When I knew her, she was a lot older, though no less fun. She enacted out various nursery rhymes, made futile attempts at dancing, sent me letters filled with drawings, encouraged any sign of talent, and pampered me even when I feigned illness.
For the longest time, I always thought of her home as mine. A fairly inhibited child, I was myself only in her house. I played games in her backyard, watched Sesame Street on her ancient Black and White television set, and had my fill of bread, butter, jam (continues to be my comfort food today) during tea time. Occasionally she let me listen to her heartbeat with her stethoscope. Once we even performed surgery on a doll she made herself. She wrapped a piece of white cloth around a bottle, and drew two eyes, a nose, and a mouth on it.
I enjoyed going out with her. In hand-pulled rickshaws, we'd go to the market. I'd carry a small bag for a few vegetables, and we'd stop over at a sweet shop nearby, where she'd pick laddoos for the evening. One birthday, we went to the bakery instead, where I stood on a stool watching the baker carefully mark a beautiful cake with my name.
In the kitchen, she let me help even if i was being messy. I'd monitor the maids, authoritatively, pointing out corners that hadn't been swept. Otherwise I'd play with my dolls, listen in on conversations she had with Mummy, stare back at Mona Lisa (Mona Lisa Kochamma, as she tutored me to say), and hang from the windows talking to anyone who cared to listen. At times I'd wear a sari, she'd kept aside for me, and walk around with an air of importance. In the evening, Mummy, Ash, and I would walk to the park, where I'd look out for the ice cream vendor. We'd return in time for tea, when the family gathered in the dining room, talking.
As I grew older, she continued to be involved in my life; showing an interest in the books I read (She read one Nancy Drew before she died), making me chicken soup on a day off, and talking to my teacher about why I disliked going to school. When I began having fun in school, she was the most interested. I'd tell her about that play in which I merely had to drop dead, or the school choir that I'd become part off. I resumed my Carnatic music classes, but rarely ever sang in public. In a dilapidated building that housed minimal furniture, a mat, and an old harmonium, I sang without any inhibitions. A shy child, I promised I'd sing to her when she returned from Bombay.
* A lot changed after her death. I found the courage to sing in competitions, and act in plays with spoken parts. I won prizes, and continued singing in school. In college, I began writing short stories and articles, some of which made to the college paper. For a short time, I even wrote a weekly column for a website.
“I wonder if she knows”, I wondered aloud. “I'm sure she does,” responded Mummy.
* Since then I've stopped singing. I ran out of teachers, and the will to wake up in the morning for my riyaz. I wrote from time to time on various blogs, but I was mostly just reading (a hobby that I barely have time for, since Adiv's birth). I still think about her from time to time, wishing she'd been around to calm my nerves before my wedding, hold my baby soon after he was born, and enjoy a holiday in my house discussing Prince Charles and my stint in the UK. It is unfortunate that she missed meeting Ro and Adiv. But, It's a pity Adiv will never know her as I knew her, or understand her prominence in my childhood. To him she'll remain just a story, a gentle face in a photograph!