Mummy had been a great collector of plants, liking striking foliage and colour. But some of the plants outside had been seen off by white ants which were a plague in the place. Her white poinsettia, with its delicate petalled flowers had not survived, rose bushes had been attacked mercilessly, even the glorious masandas were not spared.
Only the hardiest things grew here with minimum maintenance and real shortage of water. Only the rain caused grass to grow, but some of the plants she had collected for these grounds, the pink, white and orange ixoras, the bottlebrush tree, were still there, still thriving, still blossoming joyously, still a reminder of her earlier self.
How could it be that in spite of that gaze into the middle distance we could think she felt no joy, no pain, no disappointment. Denis would remark that it really was hard to realize what to do for her because she never said what she truly felt…except to tell off somebody for interfering with her….to take Mummy on to the verandah, one of the solid pillars holding up the car port had to be scraped at a certain level to allow the wheel chair to go through.
These things, like the bathroom door that opened inwards and blocked access to the bathing area, became design flaws in a very, very spacious house once a disability occurred. Anyway, sometimes she would ‘walk’ or more accurately, be frog marched by impatient ‘carers’ wanting to get to the end result soon…getting her to the table or in bed or outside.
Maybe she thought of earlier times there, festive times when they had friends over, the place was filled with music and our children running about. Brahmanpalli was a great place for city bred kids—(once years ago, Santa had arrived in a tractor, to the cheering of surprised grandchildren, courtesy our neighbour, Uncle Krishna Reddy). Maybe what took the fun out of everything was the nuisance of being hauled around to get anywhere, having to lean with all her weight on the walker, being told, don’t lean back, you’ll fall, lean forward, don’t slip your shoe off, pay attention, don’t leave the walker. Such a litany of don’ts, all sorts of negatives meant for her own safety but which made a feisty person like her maybe feel there were too many orders being barked at her all the time.
Once outside on the verandah we would be busy drinking our endless glasses of nimbu pani, talking about local things and other things. It was drunk like tea is drunk in some households and it helped in ensuring my parent’s health. Both my parents smoked like chimneys. Still, this nimbu pani was a great barrier against everyday illnesses.
The greatest loss we all feel is what I’ll come to next, her wonderful, original mind and the genuine way she uttered what she felt. After all, this phase of her life did not mean that she had been silent and withdrawn before. She had always kept small hurts and large sorrows to herself, while young, while middle-aged, while old – only rarely, as my sister Deborah recalls, and my father would sometimes tell us – speaking of the anguish that her psoriasis caused her. She dealt with it however. It is only now that she has 24 hour paid carers. She did whatever she could on her own, for her skin condition. And besides, she had done much in the years when Air Force wives had to just care about a husband’s career, Visiting Air Force stations, being involved in AFWWA (the Air Force Wives Welfare Association), and generally propping up her husband’s career, though it was not her most favourite activity
and had little or no means to indulge in intellectual or money earning pursuits. She had been an active part of a literary influence on us. She was a self-learner and had never been to college but her reading had been far more serious than a lot of post graduates. This what I like to think of, and remind myself of….