Death from the eyes of an 89 year old best friend
Many had gathered in the morning for the funeral of an elderly lady in our society. Death happened suddenly last night, while she was recuperating in the hospital for the past week. So, many did not know of it as yet. As a 35-year-old something lady was passing, she wondered as to for whom was the crowd assembled. This was the conversation between her and the one waiting for the body to be brought down from the second floor apartment.
“She passed away.”
“Mr Murthy’s mother. That good natured Aunty, so well dressed always, ever-smiling. The one who used to walk around the society, morning and evening.”
“Oh, Oh my God, how?”
“She was detected with Brain Cancer, a fortnight ago and it all got over in 15 days.”
“Oh, so one good thing is she did not have to suffer undergoing radiation, chemotherapy…by the way, how old was she?”
“Oh, she had a fulfilling life plus no suffering at the end of her life. Better to go this way. You know how that other Aunty, bed-ridden for so many months…”
And then a heart-tugging wail could be heard amidst the crowd. It was Phadnis Aunty, all of 89 years, with a crutch in one hand and her other arm resting on her ‘bai’. Slightly bent and unstable in her gait, she kept moving forward. Someone offered her a chair. She sat down, looking around in a daze.
I walked towards her. She held my hand and cried, “Oh, how can I live without Malati, my best friend. She had promised me that she would be the first one to come to me if I die, even before my son reaches me. She had assured me, no she had assured me. No, she can’t go like this.’ Malu, you had promised naa…then how could you go?”
Tears welled in my eyes.
I sat beside her. Phadnis Aunty continued, “I am 89 years and she, 82 years – much younger than me. Every evening we chatted for hours. I could call her even at midnight if I felt any discomfort. She used to tell me what to eat and what not to; give me tips for recovering, if I fell sick. And how can this then happen to her…Cancer and all that. And they hid this all from me. They just told me few days back. No, no, it is not possible to live without her. You may give me many reasons to live without her, but no, I cannot.’’
Phadnis Aunty had called up her son, who lived about 5kms from where she stayed. She told me, “I have told Rajesh…I have informed him. I don’t know whether I spoke properly to him and whether he understood what I was telling him. And now I have left the mobile at home.”
We got the mobile for her. She called up again. “I am waiting below. They have not yet got the body down. I want to just tell you.” He seemed to have said, okay, fine.
She turned to me, “When my daughter-in-law (my son’s wife) died and I informed Malu, she did not know my son’s house, but she insisted that she must attend the funeral and she was amongst the first one to land there. I am not going to insist, but thought he should have been here.” I could see a deep pain in her eyes.
Then the body came down, bedecked with a rich grey and golden chanderi saree. Phadnis Aunty stood up…I led her to facilitate her to pay the last respects. She put her hand into the plastic bag of flowers… she showered a couple of them and broke down once again. The flowers though slipped to the ground. She asked me to get a few more flowers. She bent down deeper and properly placed them at her neck.
As the body was lifted into the ambulance, Phadnis Aunty sobbed. Then she asked, “She’s gone?” I nodded.
Eighty-five-year-old Mishra Aunty, not really very close to Malu Aunty, came towards Phadnis Aunty, seeing that she was still distressed and said, “Usme rona kya, we are all in the queue. Malu has jumped the queue – hum toh sab age piche hai.”
Phadnis Aunty nodded her head. She took the support of her `bai’ and started walking towards her ground floor flat.
I too came away, realising even more the worth of a true friendship, where it is always too young to die.
(All names mentioned above are changed)