For those who always thought that I am irrational, impaired and emotionally unbalanced, here is your justification. Perhaps, you were dead-on about me. I also realized recently that people who have had disgusting flare-ups at me are unequivocally reasonable. That is because I am worthy of all the animosity, the resentment and anything that those that loathe flung at me. It is not that I’ve unpredictably turned ‘Gandhian’ but it is that realization how aggravating I have been to a lot of people around me. I am genuinely remorseful for beseeching your inner demons. There is a lot I wish I could take back but I’ve come too far to ask for pardon.
When I was eleven years old, I learned what most people my age don’t get to learn. The lessons of compassion. What I should’ve learned was to have fun, delight in the last few years of my childhood before entering the chaotic realm of adolescence. My mom and grandmother (Mom’s mom) trusted my little shoulders so much that they let my big head rest on them. During one such trustworthy circumstance, I was left at home to stay with Kamalakka Peddamma (Mom’s elder sister) and her husband, Lakshmaiah Peddananna while they attended a cremation of another relative.
Peddamma didn’t study at all and Peddananna made a highly regarded living. They had three kids, two daughters and a son. Neither of them were accommodating, so our home gave them the comforts that they couldn’t find in their own. Peddananna had a skin condition where his upper body was covered in puss and blood-filled boils. And they would rupture often nearly making a crime scene of the surroundings. That fateful night, he had one such episode. Peddamma struggled to keep it together. And with my tiny hands I helped her clear the blood that splattered onto the walls, bedsheets and the floor.
A few months later, Peddamma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Even then they were very unwelcome in their kids’ homes. I am one of fourteen first cousins on mom’s side. Her son is the firstborn male in our extended family. She was at a stage where she forgot how to cook for herself and her husband. Neighbors in their village took pity and fed them whenever, whatever they could. One day when her husband couldn’t bear hunger pangs any more, he chewed on raw rice. This, he shared with my mom with a lot of hurt and defeat.
I sometimes forget that my mom is not Mother Teresa. Because our home was nothing less than the ‘Kalighat Home for the Dying’. Peddamma’s Alzheimer’s worsened and at one time, her head was infested in lice. That day, my heart broke from seeing her in such a destitute condition. My grandmother and I spent a big chunk of our day cleaning her up, applying anything and everything we thought would get rid of the swarm. We couldn’t and had to shave her head. The worst part is that she didn’t realize what was happening with her. I never saw such an agony on any mother’s face that I saw in my grandmother. This might be why I don’t remember having a childhood.
My grandmother took custody of Peddamma until she died in January, 1999. I lost my best friend, my confidante and a mother figure. My mom was always on tours because of her job. And my dad lived and worked in a town 200 miles from home and visited only over weekends. My mom and I became close only after my grandmother died. Within ten days of her passing, my Peddananna died too. Their kids did show any inclination to take care of their mom, Peddamma. My mom in a pursuit to teach them a lesson tried to impose my Peddamma on them.
My cousin, her son, even succumbed to the pressure and took Peddamma with him. There was no correspondence for the longest time and my mom, my uncle and I decided to make a surprise visit to my cousin’s place. When we landed at their doorstep, I died a thousand deaths. Peddamma was outside his home in a make-shift shed made out of old comforters. She looked emaciated, I could see her bones as there was no flesh left, her eyes were out of their sockets and she must’ve weighed 40 lbs. She passed away shortly after but I had already come to the US. That day I made the biggest promise to myself that I would take care of my parents even if it meant that I never got married.
I wasn’t there to see any of the three deaths. But my mom and I are repeatedly overcome with heartache and nostalgia that we should have done more to give them a gracious passing. This January, exactly after 20 years, my cousin, Peddamma’s only son passed away almost under the same circumstances of abandonment by his own family. Hope he finds peace in his after life. How messed up I could’ve been that I felt no penitence. I also wonder if I have no soul left in me. Or may be, I have become unattached to filial affections.
These are not tales of lifetime but scars that remind you that life is not kind to all. When I am told to be positive, to practice meditation, not expel revulsion, I fail to register the realism of the people who seem to wish me well. I admire the tenacity of those who’ve been through worse hell than I may have and still hold their chin high. I have nothing but pity for those who have no clue of what comes to be, when adversities hit. “Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” So forgive me if I choose to be unmindful of your travesties and unfit benevolences. I deserve better.