After Denis passed away we stayed three weeks in Brahmanpalli, our last stay in this familiar dwelling place. The beloved house which my father had once said he would leave feet first, was settled as he had wished and put into the hands of its gracious successors. It was officially and once and for all transferred to the Order of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. There was bank work to be done, Mummy’s medical papers to be filed and kept, and other sentimental things to be sifted through, the whole household to be wound down, the car to be sold. No more would our car stand side by side with Denis’ car as it always did on our visits there.
Throughout all this hectic activity Mummy was mostly tranquil though she would shout out for someone to be with her most often when she awoke from a slumber. It was sad that she could not participate in much of anything except our evening conversations in the living room but also we were keeping from her the knowledge of the more painful tasks like giving away my fathers clothes and other personal effects. There was hardly ever a lull in the activities of winding up the place but she had to be seen to as well, lying there alone in her double occupancy bedroom. Sometimes we would sit there sorting through papers and pictures, sitting on my father’s bed, and she would be so glad to have all this company. As much as Denis had been a collector of stuff she was indifferent to possessions, only very occasionally stating ownership of anything.
The Swamis would now return to work in the Air Force after twenty three years of staying near their own village. What would happen to Vani? Growing up in her village next door and speaking only her native language and some English she did not want to come and live in Maharashtra (the state where two of us live), where she would be away from her family and friends. She had not been able to pass her exams but was well trained in how to care for an elderly patient – if that was what she wanted to do. She told us that most probably her parents would use the money willed to her to arrange a marriage for her.
We decided to have a proper grave constructed and that surprising little town of Toopran turned up a marble seller and contractor who set up shop in a corner of the garden. They built a brick structure to begin with and there was endless discussion of measurements of sides, height, width and how many slabs it would take. We saw it emerge in shape day by day, little by little. Then they dropped the largest slab that would be the top cover and it broke in half. More confusion. Next they measured and cut the slab for the lettering much too narrow. Everyone’s nerves were getting frayed. The engravers were a different group which came from the city, and on the final day of construction they arrived complaining about how they had had a hard time trying to fit the wording to the width. Around four in the afternoon the finishing work started.
The lettering had been printed to the size of the slab and made to adhere to its surface. We couldn’t help remarking how much Denis would have enjoyed watching the young artisan at work chiselling by hand expertly and fast along the outline of the lettering.
The paper was removed and the rough insides were inked. Before the sun could set, because there was no other good light to work by, they placed this expertly on top of the grave. This was just in time for the evening prayer which was said by sometimes us, sometimes someone from Vani’s family or else the Swamis.
Frangipani, bougainvillea, hibiscus, whatever bloomed in that awfully hot weather was collected and placed with clay lamps around and then we all trooped inside to spend the night with the notorious mosquitoes.
Every room in the house was occupied. Someone would always be working on the computer, someone making phone calls and setting up meetings with this and that official of land records and other business, someone making lists of things to do, someone remembering something else very vital. We were tearing up heaps of papers, old letters, many of them ours to our parents, copies of photos – there were thousands of photos to sort. We nevertheless had to bring a huge amount here.
These are valuable to us – many were pictures that we did not even know about. One of them, the only one, is of our living room in Air Force quarters in Delhi in the early Sixties,
and this one of us four sisters at an airbase in 1965, unlike in the tight security restrictions of the present, being able to show our friends a fighter plane. Many other photos are from our childhood and teenage years – old, old, family photos from which I was able to construct some kind of timeline and generational order for the grandchildren and great grandchildren if, and whenever they get interested in knowing their family stories. My father’s dark room had to be dismantled and the photographic equipment given to owners of a film studio he had known well.
Left behind was the beautiful model boat my father had made in the early seventies, many paintings, furniture, books, though we chose and brought most of the best ones here.
The preparations and finalizations over we were ready to move Mummy to our place in Pune. But that’s another story.