Three days after Mummy’s birthday, in the early hours of the 6th of April, 2011, my phone rang. It was G Swami informing me emotionally that Denis had passed away a short while ago. He isn’t talking, or breathing, he’s gone, said Swami.
Within half an hour we were on the road – it was an exhausting drive at any time but this time we were constantly on our phones, talking to the children in the US, our friends and people phoning condolences, and the people in Brahmanpalli. The people there were now made up of the Air Force from a nearby base, people who lived in our compound and the Reddy’s compound, the priest and other local people. These good folks, knowing it would take us time to reach there, had started organizing for the mass and the funeral.
An Air Force doctor had visited and confirmed the death and on our request had given Mummy a mild sedative. My sister Jeanne, travelling by plane reached earliest and was the one to tell Mummy the news.
My father’s face even in death showed what a peaceful and calm person he had always been. The features of his face at rest appeared as if he could lift the corners of his mouth in a gentle smile. It seemed as if he was satisfied and unafraid to be leaving the world of endless toil though he had always done his work with the best of humour. For months he had been preparing – his will, his bank work, his last wishes and had made phone calls even to an undertaker. After he died we found out how much he had thought of everyone. His bank balance was small but half of that he settled on each one who worked there. We found files with letters of requests for work and letters he wrote to various people to help those looking for work. This was left incomplete because someone in Brahmanpalli phoned and asked about something we were not aware of that may have been in the works.
April is a hot miserable month in the Deccan Plateau. Because of water shortages, the heat, lack of energy and time the beautiful garden was non-existant and the pond stone dry. But in the evening before the sunset and before the mosquitoes could start their pestering we wheeled Mummy out to the grave. She, who liked privacy and did not like crowds was undeterred and had sat in her wheelchair watching the last respects being paid, sat through the mass, and let people condole with her.
Denis had asked to be buried next to his beloved dog Max who had died saving him from a cobra many years ago.
Mummy said lucidly, I don’t know what to feel, because I can’t believe it.
It was quiet in the house now. Vani was taking care of her in the bedroom and all of us gathered in the living room – we felt stronger and calmer together, my sister Jeanne had run out of the house as we arrived and hugged me tight. Deborah, undoubtedly the closest to my father, was her usual introspective self. Some of their kids were with us and how much I missed my own two children at that time. We sat talking till 2 a.m.
It was the end of an era for all of us, and more so for my mother. They had married when she was twenty and he was twenty one. We still say, in moments of remembering our younger days that the two stars of our family – our eldest sister Linda who died in 1970 at the age of nineteen, and Denis – are now gone and only we remain. Meanwhile of course, our family membership has expanded to include husbands and children, now grown, and their families. We don’t all live close by and in times of worry or insecurity we miss everyone and especially think of and miss these two, even more.
I went into my parents room. There was Mummy in sleep, how restful I don’t know. I lay down on Denis’ bed and overwhelmed with the events of the day was asleep in no time. As if nothing in the world had changed, the cool of the morning brought the calling and chattering of birds, the kitchen sounds, my mother’s voice, Denis, Denis. We were all up and for a day or two getting into the kitchen to prepare interesting meals, especially for the Nuns who were going to visit – this house had been willed to them to start an orphanage and school for girls of the locality – kept us absorbed till more compelling tasks had to be taken care of.
It would be more than six months before Mummy would stop calling out his name but even now there is a flicker of interest if we say it but where is the point in causing her any bewilderment. At first she would look away from his photograph as though it caused her some pain, I don’t know really, but then maybe she eased into the fact that she was the survivor of their partnership. In her room in our house there are portraits of both of them.
They had been married for sixty one years.