life. It was our penance.

 |  28-minute read |   01-08-2016
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All her life, my mother, Mamman, Amarjit Kaur, had bathed at 5am. That morning she could not seem to get out of bed. Our maid, Famida, went to help her and found blood on her bra. She came and told me.

I went up to see Mamman.

"I need to look at your breast, Mamman," I said. She nodded.

"I’m sorry but I have to do this," I said. She nodded again.

What I saw when I raised her kurta shocked me. It was as if someone had gashed her breast and then sewn it up again, roughly. Underneath the nipple was a hole, almost an inch-and-a-half across.

"When did this happen, Mamman?" I asked.

She shrugged. She did not remember. Or she did not care to remember.

All our life together, I had been bothered about her mind. My mother lived in another world where I was the President of India, married to someone called Vivekta and, later, Harpreet.

In that world, she was an invincible power, Subramaniam; she was the heiress to a fortune that ran into many crores of rupees and Rajiv Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh were paying guests in her father’s home.

We, the sane, called this world schizophrenia.

A few days before this, it had been very difficult, as always, to rouse Mamman to take her to meet Dr Naveen, her cardiologist. In January, Dr Naveen had taken an X-ray to determine some opacity in her lungs. He had prescribed diuretics.

Maasi, my maternal aunt, Dr Charanjit Kaur, had also seen the X-ray when we met her in Haryana in March and she had agreed it was pleural opacity, water in the lungs. She had also wondered about "malignancy", but when she spoke to Dr Naveen on the phone she did not bring this up.

Perhaps it was professional decorum. They exchanged pleasantries and she did not probe his diagnosis or his line of treatment. Mamman had been cardiomyopathic for long. Four years ago, Dr Naveen had given her six months. But then he had also kept her going; it made sense to trust him.

Dr Naveen is a good man and had been a good doctor to Mamman, as he had been to Papa before he died. But he always sounded a little rushed. He also refused to do home visits. I had requested him to make an exception because of Mamman’s schizophrenia, but he insisted that any patient who needed a home visit should be in hospital. So the morning I discovered the gash on Maman’s breast, I did not call Dr Naveen. I did not have the courage to impose on him.

I mentioned Mamman’s wound to my friend and colleague Cheryl and she thought of Dr Vidya, her neighbour. Dr Vidya was only twenty-seven years old. She did not have much experience but she looked at the reports with fresh eyes. She was aided by the knowledge that I had seen something on Mamman’s chest. When she examined the old X-ray, her eyes lingered on something but she did not say anything.

She came home. I took her upstairs to examine Mamman.

I stood at the door of the room, behind a curtain. Dr Vidya spoke gently to Mamman and came out after some time, and I accompanied her down the steps.

She turned around and said, "It’s cancer."

I missed my step. Then she said, "Maybe it’s tuberculosis." Then she looked at me again and sighed. "No," she said, "it is cancer."

She said I must go to a government hospital and get Mamman’s tissue and blood culture. She said I must not go to a private hospital because they would fleece me.

I began calculating immediately. Mamman had insurance worth four lakh rupees from my office, another two lakh of personal insurance, and I had credit cards that would let me spend another four lakh. Dr Vidya suggested the Kidwai Institute or the Bangalore Institute of Oncology.

That night, I wrote in my diary:

Dr Vidya said the word just like that. With no preamble, no introduction. Just the word and the word shook my world. What shook me is that Mamman’s cancer remained undetected for so long and can now cause immense pain. I do not fear Mamman’s death but I am not okay with her pain. It will be pain that I cannot even imagine. I am scared. This is perhaps my scariest night. I pray that I can help Mamman handle her pain. After the doctor went away, Mamman and I listened to 'Jeena yahan, marna yahan…' It is her favourite song. She was cheerful. I hope I can build a routine around her needs.

The Kidwai Institute was on Dairy Circle, close to my office, next to the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences. I had never noticed the place before. I had no need to. They confirmed what Dr Vidya had said. Cancer. Stage IV.

Dr Ramaa talked to me. She asked what Mamman’s heart specialist had done if he could not see this happening. The heart and the tumour were less than six inches apart. Even if it was not part of his job, she said, he could have looked at Mamman’s chest. But he hadn’t. He was a man, Mamman was a woman.

She asked how I was managing. I could no longer control myself. I broke down. I could not be brave any longer. She asked me if I was married. I said my wife and I did not live together. I said for the past few months, ever since Mamman started looking weak, I had been doing everything for her, from feeding her to cheering her up.

I told her: "Mamman listens to me, she does as I ask her to do." I told her I felt fortunate that I could take care of her so completely. But, I said, I was also tired. I told her I was scared of the pain Mamman would feel.

She said that she was the anaesthetist; it was her job to manage pain. Mamman would be under her care. She said Mamman did not need any tissue culture. If they had detected the illness earlier they could have done something. They could have surgically removed it, used chemotherapy.

I responded, "In a way, it’s good we only found the illness now. Mamman wouldn’t have allowed chemo. Now we can’t do anything about it and Mamman need not be disfigured." 

Dr Ramaa listened quietly. "Yes," she said. "Body image is important." 

Dr Ramaa asked me to get Letroz, Proxyvon, Betnosol and Pantodac. She told me the routine to administer the medicines. Our local chemist Manju could provide the medicines but had to consult with Dr Ramaa. We made three calls within five minutes but she answered patiently, with no sign of impatience or exasperation. I wanted to hug her. This is how a doctor should be: always calm, always composed, and always willing to help.

Maasi said she wanted to come and see Mamman. I replied that it wasn’t possible. Enough, I felt. For years Mamman’s own family had stigmatised her, kept her away when she needed them. If it had to change now, close to her end, let her sister come and take us with her to where she had her hospital. In Dabwali, on the Punjab-Haryana border, where Mamman had grown up.

The next evening I finished an office conference call downstairs and saw that Maasi had called again. She wanted to talk to Mamman. I climbed the stairs to Mamman’s room. She took the mobile phone from me and the first words she spoke were a howl. A high-pitched wail of pain.

Then she shouted, "Get him married to Harpreet." She was gasping in pain. I told Maasi I would call her later.

I held Mamman’s hand and knelt down near her bed. She started removing her gold bangle and kada, trying to give them to me. "For your wife," she said.

"Where is the pain?" I asked. She placed her hand on her right rib. I gently removed her hand and placed mine there. I could do nothing more. After five or maybe ten minutes the pain subsided. Mamman took my hand and kissed it. She said I was her God.

I fed Mamman and gave her the medicines. After that scream, I was never late by even a single minute. Dr Ramaa had said Proxyvon should be administered every eight hours. That kind of consistency might prevent the need for morphine.

I wrote to my managers, telling them I might have to leave for Punjab. "I hope the company can use my services." My managers decided not to let their higher-ups know I was going to work remotely and allowed me to leave.

book_080116051501.jpg A Book Of Light: When a Loved One Has a Different Mind; Edited by Jerry Pinto; Speaking Tiger Books; Rs 399.

In the days between the scream and our leaving, I stabilised Mamman on Proxyvon. Dr Ramaa was considering whether we should start morphine. These days morphine comes as an oral pill but very few hospitals issue it. I would have had to register Mamman with the Kidwai Institute. I could not even think of admitting Mamman to a hospital, she would have resisted it vehemently. Dr Ramaa decided to give me a letter to a doctor in the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh. She said in case all the medicines stopped working I could get morphine from there.

Maasi came on May 4. Before I left, Cheryl got me to sign a whole bunch of cheques to manage my accounts. She loaded the laptop with all necessary programmes and accesses. The laptop was now my complete office. At the airport, Sahara Airlines wanted a certificate declaring Mamman fit to travel. I did not understand. I tried to tell them that Maasi was a doctor and she was accompanying us. They were not interested. They only needed Maasi’s letterhead. We could not supply that. I asked the booking clerk what he would do if his mother were ill.

"Please don’t mention my mother," he snapped but gave me a declaration form to fill.

Once we signed a declaration that we would not sue the airline if anything happened to Mamman, the airline staff calmed down and were very good to us. They arranged for a wheelchair, gave us special security clearance, and an early entry into the airplane. The booking clerk came up and told me that his mother also suffered from cancer.

In Dabwali, I began to understand Maasi and Mamman. I began to understand the complexities of their relationship. Their mother had passed away early, before Maasi joined medical school. Mamman had brought up Maasi. Young Mamman had plaited Maasi’s hair, cooked her food, organised her clothes, attended to all her needs. Mamman was proud that her kid sister was becoming a doctor. Later, after the discovery of Mamman’s mental illness and subsequent marriage to my father, they had drifted apart.

Mamman was not happy with her marriage, she would ask Nanaji and then Maasi to take her away, back to Punjab. I still remember the cold winter night when Nanaji had thrown us out of the Dabwali home. Maasi had not intervened. Mamman and I had spent the night shivering at Bhatinda station.

Once, when I was young, Mamman waited for seven years to hear from Maasi. Every afternoon, summer, winter, rains, she paced the garden in front of our house in Rourkela. Over the last two years in Bangalore she would call Maasi every weekend and ask her to take her to Punjab. It irritated me. Perhaps it hurt me too. I did not want Mamman to call Maasi. I did not want her to beg Maasi to help us. Last year, when I went to the US for three weeks, I left Mamman with her brother in Patiala. I stopped contact with Maasi for months.

Now, Maasi started combing Mamman’s hair. She recalled the time when Mamman would do this for her. We got Mamman new clothes, salwars with elasticised belts, easier to slip on and remove.

I realised, in my heart, that I had judged Maasi harshly. She’d had her share of troubles. Widowed early, she had no children, and after Nanaji died she had no support. She had fought hard to build her medical practice. Watching her spend time with Mamman in between her demanding hospital work, I understood why she always said she could keep Mamman provided I stayed on to take care of her.

Even if Maasi had wanted to she could not have spared too much time for Mamman. She was busy with her patients, some of whom came to her at any time of the day and night, and many of whom could not afford other private hospitals. And in the end, Mamman was my responsibility, after all, not Maasi’s.

One of the biggest issues Maasi and I faced was Mamman’s constipation. Palliative care literature will tell you that one of the certain side effects of medication for cancer is constipation. I told Maasi, who had also noticed a bulge in Mamman’s tummy. She organised gloves and buckets and we started giving Mamman mild laxatives.

Maasi did not mind cleaning Mamman. She cleans her dog Sheru’s poo; she administers enemas to her patients. Still, initially Maasi recoiled at Mamman’s condition. I think Mamman’s constipation had been building up over months. After Mamman passed away and I returned to Bangalore I discovered that Mamman’s bathroom flush did not work on full pressure. She would have had to pour a bucket of water after going to the toilet. I think ever since Mamman could not pick up the bucket she started avoiding going to the toilet. And then I remembered—many a time in the last few months Mamman took medicine for dysentery if she ever happened to go to the toilet twice a day.

When I saw Maasi recoil, I had half a mind to take Mamman away. Then I saw Mamman’s expression after she passed a stool. It said: Well, this is what it is, I cannot help it. That expression undid my ego. I think it also spoke to Maasi. After that, we participated in that one activity which is most shameful for both the patient and the caregiver in absolute silence.

Now our common intention was to help Mamman; when we were with her, it was all that occupied our minds. To me, I think it was a way of blocking the feeling of complete helplessness. Uselessness. First her mental illness, now cancer; she had always suffered alone. Once when Maasi saw me washing Mamman’s soiled salwar she gave up trying to tell me to not participate in her care. Before that she would say it was work for a girl. I would say I was a daughter to Mamman.

That is what we became, genderless. We dressed Mamman, helped Mamman to the potty, bathed her. I carried a naked Mamman to and from the bathroom and Maasi gave her baths. Mamman could trust us. We were her Gods. And she was ours. Serving her was our life. It was our penance.

One night, Mamman fell asleep around eleven. I was working on my computer. I came and lay down next to her, watching her. I saw Mamman’s body becoming stiff. Her face started contorting, becoming darker. She threw away the sheet covering her and her arms started bending at unusual angles. I sat up in bed. My ears were attuned to her breathing. The oxygen pipe slipped from her nose. I put it back again. Her legs started bending, she started to turn. I gently pushed her back into the position where the oxygen pipe was most comfortable. Her body kept twisting and soon she became unrecognisable.

I stood up next to her, stepped back, came close, and kept watching her. I do not know if this is an appropriate way of saying this: she started looking like an abject beggar, homeless, destitute, and sick.

In the last few days Mamman and I had started reciting the mool mantar together. It was not out of a sense of religion. It was more a custom. Once, when I was a teenager, I had asked Mamman why she did not pray. "Why should I pray? What has God given me?" she had said. But in the last two years of her life she had started to listen to gurbani and kirtan broadcast live from the Golden Temple. I do not think Mamman ever analysed the lines. When we did the mool mantar, I always led the recitation. Maasi had given me a compact disc of Nit Nem and I played it in the morning before I played Mamman songs from her favourite cassette. From time to time I also played the Sukhmani Sahib on tape.

That night, I think I recited the mool mantar as I watched Mamman in silent agony. Was it something terrible in her mind again, or was it a physical pain?

Slowly, as the night waned, Mamman got back her looks. By morning she started looking as she was when she had gone to sleep. I covered her. I did not speak about what I had seen. A day after the night episode I was sitting at my table at four in the evening when Mamman asked for another khes, a cotton rug. I thought she might be a little cold and gave her the khes. I checked her temperature. It was fine. Her breathing was normal. I went back to working when Mamman asked for a blanket. I went out of the room, found Prem, Maasi’s Man Friday, and asked him for a blanket. Prem found a warm blanket. He and I put that on Mamman. I switched off the cooler. I asked Prem to call Maasi. He said the priests from the Chor Mar Sahib Gurudwara had come and Maasi was attending to them.

I did not know how to make Mamman warm. I started massaging her feet. She was not getting any warmth. I started massaging her hands. She was still feeling cold. I wondered if this was how death came, like a chill. I had seen Papa just after he passed away. He did not say anything; he was cold, yet his breath vanished slowly while he was in my hands. I thought I was seeing the chill invade Mamman.

Suddenly the room door opened and I saw a priest. Maasi was with him and introduced him as Bhai Gurpal Singh. He was tall, angular-faced, and had a certain serenity. I turned towards him, still holding Mamman’s hand, and asked him if he could pray. I could think of nothing more holy than prayers when Mamman was leaving her body.

The Guru Granth Sahib is a collection of beautiful poetry by poets and saints who mused upon life and living. What could be better than reciting their pure words when someone was dying? He asked what prayers. I said Japuji Sahib. He said this was not the time for that. I said anything, Sukhmani Sahib, or just the mool mantar.

He quickly went to the bathroom to wash his hands and feet and came back. In the Sikh tradition we cannot not have any person at a level higher than the level from where the prayers are recited. Knowing that Mamman could not get up, Bhai Gurpal Singh climbed on to the double bed and sat down cross-legged. He started reciting the mool mantar, and a bit of the Japuji Sahib. Maasi sat on a chair, Prem stood at the door. I covered my head with a towel and knelt down next to Mamman, crying and rubbing her hands. Bhai Gurpal Singh recited the prayers for ten minutes. That time, for me, was a period of total acceptance of what might happen.

In those minutes Mamman’s face started regaining colour. When Bhaiji finished, I asked Mamman how she was feeling. She said she was fine. I asked if she was cold. She said no, I could remove the blanket. She said Sat Sri Akal to Bhaiji. I touched his feet.

What was this? Did God come to save Mamman? I feel it was the power of recitation, of centering your thoughts. Some power, maybe God, was showing me how we can centre ourselves to rise above our maladies.

Mamman’s back had started perforating. She had also started developing rashes under her wound, though the hole itself had almost closed. While we were at Dabwali, a patient of Maasi’s complained about pain in the breast. Maasi immediately referred her for mammography. It turned out the woman had breast cancer and the doctors operated on her. Later, she came to Maasi to get her breast dressed. Maasi said that Mamman’s laceration seemed exactly like that woman’s who had undergone surgery.

We got Mamman’s chest X-rayed and found the fluid in her lungs was rising. We had done another test to find her CA 15-3 protein levels. CA 15-3 protein is a marker of the extent of breast cancer. The normal range is between 0.5 and 32; Mamman’s reading was 265. But she did not feel any pain; at least she said she had no pain.

What prevented that pain? Was it God, in whom she did not believe?

I know a story. There were a priest and a robber. The priest prayed to God every day and every day the robber came and slapped the idol of God with his slippers. On days when it rained or if it was too hot, the priest did not pray but the robber never missed a single day.

Finally when God appeared, he appeared to the robber and not the priest. Was Mamman’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge God so great that God had intervened and helped her? I do not know. Still there is the matter of Mamman’s cancerous breast vanishing and she not feeling any pain. Did God think that she had suffered enough in the labyrinths of her mind? Or was her schizophrenia allowing her the distance?

On May 21 Mamman developed crepitation, a rattling sound in the lungs. After that every morning we spent hours reviving Mamman. Finally, we kept the oxygen on twenty-four hours and started feeding Mamman while she lay on the bed. In those days, every time it happened, Maasi and her attendants tried out these things: a nebulizer, injections to raise or reduce blood pressure, and an oral drop for the heart. It seemed to me that if these were the only weapons we humans had evolved over the last couple of thousand years to fight death, we had followed a very false trajectory of evolution.

On the morning of May 28 we found it hard to revive Mamman. We tried injections, nebulizer, drops, everything, but Mamman would not open her eyes. Maasi even brought the holy water from the sarovar at Amritsar and touched it to Mamman’s eyelids and put some in her mouth. After some time Mamman opened her eyes. It had taken us six hours.

That afternoon, at around four, Mamman said she wanted to go to the bathroom. For the last couple of days we had encouraged Mamman to urinate and even defecate on the bed on plastic sheets. I had often changed her in the middle of night. But Mamman now forced herself to sit up and asked me to help her to the bathroom.

I removed her oxygen tube and half-carried her to the toilet seat. When she finished, I helped Mamman to the bed. I fixed her nebuliser and felt she was not responding to my call. I ran down and saw Maasi had not yet got into the operating theatre. I called her.

Maasi came up and checked Mamman’s blood pressure. It had fallen. She quickly arranged for an injection and while she was treating Mamman she started berating me. Her words were harsh. She had panicked.

Everything came out. She scolded me for not discovering Mamman’s cancer soon enough. She scolded me for never having done enough for Mamman, for not holding on to my marriage. She scolded me for not having a woman in my life who could have looked after Mamman. She scolded me for letting Mamman go to the toilet. Most of all she scolded me for caring for Mamman’s needs as if I were alone while I was with her, for not letting her, Maasi, participate even when she was right there, next to her own sister.

Finally, I gave in to anger. I started speaking back. I said I did not know of another way but to be alone. I had done my best, she had done her best, but where was she or anybody else for the whole of Mamman’s life? Mamman yearned for love but no one would give it to her. I said that as soon as I could earn I got both Mamman and Papa to live with me. I saw to it that Papa fulfilled his wishes before he died; I was seeing to it that Mamman fulfilled her wishes. There had been no one and there would be no one after I left Dabwali. Then I walked out of the room.

I paced the courtyard, calming myself, and it occurred to me that the last month had been the most fulfilling for Mamman, but it did not take away from the fact that Mamman had been neglected by her own and Papa’s family all her life. Did that mean that all that had happened in the last month was false? No, I thought to myself: no, it does not mean that. The period before the month was true and this month is also true. The period in the future will be true. All truth exists. All of it exists simultaneously. Each moment contains in it the truth of the past, present and future.

I came back. Mamman had urinated again. I called Maasi. I let her change Mamman. She was doing it badly because her hands were trembling. I helped her. We saw Mamman had also defecated. We cleaned her up. I cried. I apologized to Maasi. Maasi told me my anger was the same as it was when I was a child.

That night Maasi and I both fed Mamman together. In some ways the outburst had relaxed us. Our poison drawn, we became lighter. But we forgot that Mamman had heard everything. I think it did something to her. I remember a few days before Papa passed away I had scolded him. Papa had called me at the office saying he wanted to get new sofa covers. I said we must wait. He did not listen and started shouting at me. I had to raise my voice and silence him. In a few days I got new sofa covers made, but Papa saw them only once. He passed away soon after that. He died of cardiac arrest. Mamman also died of cardiac arrest. Both their hearts collapsed but my anger broke their hearts before they collapsed.

I am not beating myself up for what happened but I do realise that anger is a destructive force. I also realise that anger, when it comes from the tongue, is most destructive. If I do not learn this now, I will never learn it.

Early morning on May 29, I gave Mamman some tea with a spoon, and then her medicines. By this time Mamman was on twenty-two tablets and her doctors said each of them was necessary.

When Papa had hit 13 tablets I had sensed something was wrong. Now Mamman was on twenty-two, plus the laxative and sometimes injections. Cheryl said that twenty-two tablets were like a complete lunch. I wondered why we do not have combination medicines for the aged.

So Maasi and I had started on a new way of administering the pills: crushing them and giving them in powder form. It was such a simple idea to crush her tablets, but it never occurred to me earlier. That is what we need when we provide care: simple and effective ideas. There was still so much to learn.

That morning Mamman asked for tea thrice. The third time, at around 10.30, I told her to wait until my father’s family came from Rajpura; they had called to say they wanted to visit her. Finally, my father’s family came: Chachaji, Phuphadji, Mummyji, Manju Bhabhiji and Lali Veerji. Mamman talked to each one, she even asked about Manju Bhabhi’s daughter Muskaan. I fed Mamman tea again. We talked some more. I tried to feed daal and roti to Mamman. She could not eat much. I asked Maasi to feed her. I sat down for lunch with the others. Maasi was feeding Mamman inside. Just when I was finishing lunch, and the others were about to eat the mangoes, Maasi called me to Mamman’s room.

Mamman was gasping for breath. An attendant was trying to give her an injection. Maasi was standing near Mamman, holding her hand. She was crying. I thought I heard Mamman say "chah". Tea. Or maybe desire. Then she was quiet. I went close to Mamman. I waved to the attendant to stop the injection. Mamman had begun her journey into peace. I started saying that I was proud she was my mother, that I had not seen her kind of courage in anyone, that she had been a truly brave daughter of her father, that I was the President of India, that I had learnt so much from her, that she and I had had a wonderful life, and Papa had worked hard to ensure we got that life.

Mamman was almost without breath. She opened her eyes and I started reciting the mool mantar. I told her Maasi and I were with her. We loved her. Mamman passed away. It was 2.15pm.

Maasi, Manju Bhabhi and I bathed Mamman. We dressed her. Maasi had readied clothes for Mamman and me. The sun was to set at 7.30pm. We planned the cremation on the same day.

Bhai Gurpal Singh said the prayers. I stayed back until the funeral pyre went out. Workers from Maasi’s farm helped with the cremation. Half an hour after the pyre was lit, one of them said that Mamman’s skull had burst. The head which had confused the world, the head which was Mamman’s prison, had finally released her.

Mamman had wanted to die in her real home, in Punjab, and in the presence of Papa’s family. I remember scenes from my childhood, when this family treated Mamman like an animal. They would beat her and lock her in a room. Mamman had forgotten that. Or maybe she thought she deserved it because of her mental illness. That Mummyji, Papa’s elder brother’s wife, and now the head of the family, had come to meet her was important to Mamman. In a way Mummyji released Mamman.

I slept fitfully that night. I dreamt that I was back at nursery school. I was standing at the gate. The mothers of all the other children had come and taken them. I was waiting for Mamman. She had not come. The next morning we picked the phul—flowers, a euphemism for bones. We placed them in the locker of the cremation ground. In the afternoon we took the ashes of the wood to a canal close by.

When we emptied the gunnysack I saw the ashes spreading out in the canal in the form of a human body. The arms stretched to the sides, the body horizontal. The shape in the canal looked like how Mamman was when we picked the sheet off her and took her for her last bath, before her funeral.

I was unable to close my eyes for a moment from the time I picked the phul, the flowers, until we reached Haridwar and immersed them in the Ganga. And when I finally closed my eyes I saw horrible things: Mamman’s body being cut in the middle, a pile of faeces next to her pyre, and so on.

Maasi and I immersed the flowers at the very same place where Mamman and I had immersed Papa’s flowers. In my mind I sang "Jeena yahaan, marna yahaan", just like I had sung Madhushala for Papa.

I looked at the river waters and I do not know if it was an apparition but I saw two silver fishes swimming away.

I came back to Bangalore. I picked up my car from my friend’s home and drove to the house. I opened the door and went upstairs. Famida had not touched Mamman’s room. I had told her not to. I lay down on Mamman’s bed. A few days before Mamman passed away I had dreamt that I had returned to this house and was sleeping in Papa’s room, which after him I had made my own.

Mamman was calling me from her bed, the way she used to in her last days in Bangalore. I dreamt that I could not get up. Her cries became more insistent. In my dream I felt I would go crazy.

Every day I wake up and have my breakfast. I leave home, I work, I return in the evening. Famida cooks the dinner. I have taken out some old photographs. I will blow them up and put them up on the walls. I don’t know how long I will live in this house.

Someday I will leave and never return.

(Reprinted with the publisher's permission.)

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