Even now, every time I come across an article related to heart disease, I tend to store away as much information as possible so that I can call my mother and lecture her how to take care of herself. Just when I begin to read such a piece, I feel the tap of an invisible hand on my shoulder. I turn around to find my mother. "Don't bother, I'm gone now," she tells me. But a habit formed over 10 years does not die in just six months.
Only now when I am writing this post it strikes me that today happens to be two unsavoury anniversaries for me. Exactly 10 years ago, she underwent a bypass surgery in Delhi after it was found that she had had a silent heart attack. For nearly 10 days that she was in the intensive-care ward, we slept on the hospital floor at nights. In the morning I would return to my bachelor's pad and after a shower head for work. One of my assignments, even when my mother was in ICCU, was to cover the joint press conference of Bill Clinton and Atal Behari Vajpayee at Hyderabad House in Delhi.
I found Clinton boyish and charismatic. But what I liked most about him was the manner in which he closed the cap of his pen after signing a bilateral agreement with Vajpayee: he didn't replace the cap like we all do; instead, he gently placed the cap at the head on the pen and then, raising his palm, slapped it shut. What action, what style!
After turning in my copy, I took a bus to the hospital in the evening, hoping -- as I hoped every evening -- that my mother would have been taken off ventilator. She and a fellow patient, Krishna Gopal Kapoor, had remained on ventilator for an unusually long time after the surgery. That worried us. One night, while making our bed on the hospital floor, two young men, who were also going to sleep there, offered us a blanket. "We have a spare one, we don't need it, why don't you use it?" one of them said. They were the sons, or perhaps close relatives, of Mr Kapoor.
I can't quite recall if we accepted the blanket, but I can distinctly recall that it was about four in the morning when a hospital staff came out to the lobby and called out for the attendants of Mr Kapoor. I happened to be wide awake at the time, and I saw the two young men wake up with a start. They were taken inside the ward.
Early next morning I saw Mrs Kapoor sitting outside the ICCU ward. She was reading the Hanuman Chaalisa with such desperation as if she was holding Hanuman by the neck and telling him to ensure that nothing went wrong. Little did she know that her husband was already dead. I knew it, though I didn't have the heart to tell her that it was pointless to read Hanuman Chaalisa now. It was none of my business anyway: I was now even more worried about my mother.
Within minutes Mr Kapoor's body was wheeled out. The chants turned into wails. I could not bear the sight of the hysteria and went down for a smoke. Since his face was covered, I never got to see Mr Kapoor -- the man whose medical bulletins I had begun to follow just because his case was as bad as my mother's.
My mother, in spite of having a diabetes-weakened heart, was destined to live. She returned to Kanpur. Life returned to normal. And nine months later, I moved to Chennai, with the blessings of my mother. I was a bit hesitant to take up a job in Chennai, about 2,000 km away from Kanpur, considering she had just undergone a bypass surgery. But she asked me to go ahead: she was very fond of Chennai because she had spent much of her childhood here and spoke Tamil fluently. For her Chennai was still Madras, even though in day to day conversations with me she would take care to refer to the city as Chennai. That should make Karunanidhi happy.
Whatever I am today is because I live in Chennai, a place I might not have even thought of coming but for the encouragement by my mother. When it comes to taking important decisions in your life, you must always listen to the women -- be it your mother, wife, girlfriend or almost-girlfriend. They will never show you the wrong door.
Today is also the first anniversary of my last meeting with my mother. I have always made it a point to be home in Kanpur during Diwali, and any visit other than during Diwali has been purely whimsical. Last March, after I had just submitted the final manuscript of Chai, Chai to the publishers, I suggested to my wife that we pay a visit to Delhi and Kanpur. In Delhi my wife and I caught up with respective long-lost friends, while our visit to Kanpur reminded my parents that they also had a son other than Naano, the dog who would refuse to sleep unless he was allowed to rest his head on my mother's pillow.
In other words, the same time last year, Naano was alive, and so was my mom. That was the last time I was happy, really happy. Naano died in April, hit by a car as he joyfully sprang out of home in search of respite from the attention he got at home. I knew mother wouldn't last too long. She died in August.
I had dedicated Chai, Chai to my parents: I had no idea my mother would die barely a week before the book came out of the press. She never lived to see her son's first book. Worse, I am going to dedicate the book I am writing on Chennai to "the memory of my late mother." How I wish she was alive to read her son's book about a city she loved so much. She would have loved the book. For her, her son could never go wrong.