Fare thee well, Old Girl

Today I am a word-smith without my ammunition of words. That is the fate of writers experiencing loss and unbearable grief.

I am haunted by a hundred questions. Is it too
early to write this? Is it too late?  Should I
write about it at all? Should I share with my
readers something that is so private and personal?
The triumphant return of my old girl to a place of
eternal peace and serenity in the midst of the
silence of green pastures; broken only by the sound
of running brooks?

I know only one thing with certainty. I must write or I will die!

Are you listening to me, my loved one?

In your passing on, God gave me two precious gifts. The gift of "never living in denial" and the gift "of always remembering all that is good and beautiful in other people".

Hey. come to think of it, you must have asked the Lord to transfer your gift to me. You knew I would need it. You had that great ability to anticipate the needs of others and to
do something about it.

I walk through the rooms of this beautiful house like a tenant. Everything we have, we owned jointly. Today you own the house by your absence. How we fought over every purchase we made. The Rajasthani dowry chest that became a bar, the carved ivory figure of Jesus on the cross that you loved so much, the "dwarpas," wooden sentinels of temples that became our lamp stands. I touch them in passing and each time the memory makes me "whole", knowing always, that the beauty of our home was never ever in its contents but your magical, caring, effervescent and truly spiritual presence.

I remember a line I wrote for you in my newspaper column on our 50th Wedding Anniversary. It was a description of seeing you standing in a motley group of young Goans at the Saligao Ball.

"She stood there in her yellow dress, a wild flower growing astonishingly in a field of cacti, bramble bush and wilted shrubs"

You had grace and presence which always stood out as, I remember, it did on India's Republic day function in the year 1961.

We were standing at the entrance of the Indian Embassy in Paris welcoming our guests. Our Ambassador Nawab Ali Yavar
Jung and ten of us, wives included, who served as diplomats.
You, my dear, stood out for more reasons than one. Not only
for the grace with which you spoke fluent French but also
because you were the only one dressed in an elegantly draped
sari. The other wives were all non-Indians.

The guests literally swooned over you.

I remember our first date. Blue Air Force uniform with gold stripes on my sleeve I rode up on my motor bike to the YWCA where you were studying to be an Executive Secretary.

We went to Leopold Café. We have had many explosive
situations in our lives but that was years and years before
26/11. In 1956, Leopold Cafe provided privacy for young
lovers. Not targets for terrorists.

It had those little cabins with half swinging doors like
bikinis hiding the essential. If you recall, we only talked
and joked and laughed and every time you laughed the waiter
came rushing in with a dirty towel on his shoulder as if in
response to the ringing of some distant temple bell. Such was
your magic.

Alas, when the bill for "falooda" and "khara" biscuits
arrived I found I was short of money. We stopped laughing and
you quietly paid the bill as you have done during most of our
married life.

On our way back home my jaded motor-cycle stopped
dead thrice and you had to push it to get it going.
When it stopped a fourth time you turned round and
said, "Is this what I am going to do all my life?"

"Yes," I replied, "will you marry me?"

You jumped in the air like a ballet dancer and
started to scream. The crowd gathered on the
pavement soon realized what was happening and
cheerfully pushed the bike right up to the door of
your house and waved us a fond farewell.

If today I live "fully alive" reborn on beautiful memories of
you, it is because all those whose lives you touched,
hundreds of them who overflowed on to the roads at your
funeral service, remember you with joy.

Let me tell you about something unexpected that happened the
other day. A kindly Bishop came to visit me. Anjali our
daughter who had come down from London for a whole month was
still around.

"I was a contemporary of your mother," he said to Anjali.
"She was the most beautiful girl who came to the Mahim
Gymkhana. We Mahim boys competed for her attention and were
very upset when we heard that she was getting married to much
older guy from Dharwad."

"Dad was 27 and Mama was 20", Anjali said authoritatively.

"Would you really mind if I saw the Wedding album?" the
Bishop said sounding like a helpful yet curious Income Tax
officer on a verification visit.

For the next half an hour he was still looking at the
pictures his face full of joy on discovering that the lovely
girl from his gang had married a dashing young officer in a
blue and gold uniform of the Indian Air Force, never mind his
'unda-gunda' accent.

"What a nice gold crown Mama is wearing," said Anjali. I was
about to open my foolish mouth and tell her it was made of
cardboard, but better counsel prevailed.

I realized that as usual you would have liked to keep your
simplicity and austerity to yourself.

People whom I do not even know wrote how you traveled with
them from Chembur to Victoria Terminus. Some one wrote that
you had gifted her a German sewing machine and two French
copper-base pans which she is still using in the USA.

Colleagues from your office wrote that if you happened not to turn up for work, there was no noise of laughter in the office. As I read slowly, one by one, the eulogies piled up
on my desk, I realize how many people of all walks of life loved you dearly.

Did I do you justice, old girl? In my proverbial inadequacy,
did I care for you enough?

God help me. It is far too late to ask.

-George Menezes