This bed is pristine. These sheets, I suspect ironed. This bed is where my Pishi hung out. She read the news, she watched the news, she sang along to Sonu Nigam, she yelled out instructions to her daughter, and chattered on and on to my nodding Uncle in the evenings.
My Pishi was a blunt, honest, no-nonsense and a hysterically funny woman. She thrived being with us 'young' folk and asked us (with unabashed thrill) about our sex lives. We lingered around her, no one wanted to leave too early- her insights and honesty about the world, our families, and our relationships were far too mesmerizing. Yes, we lingered with her, I stole earrings from her cupboards, and she lent me saris I would never return.
My Pishi had worried about my failing grades in high school and trouble with men early on in life. The issue was simple enough, the Indian schooling system had rendered me stupid academically, and I hadn't found a chance to find myself. That would take another 12 years. She told me if I was interested in writing, then do something about it. Or else, 'how about getting into acting?'
Yeah acting, she wanted to throw me into South Indian Cinema at the age of 20 because she loved me too much to see me so lost with life, maybe all my life juice would come together with acting, since I was so heavily into theatre at the time.
That never happened. Instead she watched me fumble, grope in the dark, for a sense of identity and success. When I moved back to India for good in 2012, only 6km away from her house, she finally saw me starting to thrive. Writing, starting my own business, responding in clear sentences instead of vague mumbling.
When Write Leela Write completed one year in 2015 , she had just finished multiple rounds of chemo for ovarian cancer. But she was over it, happy, her meaty silver earrings swung swell with her new short hair. She was done with the damn chemo and she was happy to move on. Not one for obsessing over health, not one for regular doctor check-ups, not one for giving undue importance to her life- she said we were a tiny spark in a raging fire. She hadn't understood that her speck of spark was our brightest light in our darkest times. She had not understood that her printed saris and manic laughter, her filthy vocabulary and her earnest attempt to set things right without being intrusive- well that was our life line.
At the end of the one year celebration she came up to me and said "Rheea your father would have been so proud of you today." Her eyes teary, her mouth slippery with the 3 mojitos she had at the party.
He would have been, it's true, but I was content that my mother was alive to see all this, and that Pishi was there to track my growing personal victories.
6 months later, at the peak of WLW's growth, Kala and I juggling multiple clients, Pishi's cancer came back. She had been heartbroken about a few things before she got really sick, and her sadness was a protein shake for her cancer. It pumped into her body, it yelled, it tore her a part. So we watched her on the bed, her sense of humour still intact until the morphine dazed her comfortably numb.Before the morphine won, she made wild jokes about her cancer, stunning the nurses with her jokes about her own impending death. We giggled in the corner further frightening the nurses. How can you describe the relationship we have with her? How do you tell strangers that it was completely fine to go up to her and tell her "Pishi, couldn't you have picked a better way to go? You can't even wear lipstick in here."
We sat outside the lobby when she was asleep and we talked to our clients on the phone, accepting deadlines and popping in and out of the office between hospital trips. Our work became our only sense of hope, our escape from the reality of impending loss. If we worked normal, if we diligently typed out emails and talked on the phone with sharp professional answers, then nothing could be that wrong.
Have you ever been on a plane with severe turbulence? I freak my good soul out when the plane bounces in the sky, then I look at the air hostesses and soak in the relief that comes with their calm faces, the relief that comes with their confident strides as they tuck in their beverage trolleys and smile at us as if we were children in a park about to ride a slide for the first time.
That's the normal we created at the time of loss. A merciless countdown of 10 days, and she was gone. Her daughter is just 18. She is only just starting to do the things my Pishi would have revelled in talking about with her- boys, college, career, stupid gossip, and most importantly how to be kind person. My Uncle is confused, caught in a black-hole of sorrow, enraged by this utter twist in life, a time when they should be setting sail and celebrating the decades of building a life together.
Will she be proud now? Who will track us now? As we get better and better at life, as we make healthier choices and swing into landscapes of successes that my father, that my mother, that my Pishi were always rooting for, you have to ask- why do you leave when we're just started doing the things you wanted us to do? Why do you leave when we just started being the people you had hoped we'd be.
And she answers, from inside, her voice, her laughter, tangled in my DNA, and she says - 'Isn't that the whole point, Rheea? Don't be a fucking drama queen.'
So we don't do drama. We work. We become people they thought we would be. We become people we had no idea we could be. We start to track other peoples' lives, we wish them well, we hope for them, we uncover their potential. Then one day we leave and pray they'll know how proud we are of them.