the death of an aunt

My aunt passed away yesterday. She was 90. I had lost touch with her for many years though she lived a stone's throw away. A few days back I had been informed of her ailing health but somehow never found the time or inclination to make the short trip and see her, even if she was as I was told comatose. I wish I had.

When news of her passing reached me, I rushed to her side for a last glimpse of the old soul. I watched her frail and lifeless body and memories came rushing back, memories of me as a little girl, memories I had forgotten. And today as an aging woman myself I realised that she and I had a lot in common, even if did take one whole life to realise that.

My aunt was a very avant garde lady, one who was oft misunderstood and thus marginalised. It is perhaps this insensitive reaction of others in the family that made us shun her all these years. In times when women were at best appendixes of their husbands, she decided to live life on her own terms. She was a classical dancer and taught dance in a school of a small mufassil town. Unlike her peers who lived their lives in the shadows of their spouses, she lived hers in the bright sunlight. She lived in the outhouse of my grandfather's home, and one of the high points of my holidays was to sneak to her home and spend time with her. My uncle was a lawyer and left home at 10 am. That was when I moved in. The next hours were spent with my aunt. Her life ran like a clockwork orange. She practised her dance and you can imagine what a thrill that was for a young child. Then she made her rotis, warmed her meal and laid it out on a small table in the veranda and sat with a magazine that she read for a while before partaking of her meal. I often asked her why she did that. Her answer was: This way, I feel I am being served, like a queen. Needless to say that this attitude of hers was made fun of by others, but today I understand what she meant. I often shared her meal. She ate at 12 sharp way before others, and then she would shoo me away, as it was her nap time, something she would never give up. At three her cycle rickshaw would come to fetch her for her classes. She was always impeccably dressed in bright sarees, a flower in her hair and she left home regally perched on her coach, come heat or rain.

She taught me a few steps of dance and sometimes even took me with her to her class. I watched goggled eyed imbibing a world I still did not know existed. This was undoubtedly the first free spirit I had met, and perhaps a secret role model I would emulate in my own way. Her last years on this planet were lonely and dark. A staunch believer in naturopathy - she never swallowed a pill in her life - she stubbornly refused to get her cataracts operated and thus turned slowly blind. But that did not stop her from living her way, the magazine was replaced by the TV serial.

I did tell you she was a avant-garde lady. In the sixties where women never traveled alone she decided to come and visit us in Algeria where we were posted. She made the trip with her young son and her dance paraphernalia and even performed for a TV show. Her spirit was finally broken by a fall and she spent the last months of her life bedridden and robbed of all that she had stood for.

As I watched the flames of her pyre rise high, I could see her spirit soar and flyaway. She had been finally released from a world that never truly understood her. May she rest in peace.