Today morning, my grand-aunt passed away. If you ask me, how close I was to her, I am not sure. But if you ask me how close she was to me, I have a different, emphatic answer.
She was unobtrusive, quiet and soft-spoken. She was small-built, being less than 5' tall, and frail and delicate, like a fine, porcelain doll. She never uttered a harsh word ever, to anyone, or so it seemed to me. The only thing large about her was her heart. She was kindness personified. Which meant that for over 60 years now, their spacious apartment has been home to anyone from the extended family visiting Mumbai, and staying even for months and years, sometimes, no questions asked or answered.
Many, like me, felt close to her, because she was always there, for anyone who wanted to meet her, be with her. And now that she won't be there any more, it feels like a part of my emotional skyline has disappeared. I do not remember feeling like this even when my Mother and before her, my Father passed away, sad though I felt then. I felt emotionally strengthened when I saw my grand-uncle take it stoically and philosophically, at age 101. "Everyone has to face this in life", he said. He continues to be an exemplar.
About 2 weeks back, on hearing that she was not keeping too well, I, with my family, visited her, an hour's drive away. My teenaged children, like most of their age, do not particularly like visiting relatives. But visiting her was special, for them too. They wanted to accompany us, said so, and did so. Not that they even understood what she spoke. She usually spoke in Konkani, my mother-tongue, whereas they are not comfortable in that tongue. English and Tamil is what they are comfortable with. Yet, they just wanted to be there.
She was very expansive and inclusive in her blessings: May you be happy and succeed in whatever you do, wherever you may be! she intoned softly. She was devout to a fault, till the very end.
In law, a person is said to have attained a particular age on the day before his/her birthday. By that logic, my grand-aunt and grand-uncle completed 75 years of married life today. They tied the knot on 29 May, 1936. That was really way back - when my father was a 4-year old, and my mother yet to be born. This union, that brought forth three children, but extended a protective umbrella for perhaps 100 others from the extended family, is destined to shine in our extended family's memory as an unusually rich and productive union. Not because of its sheer longevity, but because of the rich tapestry they wove out of the threads of family, keeping them together for over half a century as pater familias and mater familias. Tomorrow, probably 100 or more relatives would have gathered to wish both of them and seek their blessings. Instead, many more will probably make it there a day early, to pay their last respects to one of them. Indeed, their youngest son was on a 2-day visit to be with them for the 75th marriage anniversary celebrations, which will, sadly enough, now not happen.
When I last met her about 2 weeks back, she was very talkative - to the extent that she felt out of breath. She bemoaned the fact that she came to know of my mother's passing away over a year after the event. This fact was hidden from them by all of us, knowing how close my mother (their nephew's wife) was to both of them, to spare them the sadness and possible shock. In that period, she never failed to ask after my mother whenever I met her.
A brief statistical note:
Recently, I researched a bit on the Web and found that my grand-uncle and grand-aunt could lay claim to a rare distinction - that of being the oldest living couple in India reckoned by the sum of their ages. This sum, as of today, was a staggering 193 years and 184 days, when their union came to an end. In deference to the wishes of the immediate family I did not publicize this fact earlier. Indeed, they are probably the second oldest ever in India, second only to Philipose and Sosamma Thomas of Kerala. Sosamma passed away in 2006 at which time their combined age was 201 years and 198 days.
Revati Atmaram Haldipur, R.I.P.