Looking for what’s not there. And missing what’s there.

Now that I think of it, maybe my wife had been waiting at the door for long, expecting a beaming smile and a warm hug from me. But at that moment, I was seething with rage at our building watchman. He had gone missing just when I wanted someone to help me carry my overloaded bags from the cab to the elevator.

I was probably frowning when I got out of the elevator at my floor. Maybe that’s why she sacrificed the idea of a warm reunion, and settled to holding my bags instead of me.

“How’s mom?” she asked, as I entered our home muttering curse words at the watchman.

“Mom?” I shot back irritated, as I roughly kicked the bags in, as if they were the watchman. “What about her?”

There was silence.

I looked up and saw her glaring. It struck me only then.

My mom’s health, of course! That’s why I had rushed from my home in Mumbai to my hometown off Chennai, a month ago!

Why do intelligent men become stupid husbands!

There’s nothing like good old humour to cover up your goofs. Provided it’s funny. So, I tried.

“Oh, yes! Motherland is safe! Enemies- Sugar, Potassium and Sodium have been pushed back to their normal levels,” I said, gesturing and sounding like a General who’s made enemy troops retreat in a battle.

When I didn’t hear her laugh, I turned around to see if she was at least smiling. She was glaring.

Where humour fails, intellect works. Mostly.

So I dumped on her all the medical gibberish that the doc had thrown at me, without really knowing what they meant and hoping she wouldn’t ask for explanations.

“Come on Rum, what I want to know is whether mom’s back to being herself,” she stopped me mid-way, countering intellect with emotion.

“Is she sleeping well? Eating well? Smiling again? Is her sense of humour back? Has she become her ruthlessly frank self, calling a spade a sword? Has she begun to fight with the gardener over her favourite plants again?”

I stared blankly.

Suddenly, I felt regret plunge into my heart, like a dagger.

“Er…I don’t know. I didn’t notice.”

“Ok, at least tell me if she has begun to laugh the loudest at her son’s insipid jokes?”

The dagger sank further in.

“Umm…I forgot to joke with her this time,” I said, rather dumbly.

My wife stopped and stared intently at me.

“Then what did you do there? A full month with your aging mother in a home that you spent all your best childhood years! Don’t tell me you just wasted the opportunity away! Surely, you created some wonderful fresh memories this time?”

Every word made me bleed more. How on earth did I miss to see this as an opportunity!

In fact, things had begun well. So very well.

I had reached the hospital only to be told by a cheerful doc that everything was fine and my mom could go home in a day or two. I had felt happy, and relieved enough to joke.

“Ah, are you telling me I came all the way here for nothing! False alarm, eh?”

All silences that follow jokes are terrible. This one was deathly.

It was an ICU. Grim patients stared back at my insensitivity. My mom glared through her Oxygen mask. And the cheerful doc lost his cheer and walked away.

My wife’s right. My jokes are good. Just that they are told at the wrong place at the wrong time to the wrong people.

Soon, my mom and I were back in my childhood home. For the first few days, I was obsessed with her medicines, bland diet and postures of sitting, walking, sleeping. All I was talking about was her illness.

Now that I think back, she did make feeble attempts to make me see beyond that.

She had asked for our old albums and home videos. But I dismissed them with some careless remarks.

“Oh, they are dusty. They will start you on a sneezing bout!”

“Oh, they are heavy and in the loft. The last thing we want is a sprained back!”

Every time she started a conversation about my childhood, I’d say, “Oh come on, why do you strain yourself talking. You have told this story a million times before. Get well. And we will all come back to listen to your old stories, see those albums and watch those videos together…some day.”

Never pausing to think: What if that some day never comes?

Or: Why can’t that some day be today?

The only time I came close to making the most of that stay was when one evening she and I took a small stroll around the house. I saw mango trees laden with mangoes, flowering plants in full bloom and a jackfruit tree braving the weight of three massive jackfruits.

Memories of my brother and I running around those trees when they were much smaller, flooded me. We had played cricket there, broken flower pots, got yelled at, seen snakes, counted birds, chased butterflies, listened and giggled at mom talking to her plants…

I yelled out to mom wanting to remind her of those days. We could have spent the next couple of hours talking and laughing about it, and probably set the tone for my whole stay there.

But it was not to be.

As she walked cautiously over dried leaves and pebbles to where I was, I spotted a bare stalk on the jackfruit tree. Clearly, someone had cut a jackfruit from it.

In a matter of seconds all that nostalgia and emotion were swept away without a trace, by anger. By the time my mom came near me, I was all worked up.

“Someone’s stolen our jackfruit!” I said.

She stared back at me, looked up at the tree for a few moments and explained, “Some branches grow barren.”

“No, I have been seeing jackfruit trees for 54 years! I know,” I argued.

“And I for 76!” she said, trying to clinch it with experience.

“I know people better than you do,” I was in no mood to give up. “I’m sure the gardener stole it when we were in the hospital.”

“Look, he would never do that. And even if he did, it’s after all a jackfruit,” she tried to bargain human values with economic value.

“No way. Today it’s this, tomorrow it will get bigger!” I tried to scare her into acceptance.

“What? The jackfruit?” she joked, hoping I’d laugh. (Like son, like mother!)

“No, his theft,” I explained.

Logic is a bigger joke-ruiner than silence.

“How can you blame someone without being sure?”

“It can’t be anyone else. I’ll prove it to you.”

That’s how my next twenty days with my mom in my childhood home was wasted away.

All I could think and talk about was the missing jackfruit. All I did was try and trap a thief who was no thief.

I left the three fully grown and ripe jackfruits in the tree as baits, and spent many sleepless nights peering into darkness through small openings in windows. I threw crisp dried leaves around the tree and ran at their slightest crackle, only to see a snake slither away or a squirrel dive in.

Couple of nights I even made my recuperating mom take turns and stay awake.

Every time I spoke to the gardener, the words were laced with stinging innuendoes. Not that he got it.

But at the end of it all, I had to leave without solving the whodunnit.

The jackfruits left as baits rotted in the tree and fell off. I spent a whole day plucking all the mangoes even before they were ready, so that none would be left to steal. As my mom was advised not to eat ripe fruits, I packed all of them in my bags and carried them to Mumbai- even paying a huge amount for the extra baggage on the flight.

“Ramesh sir was not his usual self. He was cold and preoccupied throughout. He behaved quite strangely this trip. Maybe your illness had upset him,” the old gardener told my mom after I left.

Back in Mumbai, as I now sat on my bags full of mangoes and contemplated on the stupidity of the whole thing, my phone beeped a message.

It was from my mom.

It said: “I was the one who took that ripe jackfruit on the tree, one afternoon when you were asleep. Sorry it ruined your stay here. But honestly, the jackfruit was so so good, it was worth it!”

I felt like crying. But ended up laughing out loud at her joke. For the first time in months.

I sent her an LOL. But how I wish she could’ve heard me.

I called out to my wife.

“Nothing to worry. Mom’s back being her sarcy self!”

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Dear Ramesh,

    My name is Ashlee. I’m co-founder of the Youshare Project, with the mission to connect people around the world through true, personal stories. I recently stumbled across your blog and read the above post entitled “Looking for what’s not there. And missing what’s there.” It’s beautifully written and a light-hearted way to share an important message. I think it would make a wonderful youshare, because it might prompt others around the world to take a step back and gain perspective on the important moments in life that are right in front of us.

    If this sounds interesting to you, I would love to email you directly with more information and formally invite you to share your story with the project. You have my email address and website. I hope to hear from you soon.

    Best,
    Ashlee
    http://www.youshareproject.com
    ashlee@youshareproject.com

    Reply

    • That sounds wonderful. Thank you so much, Ashlee. You must’ve really been LOOKING to have discovered this post. And it’s gratifying to see you not MISSING its message in spite of my best attempts to camouflage it 🙂

      Reply

      • Thank you, Ramesh. I’m so glad you’re interested in sharing your story on youshare! Please let me know where I should send the additional information. Or, if you’d rather send me a note to ashlee@youshareproject.com, I’ll respond with the additional information and next steps. All my best, Ashlee

      • Dear Ramesh, I hope this message finds you well. I’m just following up to ask if you’re still interested in sharing your story with the Youshare Project? Warm regards, Ashlee

      • Thanks Ashlee. Of course, yes! I had mailed you a big YES right then. Have done it again now.

      • Hi Ramesh, Thank you so much for your reply. I did not see your earlier email come through, so I’m glad I checked back with you. I see that it came through this time, so I’ll reply shortly with next steps. Thank you! Ashlee

  2. ramesh,
    wonderful blog. innocence seemed at its extremes at both the ends. oshin my daughter wrote this for me and explained to me.

    Reply

  3. Hmm – maybe you are not as smart as I though you were, but you seem to get there in the end. 😀
    Kindness – Robert.
    P.S. You more than make up for any shortcomings by your lovely humility.

    Reply

  4. Once I overcome those shortcomings, to hell with humility. I then plan to get back at you for this 🙂

    Reply

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